In recognition of Veterans' Day, I wanted to share a recent conversation I had with my fellow veteran A.J. Altman about how to attract more people with military backgrounds into the tech sector. A.J. founded and is CEO of HOVER, a marketplace transforming the exterior home improvement industry. He's hired and developed an outstanding team, many of whom began their careers in the armed forces, and is an outspoken advocate for the diverse talents coming out of the military.
"If you think about it, the military is all about grit and follow-through," A.J. says. "It rewards getting a job done — delivering on the mission through sheer force of will." He observes that these qualities translate exceptionally well to vets starting a new career in technology: "They know how to go through the process, grind their way through, and learn how to do it."
For example, after serving in the Marine Raiders (Marine Corp Special Forces), HOVER's head of engineering started at the company as an inexperienced intern. He worked his way up through the company, and now runs a team of 110.
"At HOVER, we have a mission, and people are passionate about achieving it," explains A.J. "Vets are drawn to challenges, and they will figure it out. If you have a team of people with this mindset, you can't lose."
In my own experience in the Navy, I learned the value of ruthless self-assessment, and what it means to be part of a culture that is always driving to improve. The most successful startups I've worked with operate this way, with teams of people who embrace the growth that comes with hard challenges. As A.J. says, "Anyone who hasn't had a military experience might be daunted by looking a vet's resume. Just suss out for grit and persistence. If those things are there, don't be afraid to take on a vet who doesn't have much experience in a specific discipline. Take the risk. Give them a shot."
I'd personally love to see more vets join the tech industry, and I'm always looking for ways to help make that happen. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has established the SkillBridge program to connect companies with military interns who are finishing up their final six months of service. SkillBridge provides their full pay and benefits, and companies get the benefit of working with talented vets as they transition into civilian life. The program works extraordinarily well: an average of 85% of SkillBridge interns convert to full-time hires.
In addition, post-military career advancement company Shift.org has built a subscription service to a continuously refreshed pipeline of eligible candidates. Companies can hire as many SkillBridge participants as they'd like, and give unlimited access to the hiring platform to their teams. Companies select interns; Shift handles the paperwork and coordination with DoD.
One of the biggest lessons A.J. and I got from our military service is gratitude. I want to send a huge thank you to all our current and retired vets today for their leadership, energy, sacrifice and service. We deeply appreciate everything you do.