By Tech. Sgt. Erich B. Smith, National Guard BureauDecember 1, 2017
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Air Force Maj. Jack Skoda, a cyber defense instructor with the Vermont Air National Guard's 229th Information Operations Squadron, believes that cyberspace is "all around us, all the time."
"But it has shape," he said, adding that understanding and ultimately explaining that shape to the next wave of cyber warriors is his focus as a military instructor.
He likens cyber defense specialists as having the same attributes as past military minds.
"Warriors like [Gen. George] Washington and [Gen. George S.] Patton -- they understood their domain, and they used that understanding to bring the effect they needed at the time of their choosing to win decisively," said Skoda. "And that doesn't change in cyber."
But when not in uniform, he can be found at Vermont Technical College as an assistant professor, teaching a wide array of computer and information technology-related disciplines.
Skoda said that while each position teaches a different student body, the foundation of instruction is largely the same: managing the classroom, delivering the content and describing cyber and computing concepts.
"I tell both my civilian and military classes [that] I am trying to get everyone, not just cyber professionals, to have situational awareness about [computing] tools they use in their modern lives," he said.
However pronounced the similarities his two roles may appear, Skoda said he does "switch his mentality" for each classroom setting.
"When military students are problem solving, they are already thinking about budget, number of people to get a job done and how long a specific task may or may not take," he said, "whereas a traditional college student doesn't have that [professional] experience."
Skoda said the life experiences of both military and college students make for a different classroom setting.
"Time management is something that [many] college students are still learning," he said.
Skoda said his military background allows him to bring a different wealth of knowledge to the college.
"The experience I get in the military gives me stories and events I can use to communicate to students why certain things are important," he said, adding many cyber-related elements in the military are relevant to the civilian side.
Skoda said his Guard service also allows him to explain to some of his civilian colleagues the non-academic challenges facing military students -- such as deployments and training requirements.
"I kind of act as an ambassador between the military and [the] academic organization," Skoda said, adding that his efforts have helped "smooth the path" for many military and veteran students at the college.
Through his dual role as a cyber instructor, Skoda said he strives to dispel the notion that cyber systems are a highly complex, seemingly impossible subject matter to comprehend. Much of it, he said, is simply understanding the core building blocks and expanding on that.
"It's not magic," said Skoda, pointing to a success story involving an Air Guard member who had minimal experience working with computers.
"It was overwhelming for her [at first, but] at the end of three weeks, she was capable of having conversations with her [unit members] so that she could run a cyber squadron," he said, reinforcing his belief that understanding cyber systems is the "art of the possible."
Though learning environments may differ, Skoda said the underlying message to all his students remains consistent: know your trade, frontwards and backwards.
"You don't seek plumbers who don't know the difference between a copper pipe and lead pipe," he said. "You don't seek combat pilots who can't explain the function of a rudder and an aileron."
Similarly, Skoda said bolstering cyber defenses and infrastructure will require a committed workforce, ready to meet future demands.
"We need cyber warriors and people in industry building cyber capabilities," he said.
For Skoda, his work is tied to a life-lesson handed down from his father to always leave things better than when they were found.
"I feel like I am living up to that expectation," he said.