This post was written by Ketch Developer Advocate, Ryan Overton, as part of our #PassTheMic series.
My grandfather was in the Army during World War II. My dad was in the National Guard during Vietnam. I remember seeing my dad’s uniform proudly displayed in his childhood room at my grandparents house. Still, military service wasn’t especially discussed in my family. We were a family with a tradition of military service but I wouldn’t say we were a military family. There was no expectation that I would join up.
I went straight from high school to college because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do. But college wasn’t for me. After one semester, I was flunking out. It was clear I needed to do something else but I had no interest in going back under the purview of my parents. A friend of mine and I thought we had an easy solution, “let’s just join the military!” In our teenage minds, it checked all of the boxes: housing, food, travel. We were just High School kids. We thought we knew everything and we thought it would be easy. It wasn’t easy.
The “not easy” started with basic training. I had never been forced to push past my limits like that — to know that they’re there but that they don’t have to hold me back.
After my initial training, I was deployed overseas. I had barely left the state of Oklahoma and now I was heading to a military base in Livorno, Italy. I served from 98–2002. I think a lot about how different my military experience would’ve been if those years were tweaked a bit.
I was on base on 9/11, huddled around a computer trying to refresh MSNBC.com Everything changed on base that day. I wrapped up my military service soon after. As I left, my unit went on to stage Afghanistan — moving equipment in and getting it ready for the incoming troops to go over and fight. It’s a scary proposition to think about what would’ve happened if I had joined at that time.
The military turned out to be exactly the right thing for me. It focused me and they paid for me to return to college and study computers. When I went back to school, it felt like it was on my terms. I was finally mature enough and determined enough to take advantage of the opportunity.
But I was very lucky compared to the men and women who came after me. Being in the infantry and fighting in combat certainly doesn’t translate to a civilian job. There are a lot of veterans who get out and who don’t know what they’re going to do or how they’re going to adapt. We don’t do enough to help them and we don’t think creatively enough about how to help them transition into tech.
One organization that is doing a great job is Vets Who Code. If you’re looking for something to do today beyond lip service, check them out and find a way to get involved.
In my experience, I can personally vouch that veterans make for great technologists. We are problem-solvers. You never know what situation you’re going to be put into so you’re adapting and improvising and making it work. Veterans are cool under pressure. They’re detail-oriented. They follow-through. They’re organized. They’re disciplined.
Probably a lot of the exact characteristics you put in your last Job Description. That might be something to keep in mind — and not just on Veteran’s Day.