With Veterans Day coming, this seemed like a logical time to talk about getting hired into the IT field as a Veteran. As someone who started out with no degree and no formal training, but a strong desire to work in the tech industry, I thought it would be interesting to share my story, with the hopes that it will help others break into the field.
Don’t let anyone tell you no. I was medically retired from the Army, and the Vocational Rehabilitation counselor from the VA told me that he would not authorize payment for school if I chose IT as my major. My only options were to go for a Bachelors in Business Accounting, or use my G.I. Bill to pay for school. I opted for my G.I. Bill, I am so glad I did, I would have been a terrible accountant. I also applied to every IT job, both entry level and not, I stretched my skills, and I clawed my way into a help desk contract job at a school district after being rejected for a lower level position at the same school district.
Read everything you can, if you don’t know something, ask, or look it up, but don’t ever stop learning. Don’t just look for technical learning either, consider yourself a business person with technical skills. Some of the best sources for learning are books, podcasts, and blogs. Here are a few lists that I have used and personally recommend. Some of these are technical, but all of these will help you develop yourself, and show that you aren’t afraid of getting outside your comfort zone.
- Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us – Seth Godin
- EntreLeadership – Dave Ramsey
- Start – Jon Acuff
- The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win – Gene Kim
- The juggling act bringing balance to your faith family and work – Pat Gelsinger
- The New Kingmakers – Stephen O’Grady
- The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google – Nicholas Carr
- Geek Wisperers
- In Tech We Trust
- Speaking in Tech
- Entreleadership Podcast
- Chat with Champions
- DevOps Cafe Podcast
- The Cloudcast
Get involved in every community activity, technical meetup, and usergroup you can. When I wanted to get my name out there, I started showing up at my local VMware Users Group, and started writing this blog. I watched some of the presenters, and I was hooked. I started learning the materials and practicing, and pretty soon I was presenting. I started getting more into it, looking for more opportunities to present. Next I plan to start with Toastmasters, and taking a few classes on presenting. I make community events a priority when they focus on IT, and the user. Finding people who do what you want to do and asking them if they can help, offer to buy them coffee, find out their reading list, ask them how they were successful, ask them if they will mentor you, but make sure you are bringing them some value and some perspective.
There is no magic formula for success. Veterans tend to be driven, and turn our skills from being soldiers into technical skills. One day you will wake up and realize you are well on you way, but you never stop learning. Focus on community and on developing your skills. Learn everything you can, be a good team player, and you will never find yourself lacking opportunities.