Exactly two years ago I was in your shoes. I had just decided to separate from the Air Force with eight years of training, skills, and leadership experience under my belt. My DoD Civilian counterparts were urging me to continue my service as a government civilian where I could continue to accrue time towards my retirement (and eventual pension). Representatives from Fortune 500 companies reached out to me, promising to put me on a path to middle management. Even the contractors I’d managed as an officer encouraged me to join their teams as a peer, running the same missions and rubbing elbows with the same personalities. I could continue to work in a highly structured environment where the obstacles were known, the problems were tractable, and the protocols were well rehearsed. The paths were clear and defined. Did I want more of the same?
You can probably tell by now that I didn’t choose either of those paths. Instead I took a road less traveled by Veterans – I joined a startup. Why? I could put the technical skills I learned in the military to immediate use, continue to grow in that expertise and, additionally, develop expertise in new subject matter. Furthermore, the relatively flat nature of the startup meant that I didn’t need to go through ten layers of approvals and “mother-may-I” to get something done or get a question answered. Since it’s a startup, the ops tempo is fast, demanding the same ability to assess a situation, develop a course of action, and execute decisively that I honed in the military. Yes, I was a bit wary that my career path wasn’t etched in stone and laid in front of me, but a startup provided an opportunity to define my own career path, on my own terms, and have fun on the way. It was extremely helpful that Digital Lumens recognized the value of having veterans on their team and took proactive steps to make the process of hiring smooth and painless.
So, Veteran, you’ve hung up your uniform and traded your boots for wingtips or heels. You have the training, skills, and leadership experience to make an impact wherever you land, but where do you start? The most important thing is to keep an open mind – don’t feel like you have to do the exact same thing you did while you were in the military. Also, you should know that it’s not just your technical acumen which makes you valuable to a startup. Your ability to build repeatable processes, communicate with a wide variety of audiences, and lead diverse, multi-faceted teams is crucial for any startup planning to grow beyond just the prototype phase.
When you’re ready to take the road less travelled, I would recommend checking out local new technology meet-ups in your area, in addition to working with organizations specifically focused on recruiting military personnel into small and medium sized companies. Don’t be shy about speaking with other veterans at the company and asking what their military exit experience was like.
The options for you are plentiful, and I’m sure you will be successful on any path you choose. Above all else, dear Veteran, we are thankful to YOU for your service and your sacrifices.
About Yolonda Smith
Yolonda Smith, Senior Application Engineer at Digital Lumens, is responsible for the design and deployment of intelligent LED lighting systems and software around the globe. With deep expertise in advanced networking, security and software controls, she provides on-site customer and partner support and training to ensure customers’ success.
As a highly trained, experienced Information Security professional, Smith joined Digital Lumens from the United States Air Force, where she specialized in Cyberspace Defense Operations. Smith holds a B.S. in Computer Science from the University of Notre Dame and a M.S. in Management of Information Technology from the University of Maryland.