AUSTIN, Texas — The U.S. Army — the largest and oldest branch of the American military — is undergoing a broad-scale effort to modernize its equipment, weaponry and operational support, including by embracing the power of new technologies.
Embedded within this endeavor which is being led by U.S. Army Futures Command, is an initiative to empower Soldiers and Army civilians with cutting-edge software development skills, which the Army anticipates will become increasingly more valuable on the fast-paced, tech-enabled battlefields of the future.
The resulting Army Software Factory, located on an Austin Community College campus near Army Futures Command headquarters in downtown Austin, Texas, has welcomed two cohorts since its opening early this year, and is already seeing promising outcomes.
“We have Soldiers who came to us just a few months ago knowing very little about coding or cloud computing who are now building and maintaining their own apps,” said Lt. Col. Vito Errico, co-director of the Army Software Factory. “While the program is still in a relatively nascent stage, and we continue to adjust and model Silicon Valley concepts to best fit Army needs, I am continually impressed by the ability of our Soldiers and Army civilians to absorb and apply advanced software knowledge in creative and productive ways.”
The 50 Soldiers and five Army civilians currently participating in the rigorous three-year program receive classroom academics in modern agile software development principles as well as practical, hands-on experience and tailored mentorship facilitated by tech industry experts.
“In considering how to grow Army practical software development expertise effectively and equitably, we knew we wanted to leverage the insight and innovation of private-sector tech while also empowering our staff to help shape the software tools and platforms they use on a day-to-day basis,” said Maj. Jason Zuniga, co-director of the Army Software Factory.
Program participants previously served in a variety of Army capacities at locations around the globe, including as infantry, armor and field artillery among many others. Many decided to apply to be part of a founding cohort given the program’s innovative format, which encourages a rank-agnostic environment and the open and regular sharing of new ideas.
“I’ve always felt like a part of the Army, but contributing to projects at the Army Software Factory has made me feel like a more influential member of the force,” said Cohort 1 Soldier Master Sgt. Josh White. “It’s very rewarding to see how the products we’re working on are addressing big-picture needs and improving user experiences.”
Following an initial classroom instruction period, cohort members are given the opportunity to select how they would like to specialize their software learning and development experience, focusing on topics such as design and platform management. Working independently as well as in teams, they are able to apply their new skills to real-life projects for Army clients, furthering their understanding and abilities via a learn-by-doing approach.
“I never thought my decision to serve in the Army would lead me to working on state-of-the art computer technologies, but it did, and I’m thrilled to be a part of this project,” said Cohort 2 Soldier 1st Lt. Michael Lenckos. “It’s also great to be working alongside my peers in such an intentionally collaborative space — the factory itself looks like a modern tech startup, with its open-concept floor plan and modern feel, and I think that also lends a special energy and excitement to our work.”
While the newness of the Army Software Factory means that no cohort members have yet reached the later stages of the program, the program’s directors envision a progression of learning that would eventually allow more senior cohort members to lead and mentor newly arrived cohort members.
“What we are working toward is far more than a set number of individuals capable of applying software development skills,” Errico said. “We’re really looking to create an ecosystem that can foster ongoing Army learning and growth in the rapidly changing and mission-critical field of new software technologies. Mastery of these technologies enables us to improve current Army procedures but also bolster future conflict deterrence and readiness, minimizing our cyberspace vulnerabilities and maximizing the flexibility and agility with which we can operate.”
The Army Software Factory plans to welcome a new cohort of Soldiers and Army civilians roughly every six months, and opened a new solicitation for applications on Oct. 1.
More information on the application process and requirements can be found on the Army Software Factory website.