Post-Military Maneuvers

FRAMINGHAM (04/10/2000) - Not surprisingly, recent and soon-to-be military veterans with information technology experience are finding the private sector quite lucrative.

But the challenge while still in uniform is for military technologists to build their skills on bleeding-edge technology used in private-sector business applications, something many military IT shops don't offer. Because of these unmatched skill sets, veterans still earn about 10 percent less than their private-sector-trained peers when they enter the corporate workforce, according to Lucas Group in Atlanta.

Thank heaven for their discipline, adaptability and can-do attitude, which carry many a veteran into higher-paying leadership roles.

In his previous career as a U.S. Air Force officer, Adam Getchell worked in some pretty exciting environments.

In the early 1990s, he built computer-controlled test systems for the Rocket Propulsion Lab at Edwards Air Force Base in California's Mojave Desert.

After that, Getchell built cryogenic test systems at NASA, something he's particularly proud of because all of the instrumentation needed to work at minus 200 F.

He also worked as part of an alliance among the Air Force, NASA and Lockheed Martin Corp. on the X33 prototype Reusable Launch Vehicle for the next-generation space shuttle.

Getchell's test systems replaced an antiquated push-button system with programmable logic controllers. He wrote all of the testing applications and sequences that ran on the Unix boxes, which he procured and installed himself.

Naturally, being the only one with any Unix background, he also administered the machines.

For the last two years he worked at NASA, he held the position of Unix analyst and administered the human resources machines accessed by 800 NASA employees.

"I found I liked the Unix administration and database work," he says.

When he left for the private sector in 1998, Getchell went straight to work at an Internet startup called AdForce Inc. in Cupertino, California.

Civilian Contrasts

He immediately doubled his pay, despite the fact that most military veterans tend to enter the civilian workforce on the lower end of the pay scale. But the other thing Getchell says he noticed was the lifestyle change.

"It was much more relaxed than the government. Here were guys wearing sandals," says Getchell, who was used to uniforms and ties. He found another difference: long hours.

Then there was the technology. Military systems are generally a year or two behind corporate technology, say former government workers and hiring officers.

At AdForce, Getchell experienced his first "trial by fire" in bleeding-edge technology.

"There's no training in the military that adequately prepared me for this," Getchell says. "I had to learn the Internet, which in itself is such a unique entity. I had to learn databases on the Internet - concurrency, caching and other techniques I would not have otherwise run across. I had to learn all the buzzwords."

When AdForce changed hands in 1998, Getchell moved to another Internet startup, eBuilt Inc. in Irvine, California, which designs and builds e-commerce architectures.

Helpful Military Experiences

While Getchell can't claim cutting-edge IT work in the military, he does insist that the Air Force gave him the Unix foundation he needed to succeed in the private sector. "Just about every database we create here is on a Unix platform," he says.

But just as important are the soft skills he picked up in the military - diplomacy, project management and business analysis, to name a few.

For example, in the military, Getchell learned to work with dynamic people from all races and walks of life. "Some of those people were easy to deal with.

Others were difficult," he says. "I also interfaced with customers, those who needed things tested in the cryogenics and rocket propulsion labs. I had to help them figure out what exactly they needed and how I could technologically support those needs."

Radcliff is a freelance writer in Northern California.

Mustering Out

No deck

The most common private-sector IT jobs for military vets:

Systems analysts: Mostly Unix administration (the military has been slow to adopt Windows NT)Programmers: Cobol, Ada and, increasingly, JavaProject engineersSource: Military Recruitment Division, Lucas Group, AtlantaTop traits sought by civilian recruiters:

-- Independence

-- Flexibility/adaptability

-- Resourcefulness

-- Leadership

Vets' Best Bets

More than technical ability, soft skills like leadership appeal to private-sector hiring managers, according to Mike Deveraux, vice president of the military recruitment division at Lucas Group, a national recruiting firm in Atlanta.

"The military isn't so much training technologists for the corporate world; they're training people to lead and motivate and manage," Deveraux says.

Beth Cygon, a former procurement specialist in the U.S. Air Force, says adaptability is another trait sought by private-sector employers.

Her first job out of the military was to procure billing support and member services applications at America Online Inc. So she quickly learned the technology and was promoted within a year, an accomplishment she attributes to her military background.

"The environment here at AOL and that in the military are very similar. They're both constantly changing," Cygon explains. "As long as you're organized and you know how to lead the process, you can adapt to anything."

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