Chair’s Message | Putting the Pieces for Success into Place

Oct. 30, 2020  

Dear GT Cybersecurity and Privacy community,  

We finished our first full month as a school with a hurricane. Thanks in part to Zeta. I had planned to open this letter by saying “with a flurry of meetings and events,” but I can’t find anyone who thinks this week has been only a flurry. We are on a very fast track to have most of the critical academic functions defined and operating by the end of 2020, and this week was a critical one for defining those functions and identifying the stakeholders who will help us implement them. The school’s executive committee met for the first time Thursday morning. The meetings with potential industrial advisors kicked into high gear. I spent a day (re)learning how to be a school chair. We started meeting with our colleagues from across the university system about developing a cybersecurity roadmap for Atlanta, the state, and the region. I couldn’t have asked for more. Except maybe for the part about losing power and network access. I could have done without that.  

The executive committee will help us bootstrap our way to everything from curricula and instruction to research pillars and laboratories. I’ve mentioned the executive committee a couple of times already. You should expect to hear more from the committee in coming days. Here is the charge I gave them yesterday: Define how SCP will carry out basic and necessary academic functions by: 

  • Identifying key processes 
  • Recommending committees for carrying them out 
  • Recommending a plan for staffing key roles 

It’s a big job. I’ve asked the committee to be creative, rigorous, and strategic in their work. These are all qualities we value at Georgia Tech. You are in a perfect position to help the committee, and I am asking each of you to give us your best thinking on these topics.    

Here’s an example of what I mean. SCP is a unique academic unit with no pre-defined organizational boundaries. The skills that will matter to graduates are still being defined. It’s baked into the idea of cybersecurity that threats and capabilities are constantly evolving and shifting, so the curriculum must also be agile and continually refreshed. Traditional modes of delivering and paying for instructional content have been disrupted (by Covid-19, of course, but also by the revolution in online education that we helped launch a decade ago). What that means to me is that the current ways of doing business do not necessarily limit the ways that SCP will do business. I’ve been in too many meetings where we were urged to be creative and bold only to be handed a list of things we couldn’t talk about. Let’s not start creating SCP by saying “You can’t…”. On the other hand, random ideas don’t necessarily advance the cause either. No matter how bold and innovative they might be at first sight, they are, well, random. That’s where rigor comes in. The most compelling anecdote or moving story is no match for data well analyzed. Finally, the committee’s work must be strategic — it must lead somewhere. It must lead to a school consistent with its vision. It must be both manageable and transparent in its operations. It must be financially sustainable.  

That’s a framework for thinking about how SCP might operate. It’s not the only one, but it is the one I started with. On behalf of Mustaque Ahamad, the executive committee chair and professor of Computer Science, and the other committee members, I am inviting you to share your ideas. You don’t have to write a lot. An email to the committee may trigger an idea that leads in an unexpected direction. I hope you can find time to engage.  

November is going to be a scramble. The academic calendar is still a work in progress, but I have promised the deans’ council an update by the end of the semester. As you can see, we will be running as fast as we can to meet that milestone. We will meet with our new SCP Industrial Advisory Board on November 10. GT Computing Alumna and Northrop Grumman Vice President and CISO Phyllis Schneck is the inaugural chair of the board. I’ll give you an update on the industrial advisory board in next week’s letter. 

Before you break for the weekend and socially distanced trick-or-treating, you can watch our live virtual lecture series at noon. Today’s topic focuses on new malware vulnerabilities in digital ad platforms.

This afternoon at 3 p.m. EDT, I invite you to the first chair’s open office hours, a kind of virtual open house. I expect to do a lot of listening during these weekly sessions. I hope this letter has given you some ideas about what we might talk about. Please join us. 


Richard DeMillo
Charlotte B. and Roger C. Warren Chair of Computing
Chair, School of Cybersecurity and Privacy  

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Follow me on Twitter @rad_atl and @richde