Hire a vet? IT Says Yes

Highly skilled, highly disciplined and highly adaptive, veterans are showing their mettle on IT staffs nationwide.

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When President Obama challenged the private sector last year to hire 100,000 unemployed veterans by the end of 2013, he shared the stage with companies that have some of the largest IT workforces in the United States -- among them Hewlett-Packard, AT&T, Siemens, Honeywell, Accenture and Microsoft.

To address the disproportionately high rate of unemployment (12.1%) among veterans, the federal government now offers tax credits for companies that hire unemployed post-9/11 veterans or their spouses. In addition, the administration has established resources to help businesses identify and hire returning service people, and it provides vets with tools to translate their military experience into business skills that are more readily recognized by corporate America.

Given the IT-centric nature of many of the corporations that pledged to establish or expand their veteran-recruiting programs, it's fair to ask: Do the high-tech skills people learn in the military apply meaningfully to private-sector IT?

The answer, according to veterans and the companies that hire them, is an emphatic yes.

"The military is arguably one of the most high-tech organizations in the world," says Mike Brown, senior director of talent acquisition at Siemens. "If you're working on a ship or a plane or tank, you've got responsibility for large, complex, extremely expensive equipment run by highly sophisticated IT platforms and software."

Veterans return to the civilian world with a wide variety of skills, says Laura Rawlings, a former captain in the U.S. Army who now works in enterprise information security at healthcare giant Humana in Louisville, Ky. "The military trains for every field out there -- including high tech," she says.

Here's her story and those of four other military veterans in IT.

Chris Norton

Military experience: Commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve 1999-2009; mobilized for active service 2002-2004 (stateside, at Fort Dix) and again in 2008 (Iraq); holds the 88A (Transportation) and 90A (Multifunctional Logistics) Military Occupational Specialties; assigned to the First Mobilization Support Group at Fort Totten, N.Y.; holds the rank of major. Civilian role: Senior strategist, social business, at AT&T, Morristown, N.J.

When asked what qualities veterans have that might be of interest to corporate America, Chris Norton ticks off a list of 21st-century skills with rapid-fire delivery.

"Soldiers are given a very short window of time to master any piece of technology -- be it analytics, communications, weapons -- and put it to practical use under pressure," he says. "They're adept at working with minimal supervision; they're highly entrepreneurial; they're able to cope in a constantly changing landscape; they understand the global impact of their actions."

Norton has experienced re-entry into corporate life twice -- both times at AT&T, where he has worked since 1999. (Currently he is the business lead supporting AT&T's B2B efforts in social media and digital care.)

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