The Give & Take Between the Department of Defense and the Tech Industry: How to Come Together.

A series of Medium posts based on my new book, “An Approach to Machine Learning in Cyber Defense for the DoD”.

The all too often seen depiction of what tech working with the Department of Defense would look like. How can we honestly change this relationship for the good of both sides? Source.

The last post in this series described some of the differences in mission between the Department of Defense (DoD) and commercial tech industry here in the United States. I took some time to described some differences between how both enterprises handle technology, how the purposes behind their respective existences differ, but also how they are extremely similar. I also discussed some perceived differences both sides have about one another that has quickly migrated from opinion to uninformed fact.

This next post focuses on how these differences (and similarities) can work with one another for good, and how they might actually benefit both enterprises to work together.

One common challenge the DoD and commercial tech industry face is security breaches. Nobody wants them (on either side) and nobody wants their proprietary, sensitive, classified, or intellectual property stolen by anyone.

It is mutually beneficial for both the DoD and large tech companies to keep the internet and virtual space secure for not only themselves, but global users.

Why is this? As explained previously, a large company like Google wants the internet to be a safer place to bring more users onto their various platforms. The safer the internet is, the more likely they are to get more ad clicks.

The DoD, considering its role in the nation’s defense, is actually chartered to defend much of our national telecommunications infrastructure. Much of this infrastructure relies on a variety of services, entities, and physical connections made globally. Considering the DoD’s global mission and presence, a threat to the national infrastructure and the US’s ability to get online would naturally be a threat to the DoD’s own operations as well.

So, large companies like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, etc… have some similar fears and shared enemies when it comes to cyber threats as the DoD has.

A common mutual enemy of both the DoD and (at the very least) US based tech companies is the threat of foreign intelligence/ foreign entities compromising operations and infrastructure. This ranges from stealing intellectual property to breaching the castle walls to steal information.

Another common enemy that poses a threat (but maybe on a smaller scale or lower level) include black hat hackers constantly bombarding the DoD, Google, Microsoft, and other companies’ infrastructure hoping for the famous win of finally breaching the castle walls to be able to claim that prize.

Over the course of the years, a company like Google has invested over $40.1 billion dollars in outfitting its cloud and internal infrastructure with the latest and most secure custom silicon and hardware stacks in its data centers to enable operations. On the other hand, the DoD’s new Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) has announced something in the realm of $1 billion into infrastructure to power machine learning and AI for the entire enterprise. This disparity not only leads to quality difference, but presents a HUGE challenge to the DoD when it comes to scaling analytics against the mountains of data present in its historic and current holdings.

What if the investments made by the commercial tech sector into continuously upgrading and securing its cloud data centers could also be benefitted by the DoD?

Globally, governments represent one of the top spenders in Information Technology. Source.

This would be a convenient overlap for both institutions. Since the U.S. Government represents a huge portion of the market purchasing power in technologies (including cloud), large tech companies that need to make money can only go so far without also having to entertain catering to government, public sector and DoD companies. Both enterprises need one another to continue on their own respective missions.

While this will be discussed in more depth in a later post, another opportunity for the tech industry and the DoD to collaborate on is the exchange of talent. While the underlying assumption would be that all technologists in the DoD sector are eager and clamoring to get out into the commercial space, that is actually not always the case. Many technologists who work for the DoD work there because they are inspired and driven by the organization’s essential mission to national security. They are also invigorated by the huge growth potential that is present in the DoD mission to integrate technology in the coming years.

Technologists in the commercial sector (and from my personal experience at Google as a cloud engineer) also yearn to donate or use their time and skills towards purposes they are passionate about. While being part of an incredibly smart team of individuals, free lunches, nap pods, and building cool tech may satisfy many of the high tech talent pool, many technologists also yearn to work for a mission that is clear in its direction with tangible impacts. Many large tech companies allow employees to take unpaid sabbaticals to donate their skills and time to a non-governmental or non for profit organization. Many other tech companies also have more formal programs in place (such as and Google For Good) that allow employees to either permanently work for a vertical they are passionate about in that space, or go on short couple of month stints as volunteer rotations for the tech company to another company while still being paid their salaries.

Why couldn’t we include volunteer programs like these at every large tech company to allow employees who would either like to learn more about the DoD mission or who are passionate about the United States’ national security to use their time in the same way to use their skills to defend the nation for a period of time?

Exchange programs like these could go both ways. They somewhat do currently, however oftentimes commercial tech industries wonder what their White House Fellow or DoD Fellow really contributes to their workplace other than the burden of needing to be accommodated for. If the focus of this exchange relationship was technical talent, technical training, and the trading of technical insights and know-how, both enterprises would see huge benefits. Not only that- but both enterprises might also see better retention rates if they allow their employees to (for periods of time) see if the grass is in fact greener on the other side, or maybe keep a foot in both camps and serve as translators between both worlds.

Want more? Read my next post on the topic of DoD and Technological Risk here.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store