Career Nav #51: Veterans in Technology and Making the Career Pivot Into Tech
When did you first get interested in technology?
I'm a huge Star Trek fan. I'm a huge technology fan. I've always been drawn to gadgets. I've always been inspired by my family, particularly one of my cousins, who is an information technology manager in Jamaica. He exposed me to different computers and my own personal endeavors in learning about the CPU back in 2006. I've always been intrigued by what technology has always been, is, and it will continue to be.
What prompted you to join the military?
Academia, for sure. I definitely joined the military initially for the opportunity to go to college. I've always wanted to go to college. Later in life, I learned that I was a first-generation student out of my siblings. While I was going through the basic training, AIT training, and stationed at my first duty station in Fort Stewart, Georgia, I learned so much more about myself. The military instilled discipline and made me efficient and brave. I found that I was really good at my job and I enjoyed the people, the learning, and the service. I enjoyed being selfless and serving my country.
How did that intersect with your interest in tech?
I never saw technology as male-dominated. I knew there was a gender discrepancy. It wasn't until later when I was more aware that it was just like, "Okay, now I'm in this field, who do I turn to as a mentor?" I was like, "Wait a minute. There's not a lot of women that look like me. There are not a lot of women in this field. What's been going on?" I was a bit naive. It made it even more of a passion of mine to ensure that I not only advocate for myself but anything that I learn, anything that I'm exposed to, I like to reach my hand back and pull someone else up with me.
What was it like working in the military, your role? How did your career develop over time?
Basic training was rough. Being in the military had its ups and downs from day one until I left active duty and then when I left the National Guard. It's always been inspiring. For women, I would say that it's definitely evolved since I first joined. I'm grateful for that. It's definitely not as easy as you think. Sometimes I reflect and say I really did that. The friendships that I've developed over the years, the comradery that I have, and the passion that I have for the people that I've served with, it's definitely an experience that I am honored greatly to have had.
How did you interact with technology while in the military? Give us any observations on the military relationship with tech.
It was helpful being at my first duty station, that I was part of a military intelligence company. I was exposed to quite a few interests in technology pieces. Something I can't talk about today, but it was really insightful to see what we really have in our dossier to defend our nation.
Can you tell us about your move into tech?
I knew part of my purpose was to go to school, get a degree, grow, and learn. I'm a continuous learner. I constantly enjoy opportunities to learn and grow and share what I've learned. I'm also an immigrant. I went to school in Jamaica. I wanted to expand on that. I wasn't always the greatest at school, particularly in science, in STEM-related courses. As I got older, that passion shifted and grew. My purpose shifted from academia once I accomplished earning my master's degree. I sat down and thought to myself, what is it that I would see myself doing outside of music, art, or writing? I came across this article that said to choose five things and stick to those five things. It was a paraphrase of what Warren Buffet outlined when you're trying to make a decision or when you're trying to generate your purpose.
I chose five things. I wanted something to keep me fit, something to make me money, something to keep me creative, and two others that I cannot remember right now. My service in the military fit one, and my passion for academia fit the other. My career both in the military and outside of the military fit a third. I would say that the most impactful to me was something that I wouldn't mind doing each and every day, that wouldn't seem stressful or wouldn't seem like work. That was the integration between art and technology for me. I have a creative side. I get to use both the left and right sides of my brain each and every day working in the field that I'm working in. There is a lot of art within technology and technology within art. It's just like being able to combine those two with my expertise in cybersecurity and my expertise in music and art. It was that deciding factor that made me pivot into cybersecurity full-time.
What made you decide to pursue your bachelor's degree in marketing and business administration?
Business is something that always came naturally to me. Even though I have a bachelor's degree in business and constitutional marketing and communication, I was able to tailor my degree program at Norwich University. I got to choose some of my electives and tailor them around theater arts. I have a minor in English, and most of those classes were in writing and theater literature. As part of my business degree, I got to learn about business, organization, and strategy. Then the fun classes, like math, I got exposed to things that kept me creative and passionate.
How has that degree decision impacted your life?
When I earned my bachelor's degree, I would say that it impacted my life greatly by being able to apply and see how all that I've learned during that time is applicable in society as well as applicable back into the military. I was still in the military at the time after I completed my bachelor's degree.
When did you start working in cybersecurity?
A year ago. Before that, I was part of different organizations doing research on YouTube and connecting with other online personnel. I was learning about pen testing and coding. I also took a couple of classes during the summer, during my breaks in between classes.
Was pivoting to cybersecurity part of your vision board?
It became a part of my vision board after I updated it in 2021. After I got my MBA, I said, "I accomplished my first goal. What's next for me? What would I enjoy doing?" That's where I came up with the five things that I would enjoy doing that would keep me happy and wouldn't feel like work. The year before I pivoted into cybersecurity, I had connected with the then-senior manager of the team that I'm on now. I asked her, "What's some advice that you have for me to pivot into this role? What would an excellent candidate look like for your team? What would they need to learn?"
I took all that she gave me and I enrolled that same summer at St. Louis University Worker Center. I joined their Bootcamp for CompTIA. I joined their boot camp for the CISSP. Going through those training sessions and getting those certifications, I knew most of this already. I was exposed to it by other influencers as well as other mentors of mine in that field. That inspiration has always been there and to make that pivot, it was easier for me knowing that I had that support.
What was your career like after leaving the active services, by highlighting your experiences at the Boeing company?
Leaving active duty to the National Guard was a huge cultural shock. With the Boeing Company, I'm a member of the Boeing Veterans Engagement team. If there's an event where veterans are transitioning, I'm here to share my experience. After about a year and a half in the National Guard, before I had decided to fully transition out of the army, I would say that it was easy for me to transition because I had the support of a company that I was with. I had the support of the Boeing company.
I was so nervous about going to drill when I first joined the Boeing company because I was like, "Well, I don't know what this will look like. Will I still have my job?" They have a huge team that's there to help veterans who are actively serving in the National Guard and have to go off the drill while working full-time. It made it easy for me to make that safe transition for myself. Boeing exceeded my expectations of mine to provide me with stability, safety, security, discipline, and patience. Working in the field that I'm working in, being a part of the aerospace industry, no two days are the same. Being able to gracefully and patiently pivot and transition each day, makes it safe to be my best self.
What do you think technology should play in that area?
Technology is present for veterans, within service and out of service. I would say to allow people who are exploring those opportunities to have that space to fail first and try again harder. It took me being safe or feeling safe to explore technology to help me pivot into technology. There should be team building training on technology and in all the other fields where STEM is available.
How can technology help the lives of veterans or help the government to do better in caring for them?
Veteran care is definitely new to me. I recently made a greater effort in going to the VA and using the VA services. Technology should advance, enhance and provide safety for veterans. A veteran should not have to wait months for healthcare. A veteran should not have to wait longer than three weeks to get seen, especially for mental health. I think technology should enhance the lives of veterans after they've served.
You are from Jamaica, right?
What advice would you have for someone coming from a similar background and similar position as you that is looking to get into the tech industry?
Be curious. Network. Networking is a huge thing. Don't be afraid to reach out and ask questions. Do your research. You have to come prepared to do your part. Someone can give you all the information, and they can hold your hand, but they can only hold your hand up to a certain point. You have to have patience within yourself, the courage to network, and do your part to help your vision come true.
If you could invent any technology to help veterans, what would it be?
I already have my idea for helping people. I'm big on communication and networks. If I could invent any form of technology, service, or software as a service to help veterans, it would be something around veteran care. It would be something around creating an on-demand technology service or software that would help veterans in crisis. It would be along those lines, of mental health and financial stability, and financial literacy for veterans.
Any final thoughts?
I have my first book that I'm authoring. It's an anthology. It's a collection of poems, songs, and instrumentals that I've created. One of the poems that I wrote was from a Sea of Bad Girls, and it's a homage to all the Caribbean men and women who paved the way for us in music and technology. My book is titled Light Soul Dark Academia. It's an anthology set over the last 10 years, sharing experiences, the places that I've traveled, and the people that I've met in the form of poetry and prose songs, and instrumentals. Instrumentals that I've created myself. It's an opportunity for me to share a collection of some of the works that I've done over the last 10 years both outside of technology but also incorporating technology.
When I was 10, I wrote my very first song by myself. When I was 15, I wrote my first song with Devonte from Tanto Metro and Devonte. He helped me create my very first song that's somewhere on Myspace. It was those moments that further enhanced my passion and drive for not just technology, but also music. Bringing those worlds together and being able to share this book is super exciting for me to be able to share and also represent my Caribbean sisters and brothers.