How to Make Your Company an Inclusive Workplace for Veterans
Advice from a Marine
Photo credit: City of Detroit via Flickr
Editor’s note: As a veteran of the US Marines, VP and Assistant General Counsel of Spredfast Scott Shepherd represents a segment of our population that is underrepresented in our industry—and the broader technology sector. Veterans are a relatively small but highly valuable segment of the high tech workforce. In the spirit of inclusion and in honor of Veterans Day, we invited Scott to share his story.
At a time when his peers were still trying to determine a major, Scott Shepherd had already committed himself to military service. The summer after his junior year, Scott attended Officer Candidate School, and after graduation, he leapt straight into full-time service as a Marine Officer. After four years of active duty, and during another 15 years in the Reserves, Scott studied public policy and Law at UT, eventually moving onto roles on Senator John Cornyn’s campaign, in State government, and as a litigator at a law firm. Today, Scott serves as VP and Assistant General Counsel for Spredfast, practicing law in a new space, with new challenges. But Scott knows that some early military lessons still impact what he does every day at Spredfast. In fact, Scott says practicing law in an emerging field has quite a bit in common with service: “It’s kind of like being around young Marines again,” he says, “because of the youth and the energy.”
We sat down with Scott to ask him about his experiences—civilian and otherwise—and how they shape his role today:
How has your experience as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marines helped you lead people in the private sector?
I believe in leading by example: If I see something that needs fixing, I fix it. Whether or not people see it doesn’t matter. But when they do—and they see it often enough—they’ll start picking up similar habits. I’m always available to answer questions, help people out, and lend a hand whenever someone needs it. Those are things good leaders do. Give your time, and be sincere. Take time to talk to people you work with and learn about them, as opposed to just seeing them as a 9-to-5 employee. Everybody cares about things outside of work—get to know what those things are.
More specifically, is there anything you learned in the Marines that you find particularly relevant to working in the tech space? Why should tech companies hire veterans?
Marines tend to be mission-focused and flexible thinkers. They are good at thinking outside the box to solve problems and accomplish the mission. This is exactly the sort of innovative and adaptable employee I'd think tech companies would seek out, since tech companies are typically doing things that are new and different, and without a roadmap. Of course, I suspect it goes without saying that Marines are dependable and generally have integrity as a key core value.
Veterans are mission-focused and flexible: exactly what tech companies need.
What should companies/managers keep in mind in order to be inclusive of veterans?
Give them time to assimilate. Find them someone in the company to be their mentor – whether it’s a vet or not – who’s older and can walk them through the process and be there for them throughout their time at the company. Veterans came from an environment where there were very strict processes and procedures for literally everything. If you had an issue with your boss in the Marines, there was a clearly defined process to take it “up the chain of command.” If you were sick, you could go to sick call, right on base.
After four years of active duty, all of a sudden veterans find themselves at companies where it’s not always exactly clear how they should go about doing x, y, or z. So, it would be incredibly helpful to have someone assigned to them who can help them navigate the processes to get stuff done, be available for questions, and just help them assimilate into the culture so they better understand what’s expected of them. Finally, companies should understand that a veteran's time in the Service played a key role in shaping that person you hired. Don’t expect that they will leave their values, discipline, and commitment behind when they come to work—embrace that and expect them to have a positive influence on your company.
A veteran’s time in the Service played a key role in shaping the person you hired.
How do you stay involved in the military community as a private citizen?
I really like helping out guys just getting out of the service. The transition can be tough but there are good resources available; in Austin, the Texas Military Officers Association hosts monthly events. I’m also involved with an organization called Folds for Honor, which raises money for educational scholarships for the dependents of wounded or killed service members. There are several thousand non-profit organizations founded since 9/11 dedicated to veteran support: some organizations aid homeless vets, some injured service members and/or their dependents, and some for those transitioning from active duty to civilian life. That work makes me feel like I can still play a role in the greater good that I enjoyed as a Marine.
What is the transition into civilian life like?
It’s hard to find the same camaraderie, mission focus, and sense of a higher purpose that you’re used to after leaving that life and going to college or working at a company. There was never a question about getting up in the morning while I was in the military, because you knew it was for the right thing. I think some guys have a really hard time making the transition from a job where they had a such a clear sense of purpose. As I was leaving active duty, at my going away party, my boss—who was a crusty old Lieutenant Colonel—told me that I was going to miss the Marines and “doing something for the greater good.” Of course, I already knew everything, so I didn’t believe him. Not two months later, I found a reserve unit to join. Because you do miss it.
Do you think the transition is easier when you believe you’re making a difference in your career?
I’m fortunate because I believe what we do at Spredfast matters. I see value in helping companies better deal with their customers and their issues. Similarly, when I worked for the State or when I was at a law firm, I felt that the clients that I represented were generally at the wrong end of a lawsuit, so I was still fighting for the “good guys.”
What advice do you have for people transitioning out of the military and into the corporate world?
First and foremost, you are responsible for your success and nobody owes you anything. You have to take charge of what you want to do, chart that course, then execute your plan. Find a mentor, ask lots of questions and listen to their advice and guidance. Then ask more questions. Build a network to help you meet new people and find new opportunities. You can’t think that everyone you go to work with has the same mindset as you anymore. And you can’t use the same acronyms, phrases, or terms that you used in the service.
Basic things like converting military service in a resume it to “civilian terms” may not be easy – but there are any number of websites designed to help you do that. People you interview with won’t know what a squad leader does, or what a big deal it was to earn the NCO of the quarter. You have to take the time and explain those things.
Keep your core values—your honor and integrity—but remember that how you did things in the military is not how things are generally done in the civilian world. Get to know the people you go to school with or work with, and take an interest in them. Be open to what people have to offer you—and also be open with what you have to offer your teammates and the company.