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     Photo Credit: FGC/Shutterstock

Reshaping the Conversation

January 16, 2020
By Julianne Simpson
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Essye Miller, principal deputy, DOD CIO, wants to reshape the cyber workforce conversation.


Essye Miller, principal deputy, Department of Defense chief information officer (DOD CIO), wants to reshape the cyber workforce conversation. And, she told the audience at the Cyber Education, Research and Training Symposium (CERTS), she needs their help.

Last year, the U.S. Defense Department released its first Digital Modernization Strategy. It presents the DOD CIO's vision for achieving the department’s goals and creating a more secure, coordinated, seamless, transparent and cost-effective IT architecture. This vision is guided by four priorities: cyber, C3, cloud adoption and artificial intelligence.

“If you read the strategy, you have a very clear picture of what we are looking to do in those four areas. But the one thing that underpins all of it is how we develop our cyber workforce. It’s pertinent and relevant to each and every one of those areas,” said Miller.

“We have these conversations that are centered around bits and bytes. Around technologies, not around critical thinking skills and how all of that comes together to impact the mission that we have to protect and defend the nation,” added Miller. “We don’t have the conversations about what our kids need to do to step in a space that they consider untouchable. How do we break that barrier?”

We also aren’t having the conversations on the hiring processes, she said. “You talk to someone about coming to work for the government and they think USAjobs[.gov], they think security clearance, but we don’t talk about Congress giving us authorities in the Cyber Excepted Service, to give us flexibility for compensation and pay. We don’t talk about the opportunity for [candidates] to come in as interns, to let us invest in them and then we make the decision on whether or not it’s a good fit,” stressed Miller.

Miller also discussed where she thinks some of the nation’s untapped resources are located. “I feel very strongly we are leaving opportunities on the table by not going to some of our more underdeveloped communities,” Miller said. Most small liberal art schools are interested in determining how to get their students recruited into government. “Our natural inclination is to focus on the major universities that have technical programs in the areas that we are focusing on. There’s a whole lot of population out there with students with soft skills that aren’t being tapped into,” added Miller.

She also sees the need to go into rural areas, and has personally traveled to historically black colleges and universities to make sure students are exposed, not just to the opportunities, but to the mission. “I suspect we have plenty of kids who are willing to serve and are looking to do something to make a difference,” Miller said. “Those are the things we are focused on from the departmental level to shift the focus.”

Miller helped commission a new workforce committee under the Federal CIO to take a “holistic look” on what they need to do from recruiting to retaining and added a new grouping called mission ready. “Because if we don’t start capturing metrics on what we’re doing with the workforce, we will have no idea how well we are doing,” stressed Miller. “We will have no idea where our investment is going as we are training and developing people.”

Miller echoed similar sentiments from the earlier speakers at the third annual CERTS about the need to mentor. “I would say everyone in this room has a responsibility to mentor,” she said. “If we don’t get our hands around establishing a better process to mature that pipeline, the persons that step into the roles behind us will have a huge challenge ahead of them.”

She thinks it should be relatively easy to identify slated candidates to step in behind the current cohort of cyber professionals. “Each of us can contribute to that, whether you‘re industry, academia or a veteran, you have an opportunity to help us reshape this conversation,” Miller said.

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