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Leon: It goes without saying that being part of the armed services is a very different type of work experience than the private sector. Being in IT while in the service is no different, with military values, culture, and restrictions, blending to create a very unique type of IT experience. In this Veterans Day episode of SolarWinds TechPod, we wanted to explore what it means to work in tech in the various branches of the military and what advantages and challenges it presents for folks who want to continue their IT career once they transition into civilian life. I’m SolarWinds Head Geek, Leon Adato, and joining me today to talk about that are, VP of Service Delivery at Atlantic Digital Marcy May.
Marcy: Hi. Thank you. Welcome. Appreciate you having me today.
Leon: Thank you. And also VP and General Manager at Monalytic Gregory Fetterhoff.
Gregory: Hi Leon. How you doing?
Leon: Doing good. All right. So before we get into the main part of this conversation, I like to give folks a chance for what I only slightly jokingly refer to as shameless self promotion. Just a chance to let folks who are listening, know who you are, where you got your start, where you came from and something that you’re working on now, if you want to hawk something.
Marcy: Great. Thank you. Absolutely. So I love talking about Atlantic Digital. So we are a service disabled veterans owned small business that was founded in 2009 by some veterans who were also network techies. And so from the very beginning, we have specialized in network IT solutions for the government at all levels. While advanced networking technologies has always been one of our core capabilities and we are looking to expand into cloud computing, virtualization, into cyber operations. Our strategic vision is to grow out of the SDVOSB title and into the medium and large enterprise, if you will. We are growing our disciplines across the board and we are looking to bring on additional contracts. Today, right now, I think we have five proposals in the hopper and waiting on bid. And so again, the sky’s the limit for us. We are looking to grow.
Leon: Wonderful. Okay. Greg, how about you? Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Gregory: Yeah. So as you mentioned on the intro, my name’s Greg Fetterhoff and I am the VP and general manager of a company called Monalytic, which you be thinking of it as monitoring and analytics, which merged together you get the company brand. We are a 100% SolarWinds professional services organization with a primary market supported being 90%, the Federal DOD and SLED markets and the remaining 10, traditionally speaking, Fortune 500 enterprise commercial. So a bit of a mixed bag in terms of the technologies and the customer base, but all in all, if it’s SolarWinds related, that is what we do day in and day out. We are also a veteran owned, small business. All of our staff have federal backgrounds to some degree, and that’s why we are able to tackle the market that we are current state. I will gladly announce that since its inception, Monalytic has been the SolarWinds public sector services partner of the year, two years running. So it’s something we definitely keep near and dear to our heart. And we look forward to having future awards of similar construct.
Leon: Wonderful. And we thank you for your support. My kids Orthodontist also, especially thanks to you. Okay. And rounding out that circle just to introduce myself, I’m Leon Adato, as I said, I’m a Head Geek. Yes, that’s actually my job title at SolarWinds. You can find me on the Twitters, I say it that way to horrify my children @leonadato. And also you can find me on THWACK.com, which is our user group and forum, and just place to hang out and be geeky, THWACK.com, you can find me there @adatoLE. And, all right. So I want to dive right into our conversation about tech in the military and also the transition from the military sector into the civilian or private sector. So to start off, I want to provide some context for the rest of our discussion. So, could each of you take a couple of minutes and tell us the branch of service you came from, the kind of tech work you did there and how you got from there to the work you’re doing today, and Marcy why don’t you start us off.
Marcy: Sure. Absolutely. So I went into the military, went into the United States Air Force as a young, 19-year old kid, thinking that I was going into get my education, while I did, I managed to get my bachelor’s and my master’s. I also fell in love with the Air Force and was fortunate enough to be in IT the whole time. And so I continued to grow my career in computer operations on, and into becoming an officer and again, managing common IT. And so after doing that for 20 years and retiring and going into industry, it was by luck of fate, knowing a lot of people in the industry that were in the same situation previously, they were retirees or veterans. And I just reached out to a bunch of contacts and fortunately was able to find a position through that route.
Leon: Very nice. Okay, cool. And Greg, how about you?
Gregory: So, my background is a little interesting. I wouldn’t say that it’s cookie cutter Marine Corps by any means. I went into the Marines straight out of high school. And as a quick learning process, I was literally in the middle of bootcamp when 9/11 happened. So I went from having been slated for an IT position in the Marine Air Wing to basically, you better really pay attention in rifleman school because you’re not going to go and fix computers anytime soon. So things started a little differently, obviously there was some impact there within all of the military branches in terms of what you were allowed to train on, where you were going, even inside the United States, as we kinda prepped up for going overseas. So, my school was a bit delayed in which case I then was stationed in Athens, Georgia, which I later discovered was a course that was specifically written by high-level Cisco engineers.
Gregory: So, the military just started to branch out of their traditional green suitor, if you will, programs and start to contract in big tech to help bring some relevancy and real-time IT backgrounds into the actual military itself. So I was in the IT division for Marine Air Wings for about four years before I was selected for some elite programs, specifically protecting American embassies, dignitaries, US presidents, and so on. Overseas for five years, in 24 countries, in which case I concluded my military service at the Pentagon on the chairman of joint chief of staff’s security team. So a bit of all around the world type story within 10 quick years.
Leon: Okay. And going from there into the private sector, how was that leap?
Gregory: What’s interesting about my transition is while I had a very polished resume in all things security and high level dignitary protection, when I got back into the job market, even though I had been separated from IT for the better part of five years, all the recruiters that were calling to contact me for positions were in IT-related positions. Mind you, I had some security qualifications that enabled me to be qualified for jobs, then be retrained in the IT position, if you will. Largely, all of the calls that I had from recruiters were from my IT skills that were even five, six years prior. So, it was a bit of a blessing that I had that initial stint in IT. I firmly believe my transition would have been completely different had I have not had that training early on.
Leon: Okay. And Greg, your story hints at the next part of this conversation, which is a view from inside with military tech. So, folks who have no exposure or minimal exposure to the military often carry with them two wildly different and completely wrong stories in their head. Either it’s Enemy of the State where you have super futuristic tech and teams of cyber ninjas who can kill you with a USB stick, or it’s this embarrassingly underfunded backwater filled with machines running Windows XP, and cabinet-size hard drives that you have to kick to get spinning. So I’m curious from both of you, what’s the reality like, and Greg since you got us into this topic, why don’t you start us off with that.
Gregory: So, the short answer is both, I mean, at the end of the day, the funding and resources you have at the time is largely attributed to what the purpose is, let’s call it downrange. That’s what we say, is it supporting war fighters? Is it supporting strategic commands? The more meaningful and deeper the cause to speak commercially, the more funding and resources the government and the joint squadrons are going to have. So, I can wholeheartedly say that I learned on Windows NT and it was severely outdated. And I’ve been at other commands that were real-time war-fighting facing organizations, where they had the most modern technology available at the time, because that was critical to the mission at hand. So, depending on who you talk to, the setting that they’re in and where they’re located geographically, all of these variables come into play that are going to answer the question that you just asked as far as what type of resources, supplies, relevancy, if you will, in modern tech is going to be available.
Marcy: Yeah. And I’ll date myself just a little bit. I think when I started out back in the military, I think it was, we still did punch cards in tech school and we got quickly away from that. And then one of my assignments, we were still operating on Banyan VINES. And so it’s one of those things that the military grows with their technology, but not necessarily as fast as the industry, but as Greg mentioned, it can be a little of both because you could be at a headquarters command where they are going to have additional funds and they’re going to be able to roll that out a little bit quicker. But it depends on what the focus is and ultimately the focus is always on the war fighter. And so that’s where the funds have to go. And at the end of the day, they need communications to support that. And so the quicker we can roll things out to them, the better.
Leon: Got it. Okay. And so we’re talking to two people, one from the Air Force, one from the Marines. And I know from just personal experience, that if you hang out with folks from different branches of the military, for even a couple of minutes, there’s likely going to be some good-natured and maybe aggressively good-natured teasing. So putting all of that aside, when it comes to tech, are there differences and what are they between Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Space Force, whatever, what are the differences if there are any?
Marcy: Absolutely. And Gregory and I have known each other for a long time. So there’s been lots of opportunities to poke at each other, him being a Marine and me being in the Air Force. But our mission sets are different across the military. So, we are taught different things and those skills just inherently are different based on that. Both Gregory and I had worked in a joint command and that’s where you really get to see what the other services are about and how they manage different, they operate different and it’s not necessarily different as bad, you learn from that. I’ve taken a lot of skillsets from previous colonels that I’ve worked for, both a Marine colonel, both an Army colonel. Obviously I’ve worked for many Air Force Colonels, and you take that and develop what works best for you. And like I said, everybody’s skillsets a little bit different, but you got to learn from each other. And I think that’s what we’ve done.
Gregory: I think Marcy hit the nail on the head there. So again, the canned answer is going to be, it depends, depending on how much affiliation, how much exposure you have to other branches is really going to dictate your view on the other branches, is the same as society, everything that we see on the news today is just relative to what you’ve been exposed to. So, as Marcy alluded, we both been very fortunate to be a part of some really amazing joint-style commands, which allow us to have literally be at the same table with every single branch, civilian-level employees, generals in different uniforms. So, there is obviously that kind of pun here and there that at our basic levels, each unit or branch, if you will, is outfitted with different opportunities based upon what the mission is. And so it’s just going to depend on what branch you’re in, which unit you’re tied to and how much exposure you have to the other ranks to actually dictate what your perception is of the other branches, so.
Leon: So, I know a lot of folks who are listening to this either are looking forward toward their transition out of the military, into the private sector, or they’ve made that leap and maybe they’re a little bit challenged about some of those jumps. So the next two parts of our conversation are going to focus in on that. I want to start off with a recognition that there are things, technologies or techniques or processes, or even cultural elements that simply will not make that leap from military into civilian life. And so I want to ask the same question from two different directions. So we’ll start off with, what are the IT elements that exist in the military that you can’t, or just won’t find in the civilian sector?
Gregory: Yeah, I think the most relevant topic is security and regulations. I mean, I think we’re starting to get there as a corporate America and a corporate footprint to where we’re starting to embody some of the regulatory and compliance standards that the federal government, specifically the DOD branches and the three-letter agencies have been using for years. Simply because it’s safe is safe and the security elements are things that the DOD and other federal entities have been harping on for, again, just for a long period of time, that is now starting to cross-pollinate over to the commercial sector. So, it’s not an easy plug and play, you can’t exactly go from the DOD and secure environments and come over to a small, medium-sized business and be in their help desk and try to use those same regulations because they’re not inherently applicable. But I’d say out of the gate, security is probably the one thing that isn’t as easily transferable.
Leon: Nice. And yeah, I think that for having been in regular civilian enterprise tech for all 33 years of my IT career, being under attack is not a normal mindset for folks in a regular enterprise. But obviously that is almost a raison d’être of folks in the military. But yes, we are absolutely putting ourselves in a situation where being under attack is our regular normal state of being. Okay. I like that. Marcy, anything to add, any other perspectives?
Marcy: Well, I definitely think Gregory hit the nail on the head with the security side, because that is one of the things that we look at every day is monitor and defend and secure the military systems. Most of the time our personnel are working on government contracts, so we’re entrenched in that today, still, that is something that is becoming more and more at the forefront. And so it is with the regulations having the industry do the same because it is the industry partners that are getting the contracts and coming in and supporting the network. So it’s nice to know that the industry is getting into compliance and with regulations and everything just as the military side is. So then that way cross-connect and communications is secure across both sides.
Leon: Okay. So I want to turn it around now, since you have experienced life, both inside the military and outside, what are some things that you’ve found in your work in the civilian sector that could never exist in a military context?
Marcy: I would like to say that I know of some widget, but I will tell you from the military side, they are starting to get to where the nice things, the handhelds, the mobile devices, the mobile comm kits, everything is just, so if it’s out there in industry, there is somebody that says, I want that. And they’re trying to figure out a way to get that into the environment, the bring your own device and those type things, they really are trying to look at that. So, off the top of my head, I can’t think of that one thing on industry, because the military really is trying to enhance and grow their technical footprint, if you will.
Leon: And I’m just going to keep going with this for a second and just say, how about the cultural elements? I mean, I think even people who haven’t had any experience with military know that there’s a very specific military culture that is deeply ingrained. And again, in terms of the way that civilian organizations operate, is that something that you could never have or once you’re in an IT context inside the Marines, for example, is it okay for a private who’s just a really good developer or a really good red team hacker, is it okay for them to look at a CEO and say, you’re wrong, this is the way we ought to do it, or is that just unthinkable?
Marcy: Well, I think you make a good point on the cultural side because it is a big difference. That is part of, when I transitioned out, that experience of the difference in camaraderie and those types of things. But I think today, and it depends on the company because I’ve worked for some companies that lower level probably felt extremely uncomfortable in saying that. I’m in a good environment now that if something’s off, we can say it and we can talk about it and we have personnel that will listen. But, military personnel, we’re ingrained to be very direct, to the point, and sometimes that doesn’t always translate on the industry side. They don’t appreciate some of that directness if you will. And so I won’t say you have to fluff it up or anything, but you do have to be aware of your interpersonal skills and make sure that you’re able to communicate in a tactfully manner.
Leon: Nice. Okay. And Greg, how about you? Again, things that exist in your work in the civilian sector that you just couldn’t imagine ever existing on the military side?
Gregory: I would probably say time, right. I think that’s the difference. And Marcy definitely weighed in on the advancement of military in terms of its adoption of new technologies and cutting-edge technologies and how that can actually enable the branches and the war fighters and to hit that end mission and in goal. But I think the one thing that still is a factor is time. How long does it take for a product or an offering to hit the streets and be adopted by commercial versus how long it actually takes for military to test it, vet it, break it, make sure it hits all those compliance and security check boxes that we love to talk about, before it can actually get in the hands and say, here you go frontline military person, now you can use this, it’s authorized for use. And I think that is still there, you don’t really have that speed and efficiency from release to usage, but I can definitely attest to the fact that that timeline is actually significantly shrinking as the years go on.
Gregory: So, I think time is the big one. I think the adoption rate is increasing, but you still have to go through all the vetting process, which is not typical of commercial entities.
Leon: What we’ve been leading up to with a lot of these questions are the contextual elements that underlie a veterans transition from military IT service to working in tech in the civilian space. Which I know in talking with friends and colleagues, as well as our preparations for this episode is not often as smooth as we’d like to see either for ourselves or for our colleagues. We’ve seen amazing IT pros within the military stumble after discharge and end up in jobs that are way below their skillset. So ,this section is really devoted to collecting the advice or resources or insights that you both can offer to folks who are either on the cusp of that transition or have made it and are perhaps struggling. So Greg, why don’t we start with you? What advice do you have for people who are either preparing or in the middle of that kind of transition?
Gregory: Oh, where to begin? So first off I’ll, I’d like to say that the military itself has grown significantly in the past few decades in terms of its transitioning programs for the military. Regardless of what they did in the military, almost all branches have to go through a separations course, they have to, they’re provided resources, they’re introduced to the VA and things of that nature. So, There’s a slew of enablement programs that the government and DOD and even nonprofits will put out there for veterans hitting the streets as day one, I’m no longer military. I am a huge fan of networking. I think I could not have basically become who I am in the commercial market or even in the quasi federal space that I’m in with Monalytic without networking. I don’t think anybody’s going to say they came out of the military, became a civilian on one day and went and applied for the dream job and got it. I think it’s all about who you associate yourself with.
Gregory: And more importantly, something that isn’t exactly encouraged and some would feel a bit faux pas about, is actually asking for help, contacting people you were with in different branches and who you interfaced with and people who saw you actually perform your duties. Even if it’s not affiliated to IT itself, having someone vouch for you and say, “Okay, I actually work at this company and we have a position that you might be a good fit for because I’ve seen you and I’ve seen your work ethic.” So, I know it’s always one of those things with the military where it’s “frowned upon” to say that you need help or that you’re seeking some level of assistance, but that’s something that we need to do better about as we come out from the ranks and attempt to employ ourselves in the workforce.
Leon: One of the things that I talk about with folks that I’m mentoring is there again, just in the civilian space, is that as a friend you’d want to help somebody else out, but if you didn’t know you couldn’t and your friends are feeling the same way. If you don’t tell them that you need, it’s not charity, it’s not a handout, it’s just, “Oh my gosh, if I had only known that you were looking, there’s the perfect job for you.” I hate hearing that sentence because it means I forgot to open my mouth.
Gregory: It’s interesting if you think about it at the macro level where us as war fighters will literally go to the front lines of battle of someone or risk our lives, who probably we just met a month before and we will put our actual wellbeing in their hands, but we won’t reach out on LinkedIn. Or some other informal type of mannerism to say, “Hey, will you assist me? Is there anything that you know of?” So it’s just the irony, and the whole thing is it’s both who we are, it’s for better and for worse, so.
Leon: Marcy, what else do you have to add? Again, it can be a program, resources, a book, anything.
Marcy: Yeah, absolutely. So, I a hundred percent agree with Gregory on the networking side and reaching out to your peers, your past colleagues and just offering some kind of advice. I know that’s what I did when I transitioned out. I definitely reached out to some personnel that I knew were in the area that I was trying to go to. The other thing that I would say is the military has a lot of courses that they offer, where they’re sending folks to get their security plus, and they’re sending folks to get their CCNA. I would say, if you want to stay in the IT industry, take advantage of those opportunities in the military, get those certifications, especially if you are wanting to transition out, go into the industry space, but continue to support the DOD and use your clearance. A lot of the contracts today are requiring those higher level certifications. So I would encourage them to make sure that, get it ahead of time before you get out, so that puts you in just one step ahead of the person that doesn’t have it.
Leon: Nice. One thing I want to add to this, and it’s just something that I have seen with again, friends and colleagues, is saying “I did this,” especially in the interview process. I know that in the military I did this, is almost anathema, nobody single-handedly does anything. I think in an interview process and even when you are talking to your manager and when it’s review time, it’s okay to say “I did…” It is understood that it was part of a team, it was part of a program or a effort or project or whatever it is, but if in the civilian space, if you say, “I was part of a team, I worked in a program,” it diminishes to the point, of irrelevance, the skills and accomplishments that you have. And so the one thing that I would add to this is just become comfortable in those conversational situations to say, yeah, I did that, me and a team, but I was part of the team, just getting comfortable with the word I, which can feel very uncomfortable for a lot of folks.
Leon: But it often is the reason why people don’t get a call back is because they have minimized their own accomplishments to the point where it looks like you didn’t do anything, which isn’t the truth. So, this takes us to what I call the lightning round. Just the last part of our conversation. What are some things that you have not heard people talking about when it comes to military and the IT? I mean, when you listen to other podcasts or panel discussions or whatever, what leaves you sitting there saying, but wait a minute, what about this? There’s this other thing that no one ever talks about? What’s that thing that we should be talking about? Marcy, why don’t you kick us off?
Marcy: Well, I’ll jump back to what I was talking about earlier with the certifications and the security clearance, but it’s the experience that goes with it, tying that all in together. And so, while you are able to get the certifications that you’re highly encouraged, I would also say make sure that you have the experience to back that up. And it is absolutely okay to say I did this, but be able to explain what you did, how you did it, how that contributed, because that’s going to be key when you’re in an interview.
Leon: Nice. Greg, how about you? Any final thoughts on the topic of IT in the military?
Gregory: Yeah, I’d say of IT in general, I think the one thing that we don’t really mention or speak on often is the fact that really it’s a gap breeder. I mean, it is the one component that every branch of the military utilizes to some degree and largely in the same fashions. I mean, just because we have different uniforms doesn’t mean we have different internets, there’s mechanisms in place and everyone has different tools and gadgets based upon the branches. But the reality is there’s an IT department, there are IT occupations and specialties in every single branch, in every joint communications unit. And it’s just something that I think we need to at least publicize that if you’re actually rather than for the IT individual coming out of the military, let’s talk about the person who’s going into the military, looking at that five to 10-year program. What are the MOSs that are going to be able to be leveraged while in the service to then come out and make something of yourself in industry? IT is one where you can go in any branch and kinda the sky’s the limit.
Leon: Very nice. So, this episode is being recorded as part of our Veteran’s Day recognition. And so before I say anything else, I do want to take a moment and thank you both for your service and the same for everyone who’s listening to this episode. If you spent time in the services, we really appreciate everything that you put on the line for as many years as you spent doing it. And to you too, particularly, I appreciate the fact that you took some time out of your very busy day to share these ideas. I know that they are going to be helpful for everyone who is listening to understand more about that part of the IT spectrum, and hopefully enable people to enrich their careers as it is. Thank you so much for joining me.
Marcy: Thank you. I appreciate you having me today. And thank you to SolarWinds for hosting us.
Gregory: Likewise. Thank you Leon.
Leon: We at SolarWinds know you have a choice of podcasts and we appreciate you taking time out of your day to listen to ours. If you liked this episode, please take a moment to click that like button. We hope to see you again on the next episode of SolarWinds TechPod.