ProcessBolt
From the Spring 2022 Issue

CECOM SEC’s Women of Cyber

Ron Lee
CECOM SEC Strategic Communications Specialist | CECOM SEC

Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD –

The true strength of the U.S. military comes from its diversity. There is not just a diversity of weaponry, equipment, and tactics used on the battlefield with the widely adopted concept of multi-domain operations, but also, diversity in representation, perspectives, and thought.

More than ever in its history, women in uniform serve bravely on the frontlines in direct defense of the Nation and its allies worldwide. The cutting edge weaponry, equipment, and software that gives these brave women and men an advantage is directly dependent on the service and dedication of non-uniformed personnel in the cybersecurity industry.

The U.S. Army’s Communication-Electronic Command’s (CECOM) Software Engineering Center (SEC) on Aberdeen Proving Ground is ground zero where this technological advantage takes shape and is later deployed to the Warfighter on the frontlines.

With this advantageous technology and software, additional pathways for adversaries of the United States to exploit vulnerabilities are created. While this threat is real, those standing guard in defense of the free world must be all the more vigilant and diverse.

Jennifer

“So much has changed in the career field since when I started back in 1991,” SEC Director Jennifer Swanson said. “Yes, we had software back then, but nothing on the scale of what we have today.”

“So much has changed in the career field since when I started back in 1991,” SEC Director Jennifer Swanson said. “Yes, we had software back then, but nothing on the scale of what we have today.”

This new environment has undoubtedly taken on an all-hands on deck mentality. It has broadened the information security field up to a completely new prospect of diversity in what has been a male dominated field. Women are making huge inroads.

The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields are no longer impassable to a diverse force, and women are proving every day that they belong in the world of STEM. Cybersecurity at all levels has seen an increase of women developers, engineers and cyber specialists advancing technology for the Nation.

Nowhere is this truer than CECOM SEC, where you will find professional women at every level of civil service. From interns to journeymen to directors, Army civilian women continue to shatter barriers.

Swanson recognizes the critical value of advancing through the professional ranks after starting from the ground floor herself.

“I started a long time ago as an intern when the Software Engineering Center was in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey,” Swanson said. “I learned software development, and I progressed through the ranks landing at various management and leadership positions.”

Swanson acknowledges that the number of women in the tech industry is growing. Many women have to make difficult career choices concerning family, especially in leadership roles such as hers.

“I was fortunate to have an opportunity like this at the right time,” Swanson said. “My experience and role allow me to ensure a good work-life balance is a priority for all employees here at SEC. I understand the value of having lives outside of work, taking care of the kids, and maintaining that career focus. It’s all important.”

Army Cyberspace Operations include a broad spectrum of capabilities and initiatives that provide tactical decision makers with the assurance, awareness, and protection needed to operate effectively in the cyberspace environment.

While the Army Cyberspace Operations continue to grow, the DOD has identified cyber as a defense domain like air, land, maritime, and space.

Within this space, bright, creative, and talented people are needed to fight on the Nation’s newest battlefield effectively. Women are answering the call.

While women are represented in leadership roles, the cyber defense industry has seen increased diversity in all levels of service. Jessamyn Saltysiak, an SEC information technology specialist, claims that the change is evident for her and her family.

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“When I was in high school and college, I couldn’t really see myself in this position,” Saltysiak said. “But now I can map a path for myself or even my daughter because people have gone before us.”

“When I was in high school and college, I couldn’t really see myself in this position,” Saltysiak said. “But now I can map a path for myself or even my daughter because people have gone before us.”

Saltysiak recognized the value of diversity that women, specifically, bring to the industry. “Women are providing a different style of leadership, which could be a reason why SEC is becoming the organization that it is,” Saltysiak said.

Despite an overall shortage of cybersecurity talent, men outnumber women by about three to one in the cybersecurity career field. More women in cybersecurity promote diversity in perspectives, leadership, and experience. Different viewpoints on any problem give multiple perspectives a chance to arrive at the right solution.

Fotini Argiropoulos, SEC cyber security analyst and technical lead for the SEC Software Assurance Team, has seen how diversity makes teams better.

Fotini

“Women and diversity, in general, bring a unique perspective to problem solving,” Argiropoulos said. “As a mother, I believe I bring my own style of troubleshooting and problem solving to an issue. Teams gain with the more diversity they have.”

“Women and diversity, in general, bring a unique perspective to problem solving,” Argiropoulos said. “As a mother, I believe I bring my own style of troubleshooting and problem solving to an issue. Teams gain with the more diversity they have.”

From Best Cyber Warrior Competitions to the development of software to changing the way Soldiers fight on the battlefield, these activities are designed to sharpen teams’ skills, and for a good reason.

Because of SEC’s subject matter expertise with software, our professionals at Aberdeen Proving Ground are often called upon for support. That includes everything from radars to radios and everything in-between. U.S. Army equipment that has a piece of software in it was most likely touched by the workforce of SEC, evidence of the SEC’s impact within Army cybersecurity.

Erin Hayner, an SEC branch chief, sees how important her role in cyber plays in a Soldier’s mission readiness.

Erin

“To be successful in IT today, you really have to be comfortable with change because the environment will continue to evolve,” Swanson said. “What we consider our baseline today will not be the same three years from now.”

“Everyone knows what it feels like to have a piece of technology go down,” Hayner said. “Just imagine what it’s like in the private sector when a laptop goes down, but in the field, or on a mission, that issue is all the more critical. It’s that understanding of a phone or laptop going down because of a bug that keeps cyber professionals on their toes for the Warfighter.”

Cybersecurity is what keeps our Soldiers safe, especially in a world where the frontline of tomorrow looks much different than it did 20 years ago. Command, Control, Computers, Communications, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C5ISR) capabilities are needed now more than ever, with women ensuring their place in developing and protecting the future battlefield.

Assurance against disruption at home and in the battlefield can include detecting malicious code against zero-day attacks that exploit previously unknown vulnerabilities, properly enabling information sharing across multiple security boundaries, and developing, testing, and evaluating intrusion detection, user authentication, cryptography, and biometric capabilities.

Acquiring talent that can develop innovative tactics to keep our Soldiers’ modern equipment at the ready is extremely important for not only SEC’s mission readiness but for the Nation’s cybersecurity priorities.

SEC utilizes inventive ways to recruit new employees through internship programs and rotational assignments to train the next generation of Army Civilians on maintaining and advancing Army systems. But what kinds of individuals makes for a good cyber force? 

“Anyone who’s passionate about it,” Hayner said. “Anyone who is interested and has the aptitude for it.”

With the ever-emerging technologies and efforts within cyber, a diverse group of people to innovate and develop at the forefront is needed, and change is the one constant.

“To be successful in IT today, you really have to be comfortable with change because the environment will continue to evolve,” Swanson said. “What we consider our baseline today will not be the same three years from now.”

Evidence of this evolution is the emergence of DevSecOps. It is a software process with cybersecurity at the heart of it. DevSecOps builds developing software with security and operations into the process right from the beginning.

Hayner said that with such a big mission and developing technologies like DevSecOps, her team’s diversity of skills and strengths are of the utmost importance. 

“Women in the Army as civilians are just as important as they are everywhere,” Hayner said. “Their opinions are just as relevant whether you’re in the field using a weapon, at your desk coding, releasing new software, or in management. It’s important because everyone can bring something to the table.”

With so much at stake and the desire to push the diversity of all types within her organization, Swanson notes it is important to leverage all opportunities to recruit and maintain the future workforce. One such opportunity was a by-product of the pandemic.

“I think we’ve seen a worldwide acceptance of telework and more and more remote work than we’ve ever seen before,” Swanson said. 

The SEC workforce is an amalgam of experience, dynamic vision, bright minds, and a lot of hard work. All of which include some supremely talented women, led by Ms. Swanson, who understands she’s an example. 

“I acknowledge I’m in a position to help other women to foster, grow and develop, and I’m happy I’m here to help,” Swanson said.

Whether from home or in the office, the bottom line for a top-notch organization is personnel. People who care about the mission, one another, and the organization itself. Swanson says cyber threats can present a million problems to her organization, but staffing isn’t one. “We are very fortunate to have some of the most talented and motivated individuals working for us.”

Threats have no on or off time and can surface on weekends, holidays, or after hours. The Software Engineering Center is meeting that challenge head on. Because of that, it has become the center of excellence of DevSecOps and automated software distribution using an innovative cloud Repository delivery system. SEC is dedicated to delivering full life cycle software engineering by maximizing the strengths of talent, experience, and diversity to ensure operational readiness for the military warfighter and its Department of Defense customers.  lock

U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command, CECOM, empowers the Soldier through sustained C5ISR readiness, anytime, anywhere. CECOM is a major subordinate command to the Army Materiel Command, and is headquartered on Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., nearly midway between Washington and Philadelphia. Every day, it takes a team of thousands of dedicated professionals, located throughout the world, working with rigor and precision to ensure our Soldiers are trained, equipped, and ready in every component of C5ISR connectivity.

Ron Lee

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