AUSTIN, Texas – Members of the Army Software Factory presented firsthand perspectives on the value of Soldier-driven software design and development during a Sept. 29 panel at Fed Supernova, a three-day defense networking and learning event at Austin’s Capital Factory.
Moderated by 1st Lt. Rachelle David, the panel – “Hacking the Army: Software Modernization at the Speed of Relevance” – focused on the experiences and insights of Software Factory Soldiers and lean project managers Capt. Keyshawn Lee, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jason Bedoya, 1st Lt. Haley Steele and Capt. James Cho.
Lee, who manages development of the Software Factory-developed app Carrera, formerly worked in Army human resources, where he observed the ability of Soldiers to solve problems creatively, when they had the resources and support in place to do so.
“One of the most important things that I appreciate, and I see throughout our formation, is our ability to upskill and invest into our Soldiers and their education,” Lee said of the Army Software Factory, a future force design prototype and the Army’s first Soldier-led software development capability.
Lee and fellow panelists shared that when Software Factory members commit to developing an agile solution to a Soldier-identified issue, they frequently find that the Soldiers closest to the problem have already put substantial thought and energy into envisioning interim solutions.
“Soldiers are smart,” said Bedoya, who brings an extensive background in IT to his role as a Software Factory project team leader.
“We’re going to find a way to make something happen.”
Because of this inherent Soldier inventiveness, Software Factory coders are often able to leverage and expand upon a pre-existing foundation of ingenuity, building new software applications that are compliant, scalable and tailored to meet Soldier needs.
Steele, who graduated from West Point three years ago with a degree in computer science, understands through her work on the PMCS app how uniform-to-uniform interactions between Software Factory Soldiers and Soldiers on the ground can help to solidify trust and accelerate identification and implementation of optimal solutions.
“That’s the superpower of the Army Software Factory,” Steele said. “It’s giving Soldiers the chance to do what they’re passionate about and be able to solve Army problems while still being in active duty and serving other Soldiers.”
Cho joined the Software Factory after serving as a signal officer with the 75th Ranger Regiment and observing the need for responsive, adaptive and up-to-date software. He has since come to see even more clearly the benefit of training Soldiers in highly sought-after and future-oriented skills such as software development.
“I think the superpower of the Software Factory is that it’s starting to be a catalyst for a lot of other conversations in the Army,” Cho said, citing pressing questions along the lines of “How do we retain talent?” and “How do we upskill the digital workforce?”
“We’re facilitating a lot of these other conversations in the Army while we’re building software,” Cho explained.
Software Factory members develop Soldier-focused software platforms and tools with the understanding that future operating environments may be contested or disconnected, meaning Soldiers will require resilient technologies to operate effectively. They additionally understand that having Soldiers who can code solutions swiftly at the tactical edge will be a crucial operational asset.
“Building that organic capability, that’s the most valuable thing we’re doing here,” Cho said.
The Software Factory receives approximately 60 Soldier problem sets every six months, carefully selecting two to four projects to tackle equally as often.
Soldiers or Army civilians interested in submitting a problem set for consideration can do so online here.