Hack The Sky: Dr. Maura Sullivan, Chief of Strategy & Innovation for the Navy

Hack The Sky: Dr. Maura Sullivan, Chief of Strategy & Innovation for the Navy

Written by WWCode HQ with thanks to Dr Maura Sullivan

Member ReflectionsMembers

Women Who Code recently met up with the brilliant, Dr. Maura Sullivan, Chief of Strategy & Innovation for the Navy, about her career, autonomous and analytics tech, the importance of cognitive diversity (read: women need to represent) and upcoming events for our members, such as “Hack The Sky.”

“Hack The Sky” Swarm Drone Hackathon and Autonomy Workshop is a landmark event, intended for hackers, mentors, designers, developers, data scientists and more. Last year the event, set the world record for controlling the most drones, under the direction of single controller! Let’s rally the #WWCode community to hack a new world-record setting control system. Register here.

Meet Dr. Maura Sullivan

Dr. Sullivan started her career building risk models and software that predicted the probability and consequences of potential catastrophes for financial institutions. And then…

“I left the private sector in the Silicon Valley and went to DC, because I believe that progress is catalyzed at the intersection of research, business, and government. Also, I saw the critical need for regulatory bodies to have a much more sophisticated understanding of the information ecosystem and algorithmics.”

At that time, Maura was investigating why the rate of change in the Navy was not keeping pace with the rest of the world. The result of her findings was a fundamental restructuring of the organization, with the goal of transforming management from stovepiped to a C-Suite approach, with her own position as “CTO” or Chief of Strategy and Innovation being created to oversee the technology space and map it into a strategy for the future.

In this role, Dr. Sullivan has worked to encourage innovative thinking and leverage the sophisticated technology the Navy has at its disposal. She’s taken a somewhat abstract approach, since it is impossible to micromanage a 900,000 person organization with a 170 billion dollar budget. Rather a more guidance based approach was needed, employing many tools to promote cultural change over specific structural improvements.

One such initiative was Task Force Innovation, which concentrated on workforce, information, and accelerating emerging capabilities. Over a period of 2 months her department was able to solicit ideas from 30 organizations resulting in over 150 credible, specific policy or project ideas. This helped to greatly decentralize the innovation platform and remove hierarchical blockages that were hindering experimentation due to rank or location.

“The Pentagon is not operational, so we had to think hard about the levers we actually controlled. In the end we identified 4 major tools: policy change, seed funding, best practice promotion, and thought leadership. These were used simultaneously, because in government there are no owners only stakeholders. This means everyone can say no, but no one can say yes. You have to be much more clever about how you enact strategic change.“

This approach has allowed Maura Sullivan to help enact 22 policy changes over the past year including everything from an entrepreneurs in residence program, to increasing the funds that go towards innovation projects, as well as the creation of an open data program, and pushing the development of strategies for transformation technologies and advanced manufacturing. Her department has provided $16M in seed funding to innovative projects, all of which exist between the stove pipes, allowing for growth, experimentation, and optimization.

Women In Tech

When asked about the role of women in technology, and the military in particular, Dr. Sullivan noted that there are still major problems, but was quick to point out both the potential benefits of increasing gender diversity, while offering some insight into how this might best be accomplished. One of the things that she emphasized was creating a system that found the right “individual” for a particular role, over the one that has the highest rank or longevity in a department.

“Research suggests that the most successful individuals capitalize on their innate dominant talents and develop those strengths by adding skills and knowledge. Rethinking who and how people come together to collaborate and solve problems is critical to avoiding group-think, a condition which has created past national security failures. Innovation requires intentionally cultivating views that are outside the cultural norms.”

She went on to note why this is important, saying, “Scientific breakthroughs occur in teams with more women because of increased creativity and fresh approaches and according to research published in Science Magazine increasing the collective social sensitivity by adding women increased the collective intelligence of teams. Creating a culture that values individuals and emphasizes organizational constructs that maximize cognitive diversity will allow the Navy to maximize the innovative potential of its workforce irrespective of gender.”

Hack The Sky

Hack the Sky is Maura Sullivan’s latest “outside of the box” approach to increasing decentralization and flexibility in the industry. This event will open up the control system that broke the record for the number of UAV’s (50 at a time) ever controlled by a single person.

This event hopes to improve:

  • Autonomous search tactics
  • Wireless authentication
  • Robotic Operating System Security
  • Visual recognition

By opening this system up to the coding world, it is Dr. Sullivan’s belief that she will be able to further infuse a dynamic energy into the Department of the Navy, demonstrating the valuable contributions that can be made to systems through the power of crowdsourcing, while also redefining the antiquated approach towards data within the organization.

Hack the Sky is taking place June 25th at 3:00pm PST in San Francisco, CA

Those in attendance will include:

Under Secretary of the Navy, Janine Davidson
Chief of Strategy and Innovation for the Department of the Navy, Maura Sullivan
Olinda Rodas, AEMR COI, Secretariat, Command & Control Technology and Experimentation Division, SPAWAR
And more…

From the EventBrite Page:

Hackathon Challenges:
A) Wireless Authentication
B) Robot Operating System (ROS) Security
C) Algorithms for Cooperative Search

Design Sprint Theme: Help design the future within the following domains: system interfaces across domains and architectures, use of artificial intelligence and human interfacing with smart agents, and the future use of big data analytics in unmanned systems. *Design sprint not eligible for prizes.

More information here
Evenbrite Event Page

How Can the Department of the Navy Cultivate More Women Innovators?

Donate to Women Who Code