Victoria Mann took on lots of responsibility and a big learning curve in her first full-time job after college.
But the 23-year-old quickly got her feet under her as project coordinator at the Center for Technology, Research and Commercialization — or C-TRAC — a nonprofit organization that brings together government, education and industry partners to meet our warfighters’ needs.
She helps put together joint projects between CyberWorx, the Air Force public-private design center, and industry partners to develop solutions for operational problems and rapidly develop prototypes.
Mann is a Colorado Springs native who grew up in a family with three sisters and a brother, loving the mountains, playing soccer and basketball, and being active outdoors.
She went to high school at Evangelical Christian Academy and graduated from Dordt College (now Dordt University), a small Christian school in Sioux Center, Iowa, with a double major in English and communications. Mann spent a semester in The Netherlands, where she studied international business and traveled around Europe visiting businesses — picking up a bit of the Dutch language.
She interned at C-TRAC the summer before her senior year and then joined the C-TRAC team after she graduated in 2018.
Mann spoke with the Business Journal about learning the ropes in her new job, adjusting to the world of work and her goals for the future.
What does your job entail?
First, CyberWorx: Our main function is to help them work with industry. So we have someone who does mainly recruiting. But we also do a lot of communicating with them. I’ll help to coordinate those projects, and then really just supporting our team and whatever else people need.
CyberWorx takes problem sets from someone within the Air Force, and they’ll bring a group of industry and government people together, usually for a design sprint, although those projects can take different formats. They’ll go through this process of human-centered design to make sure they understand the real needs of the users, and then they dive into solutions. The idea is that eventually, they can work with other people within the Air Force and with industry to prototype and ideally commercialize the product. …
I’ll give you an example. The design sprint we’re doing in July is on redesigning or modernizing the CSEL radio, which stands for Combat Survivor/Evader Locator. They want to modernize it because it’s about 20 years old now. So they are going to look at, ‘Do we even need a radio? Are there other solutions? Or how can we make it better?’ The last one they did was, ‘How can we basically revamp the Air Force’s cyber talent management system so that people in that career field want to stay in the Air Force, and how can we make them a better workforce as well?’
So they do have a wide variety of problems. And, you know, it’s beneficial to have industry in the room, because they have more knowledge of what’s available commercially, or what could be available commercially. The design sprint isn’t meant to be a sales pitch, but sometimes, those people in the room can talk to Air Force and say, ‘Hey, we can do this for you, if you want to.’
So sometimes it leads to a partnership.
How many of those do you do a year?
We’ve done two this year. Usually, there’s maybe closer to three to four. And actually, CyberWorx is having a new facility built — it’s not just for CyberWorx, it’s for all the cyber entities at the Air Force Academy — that will enable it to do a lot more per year. C-TRAC will continue to grow to support them as much as they can do.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
When we bring people in, it’s a lot of work, so we try to start preparing for a sprint maybe three or four months ahead of time. And it’s a lot of work, a lot of coordinating, a lot of emails. Then when people come in and they get into these projects, there’s a huge energy that’s created in the room, and people really get excited. That’s my favorite part, to see that, and also, to see people who say, ‘Yes, this is great. I’m glad that we’re moving this direction of government and industry working together.’ It’s affirming to me that what we’re doing is beneficial to people; that we’re not just selling something. I think that’s my favorite part.
What is the greatest challenge you face?
There’s always communication barriers when you’re trying to get people to work together — not just communication, but communication is a big part of it — of trying to explain to people why we need to work together. CyberWorx staff and C-TRAC staff, you know, we need to be in sync together. So figuring out the best ways to create a cohesive team within two different staffs. I guess those are some of the biggest barriers. But whenever I talk about barriers, it’s also the most rewarding thing when it’s successful.
Did you have any military background that drew you to this kind of work?
I really didn’t — I mean, other than just being in Colorado Springs, where there’s a pretty big military presence. So this whole year of working here has been so much of learning acronyms, trying to understand the organizational structure of the military, just understanding how they function. It’s been very interesting.
What were the biggest surprises for you when you started working — things that you didn’t expect you would find in the world of work?
I hate sounding cheesy, but I guess how much fun you can have at work with your co-workers. Sometimes someone will email me and just have such a sense of humor. When I first started, it was not hard to stop working, go home and think about other things. But very quickly, it becomes easy to always be thinking about work. I didn’t expect that to happen right off the bat, but it did — well, eventually.
What did you think that you wanted to do as a career when you were in college?
I’ve actually never had just one set path that I pictured myself going on. When I was graduating, I was applying more for public relations, some writing jobs. I hadn’t studied project management, but I had kind of done some of that with just different things I was involved in. So it was not hard for me to get into that. I’ve always been involved in things that are beginning, or small and growing. … So working at C-TRAC was actually pretty appealing because it’s a small company. It’s new — it’s only three years old, and so it’s appealing to be in a place where I feel like I can be contributing and helping it grow.
What do you love about Colorado Springs, and what keeps you here?
I love the mountains, and I love being in the city. I realized when I went to a small town for college that I’m a city girl. It’s so close to so many outdoor activities, you know, just running on trails, just going for a weekend to camp or hike. That’s awesome. But I also really am coming to love the city itself. Downtown, there’s a lot of really cool places. And I really like to find new places to … do work or just hang out with people. I feel like there’s a really good energy in a lot of places around Colorado Springs.
What are your life goals?
I do eventually want to get my master’s degree. I don’t know exactly what in, but I’ve thought about either going for English, writing or counseling. I think the focal point of all that is working with people and telling people’s stories. I love that. And I mentioned that I’m a Christian, and so my ultimate goal is to be wherever I can serve the Lord and serve His people, and just people. I think that’s really such an important part of why we’re here and what we’re called to do in this life.
Can you foresee where your career might take you?
You know, every month I have a different idea. I’ve thought about going into counseling. There are a lot of places in Colorado Springs that work with people who’ve been in abusive relationships, or there are a lot of programs that work with homeless people. I’d be really interested to eventually go into one of those areas. … I’m not really sure in what capacity right now, but work with those people to help them with their lives getting back on track.
You know, I talk about that, and even as I say it, it’s hard to think about leaving C-TRAC and CyberWorx and this whole world. Because I see all these people who are really passionate about it. A lot of people at C-TRAC are former military, and they’ve come and worked here because they want to help the people who are out fighting for us. So we’ll see.
What advice would you give to young professionals starting out? What skills do they need to develop to succeed in their first jobs?
I would say humility and flexibility. I think they come hand in hand. It’s great to be confident in who you are, and what you can do. But if you approach your first job with humility, I found that I can learn so much more from people. And to be flexible, to kind of cater to how other people work, I think it allows you to see how people function and to learn a lot more than if you were to kind of come at it with your own preset way of doing things. This isn’t really a skill set, but I think, too, it’s so tempting to compromise your values to just get that job or make people happy. Thankfully, some of the people here have been such good examples for holding onto your values. That’s really helped me.