Faculty Spotlight: Thomas Byrne (Cybersecurity Program)

Part of what makes Coleman University so unique to San Diego is the incredible faculty that we have on our campus. Technology and its development are not pastimes for our faculty; their careers and passions are built around it. We sat down with one of our Cybersecurity instructors, Mr. Thomas Byrne, to talk about his passion for technology and teaching. Hopefully we can show you something new and exciting about your instructors!

Mr. Byrne (far right) stands with his First Robotics Team at the Central Valley Regional in March of 2016. This photo was taken after the team had secured a spot in a semi-final for the second time that month!

1.So, Mr. Byrne, what drew you to technology and network security?

I grew up with technology and thinking back here are some of my memories: I was literally amazed at my first RED Led watch in the mid 1970’s as well as PONG, which I had hooked up to my TV. I thought to myself “this is the future, these digital readouts.”  Then one day in 1982 my father, who worked at McDonnell Douglas in Long Beach as a Branch Chief Engineer, brought home a Compupro 8/16. It ran CP/M off of 8-inch floppies. One of my favorite games to play on the computer was “Colossal Cave Adventure,” which was a text based adventure game that made you visualize the world you were exploring. I spent a lot of time exploring that cave and one day I got stuck in the cave and actually phoned the author for a game hint in the help file. That was cool, knowing that I could phone the creator of the game. The hint was “Did you get the axe? Did you throw the axe at the Minotaur?” Ooops! I also read a lot when I was a kid, and I eventually came across tech magazines in the electronics store. I read an article and found out that you could punch a hole on the back of that huge floppy to make it double sided; it was so exciting to learn that I could double my storage!  I learned to program in Assembly, which meant manipulating the CPU stack, and I watched my dad write code to track expenses and even predict when airplanes were flying overhead as they landed in LAX. I also received my HAM radio license back when you had to learn Morse code and was communicating with people in Japan and Germany… so that’s how I sort of got hooked on technology, it was my fun time. As for network security, I like to be secure and wanted to learn how to maintain my systems against threats. I saw all the virus activity and did not want to lose my data, so I researched how to stay safe online and really liked understanding how the hackers think and what motivates them. I also learned how vulnerable this technology is, and I wanted to do something about it.

2.How long have you been teaching at Coleman? What inspired you to become a teacher?

I was hired as an Instructor in August of 2010. Before that I was a corporate trainer for Luxottica. I always was someone who could learn and then explain almost any topic and gain insights on it. I really like helping people understand difficult concepts in cybersecurity. This is a huge positive, as a lot of the material can be difficult until you understand it. I try to make it easy to understand, so that my students can remember the material down the road and make use of that knowledge. I try my best to cut through the noise to the essence of what’s really important to know.

3.Do you have a piece of advice or information that you want all of your students to know before they graduate?

There is a job for you, as the world certainly needs trained cybersecurity professionals. It will not be handed to you though. One piece of advice I have is to be very flexible in your careers and gravitate to the areas that interest you. Learn everything you can about security and technology; we live in amazing times and the whole world is going through a digital transformation right now. The world needs your help, so study hard and keep up with all the changes in technology and security. The Internet is a great human resource, so use it; learn how to find good sources of information and never stop learning. It’s very important to learn to interact with others in a positive way and become a good communicator. Be a positive person. Technology is hard for many so help them understand it.

4.Where do you go for the most accurate and up-to-date information on what is happening in technology?

I take advantage of my commute time and listen to podcasts. I’ve got my podcast apps, and I can tie into any podcast out there. I listen to Google, Apple, Microsoft, Security Podcasts, etc. It really comes down to about five companies that are at the head of technology development. It is all interesting to watch and hear, like a big game to see who will come out with the next trend.

5.What are some basic tactics that you would recommend to the public, who may not be fully aware of online cyber risks?

First of all, don’t believe in total privacy online. If you’re on the Internet regularly, you are not doing it privately. If you’re using the Internet you’re going to be in some database somewhere. In regard to keeping your own computers and other devices secure, try not to click on links that you don’t recognize, use two-factor authentication whenever possible, have a password manager for your personal emails and other log-ins, keep up with the news, and don’t go to websites that you can’t verify. Most importantly, don’t allow any action on your devices that you do not personally approve. So if an email comes up with a link that you do not know, reverse it, call the company directly and ask if they contacted you. You need to initiate the connection instead of assuming a provided link is good.

6.What are you involved in outside of the classroom that involves technology development?

Well, I am a mentor for First Robotics. My son wanted to start a robotics club at his high school with two friends, after seeing that other schools around the city, such as Hi Tech High had them. They started a robotics team for Mission Hills High School in San Marcos. I met with them and let them know that I wanted to help out, so I met all the parents of the other students and we worked together to start a robotics team. It’s a lot of work! You have to form the team, and it costs about $4000 to compete in these competitions, so that takes a lot of fundraising. You’re given parameters like the weight of the robots, which has to be 120 pounds, and the cost, which has to be less than $4000, and so on. So you need to get sponsors. We got started in the robotics competitions in San Diego four years ago, and our first project was a defensive robot which was required to have the ability for aerial assist. In that first competition we placed 23rd out of 60 teams, which was pretty high for a rookie team, considering that some of the other teams had been doing this for at least ten years. From there we ended up going to St. Louis to compete, because we won Rookie All Star; we were up against teams from across the nation, but there are also about 30 countries that do this every year as well. Right now there are about 6,000 teams globally that are a part of this competition. We were up against the best and that motivated us to come back even better the next time. So in the following years we have been semi-finalists in both the national and international competitions. This year we were semi-final and quarter-finalists. There are a lot of scholarships attached to this, so students can get money from Boeing and other companies who are looking for engineers to sponsor. Our team is so successful because we have so many mentors who specialize in every aspect of building and implementing.

7.What is an up and coming technology or technology trend that you are really excited about?

Well people like to say that my head is in the clouds, because I am so invested in cloud computing! This is the next paradigm shift in major technology. A cloud service run by major corporations like Google and Microsoft provides the advantage of a powerful storage facility, with massive processing power, and servers that can shift their computing power to adapt to any situation. In regards to hacking, people are going to start seeing the value of the cloud, because it offers more security at less expense, and it is consistently updated. The ability to share and store information will connect the world and give everyone access to technology.

 

We want to thank Mr. Byrne for taking the time to tell us about himself and his passion for technology. Keeping students motivated and engaged is a full-time job and there is a lot more beneath the surface here than you might think. Join us again next month for another spotlight on our incredible faculty at Coleman University! If you would like to know more about First Robotics and the team that Mr. Byrne is mentoring follow the links below.

https://www.firstinspires.org/robotics/frc

https://www.facebook.com/team5137/

 

There’s More to the Story Than You Think: Women in Technology

March is Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on the contributions and movements that have come from women throughout history. Think about what you take for granted every day without thinking of where it came from or who invented it; would you immediately think a woman had created it? Take the modern medical syringe, an item that is now in every doctor’s office across the globe. The first patent for the single plunger syringe was given to a woman, Leticia Greer, in New York in the year 1899 (you can see the original patent application here). In 1966 a woman by the name of Stephanie Kwolek invented the first prototype for Kevlar, the material that would become integral in crash helmets, radial tires, and eventually bulletproof vests (learn more about her invention here). We also owe a lot of our modern inventions in computing and coding to women who were passionate about, and dedicated to improving, technology.

The first documented coding concept for a machine was invented by the Mathematician Ada Lovelace, who had become fascinated with Charles Babbage’s design for a computing machine. The Analytical Engine was conceptualized to perform long and complex mathematical equations in a short amount of time. Using the pattern designs from the Jacquard Loom, Lovelace conceptualized a set of “cards” that would have holes in them that would correspond with numbers and patterns established by the creator. These cards would be read through the holes by the machine and in turn produce a numerical answer. The notes on this card design that Lovelace published in a Scientific Memoirs journal are now considered to be the first plan for a “coding” system for a machine. The Analytical Engine could have been programmable, thus making it customize-able for various types of computing and the punch cards could then also be reused. Initially Ada Lovelace imagined that this engine would be used to create and play music, as well as do complex mathematics. Though the Analytic Engine was never constructed, the notes that Lovelace published set the ground work for the future of programming and computing. For more information on Ada Lovelace and her programming design, click here or visit The Ada Project website.

Another pioneer in computing and programming is Grace Hopper, an Admiral in the United States Navy. Have you ever “de-bugged” your computer? Well that term came from Grace Hopper herself! After removing a moth from the Mark I computer and taping it to her notebook, the term stuck and has been a part of our culture ever since. Hopper was born at the beginning of the 20th century in New York City. After completing her Bachelor’s in Mathematics, she went on the Yale to complete her Master’s and then her Ph.D. She taught for a number of years until she enlisted in the United States Navy Reserve where she was assigned to the Bureau of Ships Computation Project being researched at Harvard University. She was then later named as a Research Fellow. Her work was dedicated to the first large-scale computer named the Mark I, and would go on to help develop the Mark II and Mark III. After working with numerical code in computing, Hopper began work on the first computer compiler and computer programming language referred to as COBOL. It was her idea to start collecting programming commands for a shared library of codes in order to save time and reduce programming errors on projects. The collection of commands using binary code allowed for the computers to begin to understand basic phrases in English and then translate them into binary. She is called “Amazing Grace” for a reason! Learn more about her life and her work here, at the US Navy website.

Mathematicians have been integral in computer and science technologies and even space exploration. During the Space Race in the 1960s, Katherine Johnson paved the way for space flight and helped NASA put Astronauts into orbit, and put them on the Moon. Her story begins in West Virginia where she was born in 1918. From an early age she was gifted with incredible curiosity and determination to succeed. She moved ahead several grades when she was in middle school, and started high school at the age of 13. She graduated from West Virginia State College with honors and began a career teaching mathematics in 1937. By 1939, she was invited to become one of the first African American citizens to attend the Graduate program at the recently opened West Virginia University. Though she left the program early to marry and start a family, she still continued to teach math in local public schools. In 1952 she applied to become a computer for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ (NACA’s) Langley Laboratory. At the time this computing section was all African American; science was still segregated. After her first two weeks, she was promoted to work on the Maneuver Loads Branch of the Flight Research Division where she analyzed data from flight tests. After the successful launch of Sputnik from Russia, her work became much more in demand.  As NACA (soon to be NASA) began to frantically develop a plan to put men into space, Johnson became an integral part of the team to calculate and analyze data in order to make that happen. Her calculations were used for the Freedom 7 mission in 1961 that put a human into orbit around the Earth, which led to her development of a set of calculations and equations that would make it possible to accurately determine the landing point of a space craft. However, her most famous project was the orbital mission of John Glenn, who demanded that she do the calculations for his orbit despite the mechanical machines that had been put in place to do all of it. He trusted her mind and her calculations with his life, and would not go into space until she had confirmed that the machine’s results were accurate. She did all of the thousands of calculations by hand, using only her desktop mechanical calculating machine, which was at the time the equivalent to a basic calculator. She was also asked to work on the plans for the moon landing and her calculations helped to ensure that the Lunar Lander would synch with the Command and Service Module. After 33 years in Langley, she retired. In 2015, at the age of 97 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. You can read more about her on the NASA website.

We owe a lot to the women who have taken their passions and followed them into greatness. These three women are just the tip of the iceberg on a long list of female led technology development throughout history. The next time you turn on your laptop, or use your phone to calculate, think of these women who had to create these technologies that we freely use today. For more on these women, click on the links provided or go to computerscience.org for more information on other women who have made history and the issues that women in technology are still facing.

Coleman University Students are Chosen as Semi-finalists in Robotics Development Competition for Mars Exploration!

Chase Thurmond (top right) is leading the ENVI team, along with Coleman students Hao Yu and Anthony Anderson (far left), in their autonomous robot project for Mars exploration. This team will be working on this throughout the spring in order to meet the summer 2017 due date.

Technology is not a static field; it changes daily, hourly, and minute by minute. Technology development isn’t even restricted by Earthly aspirations; developers are now looking to the skies again as their next target. Unmanned ground vehicles have become the latest topic for development and putting these autonomous droids on Mars is no longer just a dream. In early 2017 the Mars City Design Competition put out a call for student teams around the world and across the nation to submit their ideas for an autonomous robot or program that centers on the theme of “transportation” that could be used to help colonize Mars. Applicants had to submit a video explaining their project and what they felt it could contribute to Mars exploration, as well as a breakdown of how they would build their project and what materials they would use. Students from Coleman University, with the help of the expert engineers at ENVI, and lead by student Chase Thurmond, submitted the ENVI design for an autonomous and cooperative robot flock.  The ENVI team, hosted at Coleman University, was chosen as a semi-finalist!! Out of 135 applications, this project and its team of developers were chosen to be one of just 15 teams competing for the chance to see their projects come to life this summer and possibly become part of the race to Mars! Teams from all over the world including France, the UK, and South America are in this competition, vying for the top spot and global recognition as a leading developer in Mars exploration. Students from our Software Development, Cybersecurity, and Graduate Studies Program came together to build the first engineering concept for a cooperative “flock” of unmanned land robots that would essentially become the eyes and hands of astronauts or colonists living and working on Mars. The overall goal of Mars City Design is to promote the development of sustainable and efficient tools for a successful living community not just on Mars, but on future planets yet to be discovered and explored. The semi-finalists chosen for this project will be presenting a teaser of their design and vision at a fundraiser in Los Angeles on May 25th. We at Coleman University want to congratulate the students who took interest in an extracurricular opportunity to put this project into motion, and the dedicated team at ENVI who are mentoring them through this journey. We look forward to seeing the finished product! You can find more information on the other designs, previous winners, and track to competition from their website: https://marscitydesign.com/news.

Avoiding Failure with Higher Education Technology Projects

I am frequently asked for a definition of a “successful” technology project. As a career senior technology executive, university educator, and now university chief executive, I have a deceptively simple answer. A successful technology project is one that is delivered on time, that comes within budget, and that meets or exceeds stakeholders’ expectations. Yet according to a study conducted by McKinsey & Company in collaboration with the University of Oxford: “On average, large IT projects run 45 percent over budget and 7 percent over time, while delivering 56 percent less value than predicted.”1 When I look around higher education, I would say these numbers are optimistic.

Why Higher Ed Technology Projects Fail
The easy answer to explain why technology projects in higher education fail is to place blame on ineffective project management and lack of communication. Technology project postmortems generally fail to get to the root causes of project failure—probably because true reflection means having to deal with the painful realization that the institution was ill-equipped to undertake the project in the first place. From nearly four decades of technology project-management experience, I see five main risk factors that lead to technology project failure. These risk factors are interrelated, and a failed project typically exhibits two or more of these factors.

Inadequate or Incomplete Definition of Requirements
In this age of agile project management, we seem to have lost appreciation for having a requirements document that details such items as the purpose for the technology project (including financial ROI), mandatory and desired functionality, and data conversion and retention requirements. In essence, what are the institutional, functional, and/or programmatic outcomes that the technology project must achieve? These outcomes form the basis for a project rubric, which can be used to evaluate aspects such as competing technologies (or systems), mode of implementation (e.g., “build versus buy” or a local server-based solution versus a cloud-based one), conversion schemes, documentation, and training. Without this rubric, how does one know whether or not this technology project has a chance of succeeding?

Lack of Stakeholder Involvement
I cannot overemphasize the importance of stakeholder involvement in a technology project. All too often, the technology department of a college or university initiates a technology project—and obtains funding for it—without involving administration, faculty, staff, students, and others who will potentially be affected by the outcomes of the technology project. Collaboration and cooperation between stakeholders and the technology organization are keys to project success.

Two decades ago, I was engaged by a college to “rescue” a student information system (SIS) conversion that was late and over budget. It was in month eight of what was supposed to be a nine-month project, yet no academic or cocurricular departments knew anything about the project. They were not involved in the selection of the new system, were never scheduled for training, were never asked to validate the student data being converted, and were never included in any other aspect of the project. The technology organization’s rationale for this lack of stakeholder involvement went something like this: “They are too busy to be involved. We will train them when the technology team is ready to deliver the new SIS.”

In another, more recent SIS implementation, the institution’s technology organization proceeded with a “dry conversion” from a legacy homegrown system to an integrated vendor-supplied system. Thirty months later, and eighteen months after “completing” the SIS implementation, the institution is still struggling with the new system. Why? Without stakeholder involvement up front and during the project, the new SIS was made to mimic inefficient workflows based on the legacy system, data interrelationships were not understood by the technology folks (resulting in numerous data-related issues), and stakeholders again received “just in time” training that was ineffective.

Unrealistic Schedule
Higher education is not alone in its tendency to set schedules at the top of the organization. Some schedules reflect the reasonable constraints of a semester or term systemfor example, upgrading computer lab equipment over spring break, implementing a new financial system based on the fiscal year, or deploying a new admissions system over a semester break. Fitting implementation into the first available break in the academic or operating schedule is not a valid reason to rush a technology project.

Many higher education administrators (like their counterparts in the private sector) are unfamiliar with what it takes to deliver a technology project, especially the time needed to perform data quality control and to train faculty and staff to a level of proficiency with the new technology. Yes, taking longer to correctly complete a technology project has an associated cost, but so does delivering one that is doomed to fail. As I used to tell my software engineering students: Spending $1 to catch and correct an issue in the requirements stage of a project will avoid the $1,000 that will be required if the issue is left undetected until after implementation.

Scope Creep and Inadequate Change Control
Without a project rubric, it is difficult to contain the scope of a technology project. With overactive stakeholder involvement, there is a tendency to add functions and features—or to turn on options—that at best are a marginal improvement to the system being delivered. The results are cost overruns, missed project deliverables, and schedule changes. Every technology project should have a formal change-control process to handle implementation realities and stakeholder requests. One reasonable way to deal with requested changes is to create a priority list of those requests that can be accommodated in the initial implementation and those that will come later.

Ineffective Documentation and Training
The project rubric should be the foundation for ensuring the adequacy and effectiveness of documentation and training. Vendor documentation and training should be examined for every function and feature listed in the project rubric; institution-developed documentation and training should emanate from the project rubric. It’s never too early to start scheduling training for stakeholders based on their need to know or use the new technology. Here again, collaboration is essential.

Honing a Successful Technology Project Team
Mitigating project risk factors is a major part of avoiding technology project failures, but doing so will not be enough. A successful project requires strong project-management skills, frequent and clear communications with stakeholders, and a well-functioning project team. Honing a successful team to undertake a technology project requires preparation, leadership, and internal communication.

A technology project team brings together people who may or may not have worked together before. Some come from the technology organization, some are stakeholders, and still others are consultants or vendor representatives. It is extremely important that every member of the team knows his or her role and responsibilities and how to communicate within the team and has received an overview of the project itself, including goals, assumptions, limitations, constraints, deliverables, and deadlines. Conveying this information is the job of the project manager. Regardless of how many times these team members have worked together, this orientation is absolutely necessary.

Also key to preparing the project team is providing team members with the resources they will need to undertake the project—for example, hardware, software, Internet access, documentation, and training. Too often, higher education technology projects launch with insufficient resources, in part due to budgetary constraints. Time is another needed resource. Team members must have the dedicated release time necessary to spend on the project. This is extremely important for faculty and staff stakeholders, who will find it difficult to juggle project duties with everyday teaching or office responsibilities.

When a problem arises with the project—and it will—the team members and the project manager need to know about it and work together to get the project back on course. The project manager must anticipate problems, take corrective action, and help the team learn from the problems and issues encountered. Protecting the team from untoward external influence or pressure is also a key role for the project manager.

Continuous, positive reinforcement for team members can go a long way to moving the project forward successfully. There can be a lot of excitement and enjoyment in achieving the smallest of outcomes on a technology project. Acknowledgment of hitting project milestones helps build team morale, especially when the final deliverable is not yet in sight.

Takeaway
So what is the best way to avoid technology project failures in higher education?

  • Have a strong project rubric based on stakeholder involvement. It will be the foundation for the project plan, documentation, and training, as well as ongoing communication with the stakeholders.
  • Create a realistic schedule for the project and equip the project team with the necessary resources for success, including dedicated release time for this project.
  • Commit stakeholder resources for testing and training.
  • Empower the project manager to move the project forward without untoward pressure to change project scope or deliverables.

Finally, communicate … communicate … communicate!

 

Note

  1. Michael Bloch, Sven Blumberg, and Jürgen Laartz, “Delivering Large-Scale IT Projects on Time, on Budget, and on Value,” McKinsey & Company, October 2012.

 

© 2016 Norbert J. Kubilus. The text of this article is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.