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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

How to Transition From the Military to Corporate Life, From Someone Who Did It

“Trying to get another career is one of the hardest, most stressful things that you’ll ever have to do in your life,” Marquel Walker recently told me.

After shifting professional gears a few times, he would know—though he’s certainly made it look easy.

Walker grew up in a military family, moving around the country until college, where he planned to enroll in North Carolina State to play football. An injury derailed those plans, so he enrolled in Winston Salem State University to study mathematics.

After that, he enlisted in the U.S. military and later oversaw IT projects and departments as a communications officer. Following a six-year tour in the Army and Air Force, he made the decision to rejoin civilian life, landing a job at professional services firm Deloitte Consulting LLP as a web developer.

So how did he make these moves, from mathematics to the military to a consulting gig? With the skills he learned from the military—drive, ambition, and an eye firmly on his goals.

Whether you’re changing fields in the corporate world, considering a move into tech, or navigating civilian life for the first time, here’s what you can learn from his experience.

Tell us a little about your career path, from college to the military.

Early on in my college career, I started off as a computer science major, and then I transitioned over to mathematics. They follow a similar track, but mathematics was more layman’s terms to me. I was still taking the same classes as a computer science major would take, and I still got my programming knowledge.

Once I graduated college, I went into the military and became a communications officer. Basically, I was the IT project manager. I was in charge of 25 to 50 personnel, and we provided internet for the Army. We would go to a base or any kind of new infrastructure—say, in the middle of the woods—where they needed internet, and I would come up with the planning and procedures. Pretty much, we were the cable and internet providers for the Army.

I did that for two years, and then I transitioned and went into the NSA, where I worked as project manager for the help desk. I was in charge of over 300 computers, including all implementation of software—any kind of new projects, computer work, and engineering all went through me.

At that point, I’d been in for about six years and came to a crossroads of, “Okay, do I want to continue in the military or do I want to go ahead and pursue civilian time?” I decided on the latter: It was just one of those things where you want to get somewhere and settle down and grow and build toward the future.

How did you get the job with Deloitte?

While I was at Fort Gordon, in Augusta, GA, I went to a career fair where I met a Deloitte recruiter. He brought the idea up of picking back up where I left off in college with programming. I always wanted to get back into programming. I got away from that because of the military—that’s not what we really focus on. There are computer hackers and stuff like that, but as an officer I was more on the management side. That’s when he presented the idea of coming to Deloitte.

After going back and forth, I felt like it was a good idea. One of the selling points was that Deloitte offered training and a way to get you up to speed. It was a good school transition and a welcoming environment. People were willing to help you out and go the extra mile to make sure that you were caught up or answer any general questions you have.

How do you think being in the military set you up for success in your civilian role?

I would say mainly my work ethic and the ability to go above and beyond. In the military, we were always taught and trained that if you don’t know something, then you spend that extra couple minutes or hour to get your skill set. When you do make mistakes, it’s fine, but just don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over again where it’s hindering the job or mission.

Drive and ambition is another one. We always want to be ambitious, and we’re always looking for the next thing, the next goal. You’re always fighting for the next rank or you’re trying to do the best you can. That skill set and that mindset is one of things that helps a lot of military personnel out. We have that drive and that ambition to go to the next goal and next step.

What’s been the biggest difference for you being in the civilian world versus being in the military for so long?

One of the biggest differences is in the military I was my own boss. I was able to manage my own time. I’ve been in charge for four or five years, so not being in charge or a manager is kind of weird. I’m not used to that.

What advice would you have for other people who are transitioning to civilian life?

I tell people all the time that whenever you’re trying to set up your resume, do it in a civilian format. People don’t always know how to take what they learned in the military and relate it to a more normal, civilian stance.

I’ll use a non-IT related position as an example. When I was a field artillery officer, pretty much that job was that I shoot big rockets. How can you translate that into a way that makes sense to the average person? Yes, I’m shooting big rockets, but there’s a bit more to it. I coordinated, monitored, and evaluated operations and the threat environment, I maintained equipment, I did intermediate level support, I ran radio systems, and I advised managers in technical aspects of the radio systems. There’s more to the job than just shooting the rockets, and that’s what you have to talk about.

You also want to read and research job openings and make sure your resume reflects that. I remember when I applied for one job, I worked on networks and systems and assessments of software, but I didn’t have that on my resume. They were like, “you didn’t get the position because you didn’t have any network or systems background.” I said, “Well, I do have that.” They said, “Well, we looked at your resume and it doesn’t show that, so we went to the next guy,” and they turned me down. I lost out on the opportunity because I failed to put one of my skill sets on my resume.

What about advice you have for people who want to go into computer science or programming?

I’ve been working in the IT field about five or six years, and I think it’s one of the best fields to be in. I used to do a lot of recruiting in college, and I always tell people one of the careers that you can stay in is STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Just take a look at the job market.

Plus, in computer science there are so many different aspects. There’s the side where you’re working on structure and database building and design. There’s the side where you’re working on actual programming. There’s the side where you’re working on implementation. There’s a side where you’re maintaining the computers and the software. It’s very versatile. That’s why I like the IT field. It translates so well if you want to transition to something else.

And it’s always growing. Any person who likes to go the extra mile, or who has the ambitious mindset or problem solving mentality, the IT field is where you’re suited.

Photo of Army uniform courtesy of Shutterstock.