Living Our Mission: Building a Roadmap to Bring Product Vision to Reality with Circadence’s Raj Kutty

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This installment of the “Living our Mission” blog series features Circadence’s Rajani “Raj” Kutty, Senior Product Manager.  

Raj is fascinated by technology’s evolution in the marketplace and that interest has informed her career path toward success. She achieved her masters degree in computer science from University of Pennsylvania in 2003. From there, she spent 15-16 years in the tech industry and has always been interested in the everchanging advancements in technology. Her tech background consists of Java programming, business analysis and product management. In the beginning of her career, she worked on mobile app designs, web app development, and programming for various industries including finance, insurance, retail, and more. For the last 10 years, she’s moved into the direction of product management. Her shift into this area began because she enjoys building a roadmap for product development and seeing it through the various stages from identifying a problem in the market, and creating a product that solves pain points for customers. Her experience working with many different industries provides an advantage to Circadence since she has a first-hand understanding of why these businesses can benefit from additional cyber security training to protect company assets.

Raj started at Circadence about 7 months ago and was immediately captivated by the concept of cyber readiness and the security industry as a whole. Throughout her profession, she noticed a growing issue many companies faced: a lack of cyber security awareness and training. Over the years, she heard a lot about the cyber workforce shortage and knew the first step to creating a solution for this problem was to get the user engaged with the right type of training. In her mind, if the user is engaged in training, then it would result in better cyber defense for the organization. Her previous work experience, thoughts about cyber security readiness and ideas around engaged training were validated when she heard what Circadence was doing to help companies be “cyber ready” using gamified learning platforms. In the past, training would consist of a video, classroom lecture or reading textbooks- something dry and boring, she said. Raj felt Circadence offered a unique solution to get people interested in cyber security, which could lead to more strategic cyber defense performance and possibly minimize the cyber workforce gap.

“Training has to be fun and interesting to the user, while still being effective. I feel like Circadence is offering this to the cyber workforce in a game-play mode, which is more engaging for the user.”

Day to day, Raj works with different departments and team members at Circadence developing product strategy and bringing a product roadmap to life. Her knowledge across many industries helps ensure our products meet the needs of different organizations, while still maintaining in-depth cyber training and ease-of-use for the customer. Much like planning a road trip, which requires knowledge of route to destination, Raj leads her team every day by investigating and communicating strategy and plans to determine where they need to go next to bring the product to market.

Her main focus over the last couple months has been a new portal Circadence is developing called CyberBridge. CyberBridge is the entry point at which users can access all Circadence cyber learning platforms including Project Ares®, inCyt®, Orion® and more. It’s a global SaaS platform that offers different types of cyber training content for different markets.

“I love that I get to help design a product that addresses the cyber challenges across different industries and the ability to provide a readiness solution pertinent to each sector’s security pain points.”

The products Raj helps map to market fulfills her goal of bringing much-needed cyber awareness and training solutions to everyone and every business. Her perspective: With every tech integration, Bluetooth connection, and device-to-device communication we implement to make our working lives easier, we inherently increase our cyber risk as our attack surface widens. There are no signs of a slowing tech usage, hence why the importance of cyber awareness continues to grow each day. When we talk about how businesses need to protect themselves, we’re really talking about the people of a business, since people are what make up a company. In today’s world of escalating cyber threats, it’s everyone’s responsibly to gain cyber awareness to protect a company.

“Cybersecurity is like community immunity, when everyone gets vaccinated, we are improving and protecting our greater community, and cyber security works the same way.”

Photo by John Lockwood on Unsplash

Photo by Bogdan Karlenko on Unsplash

Living our Mission Blog Series: Programming Innovation in Orion, Thanks to Raeschel Reed, Circadence Software Engineer

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There’s never a dull moment at work for Circadence Software Engineer Raeschel Reed. Between learning ways to use new technology, improving coding techniques, and operationalizing cyber innovations, Raeschel is a critical part to the success of the company’s product suite.

She currently works on Orion, a curriculum development application that allows learning coordinators or security managers to customize cyber training exercises based on specific needs. Raeschel has been a part of the Orion development team for over nine months, working on the back-end operations to create the logic behind the functionality. The best part about working on this product is the level of collaboration Raeschel gets to experience.

“We do a lot of pair-programming on Orion, where we work in groups of two or three to move tasks along quickly. Everyone has good ideas to share and suggestions that build on one another and it helps expediate the problem-solving aspect of software engineering,” she said.

Prior to joining Circadence, she served as a senior software developer supporting the Naval Integrated Tactical Environmental System Next Generation and before that, at the Battelle Memorial Institute supporting various government contracts for the Department of Defense and Homeland Security. Those experiences helped her learn critical technical skills and computer languages that diversified her understanding of programming and software development. She’s also an alumnus of George Mason University (master’s degree in Computer Science) and Mary Washington College (bachelor’s in Computer Science).

For Raeschel, the process of working with and applying a new tech stack like Kubernetes, back-end tools like Golang (an open-source programming language), and working in Azure, keep the act of software development truly unique and on the cutting-edge of innovation.

While unique hobbies like soccer, sewing and improv feed her need to try new things, it is the tech industry she keeps returning to for career fulfillment.

“Tech stuff I keep coming back to,” she said. “I have a growth mindset where I want to keep learning new things and trying new things and the field of cyber allows me to do that.”

And if that wasn’t enough for Raeschel to feel inspired and innovative at Circadence, the team she works with is second to none in her eyes.

“Team Orion is the BEST!” she exclaimed. “I feel very fortunate to be here and to have found ‘my people.’ Mondays never feel like Mondays.”

Photo by Fatos Bytyqi on Unsplash

Living Our Mission: Learning is Built into Project Ares, Thanks to Victoria Bowen, Instructional Designer at Circadence

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Victoria Bowen has worked in the instructional design field for about 35 years – primarily developing e-learning with a smattering of web development, SharePoint development, and Learning Management System administration. She holds an undergrad degree is in psychology, a master’s in special education, and doctorate in curriculum, instruction, and supervision with emphasis on instructional design.  What that means is that she knows how people learn and what aids and interferes with learning in training products. Victoria worked an IT security services company and then transitioned to a training role with the Air Force’s Cyberspace Vulnerability Assessment/Hunter (CVAH) weapon system. “I was responsible for the training database and the app store for several versions of CVAH.  I also developed user guides and training materials,” she said. Victoria served in that role for about nine months before joining the Circadence team.

Since September 2013, Victoria’s main job as an instructional designer has been to analyze training needs for Circadence products. She helps assess target audiences for Circadence products to determine learning goals and objectives for the product designers. She establishes the behaviors that a user would be assessed against, after engaging with the product, to ensure learning has occurred. Victoria also suggests ways to evaluate those behaviors to optimize product utility. In doing so, she prepares training outlines and documentation and writes content development processes and learning paths. Mapping Job Qualification Requirements (JQRs) tasks to training tasks is a regular function of Victoria’s job alongside mapping National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) standards to training tasks. She ensures the core skills addressed in our curriculum creation tool Orion™ align to defined NIST standards.

Applying instructional design theory to new technology

What keeps Victoria returning to her desk every day is the challenge of learning and applying instructional design theory to cutting edge training technology. Although the old rules still apply, Circadence is leading the way in developing new rules and research on how learning happens and best practices for simulations like Project Ares®. We know a lot about constructivism as an underlying theory, but to apply it gaming environments like Project Ares is new and fascinating,” she says.

The challenge of applying theory to technology is complicated by the fact that new books about instructional design and cognitive analysis and processing are published frequently. And there are new online articles every month. Also, there is a growing emphasis on instructional analysis before beginning training development projects, so there is a growing emphasis on analytical skills for instructional designers. These skills help us design the right training, just enough training, and just in time training for learners.

“Ensuring we are constructing an environment in which the player is constantly learning, not just performing a task or activity is essential.  We need the player to understand the what, when, how, and why related to the tasks they perform in the environment.  For deeper learner and better retrieval from long term memory, we also need the player to understand how their tasks relate to each other.” Victoria says. “Furthermore,” she adds, “we want the player’s understanding and performance to progress from novice to intermediate to expert. That doesn’t happen just by repetition. There must be instruction too.”

Instructional design within Project Ares

For the Project Ares Battle Rooms and Missions, Victoria collaborates with cyber security subject matter experts to write the learning objectives and assessment criteria, provide role-based learning content outlines, identify gaps and redundancies in content, and review product design to ensure high quality instructional design aspects. For inCyt™, she’s written the scripts for several of the cyber security lessons. Finally, Victoria also reviews and identifies instructional design issues such as scrolling text and text display not controlled by the user, “both of which interfere with cognitive processing by the user and adversely affect transfer from short term to long term memory,” she adds.

“I have a different challenge every day and I like challenges. I’m also fascinated by cyber security and enjoy learning more about it every day. Instructional research has consistently supported that interactivity is the most important component of instruction regardless of delivery method. We have a very interactive environment and that’s great for retention and transfer of learning to real world application.”

Victoria’s passion for intelligent learning systems dates back to her time in school. “When I was a poor graduate student at the University of Georgia, I paid around $25 a month in overdue fees to the library so I could keep the AI books I checked out longer. (Once they were turned in, professors usually got them and could keep them up to a year.) There were only about 25 books on that topic at the time. Today, it is remarkable to see what our AI team can do with Athena.”

Why persistent cyber training matters

The cyber world is changing very fast. People need to learn constantly to keep up with their job requirements. Cyber challenges are not about cookie cutter solutions. It’s important that the cyber operator learns cyber problem solving, not just cyber solutions. By jumping into a training program and being able to craft different approaches to solving problems and test those approaches, the cyber professional can learn skills that directly help them do better on the job. Plus – a big plus – the training is fun!