Military job transitioning, 18 years later

When you're in the military, there are many things that identify who and what you are. These vary from rank and rate, to insignia and duty station. This is not much different than life in the civilian world where your personal self is defined by the community in which you live, the school you attend and your job where you work. There are few similarities between what I did in the military and what I do at Intel; assuming we don’t consider talking in acronyms.

I’m a bubblehead

img853-M.jpgFor those of you who lack some basic understanding of military terms, let me rephrase that; I am a submariner! This means I earned my dolphins while serving on the USS Bluefish (SSN-675), as part of my enlisted service in the US Navy. When serving on a surface or submarine command, you are required to go through your  on-board quals (qualifications) as necessary to gain a detailed understanding of every system on the submarine. From the torpedoes, to the diesel generator, from the TDU (trash disposal unit) to the periscope, from the firefighting to basic nuclear engineering, you had to learn it all. You were given a written qual-card and expected to demonstrate hands-on, written and verbal learning in order to support your shipmate. Although difficult, I was happy to earn my dolphins within six months of stepping on-board.

…and nuc LELT

This means I attended basic training for my rate as a Machinist Mate, and then more detailed training at the Navy Nuclear Power School, rapidly followed by six months operating nuclear reactors to qualify enough to deploy to a submarine. We were warned that there was a high rate (>50% end-to-end) of drop from the program; and they  weren't lying. I then took a two year job to teach other sailors how to do what I just learned, which delayed my deployment until the winter of 1989. After arriving on-board, I rapidly completed my nuclear qual-card in order to help in the operations of the nuclear engineering spaces (that which pushed the boar along). As an ELT (engineering laboratory technician), I had the added responsibility of working with a team to maintain the reactor and steam system chemistry. After about six months, I stepped into the leadership role of our division and became the Leading ELT (or LELT), inside a nuclear powered submarine. We were expected to learn fast, learn much and be professional in everything we did.

I was 22 years old.

Being a bubblehead nuc LELT is what defined who I was and how I approached my job. I trusted my team of shipmates and knew exactly what had to happen because it was documented in excruciating detail, and often checked by a second and third person. As a sub-qualified nuc , I knew I could rely on my shipmates for anything while deployed and they relied on me. If someone said they did it, you learned to rely on that word and moved along.

Bittersweet departure

img854-M.jpgAfter five years on the Bluefish, I decided to leave the Navy. I had forgotten what the real world was like. My jobs prior to the military were those typical for a teenager, and not typical of the corporate world. I had no need to truly rely on someone, nor was I put in charge of something that could cost millions of dollars if damaged.

Early on, Intel recognized the value of military personnel and I attended a job fair hosted in Charleston South Carolina. It was during one of these interviews that I was asked to fly to Chandler and interview for a job on their newest high-capacity microchip factory. After I took the job I realized that some of my co-workers (translates from shipmate) were also ex-military and just as excited to be working at Intel. This was also my introduction to something called "Behavioral Interviewing," which is a science all by itself.

Corporate work

Following my transition into civilian work, I found myself jumping into another transition for Intel, one bracketed by something called “Back to Basics.” You see, during the early 1990’s, Intel felt that they were shifting away from those values that made the company great. This was mostly caused by their rapid growth in employee numbers and geographical locations. To solve this they instituted mandatory training on corporate values, effective communications, dealing with difficult people and effective meetings (there may be more, however, this is what I remember). For me, this was great since my way of dealing with all of this was definitely different.

Benjamin Franklin had it right when he said, “It is easier to prevent bad habits than to break them.” Lucky for me this training was early enough in my career that I still remember most of the key items and still refer to them today. Unfortunately the same training is not available for new hires, as they have reduced the mandatory training and altered some of the focus on teaching people some “core” skills, or expectations, early in their career. I would liken the “Back to Basics” initiative as a corporate boot camp in order to get everyone on the same page.

Following my initial training, I moved into something called compressed work week (CWW), working front-end nights. This meant that I worked 12 hours a day, three (and then four) days a week. To someone in the military (especially a submariner), this was a cake walk. You mean I only had to work 12 hours a day, and then I got at least 3 days off? Of course, now that you aren't deployed, there was more to do during the day and sleeping was one of those things that slid down the list; it took me some time to adapt to this style of work.

Find the right job

A great thing about Intel is that they ask you to find another job inside the company if you are looking to find a new challenge; basically, move within not out. After about two years I decided to try and move from factory support (military training) into software development (hobby). This involved quite a bit of self-learning and 1:1 meetings with some developers I found who sat near me. After doing this for about 6 months and learning to develop on this (relatively) new platform called the web (on the Intranet), I was able to get a job and start doing what I truly loved. What followed has been 16 years of college, job changes and new technologies, driving me to where I am today.

I love my job and the company I work for. Without the experience and learning's I brought from the US Navy, I would not be where I am today.

Planning for transition

There is nothing I did that is outside the ordinary with one exception – I saw what I wanted to do and I planned. That planning included my understanding that I would have to move from nights (shift) to days, and then go back to college. That planning included a few job transitions and making some risky choices in my career (there weren't many web developers in a company running off of mainframes).

What can you do in order to help yourself along towards the right job in the civilian world?

  1. Have a great resume.
    • Today this is a bit easier than it was in the pre-Internet world. You can look at examples, install software and templates, and even hire someone to do it and return a finished product -- all without leaving your chair.
    • You may need more than one "type" or copy of your resume
      • Make your job examples (duties) relevant to the job you are applying for
      • Ensure you have data to back-up any claims
  2. Keep your skills relevant

    • Yes I know how to program in FORTRAN, however, the value of that in today's computing environment is relatively zero. Take a class and learn something like JavaScript or C# instead.

    • If you can operate a nuclear reactor, you can mention it but also tell them about your skills in some of the parallel technologies that the company implements in their business. If necessary, take a class and learn about some of the newer technologies that the military may be late to adopt.

  3. Don't talk above your pay grade

    • Which means, don't talk about what you don't know. If you are going to cover a specific process, ensure you know the lingo. Talking acronyms could backfire if the interviewer asks you what that means.

      • When I was an instructor at nuclear prototype training, one of my favorite questions I would ask is what "CRUD" stood for, if the interviewee used it in a sentence (ask me later and I'll tell you, it's a nuc thing).

    • This also means don't volunteer information that is not relevant or that you don't want the interviewer to try and get you to elaborate on.

  4. Get some schooling

    • If not after the military, then put it in your 5 year plan. Isn't that why you signed up for the GI Bill in the first place?

  5. Find a mentor

    • There will be plenty of situations that you find yourself in where you become frustrated.

      • As an example, during my first year I found myself taking log readings (on some equipment) one night, and noticed that someone left a valve open. After asking around no one on the prior shift (who should have noticed) found it or owned up to opening it.

        • On a submarine, this type of behavior was not tolerated as it could kill the crew; this may not be the case at a civilian job, so take it in context with the new job and react accordingly. Talk to your mentor and don't over react. The chain of command should not be the first place you jump to.

    • Mentors can bridge the gap between expected response and the way you want to respond based on military training. Oftentimes we were trained to rapidly solve problems, and now we need to consider, collaborate and respond appropriately. Dealing with difficult people training came in handy my first few years, and now I lean on it as I mentor people.

  6. Collaborate, don't jump up the chain of command

    • There is no faster way to solve a problem in the military than jumping up the chain of command. Everyone respects it and everyone reports to it. Try doing that in the civilian world and see how fast you are marked as someone who refuses to address problems directly and collaborate towards a solution.

      • Instead go straight to the person and try and fix it together. If there is no owner; then you own it until solved.

  7. Build a professional network

    • When you needed to find someone at your command to solve a problem, there was always someone who knew someone, which made it easy. You could also fall back on ratings to own specific things (Machinist Mates; they own the main engines) or departments (Engineering -- reactor controls).

      • Talk to people and volunteer to help solve problems. While doing that, notice who they go to when they have issues and who the experts are. Quietly (or publicly) add those people to your network and start having 1:1 meetings with them. Overtime, you will build a network of loosely connected people who can help you solve any problem you encounter. You will also be seen as an enabler and someone willing to jump in and get your hands dirty.

  8. Dress the part

    • For years I worked with a database engineer who wore a three piece suit to work. At Intel that is not the norm for casual business attire, and you should try and learn what the equivalent is before you do an interview. If all else fails simply ask your contact what the dress style is. Showing up in uniform (or the civilian equivalent) may be your natural tendency, however, it could be perceived incorrectly. By the way, I'm wearing a button-up short sleeve shirt, shorts and gym shoes as I type this.

  9. Act the part

    • The use of slang, slurred speech (without reason) and overall looking like you are stretching for a job you don't deserve or cannot handle, is not way to build confidence in the hiring team. Act as though you own the role, explain what you would do when you go there and how you'll make it your own.

To all my fellow veterans, I wish you the very best in everything you do. Regardless of where you find yourself, put your happiness first and the rest will follow. Fair winds and following seas, unless you live under the water, then it would be run silent, run deep! A special thanks to my shipmate Bill Giraud, who provided me with the photos I used above.