July 13, 2021

Startups: A great next mission for Veterans

I used to be a suits, ties and wingtips kind of guy, but nowadays my uniform is a hoodie and a baseball cap. This wasn’t the plan – I kind of stumbled here by following a hunch.

When I left the Army in 2010, if you’d have suggested I join the tech industry or the startup economy, I’d have laughed at you. I thought tech meant I needed to know how to write code (I didn’t, and still don’t), and that startups were made up of desperate risk-takers, betting their every penny on some crazy idea that was more likely to result in their own personal bankruptcy than becoming the next Jeff Bezos. Despite my willingness to risk my own life in the Army, I’d have scoffed at my (mostly incorrect) perception of the risk involved in joining a startup. I wouldn’t have spent another five minutes thinking about it.

While considering what steps to take after working for Syracuse University, a little voice in my head told me that the tech industry seemed exciting, even though I knew nothing about it. After reading Ashlee Vance’s biography of Elon Musk, something told me that I’d be better off learning as much as I could about how the future was being made than reading yet another account of Teddy Roosevelt’s life. Though I was intimidated by the opportunity to lead LinkedIn’s military program, I took the leap, knowing that the move to the West Coast would broaden my horizons in ways I couldn’t yet anticipate.

I dove into learning about the industry. I used my tuition reimbursement benefit from LinkedIn to pay for Stanford’s Ignite program, which runs a cohort specifically for post-9/11 Veterans. I tried everything I could to learn how LinkedIn’s tech was built and how it worked. I did a stint at a venture capital firm to learn from investors working with some of the world’s most promising startups. Harboring dreams of starting my own company, I decided that it would be smart to work at a startup before trying to create one from scratch. After a few conversations about our mutual goals, Mike Slagh welcomed me onto the team at Shift. Without knowing it at the time, each of these steps, each caused by its own hunch, unlocked the next.

It turns out that working for a startup helped answer some of the biggest existential questions I’d been wrestling with since my deployment to Iraq. Working for a small company provides me the same sense of connection to a mission that I felt when I was in uniform. Instead of being a tiny cog in a giant machine, I work with a tight-knit team that is as dedicated to a mission, driven by purpose, and committed to one another as anyone can be (short of pledging to give their life on each others’ behalf). We all wear many hats. We pitch in wherever needed. We stare down uncertainty regularly, and as they say, we either “find a way or make one.”

The post-9/11 generation of Veterans is hard at work transforming industries and leaving our mark on the future of our country, either helping to build startups founded by others or creating their own. Over the past few years, Shift has helped more than 100 startups and small businesses hire more Veterans, and today that mission grows. I’m proud to announce a significant step forward: in August we will welcome 50+ new startups onto our talent marketplace that makes it easy for some of the most ambitious new companies in America to find and message forward-thinking military Veterans.

Through this partnership with America’s startups and through our ever-growing, free career transition and advancement programs, military service members and Veterans have an easier time identifying and pursuing opportunities at some of the country’s fastest-growing startups. If there’s a voice inside of you saying you might like to give this a shot – that you might like to reconnect to your former sense of purpose – that you might like to join a tight-knit team and once again feel necessary to mission success, I’d encourage you to check us out. No matter where you are on your journey, you’re one of us, and we’d be proud to help you find your way.

Upcoming Program Kickoffs

Learn more at https://www.shift.org/navigating-next.

This post originally appeared on the US Department of Veterans Affairs VAntage Point blog.

The sharing of any non-VA information does not constitute an endorsement of products and services on part of VA. The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) personnel does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

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