Cyber tool developer training is critical to the Army's success

By Mr. Steven P Stover (INSCOM)July 26, 2019

2019 Tool Developers Qualification Course graduating class
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. -- Soldiers assigned to the 780th Military Intelligence Brigade (Cyber) and Cyber Protection Brigade graduated from the 35-week Tool Developers Qualification Course, a training program taught in partnership with University o... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. -- The 780th Military Intelligence (MI) Brigade (Cyber) has partnered with the University of Maryland Baltimore County Training Centers in Gateway, Columbia, to design a Tool Developers Qualification Course (TDQC) which produces computer programmers for the U.S. Army.

TDQC is an intense nine-month training program designed to meet the capability development requirements for the 780th MI Brigade and the most recent class graduated on July 26.

"TDQC is designed to train Soldiers who have little to no computer programming experience and after successful conclusion of the course, Soldiers are better equipped with the foundational knowledge and specialized skill to become a certified cyberspace capability developer," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Tony Leota, the talent manager for the Cyber Solutions Development Detachment (CSD), 780th MI Brigade. "In other words, TDQC produces an Army computer programmer that will generate capabilities to defend the nation against enemies foreign and domestic in and throughout cyberspace."

Lt. Col. W. Michael Petullo, a cyberspace operations officer and the lead developer for the CSD, was the host and guest speaker for the event. In his remarks, Petullo challenged the graduating class to excel in their future growth.

"Mentally prepare yourself for the challenges coming your way. You do this because you are now asked to make an impact beyond yourself. Grades are important. Being an honor grad is truly an honor, but these things derive meaning only from the service which follows," said Petullo. "Grades neither provide a capability to a mission team nor do they save American lives from bomb-carrying drones, but you will if you apply what you have learned, work with others in the cyber force who are different than you and their talents, maintain a perspective beyond your own work space, and fight through the challenges that inevitably arise in large organizations tasked to do large things."

Petullo remarked that the Army needs two people, "the current you, a TDQC graduate, and the future you, whose contribution and future growth is yet to be known." He said TDQC educates students, but it doesn't train them.

"When we teach you about concurrency models or threading, we expect that this will allow you to later adopt particular and new technologies as they arise." added Petullo. "Specific threading libraries, such as POSIX threads or Windows threading, what Hoare (Sir Charles Antony Richard Hoare is a British computer scientist) calls "communicating sequential processes" and so on."

Petullo then advised the graduating class on what common trait he has seen among all successful tool developers.

"I have administered a number of basic- and senior-level exams and I've watched 26 developers pass that latter senior exam," said Petullo. "The developers that perform the best on this exam have something in common. In fact it's the same characteristic that I found in my best computer science students during my four years as an assistant professor at West Point. The best developers have an intolerance for not understanding how something works. Indeed this is a cornerstone of the hacker ethic."

Sgt. Alan Kim, is a 35Q, a cryptologic cyberspace intelligence collector/analyst, who hails from Little Neck, Queens, New York, and is assigned to the Headquarters & Headquarters Company, 780th MI Brigade (Cyber). Kim has a Bachelor of Science degree in computer engineering from the State University of New York at Binghamton, and was the TDQC Distinguished Graduate.

Kim remarked that programming and computer engineering are two different disciplines and believes that programming is "at a higher level". He also felt that the TDQC course work was very difficult.

"When this (TDQC) opportunity came up I went for it and worked hard through it. The instructors provided the requirements and we had to code it to their standards," said Kim.

Sgt. Nicholas Camp, is a 17C, a cyber operations specialist, who hails from Rochester, New York, and is assigned to the Cyber Protection Brigade's Development Group. Camp is in his junior year at Dakota State University and is pursuing an Associate's degree in Network Infrastructure Security, and eventually a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Cyber Security. He was the TDQC Honor Graduate.

Although Sgt. Camp had already reenlisted, he extended his enlistment for an additional three months, specifically to attend TDQC, because he wanted "to better my experiences to prepare myself for a work role in cyber that's going to be a little more stringent on learning and provide a competitive edge to combat our adversaries. It makes it more challenging to find a programmatic way of finding issues rather than doing it manually."

Camp believes that following TDQC he has "a great foundation to build upon and continue to grow as it is forever a learning experience."

Kim and Camp both thought the course was very challenging and wanted to express their gratitude to all of the UMBC instructors, especially Liam Echlin, the lead instructor at the UMBC Training Centers.

"TDQC is a great opportunity for enlisted Soldiers because it gives those of us with degrees or want to get degrees to be at a higher spectrum in education. It's also an opportunity to push ourselves, intellectually," said Camp.

Camp said Soldiers who are preparing to take the TDQC pre-test should know the basic coding concepts.

"Not any particular language, just basic coding concepts," said Camp. "In preparation, you need a mindset of how code operates, thinking about things sequentially and broken down into small steps is hugely important since we normally don't think that way."

The 2019 TDQC graduating class includes: Sgt. Nicholas Camp; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Christopher Charland; Spc. Ryan Jonassen; Sgt. Alan Kim; Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Longwell; Staff Sgt. Samual McCracken; Spc. Taylor Morse; Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Naugle; Spc. Cody Reed; Sgt. Kristin Rierson; Spc. Jacob Sevy; and Spc. Scott Wareham.

Congratulations to each of the 2019 TDQC graduates, and welcome to the world of capability development.