From Sailor to Developer.
Sakura Sky, a leader in providing cloud, data, and security services takes the initiative in helping the veteran community. The newest intern on the team, Alexander Verhulst, is a US Navy veteran and made his transition into tech from the medical field. Alexander gives some insight on his journey from sailor to software developer.
My transition from sailor to software developer has been a challenging and adventurous ride but worth it in the end. I spent six years as a Hospital Corpsman, which is the Navy’s version of a medic. As a Corpsman I traveled the world, was assigned to fast paced emergency rooms and finished my service stationed with the US Marines. While I’m grateful to have worked alongside some of the hardest working people and be a part of something bigger than myself, I became fascinated with the tech industry and decided to make a career change. I was drawn to the innovation and opportunity that programming brings, and was inspired by all the awesome ideas that are being created with code.
However, my transition is unique to me and despite the many opportunities that await other veterans who join the tech industry, separation from the military can be very challenging. Prior to separating, I was confident that I would have a seamless transition but was surprised how difficult it actually was. Leaving is tough, whether you served for 4 years or 20, the military changes you. When in uniform, it’s all about the mission and you play a special role in making it all work, the group before the individual. Separation from the military takes away your “purpose” and suddenly the mission is all about you. Feelings of isolation can set in once you’re on the “other side” and it is extremely important to find new communities that interest you and explore new passions. I was fortunate enough to discover a passion in programing and be part of a company that promotes it.
Approximately 200,000 service-members separate from the military each year and many are turning their attention to the tech industry. I made a career change from the medical field to tech because I was inspired by the innovation that can be made by learning how to code. In my eyes, learning programming is an amazing skill that opens up a lot of opportunities, both personally and professionally. All these amazing companies that are changing society are made possible by developers. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources available to learn how to code for free such as FreeCodeCamp, or The Odin Project, as well as hundreds of hours of YouTube videos.
Veterans also have access to a vast support network of resources to assist them in their journey. The government recognizes the importance of getting veterans into tech and I forsee it as a growing trend as the industry gains more popularity with the military community. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recently launched a new program called Veteran Employment Through Technology Eduction Courses, or VET TEC, which will pay for qualifying members to attend coding bootcamps and develop high demand skills. Opportunities like VET TEC will provide valuable training for those wishing to start a new journey and a route who want less traditional approach to education.
Not only are there government programs available to veterans, but there is also a growing movement of private organizations whose missions are to assist the military community. I personally have benefited from these amazing organizations, such as Operation Code, which is a non-profit that I now volunteer with that provides a welcoming community and assistance to anyone that is both affiliated with the military and is attempting to enter into the tech industry. Operation Code has a Slack group that contains thousands of members with experience levels all over the spectrum. The Slack group frequently has meetings and constantly exchanges resources and has been a crucial resource during my career change. I found it beneficial to surround myself with like-minded individuals and ask and give guidance when needed. The Slack group is free to join and not exclusive to only those who serve, but also to those who are affiliated with the military community and wish to help.
Individuals who need more external involvement can benefit from organizations like American Corporate Partners, which connects members from senior positions to individuals just starting out. It was through ACP that I was connected with an awesome mentor who helped guide me during my transition and has been a major influence in my journey. Having an experienced mentor who could offer advice was one of the best decisions I’ve made and I was able to focus on what matters.
While my journey is unique I can confidently say that my time at Sakura Sky has been an extremely rewarding experience. All of my obstacles have led me to an awesome company and I have grown so much as a developer with during my internship. While tutorials and independent study are great ways to learn, true growth occurs with solving real-world problems, which I’ve had the opportunity to do. I’ve also been fortunate enough to be part of an amazing team that is always willing to help and is invested in my professional growth. While the journey was challenging and overwhelming at times, I can say with 100% confidence that the support I received from the veteran community helped me achieve my goals.
One things that I love about the veteran community is how supportive it is. It doesn’t matter what branch you served in or when you served, after your time in the military you join a supportive network of fellow veterans who won’t hesitate to help other members. Since my journey began, I’ve had the opportunity to speak at events hosted by GitHub and Zillow and advocate the importance of hiring members from the military community. Veterans have all the skills that hiring managers are looking for: teamwork, communication, leadership, and the ability to work through challenging times.
To my fellow veterans I would say don’t quit if tech is something that you’re interested in. Just like bootcamp where the path seemed never ending at first, keep pushing through and you’ll get there. To hiring managers I say this, veterans are used to being a part of something bigger than themselves, so by hiring a veteran you gain a team member will vital skills to support your company mission.