Blog Jumping Off the High Dive: How a Military Veteran Found His Place in Tech

Imagine you are standing at the top of a 10-meter high dive — like the ones you see towering over olympic swimming pools. If you peek over the edge you’d see nothing but a lot of open air and some water way down below. Maybe your stomach churns a little at the thought of free fall.

To many veterans, leaving the military is an ordeal much like stepping off the high dive. We have all these plans and expectations, but there is nothing like taking that first step off of the ledge. We trade structure for ambiguity, the known for the unknown. It can be a very stressful inflection point, even for the most prepared.

The good news is that we aren’t alone. Sometimes it helps to learn from those who have taken that step before us and know that there are people ready to help us to the surface after we hit the water.

I’m thankful to have found those people at Narrative Science.

My name is Jonathan Hansing. I am a product manager at Narrative Science and U.S. Army veteran, and in honor of Veterans Day, I’m excited to share how my military to civilian transition led me to a career in tech, and the role Narrative Science played in that process.

Recognize Your Strengths

As a separating veteran, I questioned what I brought to the table fresh out of service. For those considering a similar path, I encourage you to recognize the skill sets and knowledge base that you may take for granted. The military entrusts young officers with a lot of responsibility early on in their career. They may develop programs that impact thousands of personnel, manage millions of dollars in property and equipment, or be held entirely responsible for a unit’s ability to accomplish a mission.

The trick is knowing that these individual accomplishments do not translate 1:1 to the business world. What’s important are the methodologies and skill sets that we can apply to achieve results in complex and ambiguous environments.

Foster your communication skills. I did not appreciate the strict communication styles enforced by the military enough. Now that I’m out, I’ve found that the ability to communicate clearly, concisely, and contextually pays dividends in each project and interaction. 

Mind your leadership philosophy. The military immerses its officers in organizational frameworks designed to build flexible and effective teams. While there are huge differences between an Army unit and a software development team, we expect both to operate in ambiguous environments without clear direction and to get the job done.

The lexicon may be different – perhaps they say “high-agency” instead of “disciplined initiative,” or “stakeholder management” instead of “shared understanding,” or “executive presence” instead of “command presence”- but the principles are the same. I found the ability to make an impact early on by leaning into those parallel skillsets wherever it could solve a real-world problem.

Find a Problem to Solve

We aren’t evaluated on how many organizational leadership frameworks we know. Instead, we are judged on how well we apply those frameworks to solve a problem. Consider this in the context of a veterans’ transition from the military.  Many struggle, like I did, with identifying what they are good at and where they should apply their talents. For those in that situation, consider reversing the order of operations. Don’t think of yourself as a solution in search of a problem, instead, find a problem worth tackling and then think about what tools you have at your disposal to solve it.

Focus your efforts on an industry that inspires you and demonstrate that you care about the problems in that field. You may find yourself intrigued by artificial intelligence, natural language generation, and the psychological interface between humans and data. So spend some time understanding the playing field! Who is leading the market in business intelligence? Who are their competitors? Who is doing exciting work to change the face of the industry? What problems are they trying to solve?

Before too long, you may realize that you’re doing basic market analysis. Now you can speak confidently on market conditions during interviews and internships and, better yet, you have a good idea of how to apply your military skills to solving those industry problems.

Commit to a Lifetime of Learning

Veterans know some things, but we don’t know everything we should. The best way to manage that delta is to acknowledge the gap, ask questions, develop a plan to address it, and tackle it with a vengeance. Then do that over and over again, forever.

The business world expects us to change our manner of speaking and develop new mental heuristics in order to address highly complex problems. Expect to fail often throughout that journey. We should allow ourselves to mess up, but commit to never making the same mistake twice. Your teammates will appreciate the honesty and candor it takes to admit a mistake; you will appreciate working in an environment where you can learn from failure.

To those that find themselves in such an environment, make sure you express appreciation for those that support you on the path of lifelong learning. To that end, I can only express my utmost gratitude to the product leaders, engineers, designers, marketers, customer success professionals, salespeople, and everyone else at Narrative Science I’ve worked with over the past few months. I jumped off the high dive, hit the water, and you helped me swim to the surface. For that, I couldn’t be more thankful.

For my fellow veterans, please feel free to reach out to me via LinkedIn if you have any questions about working in tech or need help during your transition process.

For everyone else, I hope you enjoyed reading about the travails of a veteran who has found a home at Narrative Science. We are always looking for insight into how you, the business user, incorporate data into your decision-making, so please reach out if you are interested in defining the future of data storytelling!

Happy Veterans Day!

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