WWP Member Sarai Ekblad

Skills Honed While in Military Service Open Door to New IT Career

By Karen Stinneford

As a former intelligence linguist for the U.S. Army with top-secret clearance, Sarai Ekblad had ready access to assets necessary to perform her work.

Still, when it came to solving problems, the Army expected Ekblad and her fellow soldiers to also rely on a resource they had brought from home — their brains.

“If a radio wasn’t working, it wasn’t like we could call some repair guy. We had to figure it out and we had to get it to work,” Ekblad said. “We were taught to think outside the box and use the process of elimination to figure out what wasn’t working and how pieces come together.”

That Army-forged resourcefulness is one military skill Ekblad carried over into her new career in information technology.

There are plenty of others.

 

Veterans stage career comeback

According to a recent report by the Center for New American Security — a think tank that examines national security issues — veteran unemployment has dropped dramatically within the last decade.

The report’s authors attribute these job gains to veterans being valued more for the soft skills they acquired through military service.

Moreover, the report singles out the technology industry as being fertile ground for personnel looking for civilian employment upon leaving the military.

“A silver lining to this rapidly shifting job landscape is a flood of available jobs in the tech sector,” the report states. “There is an enormous opportunity to provide a service to the nation by increasing the pipeline of veterans employed in the technology sector — helping to close the civil-military divide, providing employment to those who have served, and providing an influx of talented individuals with essential soft skills to American companies.”

 

Bringing a military mindset to a civilian workplace

Former military personnel have a host of soft skills that make them excellent civilian workers: Problem-solving, integrity, flexibility, communication and experience collaborating within diverse teams.

And don’t overlook leadership, another skill that the military teaches all personnel no matter their rank, said Ryan Withem, manager/director of the Arizona campus for CompTIA Tech Career Academy.

“In class, Sarai demonstrated natural leadership — she was quick to catch onto things and she went out of her way to help others, making sure they understood, too, and were getting their questions answered,” he said. “There’s a military mindset that no one gets left behind. Sarai had that and she led the way.”

 

For Ekblad, tech offers the right fit

Ekblad admits that when she left the Army in 2013, she took some time to decide what career to pursue in civilian life. Originally, she wanted to become a police officer, but her struggles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder eliminated that as an option.

“It took me a few years to figure out my Plan B,” she said.

Comfortable with technology — “I have a knack, and everybody asks me for help with their devices”— Ekblad said she immediately was intrigued when she received an email from Wounded Warrior Project promoting a partnership with Creating IT Futures, which operates CompTIA Tech Career Academy.

“I was interested in IT, but I didn’t know what direction to go or how to get started,” Ekblad said. “I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew CompTIA A+ certification was a good stepping stone to a technology career.”

During her CompTIA Tech Career Academy training, Ekblad said she learned everything she needed to secure entry-level employment in IT.

“You could know absolutely nothing about computers and graduate from the program being able to perform any kind of entry-level help desk or support job,” she said. “You can’t jump in as a cybersecurity expert, but entry-level is a great way to get the knowledge you need to advance your career.”

Ekblad now works at Accenture as an application development associate.

As Ekblad onboarded as a new employee, Accenture covered during its orientation elements of professionalism that staff were expected to demonstrate. 

“All of the skills they covered were definitely skills we learned in the military,” Ekblad said. “But at the same time, some of us have a little more life experience than kids coming straight out of college.”

Ekblad said she is excited about her new career in IT and may end up specializing in web development and security.

“The opportunities in IT are vast and they just continue to grow,” she said.

 

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