24 March 2015

Bringing Veterans into the Technology Business

The average American today is surrounded by technology. The smartphones in our pockets, the individual apps on those devices and the fitness monitors on our wrists are just a few of the artifacts symbolizing how technology has permeated into our everyday lives.

What is missing in all of this technology is the collective influence of U.S. military Veterans in the business and engineering efforts behind modern software and hardware. The most successful technology companies in the United States today were not founded by Veterans and are not currently led by Veterans.

There are certainly Veterans involved in the technology business, but there is a noticeable void of Veterans on the executive teams that are building the contemporary technology industry. Veterans are not shaping the technology market or leading the cadre of businesses building modern enterprise and consumer tools at companies like Google, Apple, Samsung, Uber, Facebook, LinkedIn, Evernote and Twitter.

I have seen the drought of Veteran influence in the technology industry first hand as a member of both the military and technology tribes.

When I left the active-duty Air Force in 2009, I went to Silicon Valley and took a sales engineering position at Google. After a few years I was promoted to a product management role. As I immersed myself deeper in the technology industry, I began to seek out other Veterans. The scarcity of peers and mentors in Silicon Valley with military experience was notable.

At Google, a company of over 30,000 employees when I resigned in 2014, there were only around 300 U.S. military Veterans. Many technology companies have recognized the need to recruit underrepresented communities and include Veterans in their diversity and inclusion strategies.

All too often though, the positions generated by these efforts are simply aimed at selling software, hardware or services to the government. These are not the coveted engineering and product management roles that are charged with designing complex software systems, leading development teams and creating new products.

When Veterans are able to join large technology companies, they are relegated to individual contributor roles or mid-level management positions. There are certainly exceptions where Veterans have  achieved more in technology companies, but the frequency of these successes is largely anecdotal.

There is a better way! The world is full of interesting problems that have not yet been solved, and Veterans are keenly equipped to meet these challenges. Rather than joining large technology companies and fighting their way to the top, Veterans can become technology entrepreneurs, start businesses and change the world on their own terms.

There has never been a better time to grow an idea into a scalable technology company. Developing a technology startup does not necessitate an MBA, it simply requires having an idea, creating a vision, sustaining motivation and investing hard work. These are character traits that many Veterans already possess.

There are Veterans out there right now forging this entrepreneurial path, and there are programs expressly aimed at helping others along the way. If Veterans invest a bit of time to learn the language, understand the processes and connect with the right mentors, they can build the next generation of great technology businesses.

In an effort to highlight the connective pathways linking Veterans to technology entrepreneurship, Patriot Boot Camp and RallyPoint have partnered to publish a series of profiles on successful Veteran-led technology companies.

Stay tuned for great startup stories, amazing personal transformations and a lot of raw entrepreneurial motivation!

Sean Maday is a director at Patriot Boot Camp, an intensive 3-day event that seeks to help Veterans become technology entrepreneurs. The program is free for U.S. military Veterans and/or their spouses. The next Patriot Boot Camp event is in New York City on April 17, 2015. Follow their RallyPoint group page here!: http://rly.pt/patriot-boot-camp

Comment below or start the conversation here and connect within the military community.

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