How Being a Veteran Has Helped Me in the Tech Field
By Alexis Blakes
Discipline, leadership, teamwork and consistency. Regardless of when or how long you served in the U.S. military, you have displayed and witnessed these four key skills.
From the belly of the motor pool to the theatre of combat, these skills guide the actions of all service members and leaders so routinely that it often becomes second nature — heavily influencing the execution of both minor and major missions. These skills were instrumental in shaping and preparing me for both my career path and personal growth within the technology field, and it all starts with the defining principle.
Discipline Is Resolute
A defining principle is the primary objective that you are in pursuit of. The defining principle of a mission could be as conceptually simple as seizing the high ground or complex as mitigating operational mission costs. In either regard, the defining principle should be clear, concise and adaptable.
During my four-and-a-half-years on active duty with the U.S. Army, I was privileged to serve under leaders who exhibited profound foresight concerning mission objectives, and this in turn nurtured my ability to adapt to changes, anticipate problems and execute directives under unfavorable conditions. In the military, this once meant an unplanned five klick convoy movement around an endangered tortoise in the dead of night. But these days it looks more like maintaining operational capacity and availability of approximately $1 billion worth of data center cloud computing hardware and equipment during a potentially devastating wildfire season.
I’ve found that being a service member has put me at an advantage at work because nearly everything we do in the military — from maintaining living quarters in the barracks to traveling home on leave — requires a thorough plan, defining principle and discipline in execution. As a data center lead at Amazon Web Services, my defining principle is to promote the safest, most effective and cohesive environment possible for my team and this guides my actions daily. Discipline is resolute — even when motivation or morale may not be.
Real Leadership is a Commitment to the Team
While discipline is foundational, leadership and teamwork are supplemental. Both in tech and in the military, I was and am a member of a team. You might be a fast solo runner, but in formation you’re only as fast as the slowest runner, and that is an incentive to help others improve. Sometimes there are shared goals that can only be achieved together.
From pride to privilege, real leaders make sacrifices for others and lead from the front. Accepting this as truth, I try to embody this principle in my work. No task is beneath me. I have days where I’m back to doing physical repairs myself and days where I’m giving classes. My service taught me that leadership is more than being in charge. Sometimes this has meant stepping up to the plate in the absence of a superior and doing work outside of my role. If my team stays late, I stay late. If my team has a grievance, I have a grievance. If you want to go far, we go together. My commitment to the totality of the team even played a role in my promotion. Valuing my team members and assisting them makes the work that I do that much more rewarding.
Consistency is Showing Up, Every Single Day
Being a squared away soldier is a sum of many smaller habits executed every single day. Being consistent creates routine which promotes flow. If you maintain positive habits then you will reap positive returns. I still lay my clothes out the night before, show up 15 minutes early to work, conduct roll call and send out end of day updates to my team. Over time I have trained other leads to do the same. It’s important to show up every single day — including when it’s hard or even when you just don’t feel like it. Tech changes daily and you need to keep the same fire in your belly to keep up and excel. More than a career choice, it’s a lifestyle of curiosity and constant self-improvement.
As it stands, I believe that being a veteran has shaped my experience in tech for the better and given me the tools I need to navigate an ever-changing career landscape. From the moment I clock in to the moment I clock out, I call on my military experiences to assist me in my work. As I reflect on my military service, I can honestly say that I am better prepared for the tech field because of it.
Alexis Blakes is a lead data center technician at Amazon Web Services and an Army veteran who served as Nodal Network Systems Operator/Maintainer. She is also a second-year college student at Columbia Basin College.