A New Call of Duty: Recruiting and Training Veterans for Careers in Technology

Military meets technology

The United States military is the most respected institution in the nation. Today’s Armed Forces consist of the most knowledgeable and highly-skilled soldiers the world has seen. The knowledge and skills of military personnel include advanced technical capabilities ranging from information technology to robotics. Yet, there is often a disconnect between veteran talent, including those with significant technological backgrounds, and employers who could benefit from their experience.

Fortunately, there are organizations seeking to close the gap between employers and veteran tech talent. VetsinTech connects ex-military service men and women to the “national technology ecosystem.” Operation Code supports veterans who want to learn coding and application development. According to Operation Code founder, former U.S. Army Captain David Molina, vets are an underrepresented minority in tech, similar to other demographic groups, such as African-Americans, Latinos, and women.

When companies are developing their diversity and inclusion strategies and objectives to better attract and retain targeted segments of untapped talent, military status should be included as an important dimension of diversity, along with ethnicity, gender, ability and other distinctions. Partnering with one of the companies listed above, among others, is a great way to start or enhance your outreach to veterans.

“Veterans with the right knowledge and skills can make ideal employees because we come with the training to be disciplined, the ability to execute effectively at a high level, and [are able] to do so while working as part of a larger team.” — Andrew Duncan, Consultant, Levvel

Andrew Duncan is a consultant at Levvel. He works to ensure that his team has what they need to effectively deliver quality software and mentor developers to help improve their technical skills. He is also currently organizing a company “lunch and learn” for a team of more than 25 developers that will cover topics on how to improve the quality of the software we are working on.

Andrew shared valuable insight from his personal experience on why tech employers should consider hiring more veterans. He said that serving in the U.S. National Guard as a 25U (Signal Support System Specialist) prepared him for a career in the information technology field. His focus on installing and maintaining communications systems, including radios and touch screen GPS computers, gave him a strong technology foundation. But it was the discipline, attention to detail, and leadership training that prepared him the most. He says that “software development is meticulous, so the ability to focus on details and to cover all the bases has been a tremendous help.”

Once your company has made the decision to recruit veterans, the tips below will enable you to acquire the veteran talent that is ideal for your firm and keep them for as long as possible.

Hire for Aptitude and Attitude, Train for Application

In an ideal tech world, all new-hires would already know the requisite coding languages. However, in the case of veterans (and other talent as well), it is useful to take stock of track-record, learning agility, and willingness to grow. If they have demonstrable proficiency in Ruby and Java, then they can probably learn Python and C# as well with the right training and support. Veterans are accustomed to continuous learning, whether it be formal or on-the-job training. Whether you leverage an in-house instructor or provide stipends for coding bootcamps, contributing to the enhancement of your employees’ technical knowledge and skills is an ideal way to attract and retain vets and employees of all backgrounds.

Foster Teamwork and a Sense of Mission

Andrew emphasizes the importance of camaraderie to veterans like himself. The idea of one team and one mission is a dominant value among former military personnel. In the wake of 9/11, scores of young men and women were inspired to volunteer for the Armed Services with the hope of keeping America safe and defending its democratic ideals. Your company mission may not be as grandiose, but you do have a pain point to alleviate—a problem to solve—and hopefully a way to make the community or world a little bit better through your products, services, and ultimately people. For veterans, Millennial talent, and the emerging workforce behind them, the opportunity to participate in meaningful work is especially important from an engagement and retention standpoint.

Cultivate Organized Chaos

The military is one of the most structured institutions in the world. Personnel have clearly defined units, ranks, goals, and career paths. The climate can be much more fluid and decentralized in the technology space, especially in an entrepreneurial startup environment. However, with the “Team of Teams” model that has been written about by General Stanley McChrystal (retired), the contemporary military is more agile than in the past, and its teams have greater autonomy to adapt to the fluctuating complexities of modern warfare. A balance between hierarchy and decentralization—along with the establishment of career milestones that veterans can work towards—offers a culture where veterans can thrive.

Offer Change and Reassignments

Another key feature of military structure and life is “the tour of duty.” The tour of duty is an assignment that can last anywhere from six months to four years on average, but it can be extended beyond that timeframe. When it comes to employment, many veterans have a finite frame of reference, rather than an open-ended one. The opportunity to be reassigned brings about not only a change in scenery if they are moving to a new geography (or client site), but also a chance to acquire new knowledge and experience. Communicating the approximate duration of a project in advance and providing opportunities to get exposure to a variety of assignments will help keep veterans engaged, and has proven to be a better retention strategy in general for employees in fields such as technology and management consulting.

Veterans are essential for our national security and the future of our economy. They understand the importance of adapting to new challenges, but as employers, we have an opportunity to meet them halfway by making our workplaces more welcoming. Given the challenges companies are facing in filling technology roles, we cannot afford to leave this vital talent on the sidelines.

Rod Garvin

Rod Garvin

Talent and Inclusion Advisor

Rod advises clients seeking to grow their pipeline of high-capability, diverse talent. He partners with companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500 enterprises seeking to cultivate inclusive workplaces that attract and develop great people.