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Curious - impressions of military background

I've seen lots of threads here re value/liability of varying amounts of experience or age ranges in how folks are considered in IT for hiring, promotions, etc.

I'm curious to hear your thoughts regarding the value/liability of somebody who has military time in their background. Examples of some variables to consider:

- length of service
- nature of service (e.g. junior/senior levels, assignment to combat vs support type units, ground/air/naval forces)
- leadership time
- specific technical fields

Thanks for your thoughs...

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

If you are doing anything in IT that is government, security, or health related (or just straight up defense contracting), military service is a plus. Other fields, probably no one cares, unless the hiring manager was also in the military.

just got out of a meeting with a general
Wednesday, January 15, 2003

I did business with quite a few network engineers trained by the US Army, they were way, way above average.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

I was a weapons loader in the AF.  It was actually something I took off my resume due to the fact that HR folks and recruiters would ask what I "really" did, as if to imply I worked on top secret military stuff, or they would attempt to drag out of me how that was related to computers, and I would simply say that I put it on my resume to show my willingness to commit to and take on responsibility etc etc.  In short, if you did'nt "do computers" in the service, no one cares.

Santa Clause
Wednesday, January 15, 2003

I care, maybe it's because I was in the military. If you were in a highly selective unit or one with a rigorous basic training in which many people drop out, I take this as a good sign. Not everyone can be a Marine and if you were one, I'm more likely to give you an interview. In addition I've found a very high correlation between military leadership training and good leaders in civilian life, so officers and noncoms are going to get my attention. On the other hand, if you were "just" a cook or a driver in the army that might actually be a negative.

Joel Spolsky
Wednesday, January 15, 2003

If you were in the military then you may recognize and acknowledge military values that a person may hold.  Now if you are dealing with someone who is not familiar with the military, then the chances of them recognizing you having learned military values is lessened.  Unless you take it upon yourself to enlighten the interviewer or the person reading your resume that by being in the military you developed leadership and teamwork qualities and by holding XXXX position, you developed these skills further and did this and that etc.  As far as awards and medal go, these can be presented in the same fashion.  Just don't go overboard. 

Every branch of the service has it's own merits.  And everyone who serves is only human.  Let your actions speak for themselves.

Dave B.
Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Thanks for the feedback, folks.

Yes, Dave, 'de-Greening' military experience on a resume is important if it's to have any value to a civilian.

When I left the US Army back in '94 (there was a pretty huge military drawdown then and a couple hundred thousand of us or so left over a couple year period), everthing I heard and read at the time stressed really outright hiding anything military sounding in your resume. In fact for my first job search, I even hired a professional resume writer for a few hundred bucks to help me translate the experience in my records (which I provided to him) into 'civilian-ese'. Guess it worked because I was able find a job to go to before I actually left the service.

My observation since then has been that the civilian job market is generally more literate and accepting now of some 'moderately visible' military flavor on a resume--presuming of course that it's relevant to the position. Perhaps it's because those of us who got out during that time skewed the average acceptance and understanding among the civilian workforce a bit.

At my first company after getting out, senior management sent any resume with military experience on it through me to interpret for them to help explain the true significance (or lack thereof) of the stated experience.

On a bit of a tangent, a few inaccurate perceptions I've encountered in the civilian community from time to time since getting out are:

- military personnel are unthinking robots
- military personnel are unimaginative and/or inflexible
- military leaders are dictatorial, expecting mindless instant obedience to orders all the time
- 'leadership' is synonymous with 'management'

and generally, most folks don't really have any basis for understanding the significance of somebody having been a 'commander'. Probably the closest thing most civilians have to relate 'commander' to is a company president or CEO, which does have a lot of overlap, but there are dimensions unique to each type of position that make them pretty different.

It's just my perception, but I've often thought, when I see some particularly poor civilian managers or senior executives that the average Army squad leader (E-5 paygrade, or Sergeant) has significantly greater leadership skills (the thought usually goes something like "jeeze--they don't need another MBA type up there, they just need a squad leader"). Often values I've seen espoused in civilian management training (unfortunately too often reserved only for executives or other senior levels) are just basic good leadership that junior Noncommissioned and Commissioned Officers learn right off the bat (not that they always practice it of course, but it's taught to them).

Anyway, thanks for the comments. As I said, I was curious, and wanted a break from more age/experience threads--they were beginning to make me feel a tad 'creaky' ;-)

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Plus they are really valuable to have around if you need to have things broken.

Especially infantry.  a good infantryman can break anything.

Another plus is we military folks learn to deal with Stress at a very high level.  Go ahead, scream at me.  If you can be convincing enough for me to take you seriously...

PLus the anti-smirk training I got as a West Point plebe helps to keep from laughing at inopportune times.

Personally I've found former military like hiring former military.  If you think you are applying for a job where there are former military, at least make sure that shows through on your CV.

Adam Young
Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Hey Joel,
              I thought you said you absolutely hated it in the military?

Stephen Jones
Thursday, January 16, 2003

>jeeze--they don't need another
>MBA type up there, they just
>need a squad leader

I LOVE THIS QUOTE!  (I'm a former C/Col, current captain in the Civil Air Patrol, and was an infantryman in the Army Reserve for awhile.)

I'm probably going to put it in my blog, with a link to this article.  Joel, is that ok?


Matt H.
Thursday, January 16, 2003

I've worked under two ex-military types, and quite enjoyed it.

At least when you're told in a meeting, "If you were in the army I'd have you court-martialled" (really happened!), you know your ideas are getting through.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, January 16, 2003

I always look for military experience on all the resumes I get, and generally will always try and get military folks in for an interview if they are remotely qualified for the job.

Mostly because of the problem solving skills you get in the military.  Grunts may be prone to breaking everything, but if you leave 'em alone with some 100 mile an hour tape, 550 cord and a problem, they will figure out how to fix it.  It may not be pretty, but it will work.

Plus, you get really used to working insane hours in the military... I remember 48 hours wake time not being a serious problem assuming the presence of caffeine in the near vicinity.  That came in rather handy when the main database server crashed.

Steve Barbour
Thursday, January 16, 2003


1) Adam -- regarding Infantry breaking things. Yep, you're right. Personally, I was a Combat Engineer officer. One big advantage we had over the Infantry is our jobs required us to do much more with mines and demolitions. Lots of fun, and usually what ex-Army types mention they miss the most--is getting to blow things up. I know I do- was lots of fun.

2) Matt -- glad you like the statement. I don't have any heartburn you referencing what I said. This is Joel's house though, if he doesn't care, I don't.

3) Stephen J -- understand what you mean about the court-martial. Having the punishment authority that goes with command positions in the military gives you (at least if your head's wired right) a profound respect for due process. As a company commander, I did my share of non-judicial punishment and ended up putting one guy into prison for armed robbery. Personally, I found having that authority a humbling experience. I never shirked from exercising it, but I damned well made sure my ducks were in order before I went forward with it. I never had a solder refuse and article 15, and never had one overturned, either. An officer in my company came to me once demanding that I punish one of our soldiers. I pressed him for evidence and he didn't have any. I knew the solder in question and would have believed he likely did what he was being accused of, but I ended up giving the other officer a lecture on due process instead.

4) Steve B -- you're certainly right about the sleep deprivation. My personal record is 96 continuous hours without sleep. It sucked--I was starting to hallucinate. That was during a field exercise back when I was a platoon leader in 1st Cavalry Division. After getting out years later, I ended up having to do 300 hours in three weeks. Not all without sleep of course, but with damned little of it. I wasn't the only one doing killer hours, but man, it sucked.

The developers I've seen posting here who talk about the loss of productivity under conditions of sleep deprivation certainly have a point, but sometimes circumstances just don't really let you do things the way you know they should be. Life can be a bitch, but you have to suck it up.

5) Steve B -- ingenuity. Yep, 100 mph tape & 550 cord are gold.

Between the old C-rats, empty C-rat cans themselves, and the newer MRE's, do you remember all the incredible amount of ingenuity soldiers apply to the problems of getting their field rations hot or just getting some hot water for coffee or soup? We'd make field-expedient heaters out of c-rat cans, or stick food on hot parts of our vehicles to heat it up...long list of little tricks. And, you're right--few were pretty, but they worked.

Actually, reminiscing reminds me of something else I learned in the Army, you'll probably remember too:

1) whenever you get a chance to eat, eat
2) whenever you can sleep, sleep
3) if there's a chance to wash, wash
4) if there's a chance to, uh, "go to the bathroom", do it

no matter where, when or how, do these things if the chance presents itself--you never know when your next chance to do these things may be.

not sure that any of these is really applicable to anything in the civilian work environment, except maybe the one about sleep. Getting the other three is just normally not a problem for us civilians.

If you can stay fed and get some sleep now and then, you can keep going a long time if need be. And, of course, ex-military can pretty much sleep anywhere in almost any position--in holes in the ground (not always dry ones), lying in the snow, leaning against a tree for 10 minutes, or curling up on the hood of a truck under a poncho liner to stay warm from the engine heat. Curling up on the carpeted office floor--in doors--is no problem at all.

Finally, one thing I learned in leadership positions I had in the Army, and this  translates extremely well to civilan life and is extremely important:

Your troops eat first.

Any officer who eats without his troops being taken care of is a fucking scumbag. You always take care of your soldiers first--without them, you can accomplish no missions and your reason for being ceases.

The principle isn't talking about the literal scheduling of when in the day you eat vs when your troops eat. The meaning behind it is that your troops' needs always come first (uh, not their whims, not their feelings, their **needs**). Certainly there's a point of honor to it, but ultimately it's not selflessness, it's just common sense--you have your troops for a reason: to accomplish missions you could not accomplish by yourself. Therefore they are your primary tool to accomplish the missions **you** are responsible for. If you don't take care of your troops, you're an idiot because you might as well try fighting the whole battle alone.

Another side to this principle is that when your troops are busting their asses for you in often shitty conditions, one of the most demoralizing things you can do to them as human beings is to fail to take on your share of the burden and unpleasantness. Let them get the idea that you're shirking work and hardship (they don't expect you to do the **same** work they're doing), they'll see that you think of yourself first, and they'll lose trust in you. Then you're dead as their leader, and you all may be dead literally as well someday.

Those readers who never were in the military, just think how you feel if you have a manager who's obviously focused on themselves first, who doesn't push themselves to contribute as much as he/she requires their subordinates to, and who's perfectly willing to take credit when things go right in spite of their own efforts, but because of yours. Feels pretty shitty, doesn't it? Certainly doesn't make you want to go the extra mile for the SOB next time, does it? That's what I meant before about companies just needing squad leaders. Any reasonably decent SGT (E-5) assistant squadleader would never treat their troops that way.

Unfortunately, in the civilian world, the consequences to leaders who don't pull their fair share of the weight and who don't take care of their troops are often insufficient. Some of these knuckleheads end up as CEOs of companies eventually, tank the company, shit-can hundreds of workers as a way of patching the balance sheet for just one more quarter, do a merger or buyout as financial camouflage, collect their multi-million dollar compensation packages, and while the laid-off workers are trying to figure out how to afford $500-$1000 / month for COBRA premiums without a job, the bastards sail off into the sunset under their golden parachutes, thinking they did a great job, and feeling no shame at having done so. They just don't get it.

ok. sorry about that, ran on a bit much there.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

Totally agree with you about 'your troops eat first'. All the good managers I know apply this principle, and almost all the bad managers don't. There is one kind of manager who appears to violate this rule, who thinks he is satisfying his troops needs when he isn't, because he thinks his troops needs are the same as his.

This is the kind of manager who tries to make his 'troops' work 60 hour weeks all the time, and justifies it to himself by saying that he is prepared to put that effort in, so why shouldn't they. He may get a kick out of that kind of worklife, and assumes that they would too if only they would make the effort.

David Clayworth
Wednesday, January 22, 2003

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