The Army’s cyber organizations need to let “nerds be nerds” without pressure on them to rise into leadership roles, said members of a panel on cyber force management on Wednesday.

“Nerds want to be nerds, not leaders,” said Chris Lynch, leader of Defense Digital Service.

The military has to let go of the individual contributor model, because for many tech people, “that doesn’t work,” he said.

The Defense Digital Service is a Defense Department agency that hires private-sector employees with cyber skills.

Lynch and leaders of Army cyber and the cyber industry spoke about attracting, keeping and, in some cases, letting cyber talent go during the panel discussion “A New Kind of Force for a New Fighting Domain: Cyber Talent Management” at the AUSA annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

“We’re now competing with a world unlike anything else,” Lynch said, referring to intense competition with tech companies for cyber talent. “We need to be building a place where this kind of work has a home.”

Click here for full coverage from the AUSA annual meeting.

The Army’s cyber force also may want to adapt to letting people go for its own good, panelists said.

“The private sector has advantages you’re not going to have, to hire and fire,” said Guy Filippelli, vice president of Solutions Data and Insider Threat Solutions for Forcepoint and a former military officer who ran software programs on deployments.

Good engineering teams in private industry “might start with 30 people and end up with 20 we really like,” he said. “An interesting learning lesson for the military might be how quickly can you get rid of people.”

The Army should be willing to let cyber personnel leave the military, learn new skills and come back in, said Brig. Gen. Stephen Hager, deputy commander of operations for the Cyber National Mission Force, U.S. Cyber Command. He is a former active-duty officer who went reserve and has run tech companies.

In Silicon Valley, he said, companies may get rid of 50 percent of their tech people a year to get new blood.

“I think competition is good,” Hager said. “We should be willing to let our workforce permeate, go out ... and come back. The U.S. military is the greatest one on earth, but that is not the most important thing to the nation. The most important thing is our economic might.”

In the cyber profession, it should be all right for some people to fail the training, said Maj. Gen. John Morrison Jr., commander of the Army Cyber Center of Excellence at Fort Gordon, Georgia.

The mindset that “we have to get everyone through the course” should change, Morrison said. Soldiers aren’t yet a 17 series MOS until the conclusion of the course.

“It’s a different paradigm” in cyber, he said.

Kathleen Curthoys is editor of Army Times. She has been an editor at Military Times for 20 years, covering issues that affect service members. She previously worked as an editor and staff writer at newspapers in Columbus, Georgia; Huntsville, Alabama; Bloomington, Indiana; Monterey, California and in Germany.

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