Last month, three of our alumni were invited to share their experience in transitioning to a tech career with military personnel nearing retirement through Operation Stand Down Tennesee’s Career Recon program. The goal of the Career Recon program is to equip retiring military members with resources for a successful transition to civilian careers. During the two-week program, attendees learn about many career pathways, including tech.
Tech is not always an obvious pathway
Josh Rosenburger served in the United States Marine Corps as an artilleryman and an infantryman. He shared that he didn’t think he was smart enough to pursue a career in IT and landed a job at UPS when he retired from the military. He was quickly elevated to management and found a huge learning curve managing people at UPS versus managing people in the military. Josh knew UPS wasn’t a good fit for him, but it took several years to discover the change he wanted to make. Seeking a better work/life balance after his first child was born, Josh decided to attend Nashville Software School’s Web Development Jumpstart to see if tech was for him and continued on with the Web Developer Bootcamp.
“[The transition to IT] was hard. I don’t have a degree. I didn’t have the resume. I thought IT was for people much smarter than myself,” he explains. When he discovered NSS, he leaned into the fact that NSS said no prior coding experience was required. “It was a leap of faith for my family,” he shared, and one he’s glad he made. He’s now a Senior Application Engineer at HCA Healthcare.
Robert Ruiz enlisted in the United States Army at the age of 18 as an infantryman. After nearly 10 years of military service, Robert began his career in law enforcement, which was the only career path he thought possible, with the Metro Nashville Police Department. He eventually became a Gang Unit Detective which led to an opportunity to participate in a Department of Defense grant program that merged software with a plan to reduce violent crime. The results from the grant helped shape investigations nationally into data-driven decision making with the term “Precision Policing” and was the catalyst for Robert to pursue a career in data. Robert graduated from Nashville Software School’s Data Analytics bootcamp this summer and retired from law enforcement to join HCA Healthcare as a Senior Product Analyst.
Wayne Collier served in the United States Marine Corps as an air traffic controller. When he completed his service, Wayne knew he didn’t want to continue his career in civilian aviation and embarked on a diverse range of endeavors, from teaching guitar to managing restaurants and even owning his own pool business. Wayne’s foray into coding began with Python as he started experimenting with data visualization. He experimented with tech further when he was working in a small systems update role at Waste Management and implemented a scripting tool for the call center. Still yearning for a career and not just a series of jobs, Wayne looked towards his passion for tech, eventually finding himself in Nashville Software School’s Web Developer Bootcamp. He is currently the Technology Manager and Certified Salesforce Developer at PatientFocus.
These three NSS alumni were joined by Tom Dulin. Tom served 8 years with the United States Air Force in vehicle maintenance, 6 years with the Illinois Air National Guard in aircraft maintenance, and 10 years with the Tennessee Air National Guard as a cyber security analyst. As an aircraft technician, Tom was able to draw comparisons from maintaining and repairing aircraft to working on computers and used his GI BillⓇ benefits to take some computer classes in pursuit of his associates degree. He started out in a help desk position which gave him the opportunity to grow his people skills and learn more about the different roles in an IT organization. After 6 months on the help desk, Tom began to transition to cyber security. Tom is currently the Information Security Manager at ProviderTrust.
What makes someone from the military a good fit for a career in tech?
There are many skills that make tech careers a great fit. Some of these skills are universal, like problem solving, but others are more unique to those with military experience.
Tech careers are all about problem solving and those with military experience have had to solve problems under difficult circumstances. “Every single day [in tech] you’re solving problems,” said Wayne, adding that if you love puzzles, you’ll love a career in tech.
Mission planning and operational awareness
Tom shared a parallel between cyber security and operational awareness. A big part of cyber security is situational awareness and having contingency plans whether you’re monitoring building access or ensuring the data on your servers is secure.
Robert added that the mindset needed for mission planning also translates well to planning and managing your projects.
Being able to work as a part of a team is a huge asset. The group shared that they all had a learning curve when it came to teamwork in civilian life versus teamwork in the military, but that the ability to work with others towards a common goal was a huge asset.
Learning & Curiosity
“I have always loved learning,” Josh shares and with tech, “the learning never stops.” Wayne adds, “if you have the curiosity [and persistence], you can make [a career in tech] happen.”
In the military, your career growth is more predictable, but in civilian careers, you have to present yourself. The best way to do that is through LinkedIn. A lot of the skills you developed in the military are transferable to the civilian business world, you just need to learn how to translate those skills, such as mission planning becomes project management. But Wayne cautions, “don’t get stuck on what you were.”
[I had to] learn to find my identity outside of the military.” - Josh Rosenburg
If you have GI BillⓇ benefits, a computer science degree can be helpful. Tom opted to get his associates degree and recently returned to get his bachelor’s degree in IT management, but shared that it wasn’t necessary for his career growth. Wayne explained that certifications can actually pay you more in cyber security careers than a computer science degree.
While a certificate from NSS can help expedite your start in a tech career, certifications are not as prevalent in software development and data analytics due to the continuously changing nature of these fields. In addition to bootcamps like NSS, you can also enter the tech field through self-study.
Once you're in a field like software development, Josh explains that it becomes about “what can you do now,” not about having a degree. “Attitude and aptitude” are what will move your career forward.
If you are looking for a working environment that is aligned with the military structure of working, there are lots of military consulting companies looking for tech workers and your security clearances are highly valued in certain segments of the tech industry.
There are a lot of resources available to veterans. Wayne encouraged those in attendance to take advantage of those resources and shared that he might have been able to find his way to tech a lot earlier if he had.
In addition to resources provided by organizations like Operation Stand Down Tennessee and the Veterans Affairs Administration, here are some resources they recommend if you want to explore a career in tech:
NSS Introductory Classes
Free and Low Cost Online Learning
All four veterans had very different pathways to their careers in tech. Wayne started by learning python for data, Josh took NSS’s Web Development Jumpstart, Robert explored data on the job, and Tom explored the career path with an associate degree. But one thing is clear, they have all found a career that they love.