U.S. Defense Secretary Carter emphasizes culture change needed to hire fresh tech talent

During a speech at Stanford University this past week, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter acknowledged the government's desire to hire young talent for cybersecurity work.
During a speech at Stanford University this past week, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter acknowledged the government's desire to hire young talent for cybersecurity work.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter told an audience at Stanford University last week that he believed "we must renew the bonds of trust and rebuild the bridge between the Pentagon and Silicon Valley" to further protect the country against cyber attacks.

He said the two sects, often seen as varying in objectives and perspectives, share the same “underlying objectives and values,” with respect to protecting intellectual property rights and supporting a free and open internet.

Carter's speech, timed to coincide with the department's release of its new “Cyber Strategy,” emphasized the DoD's need to recruit young talent while competing with enticing Silicon Valley companies.

Carter acknowledged the necessary change in how the government attracts hires and that it plans to begin increasing research and development along with a broader cultural change.

“These are revolutionary things, but we have to do them,” he said during the question and answer portion of his speech. “We can't have industrial age institutional and human resources thinking in an age when people, they want a choice; they want flexibility; they want movement; they want mobility, and we have to be part of that, or we're not going to be a part of the generation that will make us successful in the future.”

To put a finer point on it, he said, “But we've got to make the environment (the DoD office) less dreary.”

Amid a backlash from tech companies post-Edward Snowden and an encryption debate that continues to rage on, the often contentious relationship between private tech companies and the government will require compromise on both sides, beyond changing work culture, said Jasper Graham, senior vice president of cyber technology and analytics at Darktrace, in an interview with SCMagazine.com.

“[The government] will have to do what a lot of industry businesses have embraced, which is to have some failures and accept that it's OK,” Graham said. “It's a hard thing in government because you're spending tax payer dollars. There will have to be a balance in that aspect.”

Furthermore, the government might have to come to expect that new recruits will leave at some point. They might return to a government job eventually, or they might not, Graham said.

Bill Leigher, advanced solutions director at Raytheon, went even further, telling SCMagazine.com that ultimately, all companies are spending the resources to find specific talent, and those who start out at the DoD might take their learned skills elsewhere.

Carter noted this, as well.

“Kids don't want to get into something that they're going to be in for their entire lives,” he said. “They want to move in and move out.”

That's not to say the government doesn't bring anything of its own to the table. It can offer a stability often not found in the private sector.

“Silicon Valley sounds really interesting and fun,” Graham said. “Peel that away and you're near an area with an extremely expensive housing cost with a high failure rate of companies. [The DoD] is a good place for [talent] to hone their skills and know their next paycheck is taken care of.”

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