AUSTIN, Texas – Enthusiasm is a word that comes to mind frequently when meeting members of the Army Software Factory.
Soldiers and Army Civilians who arrive at the central Texas facility – an endeavor of Army Futures Command – display a clear eagerness to learn new skills and to contribute to innovative software projects that will improve Soldier experiences.
“It’s pretty exciting to be part of something that’s new,” said Capt. Minx Smith, who described the Army Software Factory as “leading edge.”
“Everybody wants to be here,” added Sgt. 1st Class Bruce Black, commenting on how consistently engaged his colleagues are in their work.
Smith and Black are two of the most recent additions to the Army Software Factory team. As members of Cohort 3, they are among 25 Soldiers from diverse military occupations who were drawn to the unique opportunities offered by the three-year-long software development training program.
While some members of Cohort 3 are relative newcomers to computer programming, others have years of interest and experience in the field, which they are excited to translate to Soldier-focused software design initiatives.
Capt. Daniel Gebhardt is one such Soldier, having fulfilled civilian software development roles for a number of years before enlisting in the Army as a medical laboratory specialist and later attending physician assistant school.
While Gebhardt enjoyed his experience as an Army aeromedical physician assistant, his passion for computer science – which began in elementary school – stayed with him, and he began to see how he could merge his medical and computer science skills to build insightful software tools for the Army.
A lot of times, individuals not working in the software development field “don’t understand how technology works behind the scenes, what’s possible and what’s not,” observed Gebhardt, who in his previous role as a medical lab specialist developed an access database to serve as an interim solution for an expiring software program.
Soldiers who are creating software solutions for other Soldiers “will hopefully understand the problems better, but then also will be able to communicate with stakeholders well, because there will be that shared background,” Gebhardt said.
A large part of this ability to connect Soldier problems with Soldier-led solutions stems from the Army Software Factory’s commitment to a rigorous and innovative process.
“They have really thought through things here, and are doing things right,” Gebhardt said. “So far, it’s just absolutely incredible.”
Regardless of whether they worked in IT fields previously, the ability to apply prior experiences as a Soldier to the conceptualization and actualization of apps and other software products for fellow Soldiers is a huge motivator for members of Cohort 3.
For Black, what fueled his desire to become a combat medic and later a flight medic – “the sense of helping others” – is the same feeling that prompted him to apply to the Army Software Factory.
“Building software for the Soldiers, that’s a big thing for me,” Black said.
With a bachelor’s degree in Management Information Systems and a master’s degree in Software Development and Management underway, Black also felt the program was an excellent fit for his software development interests.
“What they’re doing with the agile techniques and the different industry techniques I think is pretty amazing,” he said.
Black further appreciates how the Army Software Factory has created avenues for Soldiers across the Army to submit real-life problem sets for cohort members to tackle.
“That’s the thing I’m most excited about,” he said.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Isaiah List, a Special Forces Soldier and Cohort 3 member, is also impressed by the program’s commitment to transformational modernization.
“The Army embracing not just this culture, but this mindset of we need to be leaning forward into what the future’s going to look like for Soldiers, and how can we reduce the strain, reduce that disconnect from the Soldier to a modern environment, is going to pay off when we get to that next fight,” List said.
List joined the Army at age 20 with little knowledge of the career opportunities available but a strong inclination to serve; “I knew I didn’t want to have been around when there was a war going and have not participated.”
His experiences thus far, which include deploying as a Special Forces Engineer Sergeant to Afghanistan and the Philippines, as well as serving as an instructor at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, have been immensely rewarding, but he is keen to play a part in improving the tech tools available to his fellow Soldiers.
“I knew that volunteering for this and coming here would be an opportunity for me to give back to the force,” List said.
He views the rank-agnostic environment at the Army Software Factory as similar in some ways to a Team environment, in which “the best idea is the best idea, and it doesn’t necessarily matter where it comes from.”
List also saw the Army Software Factory as a place where he could continue the learning he acquired while earning his bachelor’s degree in Information Science, with a focus on software development design.
“Programming is something that I’m very passionate about,” List said. “The problem-solving part of it, I love.”
The chance to be a trailblazer in identifying and building new software solutions is also not lost on members of Cohort 3, some of whom are carrying on family legacies of pioneering military service.
Smith, a logistician who most recently served as an S3 at Fort Jackson, is the great-granddaughter of a Tuskegee Airman, the granddaughter of a Korean War veteran and the daughter of an active-duty Soldier.
“Military service runs in the family,” Smith said.
Smith joined the Army midway through graduate school for social work, deciding instead to pivot to a role serving her country as a Soldier. She was able to do so while also balancing further academic interests, recently completing an MBA in IT Management.
Smith brings to the program previous experience working in user experience design, including understanding how people naturally organize and associate ideas. She appreciates the ability to serve while also applying a good measure of originality.
“Here, it seems like they really want to encourage us to think a little bit more outside the box, to use our creativity and our practical experience as Soldiers,” Smith said.
The Soldier-led approach removes some of the Army’s need for external software support mechanisms, which might involve applying best guesses to user requirements; instead, “we can go directly to the Soldiers and ask what they need,” Smith explained.
She also understands the urgency of the Army’s efforts to increase its internal capabilities to develop and field modern software solutions.
“The future of warfare is virtual,” Smith said. “It’s not necessarily going to be humans versus humans, it’s going to be computer systems versus computer systems. And the ones who win are going to be the ones with the higher level of technical expertise.”