While some military technology leaders may believe that moving from the armed forces' IT ranks into the corporate business world would be easy, it’s pretty clear that some TechRepublic members think that just the opposite is true.
In a recent profile of Colonel Barclay P. Butler, CIO for the U.S. Army Medical Department, the longtime military tech leader said that he didn’t think it would be difficult to take what he has learned during his career and apply it to a corporate IT scenario.
TechRepublic member Kelly D. Anderson, a retired Air Force colonel, disagrees with Butler’s assessment. He believes the Colonel is unrealistic and overly optimistic about making the move to the civilian IT ranks.
“I wish Colonel Butler a lot of luck, but he is being naïve. The problem is not ‘applying the learning to a company,’ it is getting the chance to do so,” said Anderson, an independent IT consultant in Florida’s Tampa Bay area, who spent 26 years in IT for the Air Force.
Anderson said that the scope of his military responsibility and accomplishments has been “more significant” than that of the vast majority of his peers in the corporate world.
“But it has been difficult trying to explain to senior management the relevance of my experience—especially to those whose exposure to the military is limited to M*A*S*H reruns,” said Anderson, who also has a doctorate in education. He has the added benefit of “educational, training, and operational experiences most IT managers can only dream of.”
After leaving his military role, it took Anderson seven months to land a temporary job with the local court system. Since then, he has been laid off three times due to personnel reductions—the last time while working as vice president for Health & Welfare Implementation for Ceridian Benefits Services.
While many tech leaders acknowledge the services that military personnel can provide, there is still some prejudice about what military tech specialists can do in civilian life, says Anderson.
“Time and time again I have seen an executive's eyes glaze over when I try to explain the extent of my experience and how I can apply it to their business processes. They just cannot get past their idea that military types (senior officers, in particular) are bureaucratic martinets. I’d tell Colonel Butler to stay in the Army as long as you can.”
Bob Lambert, managing director, Technology and Venture Practice at Christian & Timbers, an Irvine, CA-based executive search firm, agrees that corporate perception of the military is a big obstacle to making the tech career move.
“American business lumps together all military people,” acknowledges the former U.S. Navy lieutenant. “They think they are rigid, domineering, bureaucratic, inflexible, and incapable of thinking for themselves. This couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Lambert.
“The truth is military officers today are highly educated and get better leadership training than any corporation can provide. American industry is continually cutting back on training whereas the military consistently upgrades its training facilities.”
Military background makes for ideal leaders
Lambert points out that in addition to being the victims of misperceptions about their tech experience, military personnel also often lack the self-marketing skills critical to making the career move.
Many military people, he explained, fail to translate their background to a company’s needs and do a poor job of selling themselves. Often, they need a career expert to help them make the transition, and Lambert has helped quite a few military candidates find corporate roles.
“It is all marketing,” Lambert said. “Once potential employers understand their (military) background and how it translates to their companies, ex-military people are practically shoo-ins. It is because they are ready-made packages that can deliver quickly. You cannot beat that.”
TechRepublic member Clarence Briggs agrees with Lambert’s assessment, and supports Colonel Butler’s appraisal of the job landscape for retired military officers.
Currently the CEO of Advanced Internet Technologies, a Fayetteville, NC-based Web hosting company, Briggs served as an infantry officer for 12 years, which included duty during Operation Just Cause in Panama and Operation Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf. He graduated from the University of Nebraska with honors and as the distinguished military graduate. Briggs later earned a Master of Arts degree in Strategic Studies, speaks Mandarin Chinese and Spanish, and holds top-secret government security clearance.
“Ex-service members bring a level of life experience to the table that is simply not taught in college or most businesses,” said Briggs. “When you have had responsibility for the lives and well-being of dozens of people, along with millions of dollars in equipment—and have planned and executed missions during which serious injury or death is a distinct possibility—it is hard to imagine anything as stressful being presented by the private sector,” he said.
Briggs believes that the corporate sector also may not realize the excellent overall skill portfolio a military specialist brings to an enterprise.
“When you hire someone with a military background, you tend to get an individual who knows how to be part of a team, is used to being given tasks with the expectation that they will be completed correctly and on schedule, and who understands the importance of little things, like showing up on time and communicating with peers.”
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