I tell people I’m from L.A. – Lower Arkansas. I grew up on my family farm. I wanted a bigger adventure than irrigating cotton fields all summer in my small southern town and decided that the U.S. Marines was my path out. I joined as a reservist and was called up for service during Desert Storm in 1991. The war ended and I had to figure out how to transition back into civilian life. I eventually stumbled into tech and after lots of ups and downs, false starts and failures, I started the company that became Match.com.
Looking back at those days, I remember how scared and uncertain I was. I’m hoping that my journey from military to Match.com can serve others who are looking to transition from serving their country to growing their country.
As all military, I experienced two completely different modes. Feeding and fielding an army requires a massive logistical operation. I call this big company military. It is easy to make fun of this side of the military, but history proves that in fighting any large conflict, logistics wins wars. Then there is the other side of the military, where the rubber meets the road, and you are on actually missions. I found myself in a sand storm in the Mojave Desert hanging off a cliff in our humvee. You have to react quickly to a fluid situation.
Both experiences of the military are valuable, but most people enjoy one or the other better. I enjoy the stress of ambiguous situations. Or at least I must, since all I have done for the last twenty years has been one startup after another. Others enjoy the challenges of keeping the whole system on track. They will probably end up happier at larger more established technology companies where these skills come into play.
Establishing your career involves understanding which types of challenges are most enjoyable.
Tech companies span everything from ideas in a solo founder’s head to huge, global spanning enterprises like Microsoft and Google. The good news is that there are exciting jobs and opportunities at each stage. It starts by understanding what parts of your military experience were the most enjoyable and mapping them over to civilian jobs. Look past the MOS specifics and concentrate on challenges you enjoyed tackling and group size. Later stage companies tend to be larger, but the marker to look for is not the size of the company; rather, it’s the stage.
Once you know whether startup, scale-up or later-stage best fits your personality, you can start looking for roles that you can fill.
At later-stage companies, people are needed for all types of jobs so there’s more choice to slot yourself into. For earlier stage companies, people tend to be recruited for defined roles but expected to wear many hats. There are technical, design, sales, and digital marketing. Broadly speaking you need to be able to build something or sell something to be useful at the early stages. If you are looking to become a builder there are lots of options, from online courses to intensive, full-time coding bootcamps.
At GrowthX Academy, we help people transition into the non-engineering roles. There is a huge demand for people who can help get technology into the hands of customers. Many founders simply don’t know how to do that. Which is why most companies need people to fill these roles and help them get the technology out there. We break these roles down into entrepreneurial selling, digital marketing, and UX (user experience). These roles become essential in going from initial product to enough revenue to establish a real business, whether it’s two people launching a company from a garage or a multinational corporation launching a new product. Early product-stage sales involves listening and understanding customers real needs, so people skills are at the front. Digital marketing uses online platforms to generate customers who become interested in the product. You still need to understand human psychology, but less face to face time is needed. UX is a blend of both. You have to do deep interviews to best understand what their problems are so a product experience can be created.
It is both exciting and scary to make that leap from one career to another. I have found tech to be the right blend of exciting and rewarding to make it my life’s work. If I can help you make the transition that I made earlier in my career then drop me a note. I’m happy to help.