How Military Service Prepared these Veterans for Tech Careers

Built In SF spoke with veterans at SoFi and SpotOn about how their service has helped them advance their careers in tech and what advice they have for fellow veterans looking to enter the tech industry.

Written by Brigid Hogan
Published on Nov. 08, 2022
How Military Service Prepared these Veterans for Tech Careers
Brand Studio Logo

There are roughly 19 million veterans in the United States, and the Department of Defense estimates that an additional 200,000 people transition from military to civilian life each year. While moving out of active service can come with challenges, service members are equipped with an array of both hard and soft skills that serve them well in new roles. But according to Aaron Kay of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, many employers may still hold stereotypes about the abilities veterans bring to the workforce.

According to Kay, these stereotypes can lead to a preference for hiring veterans in action-oriented roles rather than those that require creative thinking and emotional intelligence. “When choosing between two equally-qualified job candidates, the average person and even prospective employers show a tendency to prefer the applicant without military experience for jobs requiring social-emotional abilities,” he said.

In fact, service prepares veterans with exactly those social-emotional abilities, which include creativity, collaboration and communication, according to two veterans working in tech here in the Bay Area. 

“Leadership, resilience and adaptability are the three things I brought with me from the military into my career in financial services and tech,” said Barrett Scruggs, who leveraged his experience in the Army for his current leadership role at SoFi.

According to Wilson Grauf, a software engineer at SpotOn, flexibility and communication are two crucial habits of work that he honed while working as a Farsi language analyst in the Navy.

“All the hard work you put in to have a successful career in the military, the experiences and perspective from it are valuable even if they don’t directly translate to the job you are seeking,” Grauf advises his fellow veterans.

Built In San Francisco heard from Scruggs and Grauf about their transitions from military life into tech and what advice they offer other veterans interested in beginning a career in the civilian tech sector.

 

Barrett Scruggs
Vice President, Business Lead, SoFi at Work • SoFi

SoFi builds products that help people borrow, save and invest their money to support their journeys to financial independence. SoFi at Work offers employers additional materials to support workplaces in building a veteran-specific employee value proposition and empower their veteran employees.

 

How and where did you serve your country? And what are you working on right now?

I served as a captain in the Army, commanding a missile defense battery that deployed to the Middle East. Currently, I am the vice president, business lead for SoFi at Work, SoFi’s workplace financial wellness business. 

Setting high standards, being a servant leader and building teams that are capable of overcoming adversity are leadership skills that apply to any job.”

 

What aspects of your military service have helped you build a career in tech, and what are some new skills you’ve developed since you left the service?

Leading soldiers is an incredibly demanding and rewarding experience. You are given an extraordinary amount of responsibility, asked to wear many different hats and are ultimately held responsible for your unit’s successes and failures. Setting high standards, being a servant leader and building teams that are capable of overcoming adversity with creative solutions are all leadership skills that apply to any job.

Since leaving the Army, I’ve learned how to lead more effectively in a matrixed organization. The Army is a hierarchical, top-down organization, and it can be easy for leaders to rely on their authority to get things done. Effective leadership in a matrixed organization requires a greater degree of influence, diplomacy and consensus-building.

 

What advice would you give to fellow veterans who are looking to build a career in the tech sector?

First, the tech sector is big, and there are a broad range of jobs beyond software engineering. Second, do your homework and understand common concepts that are applicable to most tech companies regardless of the industry they are in. Making the transition from the military to civilian life is not without its challenges, but the tech industry provides ample opportunity for veterans to use many of the skills they have learned and continue to make a difference in the lives of individuals in need. 

 

 

Wilson Grauf
Software Engineer • SpotOn

SpotOn helps small businesses grow through a robust platform offering tools for payments, marketing, analytics and more. According to the Small Business Association, veterans are 45 percent more likely to be self-employed than the average American, and SpotOn is committed to supporting veteran-owned small businesses in addition to the veterans on their team.

 

How and where did you serve your country? And what are you working on right now?

I was lucky enough to serve in the U.S. Navy as a Persian Farsi language analyst, traveling all over the world, including Washington, DC, Augusta, Georgia, Whidbey Island, Washington and the Kingdom of Bahrain. Since then I’ve transitioned to become a software engineer with SpotOn, one of the fastest-growing software and payment companies for restaurants, retail businesses and enterprise venues. I work on the SpotOn Restaurant online ordering platform, helping restaurants sell online without paying exorbitant fees to third-party apps. I build new features for our clients and work to consistently improve the platform alongside my amazing team.

One of the biggest lessons you learn early on in any military career is flexibility.”

 

What aspects of your military service have helped you build a career in tech, and what are some new skills you’ve developed since you left the service?

One of the biggest lessons you learn early on in any military career is flexibility. In the ever-changing environment of technology, flexibility has been a great asset to help keep me on top of the fast-paced development and unique challenges that arise all the time. Another huge lesson I learned while flying with the Navy is the importance of communication. When you’re in a flying metal tube that could crash at a moment’s notice, you have to be good at communicating. When I took on my first position as a software engineer, I didn’t hesitate to ask questions and communicate clearly when I needed help from my manager or team lead, and they were glad to help me grow in turn.

 

What advice would you give to fellow veterans who are looking to build a career in the tech sector?

If you’re a veteran looking to build your career in tech, reach out to other veterans. Getting my job at SpotOn was a journey, and along the way, I met a bunch of veterans who were more than happy to offer personal advice and recommendations every step of the way. We all have this unique background that ties us together, and I’ve found most veterans are happy to help each other out.

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via Shutterstock.

Hiring Now
Atlassian
Cloud • Information Technology • Productivity • Security • Software