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Submarines And The Master Geek
by James Dunnigan
June 9, 2012

The U.S. Navy has created a new job category, Information Systems Technician Submarines, and graduated its first class of 16 sailors from the 19 week training course. Before this the growing numbers of PCs on a sub were taken care of by sailors recognized as super geeks and able to do the work in their spare time. But gradually the job became larger and harder. It was finally realized how absurd it was to take care of such a crucial job on an ad hoc basis.

While American subs have had computers on board for nearly half a century, these were, for a long time, only computers that were built into other systems (fire control, sonar, and so on). These were maintained by the specialists trained to care for each particular system. Sailors began bringing their own PCs on board in the 1980s, quickly followed by the more convenient (on a cramped sub) laptops that became abundant by the late 1980s. By the 1990s, the navy was installing PCs as "auxiliary equipment", but by the 21st century the subs had networks based on PC technology.

Because sub sailors were so highly trained in various technical specialties, most of them were good at fixing PC hardware and software problems. Some of these guys were very, very good at it. But as PC based software began to replace the older custom software for many submarine systems, the PC networks and the PCs that ran them became more complex. This was taking too much time for some of the sailors doing the support. All these guys had other jobs. So the navy finally decided to create a new job category for the master PC geek on each boat. The master geek would not do all the PC maintenance and upgrades but would coordinate it all and keep track of what was done and had to be done. All the other volunteers were still there and, when time allowed, where happy to get involved. After all, for many PC users it's not just a professional tool but a challenging pastime.

The other military services have also created job specialties that cover PC maintenance and network administration. The navy has also had these jobs for surface ships, especially the carriers. These specialties also include training on defending ship networks against Cyber War attacks.

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