When Richard “Rich” Taylor turned five years old, he started riding horses on the family ranch in Kerrville, Texas. When he was older, he and his sister would go to the 4-H Club, where they would hone their skills in barrel racing and other rodeo events. “Back then, I really got into horse-riding skills known as ‘western pleasure,’” Taylor explains. “It’s a western-styled competition that shows a horse is calm, disciplined, and responsive to a rider’s commands. Through a series of movements, such as the horse backing up and easily moving to the left and to the right, you demonstrate the horse is a ‘pleasure’ to ride.”
Computer security at Los Alamos
Taylor came to Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1994, where he began working as a radiation control technician for the Laboratory’s Plutonium Facility. In 1998, he had an opportunity to help with computer security, and he found that he had a natural knack for the technology.
After various years working in information technology, including an 18-month stint at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Taylor was hired as the director of the Nuclear Weapons Cyber Assurance Laboratory (NWCAL) in 2019. After only three months on the job, he took on the additional responsibility of group leader for the Laboratory’s Secure Networks and Assurance group (of which NWCAL is a part), when the previous group leader retired.
“I didn’t really want to be a group leader,” Taylor says, “but I had to admit I had the experience and expertise for the job, so I took it to see what I could do. I was particularly excited about directing NWCAL, as it was a new initiative using the latest computing technologies available anywhere.”
The principal objective of NWCAL is to mitigate risks associated with critical manufacturing equipment and engineering software tools used to carry out facets of stockpile stewardship—that is, ensuring that the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile remains safe and secure.
“Both equipment and software are vulnerable to tampering,” Taylor explains. “We perform a number of services to counter such tampering. For example, we reverse engineer malware within existing engineering packages so we know what we’re looking for in new packages. We conduct cyber-physical analysis and assessments on equipment and software, and we also respond to suspicious system behavior, working with collaborators from various other Laboratory organizations, such as the Security Inquiry Team and Counterintelligence.”
Meanwhile, back at the rodeo
In 2012, Taylor started hanging out with friends who were into the rodeo scene, which brought back many good memories.
“That’s when I found out about the New Mexico Gay Rodeo Association, which was established in 1984 as a nonprofit organization fostering the western lifestyle within the gay community,” Taylor says. “I started attending the rodeos, and in 2016 I was asked to coordinate a rodeo event known as the Zia Rodeo in Santa Fe.”
His love of rodeo renewed, Taylor accepted more leadership opportunities, subsequently serving as rodeo director, vice president, and currently president of the New Mexico Gay Rodeo Association.
“There are lots of events at these rodeos, from bull riding and chute dogging to team roping and barrel racing,” Taylor says. “There are also special events created specifically for gay rodeo, and these are kind of fun.” Taylor laughs. “One event is known as goat dressing, which is exactly what it sounds like. Now, I must stress that this event causes no harm to the animal—the association has strict guidelines associated with animal welfare. Another audience pleaser is called the wild drag race, and you have to see it to believe it.”
As Taylor sees it, his various roles at the Laboratory have helped him manage large rodeo events and serve as the president of a large rodeo association. It’s too soon to tell how his current role will carry over into the world of rodeo, however. “I took the group leader and director job five months after my last rodeo, and we haven’t had one since because of the coronavirus pandemic,” Rich says. “I don’t know how my experience managing programs at the Laboratory will help me better run the New Mexico Gay Rodeo Association, but I suspect I will benefit greatly from my experience. Heck, like they say, this ain’t my first rodeo.”