CyberWorx passes major milestone

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One year after its launch, Air Force CyberWorx has moved into a new 10,000-square-foot studio, and successfully completed one design sprint and two student projects in its custom-built space.

Until this summer, CyberWorx operated out of a temporary studio, director Col. Jeffrey Collins said. The team could handle one project at a time, and had to go off-site for sprints (in which groups use design thinking to produce quick and creative solutions to cyber problems).

The new studio at the Air Force Academy, specifically designed for CyberWorx, triples that capacity. It allows three projects to run simultaneously and includes a secure facility so CyberWorx can take on classified projects.

Last week, CyberWorx released the final design report on Air Force Cyber Outreach — its 10th sprint, and the first to take place in the new studio.

The sprint brought together 21 participants from Air Force units, nonprofits, academia and industry, to come up with creative ways USAFA and Pikes Peak Community College can boost interest in cyber careers among middle and high school students.

That report shows us that we can impact the future of cyber,” Collins said. “I’ve told this story: In 1974 I was 5, and the Blue Angels performed in my hometown and I wanted to fly ever since then.

“My eyes went bad in college so I didn’t get to fly, but that’s how I ended up in the Air Force. … Those early experiences that we give to kids out there — we’ll never know until they’re a colonel telling a story later — but it’s worth it to us to keep focusing on how we build the future. That’s where we’re thinking all the time.

“It’s not the tools or the technology, it’s the talent. It’s the ability of our cyber workforce to take what they’re given and solve the problems and move forward and move fast forward.”

An essential part of building the cyber workforce pipeline is attracting broad cognitive diversity, Collins said.

“A lot of people still think that cyber’s for geeks — it is not just for geeks,” he said. “There are technical problems that we need geeks [working] on, but there are also a lot of other social problems and whatnot, so expanding that reach is important.

“That’s exactly what this design sprint was aimed at: Let’s not think of this as just a government problem to overcome, but let’s expand it and find out what [you would] do if you were in that position. We got a lot of great stuff.”

The first recommendation that will be implemented is science grant-writing support for local schools. Universities will partner with schools to make educators aware of the availability of National Science Foundation grants, and teach them about requirements.

“That’s the kind of thing that’s relatively easy and will have a huge impact,” Collins said.

Other ideas include third-grade cyber societies — “third grade is a pivotal year if you look at the research,” Collins noted — as well as industry mentors and a “Team Rogue One” cyber module to be used at elementary and middle school field days.

“It was an exciting sprint because it was the first one that we did in this space — so we were using it as: Did we get the space right? What do we need to do better as we build the new building?” Collins said.

Earlier this year, plans for a permanent, secure CyberWorx facility were brought forward from fiscal year 2021 to fiscal year 2018. The new 33,000-square-foot facility will raise capacity to 10 simultaneous projects — or full operating capability.

For now, the new studio, in the Academy’s McDermott Library, has boosted interaction and enthusiasm among Air Force cadets, industry partners and CyberWorx clients.

It includes flexible spaces with meeting rooms, breakout rooms for student groups and sprints, classrooms with touchscreens and projections, a large open kitchen, a secure facility, a makerspace, and individual work stations.

CyberWorx will keep increasing its industry partnerships through the nonprofit Center for Technology, Research and Commercialization, Collins said, and new AFA Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay B. Silveria is encouraging CyberWorx to make design thinking available to more cadets.

For its successful trajectory to continue, CyberWorx will need more personnel.

“[We need] to increase our staff more, to get more permanent people on board,” Collins said. “Right now we have 10, and those 10 are great but they’re not full time; they’re reservists. They bring industry experience and it’s fantastic, [but] it will be great when we have a cadre of about 30 people.”

Collins expects 10 additional staff in fiscal year 2018, then to grow to a total of 28 in fiscal year 2019.

“We weren’t expecting the [permanent] building to come in [fiscal year] ‘18, so with that we’ve requested to also move up our personnel build,” he said.