The powerful soft skills veterans bring to the tech sector

Veterans discuss the transition from military to civilian life, and the unique talents they exercise at work.

By Ruairi Kavanagh, contributor

“For me, it was just another target intelligence program,” recalls retired Major Ted Corbeill, who’d been out of the Marine Corps for less than a year when his sales leader at a global technology company approached him with a challenge.

“I’d been specifically recruited because of my military intelligence background to help the company identify and win new business,” he continues. “My Americas sales leader felt that someone with military targeting experience could add value. So, I formed the client acquisition targeting team along with another Marine Corps veteran to synthesize business intelligence data sources into actionable, comprehensive client engagement plans to help sales teams.”

The project worked. In the span of two months, their two-person pilot program exceeded expectations by landing a 90% penetration rate on new accounts.

The company saw an opportunity and decided to go bigger. “They secured an offshore research facility in India, so I found myself managing a 40-person team from an office in Texas. I had plenty of experience of this people management dynamic from my time supporting combat operation in Afghanistan [from a secondary intelligence facility in California],” Corbeill explains.

Employers know that veterans have the skills to bridge the gap between strategy and tactics, to be able to translate strategy into actionable tasks, while also supporting others.

—Retired Major Ted Corbeill, director of field enablement and sales, Vivun

“I needed to create a standardized process to support people and synthesize the data collected from both intelligence teams, and I was able to lean on the same process now working with our remote team in India,” he says. Again, the process worked. The remote team successfully supported 85 business accounts and secured $17 million in new sales pipeline.

“Employers know that veterans have the skills to bridge the gap between strategy and tactics, to be able to translate strategy into actionable tasks, while also supporting others,” says Corbeill, adding that veterans excel in ownership of tasks, accountability, collaboration with others and being inherently disciplined when it comes to time management.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, approximately 200,000 military service members return to civilian life each year. Though the transition can be challenging, this workforce movement represents a welcome injection of skilled and disciplined labor into multiple sectors. For the tech industry, this transition poses a hiring opportunity. Veterans enter the workforce with an array of technical skills that are a natural fit, but they also frequently possess an even deeper array of soft skills: Military personnel are comfortable dealing with pressure, identifying objectives and working together to achieve them.

Why veterans make an impact

Corbeill left the Marine Corps in 2015 after more than 23 years of service both at home and overseas, with appointments including intelligence, strategic planning, and training and development. Since leaving the military, he has worked in different technology-related roles, particularly in the area of business development, and currently serves as the director of field enablement and sales at Vivun.

“The military culture is deeply rooted in honor, discipline, courage, camaraderie and teamwork to accomplish shared missions. In comparison, the civilian workplace can often seem confusing due to a lack of clear structure, identifiable trajectory and cohesiveness. This difference in culture, along with a misplaced perception of the civilian workspace, can make it very difficult for veterans to acclimate,” says Corbeill.

Retired Master Sergeant Sergio Hernandez echoes this sentiment. He’s an Army Ranger veteran who recently left the military after a 24-year career that included many overseas deployments and appointments in IT and communications. He now works as a systems engineer in a civilian contractor role for U.S. Special Operations Command Europe. “For veterans facing the civilian world, it can seem unconsolidated and abstract, particularly in comparison to the direction and focus of the military,” he says. “Also, advancement isn’t linear, and it can be hard to possess the same sense of meaning and mission as before.”

In terms of serving customers, it’s very easy for veterans to understand that mission. To help others and each other is what we are trained to do.

—Army Captain Kate Porraz, senior analyst, Dell Technologies

Companies that can smooth the transition stand to benefit from veterans’ bedrock people skills of camaraderie, loyalty, resilience and the ability to make challenging decisions rapidly and under pressure. Day to day, that means being able to lead on projects, both in terms of crafting strategy and putting it into effect.

“In the military, you are ready to decide, because you do not have time to hesitate. Veterans know what it is like to perform under pressure; they know how to adjust to circumstances and scenarios,” says Hernandez.

Kate Porraz in uniform with her son, Oliver. Courtesy of Kate Porraz.

Army Captain Kate Porraz found that cohesiveness and her willingness to learn are foundational career assets. Following her cadetship, she spent four years on active duty, working primarily in logistics and communications. Since leaving active duty, she has joined the Dell Technologies team as a senior analyst, while continuing to serve the country as a captain in the Army Reserve.

“I think [companies] value our punctuality and cohesiveness when it comes to projects. In terms of serving customers, it’s very easy for veterans to understand that mission. To help others and each other is what we are trained to do,” she says.

Porraz’s transition to working at Dell came through the company’s Veteran’s Integration Success Program (VISP). “As a first-generation student, veteran and mother, I am very grateful for the opportunities I have here,” says Porraz. The VISP program trains veterans in at least three different roles within the company to expand their range of opportunities.

The impact of veterans on the civilian workplace is not just a U.S. story, of course, but one that is frequently reflected internationally. Speaking to Dr. Paul O’Donovan, adjunct professor at Trinity College Dublin’s MBA Program, the transfer of skills from the military to the civilian world is aided by what he categorizes as a “can-do attitude and an ability to not be distracted by jargon. Once they see a pathway, military personnel can identify a route through a problem. The challenges they face in the civilian world are primarily cultural, but their attitude, optimism and morale are key to enabling a successful transition.”

Moving forward with purpose

Replacing the sense of purpose that a military career provides is one of the major challenges for veterans, but the adjustment is all about putting things in perspective, according to Hernandez. “Working in a high-tempo military environment, whether in operations or support, you are responsible for your team, your company and, ultimately, your country. Evolving into a civilian role in technology can feel like you lose the purpose you once had unless you adapt and create meaning. I continue to have meaning in this life. My children, the work I do and the people around me are why I get up in the morning.”

Hernandez says that those considering leaving service need to think about their post-career goals and ensure they know what they’re qualified for before they start applying. “Get a plan in place, do your research as to what jobs you’ll be a fit for and give yourself plenty of time—don’t wait until the last minute.”

For Corbeill, building a successful career in technology is not only about personal goals but about helping others. “Like most veterans, I consider myself to be very altruistic. I feel fortunate to have found my niche in tech sales enablement. Every day I strive to find ways to help our sellers improve because if they don’t win deals, no one wins,” he says.

For those looking to take the step into the civilian world, Corbeill believes the bonds built in the military don’t evaporate and help is at hand. “You don’t need to take on the challenge alone. There are so many veterans that are further down the path. Seek us out. We’re ready to answer the call!”

Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock