It all started last September when Nicolas Chaillan, former Chief Software Officer for the Air Force, said goodbye to the Pentagon. Chaillan went public about the frustrations of antiquated systems and bureaucratic silos in the DoD. He wants change and wants the U.S. to be competitive, but he felt that he could do more from the outside. After the chatter began to subside from that letter, in the beginning of the year, the “fix our computers” open letter resonated deeply with all DoD employees. This letter stirred up more conversation about the level of technology advancement – or lack of it – in the DoD. And now, another individual in a top DoD position is exiting the building. Preston Dunlap, Chief Architect for the Air Force and Space Force says he’s passing the baton to someone else.

Challenging, Defying Gravity Type of Work

Chaillan said his job at the Pentagon was “the most challenging and infuriating of my entire career. Yet, I recognize this work as being the most impactful for our children’s future and the most rewarding for me.” And Dunlap compares moving the technology dial for the DoD to defying gravity. While it’s not impossible, it does take a lot of momentum and force to work against the odds. Dunlap has spent his years at the DoD, overseeing the architecture of over $70 billion of U.S. Space Force and U.S. Air Force research, development, and acquisition programs.

While Chaillan has also cited the challenges, he offers advice and encouragement to the DoD and to the contractors who support the mission. He pushed against norms and the naysayers to bring about the DoD Enterprise DevSecOps Initiative, which is the largest DevSecOps engagement in the world, within the most complex organization in the world. He proved that it’s possible to turn the DoD ship with enough determination and hard work.

While most of us have laughed about the ridiculousness outlined in the ‘fix our computers’ list, at the same time, it’s also disconcerting that our technology often lags. Despite a large budget, some employees can’t even open up an excel file without it freezing their computer. But words from departing leaders, like Chaillan and Dunlap, should instill in civilian, military, and contractors a deeper drive to avoid the status quo and push for change. There’s no time like the present to make sure our adversaries do not win.

Key Things to Avoid

Dunlap believes that change is possible and necessary. He says that we should never be satisfied. But the time is now to move – not wait until tomorrow. He closes his note to his followers on LinkedIn with the reminder to not:

  • Lull ourselves into complacency, when we should be running on all cylinders.
  • Do things the same way, when we should be doing things better.
  • Distract ourselves with process, when we should be focused on delivering product.
  • Compete with each other, when we should be competing with China.
  • Defend our turf, when we should be defending our country.
  • Focus on input metrics, when we should be focused on output metrics.
  • Buy the same things, when we should be investing in what we need.
  • Be comfortable with the way things are, when we should be fighting for the way things should be.

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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.