Stories from Women Veterans
All invited guest speakers are women veterans who have tech-relevant experience. This show will serve as a forum for women vets to share more about their unique experiences serving in the military.
Hello, my name is Geneva Hurtado and I work with Cloudflare and I've been here for about two years.
I have a pretty exciting role here as the Senior Sourcing Manager for Information Technology here at Cloudflare.
So one of the things that we do here that I do here is I'm a veteran and okay, I messed up slightly.
One of the things that I help here is I help key leaders with key strategies and supplier negotiations across the company to kind of help out.
And I think it's very important that I bring my military background into this role and how I got into this role has been extremely interesting.
So I think it's important to host a session on women veterans in the workplace and how we got into our roles here.
So again, my name is Geneva Hurtado.
I work at Cloudflare and I've been here two years and then I'll move nicely on to Cynthia and introduce her.
Cynthia Kao Hi folks, I'm Cynthia Kao, the Executive Director of Operation Code.
And I also am a tech founder. I spent six years in the United States Air Force Reserves and I was married to active duty army.
I have a son who's also a army combat medic veteran. So we're a military family.
And I moved into tech in 2008. I spent the first 15 years of my career as a licensed clinical social worker.
So you know, I spent reserve duty managing my active duty spouse, raising three kids pretty much on my own OCONUS away from family and friends, and then the role of being a military parent as well, you know, so I bring those perspectives to the table.
And I am really honored to be here to represent women veterans.
We'll move on to Kristen. Hi, I'm Kristen Brown. I'm currently the Chief Customer Officer at HomeBot.
It's a software company that is a client for life retention tool for the mortgage and real estate space.
I was in the military from 2009 through 2017.
I was an army Blackhawk pilot. So had the opportunity to serve in various different capacities to deployments to Afghanistan, got out in 2017 transitioned through business school, which is really where I decided to transition to the technology sector really took classes focused on go to market go to market strategies, sales, marketing and post sales, which is how I landed my current role at HomeBot.
And then Rachel. Morning, everyone, or good afternoon, depending on where you are.
This is Rachel Polish. I'm here in San Francisco.
But as a Coast Guard reservist for nearly or more than 22 years, I had a drill weekend just this last weekend, and I'm happy to share more about that.
So in my military life, I'm a command master chief, and I serve a unit in based in Maryland and the National Capital Region, more than 150 reservists in our sector.
And then at Quantcast, my civilian role, we are very powerful advertising technology company and creator of an intelligent audience platform.
And I work with companies and brands and agencies on their paid media strategy as a consultative partner and help them serve the audiences they're looking to reach.
So pretty excited to be here today and share some insights on what it's like to have two roles.
So okay, just naturally going to move on.
And I'll ask some questions back to you ladies.
And for the questions, if one if I ask a question, I might direct it towards one person, but it's okay to get a different experience.
I think it'll be exciting to hear a different experience, because we've all served in different branches on in different capacities.
So I think it'll be really amazing to hear it as I asked.
But the first question is, why did you decide to join the military? So we're going to start with Kristen.
Sure. So I really look back at my military experience and credit where I am today for with how I started.
But if I put myself in my 18 year old shoes, when I made the decision to attend West Point, it was really for three reasons.
One, I grew up in New Jersey. So I really was a child of 9-11.
And I viscerally remember that experience. Had a lot of friends and had a lot of friends at the time who knew people that were actually a part of that.
And I felt really strongly at that time that when I had the opportunity, I wanted to do my part.
So that was a big draw for me to attend to apply to and then attend West Point.
The second was it was an opportunity for an education fully funded by the government.
The government invests in you and what you get back in return is huge.
That fully funded education was absolutely a draw. And then the last piece when you know, I attended West Point, so thinking about what I wanted out of my college experience was not just the academics, but I was really drawn to the fact that that institution thinks about you as a well-rounded person.
I was always a scholar athlete, and I loved that aspect of that not only academic challenge, but the physical challenge.
And then the third pillar of the academy is character building.
And I really wanted that well -rounded education, both character, academics and physical that really drew me to that life.
Okay, no natural volunteers, Rachel.
Sure, I'm happy to answer that as well. So I was raised very much with a mentality to give back to the communities we serve.
My family was very generous and charitable minded, and always thought of others before ourselves.
And so those values were instilled in me. I almost joined the Coast Guard as active duty, but ended up joining as a reservist.
And I'll explain why when we get through more questions.
But having a dual career was really interesting to me.
I feel like I've gained so much from military service. And I know there, we'll talk a little bit about that too.
But two weeks after 9-11, I took the oath to join the Coast Guard and I've been serving ever since.
I feel like I bring both roles to each other, if that makes sense.
I get so much like how many people can say they've been to the Arctic on a polar icebreaker?
How many people can say they've met elected officials?
There are life experiences I've gained at the Coast Guard that I bring to my service minded role at Quantcast, where I support customers and brands with their strategies.
And this, the same goes for Quantcast, what I bring to the Coast Guard.
So I feel like I've benefited and I continue to love it, even though there's a lot of travel involved.
I can jump in as well. I joined the military a little later in life.
So I didn't do it right out of high school. I already had my career.
I was married young, had my kids. And I went in after 30. So I literally was the dorm mom, you know, the older person in the platoon and, and was able to really take my civilian experience and bring that into my military experience and vice versa.
I really wanted to make a career change. So I spent, you know, time in as a licensed clinical social worker, love that job.
But I needed something more. And so in order for me at the time I was married to active duty, it was really incredibly hard to make a career transition while you're an active duty spouse, stationed abroad, you know, and so one of the best ways for me was I had always wanted to serve.
I literally looked at like my bucket list, if I'm not going to do it now, it's not going to get done.
And so I wanted that experience in that time to be able to say, I was able to do something and learn a different perspective and give back to my community.
So a little bit different than a lot of the other folks that joined the military fresh out of high school.
But you know, if it's something that you want to do, it's never too late to do it.
Okay, so I'll say mine. Mine was not as interesting.
I did not have a sense of loyalty. I did not have a sense of, um, valor.
I simply wanted money for college. And we did not have a means to get it in my family.
My grandpa had been in before and he had been able to buy a home or something with like a benefit.
And he was like, Hey, would you consider that you know, they give money for college and it was that simple.
They were going to give me money to advance into whatever I wanted to do.
So that is why I joined and I did not join straight out of high school.
I waited about two years and tried the job market and I graduated high school at 16.
The job market sucks at 16. Like it's it's not a good thing.
And I said, I'm starting even worse off because I'm so young as to being able to speak up for myself.
So I think I'm going to go do something different.
So I joined the military. And that's my story. So thank you, ladies. Ready for the next question?
What got you into tech? So from joining the military, whether your career was in the tech space, or how did you transition from that role into the tech space now?
So let's start opposite. So we're going to start with Cynthia and then go the opposite way.
Pressure's on. All right. Um, it was natural for me.
I don't like not knowing things. I was always a very curious person.
And, you know, in the late 90s, when.com was booming, and like all of the ugly 90 websites were going on, I decided to teach myself how to code.
And just because I'm like, all of these websites look terrible.
And I'm a designer by nature.
So taught myself how to code front end. And then when I was in the military, I spent a lot of time doing public affairs, you know, I was the one that everybody called on to fix all the web issues with DoD, any, you know, press information, video, Armed Forces Network.
So I had a really wide variety of tech skills, not just programming.
But I found that it naturally evolved from being a photojournalist to like video online, video on demand, doing 3d motion graphics.
And so from there, I just kind of evolved my skills, and really went into UI UX software design, I think, 14 years ago, 15 years ago.
So that's really my passion is, is I look at like, how can we get products to be more user focused, so that people can actually use them, love them, you know, evolve, and create new features.
And, you know, I ran a startup for the last 10 years, just exited that.
And I'm continuing to learn myself, I think that like, your skills are never stagnant.
So even though I am formally in tech, now, I'm constantly learning, I'm constantly pushing myself in areas that I don't know.
We're going to reverse order.
Yes, I'll, sorry, I'll jump in. I just I want to rip off of what what you said to me, because I think it really resonated.
In just the tech space, for me, is just a place that you're constantly innovating, constantly leaning into your creative side.
There's not a playbook for anything. So it's really interesting, really fascinating to see how people move fast and grow.
For me, coming from aviation, I was always fascinated at the way that aircraft function.
I loved my systems classes, I loved how things came together in in that very technical field, which some of that, you know, technicality translates to my current role in software, some of it obviously doesn't.
But I think just always pushing the status quo and learning new things and being able to be creative is really the the draw to the tech sector for me.
And basically, I grew up in the tech space.
So when I I'm originally from New Jersey as well.
And my dad was in semiconductor. Growing up, we moved to Cupertino, which is where Apple is headquartered.
And he, he didn't work for Apple, but grew up in the shadow of Apple, if you will.
And just the industry was around me.
And I was always like all of you mentioning Apple. And I was always eager to learn.
We had Apple computers in our school before most people even had a computer at home, and was learning things like basic and other technologies that were so new and innovative at the time as a as a kid.
I am on a constant learning journey myself.
And I have a marketing background. So combining advertising tech with that, my digital marketing background just seemed like a natural fit to me.
And I'm just really privileged to be able to bring that tech experience as well as my digital marketing experience to serve my customers.
And now here goes Geneva story coming in left field.
Ready? I have to be the one to have the craziest story. I was in the military, I joined on the buddy system.
Right. And my best friend, the only job that we had, I wanted to be air tracker controller, and she wanted to be a journalist.
The only MOS that match was chaplain assistant that we could have in common to join on the buddy system.
So I joined in a capacity where you know what a chaplain assistant does, they protect the chaplain in time of war, you get them to where he needs to go, you're the body bodyguard, you carry all their supplies, you get them from point to point to point throughout your military.
So my job was to work in the chapel, I helped with the whatever the chaplain needs.
One day, the I guess the IT departments, I get it was called do on Department of Information Technology Management or something came in and the guys could not fit under the building of our chapel to route the new Internet.
This is a long time ago, I'm telling my age.
So I was small, I was about 100 a buck, probably bucko five, and I can crawl into the crawl space.
And I was like, What are you doing? What are we doing?
And I was fascinated that we could wire 150 year old building and bring Internet to the chapel.
So the whole building the off I was fascinated with and I knew that that was everything after that.
I want to any every certification the military would give me to get into information technology.
And that became my degree, but it was simply crawling under the building and modernizing the buildings and the infrastructure of this post at the time to the modern technology.
I was fascinated.
I loved it. So that is how I got into it. I went from being a chaplain assistant helping pass out the little Bibles and getting services ready as well as land nap and all this stuff to that.
So it's all interesting, right? That's such a good story Geneva.
But, again, I was the first in my in the when I went to school after I got out in class they always wondered why I could snip all the cable course faster and I'm a networking class, I was the tiniest person one of the only females in class, and I can network so fast and I was like, I remember from my military days when I got trained.
This is is a sense to me we got we had to do it so fast. Right. All right, ready for the next one.
All right, so it says, Why do you think companies should hire reservists and veterans, and, um, you know I want to start with you know Rachel because I love this question.
And this is why I said two part question this is a two part question, because it stems as I thought of asking you this question, why should we hire a reservist, that's a hard one to go into a company, knowing that you could be deployed in any moment, be activated, and your job not get done, you can get activated like this.
So how hard is it to you as you navigate the corporate world to bring that military, that sense of duty where you say hey, I am, I'm a reservist I can be called up at any time and any emergency they can call me and I could be not here in 24 to 48 hours.
So that's really hard to 22, you've been doing this for a minute.
So, you're navigating two worlds. So the question is for you, why do we hire, and then what hardships, have you had because of it.
I appreciate that question.
So first, why we, we want to hire military members or people with military experience, I would say that many of the skills one develops in the military are so desirable by most employers today qualities like working as a team, accomplishing a mission resilience, devotion, dedication, honesty, you name it, getting the work done, no matter what it takes.
That is a quality, I think, is very desirable for employers, looking at.
So I'll be honest with you, when I look back at the early part of my career, I did not talk about my military experience during interviews.
When I was interviewing at different companies I even though I was a reservist I'm actually sort of downplayed it in the interview saying hey it's not a big deal it's one week in a month, two weeks here, you'll never notice it'll be great.
But I found fairly quickly that that was not a great strategy, and it's very important I think you just given the skills I mentioned, and how grateful I am to work for more recently companies that are incredibly supportive that potentially I was hired because of my reserve background and because I bring those skills to the table.
So, it's important to tell those stories and their laws that protect us now that may have not have always existed so that is also a big thing, but I have the most amazing manager I have very supportive company now, and they understand that I am dual hatted and, but I give 120% in everywhere I am, whether that's in my civilian job or in the Coast Guard so to me it's really the skills that we bring to the table that make us incredibly valuable and dedicated employees, but also being transparent about who we are and how important services to us.
Thank you. I could jump in as well just from my time as a reservist, you know, and running Operation Code we have over 12,000 transitioning service members veterans reservists National Guard and military spouses, and the goal of Operation Code is to help folks get their first job in tech and to continue growing in the careers in tech and so it's a very difficult challenge when you're providing avenues for people to learn but then tech companies are, you know, maybe they don't have the cultural competency.
They don't understand the value and so you do you have to do a bit of storytelling, you have to do a little bit of, of removing biases, right, and a lot of our members have said like they've scrubbed their military service off their resume because they're worried like if I was an infantryman, how does that relate to tech, right.
And what I try to say is I did the same thing myself back in the day when I first got out in 2014 I didn't have that support system.
I didn't have a mentor, and so there was a lot of like learning and failing and doing it over again.
And I'd like to say that for people who say, hey, like I don't know anything about the military, how can we support you.
It's one like bringing that empathy to the table right and then really just sitting down and asking questions because a lot of us who serve don't really want that handshake that's like thank you for your service.
You know one or once or twice a year Memorial Day Veteran Day like we want somebody to try to understand our experience and at the end of the day we're people to were were daughters and sons and sisters and mothers, you know, and I think that that experiences encompasses all of who we are.
So we're not typecast into a box. And so, folks that are concerned about employers that may, you know, have a bias against you I think a lot of us we need to, we need to learn how to tell our stories, and how to maybe educate people who don't understand it, but then also like you said Rachel like bringing the value to the table there's a lot of leadership qualities there's a lot of resilience, you know, there's a lot of selflessness that I see in employees that are dual hatted.
And I think the most difficult thing is, as a reservist if you didn't serve your hundred 80 days active component.
You're still not, you know, there's a part of your identity that you question, am I really a veteran, you know, because the government doesn't consider you a protected veteran.
And most people don't know that so when they're when they're applying for jobs and you know the EEO questions come up.
There's usually two questions there's one that says, are you, I am a protected veteran or I'm not a veteran.
Well, the gamut runs like there's just more to that scale.
And so when you have a reservist or somebody who's in the National Guard who served, and maybe isn't a protected veteran.
There's also like this identity of feeling like I don't belong, or I am not like a lot of these other service members because I wasn't active duty.
But meanwhile the veteran experience runs deep you know there's a big spread, and so we want to be able to include and educate and inform people as well as tell our stories on the value.
Okay, has it hindered interviews when you tell someone you're a reservist, do they have you ever gotten the question of what's the likelihood of deployment because I had someone when I first got out there were like wait, isn't there an eight year commitment and you were on the edge like they can call you right back and you go, what's that got to do with you, right, like, am I qualified for this position you're scared that the military can call me back up in time of war right so.
Have you ever had any hesitancy in the workplace where you had to overcome that maybe an interview.
I personally have, I'm sure Rachel can speak more to this as well but one of my first jobs, when I interviewed when I got out of the service like they, it was in the film and TV industry, and the executive producer was super impressed and then they were asking me like what's your most, what's your most notable work that you're proud of and I talked about this documentary I made on the experiences of veterans with PTSD.
And they said, Oh, are you a veteran and I said yeah and I guess I didn't like read through my resume.
And they're like, immediately, they were like no, we don't want to hire you because the last veteran we hired went postal.
And so one, like, they were very forward about being, it's an illegal statement right.
But that's just the fact that like, and after that I had to ask myself like do I really want to even put my military experience of my resume, because people are then going to automatically assume I am this type of way this bias that they have against me.
And so for a few years like I really really struggled with that.
And even during my time in as a reservist like I was in a government role and a government tech role but they were, you know, blockers for me getting promoted like I was about to get promoted and they're like oh well you might not be around.
So like this role if we promote you you're going to be in charge of an entire department, and if you get deployed like we don't know, and so these are folks that like work with God and work with the government and, you know, they were very clear to say like, we don't necessarily want to promote you because you could leave at any time, and you can get deployed.
And not by choice but, you know, and so just advocating for yourself is really hard.
I don't want to step on Kristen's toes but I totally concur with everything Cynthia said.
Honestly, there have been some companies that said very similar things.
And in the Coast Guard we also manage humanitarian missions, like related to hurricanes and oil spills, in addition to war and other law enforcement operations around the world, we are a global force and at any time, I can be activated.
And so I have had in, honestly, similar conversations with employers, and, you know, now and where I am in my career I don't have time for that if they want to ask me those questions during the interview process it's not a great fit for me.
It's so important to me to serve and give back in any way I can, especially in times of crisis in this country, that it's more important that I'm transparent and advising people in advance.
This is what could happen but I'm really skilled at having a, you know, a tracker to show you everything I'm working on and how to pick this up.
I've really done a good job like kind of managing that in the interview process now, but it's really up to the employer to determine if they're ready for someone like that and luckily the last few roles I've been in have been very supportive.
Okay, that was amazing. Thanks for sharing. That was a really good. Okay, Kristen you're not off the hook.
All right. How do you, how do you transition your military experience so you're going into places after you've gotten out and you go, yeah, there's some really complicated missions, flying Apache helicopters.
How does that translate over and it's a civilian world. As you go. Oh, I went into hostile locations and it's so hard for people to translate what they did in the military to make sense and then give ourself credit that it's even harder sometimes to do our missions in a military environment where you can't mess up you have to meticulously work through things, and there's a venue where we could do stuff we mess up and no one's going to die right.
It's bad. There's failures, we're under different pressures.
So, how does that translate, give me some keys, how you mentally transitioned over.
Yeah, man, there's a lot to unpack their first, I have to say, Blackhawks all of my Apache friends would be very excited that you said Apaches but you know I'm very, very proud of the fact that I thought Blackhawks not Apaches.
But it's okay it's, it's one of those things that's only only matters within the small ecosystem of army aviation world.
But, no, it's a really good question Geneva and I can, I want to relate to what both Rachel and Cynthia said about when, when I first transitioned.
I, in some ways felt like my military experience was baggage, I suppressed it I didn't want to talk about it because I was very much trying to create this other, this other life yes that's something that I did, but that is not who I am, and I think you can actually translate this to anytime you're a part of any minority group in any room be it your, your, your ethnic background your socioeconomic status your ability your veteran status being a woman for the first couple of years of my transition.
I wanted to focus on the things that I needed to build up the skill sets that I wanted to build up that would help me be successful in a small to medium tech company like how to work in a CRM how to do very, you know, baseline coding, how to think about go to market strategies how to.
So all of those very specific skill sets that I knew that I would need to be able to be an effective leader of a team of customer success managers or support managers that that I that I have today or operations managers that I was working on a Twilio, so I was very much focused on the specific skill sets during the transition.
And it, it really hasn't been until recently that I have really started to think about my military experience as a as a facet of the the multi layered person that I am.
It's not okay this is Black Hawk Kristen and this is military Kristen and this is home bought Kristen and this is Twilio Kristen, it's okay what are all the different layers that make me me, and how can I pull from the necessary threads to approach this particular circumstance to be the most impactful leader that I can.
I think that that's the biggest thing that I've learned over the last, let's call it six seven years is it's not just any one thing, it's, I very much came in to the tech world as as a generalist, and have continued in my career in that way I'm not very very specifically good at one particular thing, but I wasn't the best pilot in my unit when I commanded a company of Black Hawk pilots and mechanics.
I wasn't the best wrench Turner in my in my company when something was broken, it's being able to pull the expertise from the people that are much much better at it than than I am, and bringing that group together to solve the big problem and that that aspect very much does translate, I would say did need to figure out what those expertises were in the first couple of years of working in the corporate world.
And so it's it's it's a balance, I would say.
Yeah. Same for Rachel I have a different question for you Cynthia about being a military spouse next but Rachel, the same for you what your coast with your missions and the same thing, how do you translate that back into your everyday work, you're commanding and you're leading your, your is large operation in the military world and then you turn around and you leave something totally different.
You're constantly having to turn that on and off.
And often, and you're in your case because you're doing it at the same time, how do you do that.
It's a great question and it requires incredible discipline, to be honest with you.
I mentioned that I have a very service minded mentality everywhere I serve whether it's in my civilian life or Coast Guard life so I spent.
I'll just tell you the last weekend in on the east coast, supporting a two star Admiral through a lot of.
We had we had a meritorious advancement which is like the most rewarding thing, meaning that we advance someone or rank as a surprise it was like a this is your life moment for this individual and I helped coordinate that operation, and so I get energy from that, when I bring it back to work, things like that where I'm in a position now to lead and and help others grow and investing in their success.
And if I can do the same for my clients and my colleagues in my civilian life.
It's just equally as rewarding it's a different mission of course.
Now, I've gotten really good at, like, all right, I'm about to go on a reserve weekend or or hey tonight I'm on a series of reserve calls, but I'm available if you need me to certain clients if we're in a moment where we need to figure something out very quickly I'm very clear about boundaries now, where before I was like oh 24 seven whatever it didn't work when I wasn't as disciplined in my approach.
And now that I have I get energy from both roles but I often come back from reserve drill weekends like re energize the camaraderie the cooperation, all of that inspires me and then as I mentioned like investing in other people's success.
I bring that to my day to day role and I just feel gratified to have both opportunities and be very humble in my approach to both of that.
Okay. Cynthia. You said you were doing military.
Or you were married to a military member as well as serving.
So was I. That was one of the hardest things I had to do in my life when 911 happened.
And my husband was in a rapid deployment unit, and he deployed I think it was a 48 hours.
We were at the movies. And we got the notification and I said can we at least watch the movie.
Because I know I'm saying bye and you don't know what you think we're starting right you know in your head.
You're in a rapid, and I was in the military too so I was like how long before they call me and my kids have no one.
How did you manage that I know what I went through as you're trying to hold it up, and we all have duties back to our units and we were both had platoons.
He was a platoon leader and so was I so we had massive amount of soldiers and I remember saying, I can't have feelings.
I just I'm a robot, I just have to go.
I have to leave these soldiers I have to leave my children. I have to make sure my husband is supported who is deploying right get his rucksacks How did you do with that.
What was it like for you on your side. Yeah, sometimes I look back, and I think that, gee, how did I do that.
How did I survive that time. And I like to tell people like being a military spouse was so much harder than being a service member because I've lived both sides.
It was so much harder because you don't know what's going on and they can't tell you sometimes right and you're like basically told that your career.
I mean I literally had a commander on my husband's side that said, like you have orders he has orders his orders Trump yours because your reserves, and he's active duty.
And we're and we're two separate branches so he can't even, like, tell me that because my orders come from the top so it's orders, nobody likes them, you got to do what you got to do that's what you signed up for.
I also like to tell the story I like to bring my children in to tell the story of being military children military dependents and and talking about how like literally it was like there was one time where my husband was deployed, and then I had a crossover at the end so there was like three months of us both being deployed at the same time and so we had to rely on our families.
And so you have a family care plan like my parents came up for six months and then my in laws came for a few months, and so you can't do it alone like there is no such thing as, you know, you're going to do this career and then it's just you and yourself like it really does take a village to raise child, and not just your immediate family members or your, your blood can but you're like fame, your military family, because there were times we were stationed abroad where that's all you had your family's not close to you they're like 3000 4000 miles away, and you have to rely on the people next to you right people in your unit or people that live within maybe where you live on on on post housing.
And so it was it was very difficult to kind of traverse both roles.
I think the hardest time was when I was expected like you're a spouse, why are you serving, or why do you have a career, that mentality was incredibly difficult for me.
And, you know, now we have, it's not just women that are military spouses but we have men that are military spouses that are also working in tech that are also living this life where they have to get up and move every three, four years right and so that gender equation has like shifted and changed as well because what we think of the word military spouse we automatically think of a female, you know, we have one of the highest underemployment rates for military spouses which most people don't think of.
But when you're constantly moving or you're forced to be in a job where you have to be in person and then you up and move, and that employers not going to be very friendly to you moving out of state.
You know, you have to quit, and I had to do that multiple times I had interruptions in my career where I had to quit my job up and move, you know, it takes a whole six months for you to start that process all over again get plugged into the new geographical location, find a new job.
So yeah, very very difficult and I do like to tell people that the experience I had as a military spouse was way harder than my experience as a service member.
I definitely agree with that.
I had one, a quick story also. I remember he deployed and they don't call for a few months so you have no idea what's going on.
And I saw his hat, he drove ahead on the news, and I didn't get I saw him on CNN burned his vehicle burning on the news before I got the notification as a spouse.
That was one of the scariest things to live your life and also be worried about another member, and how old the technology was back they were they couldn't call us how they can do now with the satellite radio.
We didn't have that technology you had to wait three or four months to get that one little crackly call.
I applaud you for going through that with me so I haven't changed the subject and acts a different thing that I have here.
So one of the other questions was both the military and the technology environments started out being dominated male right in a whole male industry.
How did you ladies navigate that like going into something what our roles were the military I went to basic training was 5050 in the in my basic training it was already kind of converted so I didn't struggle as much, but I noticed when I got into the tech role as being a solutions engineer, it was dominated I was the only female in the room.
Most of the times, most of my career. So, being having certain roles in the military, and it very commit you ladies have very commanding presence and also so you're kind of up there in what your role is and what you were doing.
You probably have some stories of how you navigate and how you came to be in your own space as a female.
So, let's start with Kristen and then go around. Yeah, I'll, I'll take that one.
I have a lot of familiarity at this point of my life being the only in the room, I would say it started all the way back at at West Point there was usually one or two women in every single one of my academic classes and then that translated to flight school that translated to, I was when I took over my company as a company commander.
I was the first woman in that company and I took over as as the commander.
So, it was, yes, I learned a lot through that process. And I think it, it came down to a couple of things.
One is is competence, at the end of the day, what my soldiers cared about and what my peers cared about and what my leaders cared about was, could I do the job.
So, I wanted to make sure that I was competent, and not only competent but excelled at everything that I set my mind to doing.
But also bring my authentic leadership, I do things slightly different, because I'm a woman, but also because I grew up in New Jersey because I had these experiences.
So, trying to bring my authentic self to the situation without, without apologizing for it, and not being overbearing but also demanding what I needed to do my job.
And the really specific example that I have is on my second deployment in 2016 when I was a company commander.
I was one of the few female pilots, if not, I was one of two of like 150 pilots in the entire battalion.
And the flight line was located pretty far away from the rest of the organization the battalion headquarters, where all this, the staff was in the, in the ground troops.
So, the, all the pilots had barracks rooms that were close to the flight line, and everyone else that wasn't a pilot was sleeping, about a half a mile away.
And there were times especially early on in the deployment that as a company commander I needed to be close to the flight line, and there was some tension in the beginning of where I would stay, because there was no female.
We were living in, they were called, they're essentially wooden shacks with six, six people to a shack.
And all of the shacks in the flight line were male, and they couldn't give me a entire shack all to myself.
And I said, you know, I brought that to my leadership team and I said look, it doesn't make sense for me to sleep a half a mile away I need to be close to, to the flight line so that if my soldiers need me or walk walk in the middle of the night like I'm there.
So, there was a lot of back and forth but what ended up happening is they moved some of the women from, from the staff unit to create a barracks room on the flight line, so that I could lead my organization in the way that it needed to be led and be close to, to the operations.
So it's, again, making sure that if there is an instance where I need to stand out, it's for all of the right reasons, not necessarily for the wrong ones.
Having, you know, having really strong conviction in in my why and showing up as my best self, and in the competency that my peers soldiers and leaders deserve, I think is how I've navigated in the military and today.
Yeah. I completely concur.
Everything you said really resonates earlier in my career, there were not a lot of women in the military.
To be honest, it was a three star Admiral who was a woman that kind of woke me up to hey, there is a leadership path for me.
I thought had a little bit of an imposter syndrome for a long time to like being the only woman in the room as I rose through the ranks, both in military and sometimes in in the tech space.
However, some of the advice, even recently that I was given is, you know, from often well meaning men is, and they honestly they're really trying to be helpful but be stoic be, you know, get have a certain presence.
And I tried that and it didn't work for me I am very high empathy and I really care about people and their well being.
And honestly, and this is a very tough topic to talk about with the high rate of mental illness and suicide in the military and tech today believe it or not, it's more important than ever that we bring our full selves to the table, and being that compassionate leader that takes someone has someone say, and that is approachable and someone feels comfortable saying hey, I never told anyone this but dot dot dot.
And that to me is tells me I'm doing something right.
I'm bringing my full self to the table, and that even shows in rooms where I'm the only one woman, and there are 50 people in the room.
So, if I bring my true self and it's authentic, it has to be authentic. I feel like I'm giving the best of myself and best serving my people and I really do feel like that applies equally in the civilian world.
I love what Rachel said because I think there's a lot of us that when we were in the military, you know we're taught, there's a certain way you should act there's a certain way you should carry yourself that are less feminine, and, you know, I think that like bringing your whole self to the table bringing your empathetic self to the table makes for a better experience both on the military side leading, you know, the people that serve with you and then also in tech, and what I've gotten is comments where folks say hey you're very direct for a female, you know, you're very direct for a woman and I have to think about it and I go, oh yeah, could be because of my military training right, but also like I work in user experience like I create products from nothing.
And so part of it is understanding who your target audience is, who your users are, and really bringing that empathy to the table so like a lot of these traditional gender roles are now shifting and people are now understanding like how can you bring your transparent self to the table.
At Operation Code we also have a support group for LGBTQ so there were people that served, you know, under Don't Ask Don't Tell, I was one of them, you know, and you couldn't talk about your sexual orientation you couldn't talk about whether you were non binary or trans like that didn't exist.
And it was literally like your life was on the line, because you wondered whether somebody was going to have your back out in the battlefield or not.
And that still exists today and so now we're thinking about like hey, not just women veterans but like people who may not identify as your traditional gender roles.
When you're in tech, like tech is innovative tech is constantly pushing the forefront of what we know right.
And so why aren't we doing that culturally. Why aren't we also like bringing that to the table if we're, if we're kind of stagnated with a certain way of thinking, and we don't have a diverse workforce then your products going to reflect that.
So I'm truly a believer in like making sure that even within our military umbrella community there are folks who, and as a founder like less than 3% of women tech founders get fully funded less than 1% of minority women founders get fully funded.
And so I've been up against that blocker as well, trying to be a champion, you know, raising startup running a nonprofit and really trying to be the change I want to see because I didn't have that.
And Rachel you said you know you had an admiral that you looked up to like that.
I think just paving the way and being that voice for other people and giving people a seat at the table is, is really important.
I should have told I thank you Cynthia, I forgot one key piece, we have a woman that is commandant of the Coast Guard, the first in history delete a service branch, and that she's an amazing person and has, I didn't mean to sound like that I overlooked that but it's a major historical event, and I wanted to acknowledge that that there were now seeing more acceptance in the higher ranks for women in the military.
Yeah, this has been a very interesting and highlighting there's so many things that I had to ask and I can't.
But let's do, let's say we have about 10 minutes before we close up.
So let's do this let's do this. I always think it's fun to learn where people were stationed.
So I'll start it off. And we'll talk about that. So by joining the military what I'm most thankful for is, I saw the world.
And I think it's amazing to have traveled to places I've never would have been able to on my own.
So I got stationed. My first duty station, I grew up in New York City. So I grew up in the Bronx in the projects in Spanish Harlem.
Growing up, and then my family in my high school years kind of moved to South Carolina, very boring.
So I knew I wanted out, and that's why I joined the military the college thing.
My first duty station was Oklahoma.
That's a way of life, that's different. They don't have trains, they don't have public transportation, they had nothing.
Then I did Germany.
Then I went from Germany to Fort Benning, Georgia. Then I went from Georgia to Fort Eustis, I went from Fort Eustis to Oklahoma.
So I, Oklahoma and Kansas was probably one of the weirdest different way of life than how I grew up, but I had some of the funnest times there so I don't mind those duty stations, I had a lot of fun.
So again, we'll just do a clock around. We'll just go around in a circle to what were your duty stations while you were in, and what favorite experiences maybe.
Rachel you want to go next. Sure. So right now as you know I'm based, even though I live in San Francisco my unit is in Baltimore and Washington DC so I fly for drill weekends and regular, we just did a whole oil spill simulation and was there recently for for that which was incredibly insightful.
But honestly, and I've been based in Seattle while living in San Francisco as a, so I've done significant active duty, but didn't have to move because I did it as a reservist so I've been in the Bay Area the whole time I've been in the Coast Guard, but have been based in different places.
I did get a lot of experience through my deployments and because I've been activated multiple times but also, and in times of crisis wanted to be there so one time I mentioned the Arctic, that was like one of the most eye opening experiences of my life to be aboard a cutter with more 150 people, and you figure out how to work as a 24 hour team and mess cooking together even just like hey I'll, I'll help in the galley tonight or whatever, just be a trivia night you, there's a different level camaraderie, but probably the most eye opening, and this is seems like such a strange deployment.
So, Coast Guard is part of Department of Homeland Security, and as such during coven.
A lot of requests came for Coast Guard services from other departments in the Department of Homeland Security so FEMA needed a lot of help.
So I had colleagues that were going to vaccine clinics and helping manage lines.
And I was sent to Navajo Nation to help.
Yes, and lived on the edge of the nation. I worked for the Office of the President and their his deputy in helping communicate the dangers of coven how to protect yourself, how to save lives, how to manage.
You know, the communications aspect, and I can tell you, like I get emotional just thinking about how the Navajo people were affected during coven it's very sad, but they came back more resilient and than ever and seeing that, and just be a small part of that, just, it doesn't go away it stays with me and I learned so much about myself, as well as a native cultures that I hadn't been exposed to before.
You know, make me call you.
Okay, Kristen, and then we'll end with Cynthia. We don't know who's on your screen.
No, it's all good.
Um, so I, I love how you said Rachel that being able to be in different places really forces you to not only experience the culture of other places but actually live the culture of other places.
So I had the fortune or misfortune depending on how you look at it is I moved about every nine to 18 months between deployments and permanent change of station moves.
So, I'll touch on each and the highlights of each.
So flight school I grew up, like I kept saying in the northeast, so I never really experienced an area outside of watching sitcoms that one town to the other was more than just the railroad track or, or the power line that separated towns that there was actually long swaths of farmland in the southern United States that separate towns and this whole concept of a one stop light town, living in the south to me was was eye opening in that respect.
So the Army's flight school is an enterprise Alabama, which is one of the only well I'm sorry, it is the only US city that has a statue of a beetle.
It is the the city of progress, because back.
Oh, I might botches and late 18 early 1900s, the primary economy of that area was cotton.
And when, then, at some point the boll weevil came and wiped out the entire cotton crop, which transitioned enterprise Alabama to plant peanuts, and now their economy is based on peanuts, which is why they have a an economy like that they're flourishing economy down there in that specific area of Alabama.
So they have a statue in the middle of the town to to a beetle, which was just something I would never have known.
And that whole transition of you know that the con crop to the, the peanut crop and they have a big peanut festival there every year so just, you know, experiencing that totally different culture was just fascinating being down there.
Then I moved to Barstow California, which is exactly halfway between LA and Vegas, the National Training Center is another 45 minutes due north into the Mojave Desert.
I would say my not not great from a things to do but two and a half hours to la two and a half hours to Vegas, but I would say from a career perspective and my job there was very fun.
You know I was 22 years old and every day got to strap a helicopter to my back and did everything from flying down to the LA basin picking up VIPs to flying 50 feet above the deck, being the opposing force to rotational units that were training there to dropping people off at radio retrans sites up in the mountains to set up communications equipment.
So just got to have a real diverse set of flying experiences out there.
And I always said that the sunrises and sunsets in in the Mojave Desert or some of the most beautiful things that I, you know, have ever seen in nature.
So really appreciated that went from there to El Paso, Texas. El Paso, I think is one of the most fascinating cities in the US, not a place that people necessarily go from a tourist perspective but El Paso was a city before the US and Mexico were two separate countries.
So the culture there is just such a fascinating mix of, you know, American and Mexican cultures.
So you walk into the store and people say hola hello, and to see what language that you start with so just that that mix of the different worlds, I just loved living there.
Great, great Tex Mex, great food, great music, all of that living in El Paso I really appreciated.
Then I had two deployments to Afghanistan, one in 13, one in 16.
So honestly flying in Western Afghanistan, especially, again just the beautiful landscapes, some places that we got to fly over, just, I deeply appreciated the fact that I was fascinated by what I got to see and knowing that very few people in the world will ever get to see this landscape, this environment, you know, these experiences.
And then I ended my career at Fort Carson in Colorado, which is why I ended up in Denver when I got out.
And then our last minute is for Cynthia to say her duty stations are the places that were most memorable during her military service.
I'll be quick because I didn't serve that long but my first duty station ever was Allison Air Force Base in Alaska and my first six months there I hated it because we got there in the middle of winter, and you have literally like two hours of sunlight, which is just above the horizon and then it goes back down in the wintertime and then summertime is the complete opposite.
It's like almost 24 hours of daylight.
Amazing opportunity, learned a lot from the local Alaskan Native community and my kids were in the Alaskan Native charter schools and just understood the spectrum of like what it is to be American.
Most people don't know that I wasn't born in the States.
I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. So I naturalized as an American citizen, deployed to Sudan during the Darfur crisis doing humanitarian work, and I was given a Dinka name by the Dinka tribe in Sudan.
You know, people still ask me, when are you coming home?
Like that's how close I got with the local people and deployed to Afghanistan in 2013.
That is complete, so I think we're done.
I don't know what happens now, but I said offline. Thank you everyone for doing this today.
This was great. Thank you.