Cloudflare TV

Tech Leaders Creating Opportunities for Veterans

Presented by Jeri Lim, Cynthia Kao, ToAnh Tranh, Chris Starling, Tay Nishimura
Originally aired on 

Leaders Creating Opportunities For Veterans & Milspouses in Tech.


Transcript (Beta)

Hey everyone, welcome. This is our Cloudflare TV segment as part of Vetflare week.

I'll just quickly introduce myself and then we'll learn a little bit more about the guest speakers that we have joining us for today.

So my name is Jeri Lim.

I'm a senior customer success manager based in New York City. I'm also a global co-lead for Vetflare, which is Cloudflare's military veterans employee resource group.

Beyond that, I have a number of kind of connections and touch points with the military community.

I'm primarily a veteran spouse. My husband served in the Marine Corps, was previously deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

My brother served in the air force.

He was deployed twice to Afghanistan. My dad was army and on and on and on.

As I like to joke that I cover all the branches with friends of mine who are still actively serving in the military even today.

So yeah, without further ado, I'd love to give our guest speakers.

We have such a phenomenal group of folks here joining us today, talking about tech leaders, creating opportunities for military veterans and military spouses through not only through nonprofit organizations, but also we're going to learn a bit more about the role of employee resource groups in tech and private sector in creating those opportunities.

So why don't we kick it off? And Cynthia, if you'd like to start, please feel free to tell us about yourself, your role with Operation Code and then your connection with the military, please.

Sure. Hi folks. I'm Cynthia Kao, the executive director of Operation Code, a national 501C3 as a nonprofit where our mission is to serve transitioning service members, veterans and military family members in their tech careers.

And we do this through scholarships for professional development, free conference tickets, one-to-one mentorship.

We have an open source platform and many more workshops. We just had an event last night in New York city, which was amazing.

I'm based out of Washington, DC.

I'm an air force veteran deployed twice to Sudan and Afghanistan. I was married to active duty army and my oldest son is also a service disabled army veteran.

So, you know, we have service across the different generations and ages and as a military spouse and as a service member, I like to serve our community in both my tech role.

I'm a tech founder. I exited my last startup after 10 years and I have a brand new early stage health tech startup.

And so I'm definitely in the trenches with people working in tech, growing our careers, learning how to advocate for our military community.

Thanks for having me. Awesome. Thanks, Cynthia.

How about Chris, would you like to go next? Sure. I'm Chris Starling. I'm a Marine Corps veteran.

I spent 26 years on active duty as an infantry officer and served in all four Marine divisions.

You had 10 deployments overseas, three combat tours.

And coming back, I went right to the veteran community and I'm at Empower California.

I was at Empower California for the last four and a half years. And we started a skill bridge program, Empower skill bridge.

In one year that grew so big, I had to give up Empower California and take on skill bridge full time.

And what I do is I train active duty military on their bases.

We put them through a 10 week cyber bootcamp.

I get them certified in CompTIA Security Plus. Some also pass CompTIA Linux Plus and we also have a Splunk module.

We've had a few people get all three certificates.

And then from there, we place them into entry level tech jobs, entry level cybersecurity jobs, which is a huge shortage of right now.

So I call it going from defending the nation to defending the network.

And Empower is also 501C3.

It's based out of New York. We have 10 other states that we're in, but my program is national.

Right now I'm focused out of Arlington, Virginia, Joint Base Meyer Henderson Hall and Norfolk, Virginia, Fort Eustis and the Norfolk Naval Base.

I'm going to expand out to San Diego and to Texas soon. And really have enjoyed teaching tech, putting people into jobs and helping active duty military have a seamless transition.

So when their military paycheck ends, their civilian paycheck starts and they have a meaningful job coming out of the military.


Thank you so much for that. Toan, would you like to go ahead? Yes. I'm Toan Tran.

I am the founder of Millspass Coders. We're based in San Diego. I also am a Cloud Technical Account Manager with AWS.

I'm in the Affinities Warrior Millspass group there.

So we have multiple outlets where we try to upscale military spouses to get them into careers that are tech related.

And our number one ask is always remote.

So that's one of the high focuses that we focus on in the military spouse community for AWS and for Millspass Coders.

And we do apprenticeship scholarships, mentorships.

But our number one thing is we're giving out really good resources and networking.

So we try to really focus on things that you can get and use when you're sometimes by yourself, depending on wherever you're stationed at.

So with that network, we help you get in the doors with different people within different areas and different companies.

I'm glad to be here. Thanks for inviting us.

Awesome. Awesome. Absolutely. All right. And you can round us out. Sounds good.

My name is Tay. I am not a veteran. My partner is a veteran, but I don't call myself a spouse because we weren't together while he was serving.

And so I consider myself an ally.

And the way I got really involved in this community is that him and many of his peers were getting out of the military right around a few years ago.

And we worked on a bunch of side projects together during the pandemic that really propelled their careers.

And I came to realize how much of a difference there is between interviewing at all in the military and interviewing in the civilian sector.

So I became very passionate about finding talent and being able to hire talent straight out of the military.

And so right now I am on the Community Guild, which is our version of ERG at Datadog, where we run events to help give back to the community, the military community, by doing things like we had the pleasure of having Cynthia over yesterday for a meetup in New York City headquarters.

But we want to expand beyond that and really figure out what are the ways that we can support military veterans and spouses in and out of our company walls.

Awesome. Fantastic. So just for our audience out there, I'm really excited to dive in a bit more and we'll get a chance to hear some stories from these fantastic guest speakers that we have.

To start out, I'd like to kick us off with a question about, I know we have a couple of people here that have decided to become founders.

Cynthia, in your case, you're a tech company founder.

I know Toan, you have been the founder and the current executive director for Millspouse Coders.

Cynthia, would you like to share in your experience that you have founded a tech company and then you're now the executive director for Operation Code?

How have those experiences crossed over for you?

And also, was there a moment in time where you had a realization that you wanted to actually launch an organization in the nonprofit sense?

Yeah. I think the founder and entrepreneur journey is really different.

It's almost like jumping off the side of a building with no safety net.

And I think of mountain climbing because I love climbing when you're talking to your partner and you're like, on belay, somebody has you.

Somebody has your back. You've got your support system. And so there really is no such thing as a founder who doesn't have a support system.

There's a lot of people that think, hey, I'm a founder.

You have a title, co-founder, partner, what have you.

But your business really thrives when you're able to recognize your peers, your people that are supporting not just you, but you're supporting them.

And so I like to take that servant leadership mentorship mentality with me because I think it's less top-down structure as in the military, right?

When you're in the military, you have a chain of command. You're basically giving orders.

People follow your orders, whether they like it or not sometimes.

And when I got out, I felt like that really wasn't part of me. That wasn't part of my personality.

I've always been a very collaborative type of person.

And I don't know everything. I'm not an expert in everything. And so I love to really rely on my teammates.

So I think there is a very different approach to running a for-profit tech company versus running a nonprofit, definitely in the business model, your reporting structure, operation code.

I don't take a paycheck from operation code.

So that means all the donations we get goes right to our programming.

And we love to hire within the community. We love to hire. We have two military family members right now that are paid employees.

And we're able to give them jobs.

We're able to give them the opportunity to serve with their active duty partners, with their family members, give back.

And that's really important to me as a leader.

And so my role is less, hey, this is how we're going to lead. We're going to lead from the top.

It's more like, how can we collaboratively with all of our different diverse personalities and our different perspectives grow the organization together?

It is infinitely harder to run a nonprofit than it is a for -profit.

Both have challenges. But I think in a nonprofit sense, it's much harder when you're appealing to donors versus when you're charging people.

I work in health tech now, and I'm creating an early stage health tech startup called Rebirth Innovation.

We focus on workforce development, prevention of burnout using clinical resources and AI.

And so it's easier to say, here's our price per employee per month.

And people are like, cool, I can pay that. But when you're asking that exact same amount in terms of a donation, which is a tax write-off, people tend to have this idea of, oh, you're asking for a handout.

I love to use the phrase, veterans are not looking for a handout, we're looking for a hand up.

And we have people that are resilient, that served in the military, that led hundreds of troops, that managed millions of dollars of equipment.

So they're not looking for pity, they're not looking for a handout, but they are looking for opportunities.

And I'll just leave it up there because I could go on about that. This is a huge topic.

I really appreciate you sharing your story there. Toa, if you don't mind, before we go over to you, we do have an addition to our panel here.

So I wanted to create an opportunity.

Hector, thank you so much for joining us. And if you wouldn't mind what we've already had the rest of the folks do here, but just please feel free to introduce yourself.

I know that we have you joining specifically to talk about your experience.

Actually, the question that we were just discussing is, we have now three of you on this panel who have founded nonprofit organizations focused on the military veteran community.

So Hector, if you would not mind just to introduce yourself, explain your military connection, and then talk a little bit about Amerivis, please.

Sure thing. Can you guys hear me okay? Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I do apologize for being late.

I work at Morgan Stanley, and our Wi-Fi gets very restrictive.

So understandable. But good to meet everybody. My name is Hector Perez.

I recently moved to New York City. I run a lot of the generative AI space for Morgan Stanley.

But my passion is giving back. My passion is the military veteran side of things.

I am a former Air Force combat medic from a long time ago. And I was the original founder of Amerivis.

So it stands for merit force in Latin. And it's a comprehensive six to eight week program where we get military veterans spouses through the transition period of going into jobs that are mostly related to

And it includes technical training, soft skills training, connections, and all sorts of things to get them landed.

We have over 1000 alumni started locally in Austin.

It's national now. And yeah, a little bit about Amerivis and myself.

Excellent. Thank you so much. And I do have to put in my own personal connection with Amerivis, which is how that I was able to connect with you, Hector.

Back in 2020, I actually participated in a Salesforce administrator training cohort, thanks to Amerivis, based on the fact that I am a veteran spouse.

So I now today I'm a certified Salesforce administrator.

Thanks very much in part to Amerivis.

So I appreciate that everything comes full circle. All right. And then so let's just pick right back up on that question.

The question being for you Tawan, now that you have founded and that you're leading Mill Spouse Coders, could you talk to us a little bit about was there a moment that you realized that you wanted to launch the organization?

And then what sort of inspired you to actually take that step?

I think it's strange when I first started, it was me and my friend at the coffeehouse talking about code and IDs and, you know, trash talking ugly websites and things that we liked and we didn't like.

And then it just grew from me building a website and just asking if you like tech in your Mill Spouse, you know, come join us.

And then I got requests to open, they wanted open individual chapters in specific locations.

So after the third or fourth one, someone told me you probably should come official.

That's when I decided I'm like, okay, yeah, you're right.

I should probably launch an official nonprofit since I'm getting requests to open specific chapters in different locations.

And so that's, it kind of came about, I didn't really ever had that dream of launching a nonprofit.

It just came organically.

Like you probably should do this for multiple reasons, liability for one and to just organize.

But starting a nonprofit is that in itself, you can take courses on.

It's a really complicated process because organizing a project is one thing about organizing volunteers globally is different scale.

Do you know what I mean? So when you have- 1 million percent. Yeah. When you have to find people.

And one of the tough things is that, you know, it's PCS season, so often every year, you always lose people and you gain people.

So it's one of those trends that you have to learn within your own nonprofit of the traffic of just people's lives and how much they can do for the community.

So it's one of those things that we focus on.

We actually typically don't do anything in this next coming two months, the end of November, December, because we just know it's just too much for families to dedicate time and energy.

So we actually and then we usually take the summer off.

So it's our nonprofit is interesting because we follow the flows and trends of PCS seasons and just general family schedules.

So we are very quiet. We don't do anything. And it's one of those things that we found that works out for us and our military spouse leaders that help us and coordinate different projects and workshops and mentorship.

So learning just the ebbs and flows of people's lives and how the nonprofit can match with it.

That's one of the main things that we focus on.

We want to add to your life and make it better and improve and make it helpful, not cause a stress.

So if you're volunteering and you're stressed out, you need to step back.

So we do a lot of mental health checks in our community.

One of those things like, are you doing too much?

It's okay to say no. It's like we have to teach military spouses to say no. It's one of those things that we're like, would you like to volunteer for this, this and this and this?

Would you like this and this? And we always just say yes. Cause it's one of we're ingraded to help and do free non-paid labor.

So that's one of the things we've had to teach people like take off the mental load, say no.

And we purposely don't do things periods of time to give people breaks.

Yeah. That's amazing.

Really appreciate the mental health and mental health check-in call out.

I know that I'm Tay probably in your experience with the military veterans ERG at Datadog, my own experience with the military veterans ERG at Cloudflare, we're trying to recognize the sort of intersectionality that oftentimes we are, a lot of us going through a lot in the world, the world is really unpredictable and there's a lot of seemingly chaos things happening.

So it's great to have these different communities of support.

All right. And then Hector, lastly, being the founder of Merivis, was there a moment or what, how would you describe your inspiration to actually take that next step and launch the organization?

Yeah, there was actually a moment and it was on I-35 in between Dallas and Austin, a very specific timeframe because I got to a point in my career in 2014, 13, where military had given so much to me and I felt it a personal responsibility to send Millimeter back down.

And part of that manifested itself in helping Salesforce stand up their internal ERG called, it was called VetForce at the time.

And VetForce is now Salesforce Military, but they were partnering with a few nonprofits, but nothing in Texas.

And at the time, my ex -wife, Kate, and myself, and then one of my best friends, Joe, we kind of just said, we can do this.

Let's just focus on Texas, keep it small, keep the quality high.

And to the point earlier, I had no idea what I was getting into as far as starting a nonprofit, setting up a 501c3, doing the operations.

It was all grassroots. It was absolutely a labor of passion, but also somewhat selfish in regards to a hiring manager.

There wasn't enough talent out there, still is not enough talent out there.

So to get from under, let's say, utilized source of talent that has a world of experience in different areas that don't necessarily crack under pressure.

They've had pressure situations, whether it's a spouse or a military veteran.

And so we started the first class in October of 2015, very small, very intentional.

But what ended up happening is the success stories started coming in and people started talking.

And it just took a life of its own in a good way for the most part.

But the inspiration was personal.

And I would say that to anyone in the nonprofit space or volunteer spaces, do what you like to do, do what you want to do.

Because at the end of the day, there's going to be rough days, and you're going to want to make sure that you're doing it because it's something that you're certainly passionate about.

Yeah, absolutely.

Thanks for sharing that. All right. Well, moving forward. Chris, I would like to move over to you.

I know that you are actively leading a lot of initiatives with Empower and Skillbridge.

With that, could you talk, you know, we have in this audience, probably a number of civilians that may not be familiar with some of the challenges that veterans often face, as they're trying to make that transition into the private sector.

Could you speak a bit about your experience with that?

And then how you with Empower and Skillbridge are actively working to address and help folks overcome those challenges?

Sure. So, you know, my own example, I retired as a colonel of the Marine Corps, and I applied to 74 different jobs.

And I had probably about 15 or 16 interviews, I had people that didn't even answer anything.

I had one minor emails, not interested, whatever. And it was a real good humility check for me.

Having been a regimental commander, commanding 4,500 Marines, you don't go from being a regimental commander in the military to being a regimental commander in the civilian world.

I ended up being a director, right?

And I had, you know, like two people working with me, and they didn't really work for me, it was kind of work together.

So I had to figure this out.

Then I watched my son go through this. My son served in Afghanistan, he was also in the Marines, he enlisted.

And he went over there, and he came back from a combat tour in Afghanistan, pretty active where his battalion was down in Helmand Province.

And he went down to the basement, he started drinking beer, started playing video games.

And he did that for about seven months, nonstop. A lot of beer went out of my fridge.

And then he grew a beard, he looked like a Taliban downstairs playing video games.

So finally, I got him to apply to college. He went to National University online, and he did good, he got all As.

And then he was able to transfer to college.

But what I learned from that experience was that, you know, he had a safe home to come to, he had a place to go and play video games.

Most young people that join the military, they have tougher communities to go back to.

And there's a lot more than beer that they can get involved with. And how do you prevent that from happening?

When I ran Empower California, one of my young men, he was a Navy Petty Officer, he worked on a guided missile cruiser.

And when I met him, he was living out of his car.

And now he works, he went to work for General Dynamics after he went through our Tech Fundamentals class.

And now he works for Lockheed Martin, and he makes a six figure salary four years later.

You don't come out and make a six year salary or six figure salary right away.

You got to go and put in the hard yards like we do in the military.

Right? So as I thought about this, I said, look, why don't, you know, I've been serving veterans, another young lady, Army veteran, Humvee mechanic, she was working night security at Kaiser Permanente.

Day and night, she heard about Empower, she came to us, she's now a robot tester.

She first started working at Google, and now she makes over six figures again, three years later.

But she did the certification, the industry recognized certifications, right?

That's CompTIA ITF +, A+, Network+, you can go into, we do the IT, Google IT certificate, some other entry level tech jobs, and you go in at the entry level.

Right? But what the cool thing is, you're in a boot camp experience.

And we all recognize that you have camaraderie, you have a class that you're together.

If it's an online class or in person, it doesn't matter, you still build this teamwork.

And then you go out to your jobs. And at Empower, we had a social support manager that calls every student, do you have a roof over your head?

Do you have food on the table? Does your computer work? Does your Wi-Fi work? The answer to that is yes, we can solve the other problems.

You need clothes? Got it.

You need childcare because you're a single mom? We'll provide that. And so when I go raise money, and I agree with everybody here, raising money is a hard part of this job, right?

But I'm able to provide them the top cover and the support that they need to focus on their studies.

And that is what people really need. And then when they finish the class, we have a placement manager who helps place them into jobs.

And I tell every student, I don't get you a job, you get you a job. I'll line up the interviews for you, but you got to go win that.

And so when you set up a bootcamp type experience, they recognize they're willing to work hard.

The other thing we do at Empower is when I had my class, half veterans, half young adults from tough, hardscrabble communities like San Jose and Oakland.

I put 50% veterans and veteran spouses into a class and then 50% young adults.

And it's competitive to get in, right?

They got to show us something in the interview, put them together.

And I tell the veterans, I need your post-traumatic strength.

Everybody has a story. Everybody has a tough time, but you know what? Young James, young Sally in inner city, Oakland, San Jose, you might've been in a combat zone.

They still live in one. And your mission is to get them out. And now a veteran goes, Hey, not poor me all my life.

Holy cow. I got a mission again. I'm a team leader again.

These two kids need my help. They're 18, 19. I'm 23, 24. I've got world experience.

And so we have a very high graduation rate, over 85% with very high, over 80% of placement in tech.

Sometimes people go, Hey, I did this tech class, but I think I'd rather sell cars with my cousin Vinny in New Jersey.

Well, that's cool too.

But so yeah, just because we don't place you in a tech job afterwards doesn't mean that they drop off.

And we track them for three years afterwards.

I asked them nicely. I need to know your salary so I can get some feedback and see where you are compared to everybody else.

So I have an alumni engagement manager.

So the key things for us, social support manager, placement manager, and alumni engagement manager to track for three years.

And this is wraparound service.

People talk about wraparound service, but very few people do it.

And that's the end power model for how we get business done. I'll stop there. I appreciate it.

Really phenomenal, very vivid stories about people's lives being changed.

So I think that's fantastic. Cynthia, if you wouldn't mind, I know that based off of my exposure to Operation Code, you all are doing this work as well.

Could you speak about some of the challenges that not only veterans, of course, military spouses are facing challenges in terms of accessing professional opportunities?

What has been your experience? What has not worked so well?

What has worked well according to what you've seen? Yeah, there was a big shift in the last three years with the drawdown of our troops in Afghanistan, a lot of folks getting out.

And mind you, these are still very young troops. And when I got out in 2014, I didn't have Operation Code.

I didn't have a formal mentorship program.

I had to fail quick, fail a lot, fail fast, learn from it. And so Operation Code, we are now almost 12 ,000, almost 200 people around the globe.

We still have service members serving around the nation.

Some folks have gotten out of the military and are serving abroad and live abroad.

And so the challenge is how do you go from places that are either return to office, fully in-person to suddenly shifting from pandemic, the lockdown being fully remote, people going to boot camps, going to school fully remote, and then now kind of making this hybrid schedule.

We do have many folks that are not living in a tech hub area, so in the Midwest, in more rural locations where they want to be closer to family, close to home, and they don't have traditional tech jobs available in that area.

So how can we advocate for them? I think the biggest challenge is the last three, four years that I've been actively grinding it out at Operation Code and really trying to grow this organization to scale is making sure that we are able to pivot.

So at the beginning of when Operation Code started in 2015, it was really focused on like the newbie experience.

And a lot of what we did mimics what ToAnne does, Chris, Hector, like getting people the certifications, giving them the confidence skills, getting them trained in not just the culture, the language, reducing that social isolation, and making those connections with employers.

Now we're really focused on, hey, that's just one side of the coin. Like training our community is one side of the coin.

The other side of the coin is making sure that we're preparing employers, because employers will say, hey, I want to hire veterans or I want to hire military spouses.

But if there's not a cultural shift, if there's no cultural innovation, if there's no cultural competency, those hiring managers are not going to want to hire somebody within the military community.

And so when you're looking at trying to target and hire underrepresented individuals, most people don't think of the veteran.

They don't think of a disabled veteran or a military spouse as an underrepresented group.

So we have to do a little bit of education.

We have to do some training. And that's really where my 15 years of clinical social work kicks in, is how can we start breaking down some of those barriers and bridge that gap?

Because there was definitely a gap of, OK, we've trained the workforce.

They're ready. They're ready to go.

They're ready to be placed. But then there was a sense of resistance from the employers themselves.

And so it's not just creating those pathways, creating paid apprenticeship-to-hire programs, but more like, hey, Operation Code is here as a trusted advisor for tech companies.

We've been doing this. I've been working in workforce development for, what, gosh, 20 years of my life now.

And so it's really taking that active listening skill and going, what are the needs of your organization?

What are the needs of your company? And tech, we're known as being very innovative, being on the forefront of pushing boundaries.

We're always thinking of the next big thing.

What's the next innovative thing? What's going to sell big?

But we're a little behind in terms of the culture. So I think that the workplace is trying to catch up a little bit on, OK, how do we get more diverse voices to the table?

Because diverse voices bring a better product, a stronger product. And when you have veterans at the table, when you have military spouses, you're representing millions of people that will use your product.

If you don't understand your users, your product's not going to be strong.

So there's a lot of that, like being able to pivot, being able to be innovative in the cultural sense, not just on the tech side.

Absolutely. You are three steps ahead of me. And I was going to ask a separate question later about military cultural competency.

So thank you for covering that and highlighting the importance of that, which I would absolutely agree with.

Tay, I'd like to switch over to you. Same sort of question, but in this case, I'll reframe it.

What could be the role, what has been your experience being that you're involved in leadership with the Military Veterans Community Guild at Datadog?

What can these types of employee resource groups do in terms of creating opportunity for veterans and or military spouses?

There is so much there.

So like my personal journey into this community has been a little bit more, what's the word, condensed.

Like I've worked with just maybe a dozen veterans and spouses over the last few years, volunteering with American Corporate Partners, which is an amazing mentorship program that you can get involved in and get paired for a year with somebody.

So I've really focused on like just a handful of people, but like really trying to get the most that they could straight out of the military.

And what I found is like, say I know a front-end engineer that's been doing front-end engineering within the Air Force, and then I refer them to a recruiter who's hitting me up because I have seven years of industry experience, and I'm like, he's better than me.

So can you interview him? And they're like, well, we don't know because they don't understand their resume.

And so really seeing how far I could take that, I realized that a lot of my peers, when they get out, can make double the salary that they originally got or more if they waited out that first offer and really learned to play the interviewing game.

And so I think that that's not obvious to employers.

Maybe the first impressions they got from a few veterans that they interviewed made them think, oh, like I don't know if the talent pool is right for this.

But I think in reality, people in the military are trained to be extremely humble and to not take credit for things that were done as a group and to not even a little bit misrepresent their current role so they can make it to their next role.

Things that we put under the umbrella of like, put your best foot forward.

For us, that's a very, like for civilians, it's a very easy thing to kind of brighten your resume and tell your story in a slightly more appealing way.

And that was really fascinating to me. And it's really challenging when you talk to a corporation and say, hey, we need to hire veterans.

It's not the same as the other community guilds that we have at Datadog.

There is still a why, like what is the business value here?

And so some of the things we've been working on within Datadog are to educate, like what does it mean to be in one of the branches?

What does it mean to be a reservist? What does it mean to be in the National Guard?

Why should we care about spouses? And something that's really confusing about this community is I'm a woman, right?

And I've always been a woman.

And my challenges have been lifelong challenges. But the veteran community, there's also the how many years have you been out?

Which branch were you in?

And all of those nuances get really lost when people are making like stereotypes about a whole population, like so many millions of people.

But really, like all these jobs that we have outside exist in the military.

And so just because someone is a veteran doesn't mean they don't have technical experience, computer experience, or they don't have HR experience, whatever roles we're talking about.

And so that education piece, I think, is just really, really important for us to be that bridge.

It's a lot harder to naturally become an ally, I think, because there's not that many veterans in tech right now.

And the way that you get to know a veteran is not the same.

There isn't like the narratives that we already have and understand with the LGBT community and the women's community and all the communities that we have.

I think veterans really are still trying to explain what is our story within the tech space.

Absolutely. Thanks so much for sharing those stories and those perspectives.

Hector, I'd like to switch over to you.

And in terms of, you know, being that I actually at one point in time had a vision for myself that maybe I could break into the Salesforce ecosystem.

That was the reason why I went out and did a bunch of research.

I discovered Verivis. I enrolled in one of the training programs.

Now, could you speak about what opportunities do you see today in the Salesforce ecosystem for veterans and military spouses?

As a two-parter to this question, I know a lot of folks who kind of pass the certification exam for their admin cert, and then they struggle a bit when they're still trying to go out there and put themselves in front of employers.

What advice would you share with those folks?

Sure. So if I take the first question around what kind of roles are out there, typically there's many paths you can go down.

You can go definitely down a more technical engineering developer path. You can go down a business systems analyst.

There are specialties within the Salesforce platform, whether it's EQ or, you know, integration.

But the basics of where you start is the Salesforce, to your point, admin certification.

And part of the methodology is we don't want to be, we don't want to tell them you have to go down this path.

This is the only path. There's going to be times where they're going to discover where their curiosity peaks more and where maybe their passion is more.

Maybe they like to talk to the end users and they want to get requirements and they don't need to code as much or they don't need to do the administration of the Salesforce instance.

So we kind of let some of that naturally happen.

Now, there's a question around you get your certification and, you know, like what's next is spot on, right?

Because this is where the soft skills, the networking, the attending events, all of those have to come together as well.

Just because you have a certification doesn't mean, hey, now you're hired.

Because a lot of times, as you can appreciate, it's the chicken and the egg.

You don't have experience, but how do I get experience if I haven't started?

And so that's where relationships come into play.

That's where partnerships come into play, whether it's Accenture, Deloitte, or even we place some people at some of the larger companies.

And it's kind of giving them that bridge.

From my perspective, the biggest piece advice I found helpful for all of our students is you need to be comfortable with doors being closed.

You know, like we were talking about, like the gentleman was saying about like the many interviews or many resumes out there.

It's just the fact of life.

Don't let one door that closes. It's eventually going to open and you're going to knock it down and you're going to be like, yes, this is great.

But if the expectation is a cert and then just a job and there's a happy path, you know, there's some reality that needs to be set there.

But I have seen time and time again, between being prepared and engagement around whether it's networking at a local like, let's say Austin, Salesforce user group, Girly Geeks, you know, some of these other organizations that focus on specifics, whether it's the product side or a location focused user group, get involved in that kind of stuff.

Because what's going to happen is you're going to make your own network, which is just as important as your former network of military veterans to battle with you.

This is a new type of network and it becomes very hopeful.

And I can't tell you how important it's been.

It's pretty much gotten my last two or three jobs just because, I mean, I had to interview, I had to qualify, but your network is your brand and your brand is what you put out there in regards to whether it's social, whether it's attending events, and you have to curate that in a way that's going to set you up for success.

And that doesn't come naturally to a lot of veterans and a lot of military spouses.

As mentioned earlier, you know, there's a focus on the team versus the me.

And you can't take care of your own personal team if you haven't taken care of your personal me.

So that's probably what I'd say for those two questions.

But it is more nuanced. It's not like you pass and then you've got the job.

But time and time again, without a doubt, the more you invest in it, the more you're going to get out of it.

And then I'll just say one thing. The Marines are the ones that do this best when they go through the program.

They're not the highest number, but those guys don't quit when they go through it.

Right. Absolutely.

Thank you so much for sharing. Toan, I'd like to go over to you, if you don't mind.

What's been top of mind? I was actually just chatting with Cynthia about this yesterday at an Operation Code event here in New York City and talked with a few other folks as well.

The statistics on military spouse unemployment and underemployment are really alarming right now.

But that's how the situation seems to have been for a number of years now.

Can you talk about how your organization is trying to address this?

What are some of the successes that you've seen? And let's just say if we have in the audience today some tech executives or other tech leaders out there from the civilian population, what would you like them to keep in mind in terms of the resources and the business value that military spouses can bring?

So we as an organization have talked about this.

A lot of people aren't hiring right now.

It's kind of a tough market. And remote work is almost non-existent right now.

A couple of years ago, it was great to get in. You were remote. Everything's great.

But now everything, return to work has had a huge impact. We've lost a lot of military spouses due to that return to work option and then just PCSing and overseas.

I, for instance, have been with my, I'm a Navy spouse and my husband has been stationed overseas twice.

And the first time, I could not get work. It was impossible.

I like couldn't even save my life to get a job, not even at the commissary.

It was very difficult to get a job. So that's why I decided to learn tech skills.

That's for the one reason, just to be more marketable and to learn new things.

But the second time I got stationed overseas, we ran into so far issues, which is a huge, it's always when, anytime we have a middle spouse, she's like, we PCSing.

I'm like, what's on the list? And she's like, overseas, everything's overseas.

I'm like, okay, let's start talking about your employer. And you know, how do you, how do you, how can they retain you?

They just don't understand tax laws.

So I think the one thing we want employers to understand about when you're having a spouse that you are a veteran that works extremely well for your team, they are a high performer, very reliable, great team player.

And they just happened to mention that they may have to work overseas.

It is not the end of the world.

And it is not a tax implication for your company, because when you're going overseas, you're going to file taxes in your resident state.

This is the one thing that we talk about over and over with HR, like multiple times, like even for myself, when I had to, my husband was in Japan, I had to get almost VP level permission to go to Japan.

And I said, it doesn't matter that I, they, and they allowed me to work in Japan every quarter for about a week or so.

So that was one thing.

And they just, they always came back with like, oh, but the tax laws and the implications, and you've been out of the country for so long.

And I'm like, I'm going to file taxes, and it's going to be in the United States.

And you're going to get my money, trust me, don't worry about me being in a different country.

It's one of those things just to inform employers about.

There, actually, there's really little to no change.

You just happen to be demographically in a different area. That's, that's it.

And so if you're hesitant on hiring, one of the asks that we ask for military spouses is, do you have any remote jobs?

And two, do you do overseas?

Those are the two things we get asked all the time from our members. And they're like, ah, we're not open to overseas hiring.

And then I always ask why.

And they ask, they're like, well, we don't know. It's just too unknown. We just don't have, we don't have enough information.

I'm like, well, here's your information.

They will file taxes within the United States as their residents, you know, done.

Do you have any other questions? Is there any other blockers that you feel like this, you would prevent hiring this highly qualified individual?

And they're like, well, no.

So it's just educating about, you know, our service members are serving our country.

And that takes them all over the world. And so their family follows them.

And one of those things, like if you have someone that you love and you want to hire them, don't let that be a reason not to hire them, you know, that they're going to move.

Cause strangely enough, they're going to work harder for you.

Those veteran spouses will work double as hard to make sure that work is done.

That deadline is met because they know how to organize their lives.

They know how to multitask. So that's one of the things we want to explain and get the point across.

And if you're, if you don't, don't just say no, because you just don't know, get educated.

And the answer is always a very easy answer.

There's always a solution that we will figure out to get someone to work for you.

And within your guidelines that you need, if you have specific SLAs, if you have specific criteria, we will meet them and we will help you get them.

It's as long as you tell us what they are.

So that's one of the points that our military spouse coders, we really hit hard on.

We learned a lot of tax laws. I'll tell you that right now.

It's a military law. We know inside and out.

So the question, you know, find that resource and have us answer a question before you automatically say no.

Yeah, absolutely. I wish I had sound effects prepared because I would have just played the sound of a whole entire audience cheering and clapping.

You know, it's, I think that, I think that that is so important, right?

Going back to Cynthia, just to kind of close out this thought you have mentioned, and we've talked about the importance of military cultural competency.

A lot of, you know, times veterans are trying to go for these opportunities in tech and recruiters will just, you know, reject a candidate because they just aren't sure.

Oh, I don't know what this like military stuff means on a resume.

You know, folks need to understand that, like, give someone a chance just because they're coming from this unique background doesn't mean that they're not a phenomenal candidate and they won't bring a hundred percent and then some to the job, right?

So moving back to, like, let's switch us over to Chris. I'd love to hear from you some work that I've personally been involved in in my past experience talking to folks.

I actually organize a collaborative of ERG leaders representing military veterans ERGs across a number of different tech companies.

That's one of my, one of my several side projects that I have going on these days, but we have a lot of folks coming and talking to me.

And I'm also curious, like I've run into some blockers in the past company, we were trying to stand up SkillBridge, right?

We were trying to get buy-in from internal stakeholders inside of the company and trying to present cures and justifications.

Why should we launch SkillBridge?

Why is this going to be a smart business decision? If you are talking to people that are trying to start up a SkillBridge program within their company and they're facing maybe some, you know, tension or friction, what advice would you give to them?

Yeah, you know, SkillBridge is something that employers and HR organizations and senior leadership should understand what it is.

Basically, you're going to get a person to come and work at your company for up to 180 days.

Now, the truth of it is that a lot of the services are starting to cut back on that 180 days.

And as a former battalion commander, I always use the example of, you know, if I have a forklift driver, there's only one in a battalion.

Battalion's about a thousand people.

That guy's not going anywhere. One forklift driver, I can't let him go on SkillBridge.

But if it's a rifleman in 3rd Platoon Bravo Company and he's a good Marine, I'll probably let him go.

But what you're getting is a really good quality because that person has been allowed to go on SkillBridge.

They've been screened by their command already. Nine times out of ten, that person has a secret or a top secret security clearance, right?

And, you know, for some companies, they can get somebody in there.

The DOD is paying their paying benefits.

They can have them in there as a test trial, as an apprentice or an intern working for, you know, probably not total of six months, but probably between, you know, two to four months reasonable.

And they can get an idea of what they're doing and then offer them a job or say, hey, we don't have space to hire you this time, but you've got four months of experience working this specific job.

And then that's something to put on the resume when people ask you, what's your experience in the Civil War?

I worked at Deloitte or I worked at Cisco or name your company, right?

So, you know, the SkillBridge program is a great place to find new talent.

And the program that I run is a little bit different in that we provide the training, right?

So I have people who did, you know, they set up the local area network at Kabul Airport, but they never got Security Plus.

They never got the civilian certifications.

So when they come to me, I get them those certifications or they get them from themselves.

They work hard. And then we get their resume cleaned up.

I do four days of tech training a week. One day of soft skills, as Hector was saying, very important to have soft skills.

We rewrite every resume probably a dozen times.

And for each job, you've got to rewrite your resume.

We make sure you've got the right clothes. We do mock interviews with companies in practice, right?

So a training program then gets you to where when my people get out, they don't go and test drive somewhere.

I put them into full -time jobs.

So it's not, hey, you get them for an apprentice. And if you like them, you can keep them.

I make them commit to the whole thing. You're going to hire this person and you're going to interview them and hire them.

And when you're getting somebody coming out of the service, nine times out of 10, that's a blue chip individual.

They've risen in rank. They've had responsibility for other people. And they're quick learners.

And so with a little bit of company-focused training from you, you will have an amazing product.

The other thing, all the talk about diversity, the military is the most diverse organization we have in this country, right?

And everybody has worked with every sort of different person. And we're comfortable being part of a really diverse and multifaceted team.

So the advantages of having a Skillbridge program, of having an ERG that can push for the Skillbridge program is really a favorable thing for any company.

And barring that, if you can't start your own Skillbridge program, come to organizations like Empower, not just us, that is the Skillbridge program, that is putting Skillbridge graduates out because you will not be disappointed.

They're really, really good people, strong, reliable people to put on your team.

I wish I had that audience applause soundtrack again, when you mentioned that you help people rewrite their resumes 12 times.

I personally, you know, I volunteer through a platform called Veterati, and I've been volunteering a bit of my time to mentor veterans and spouses since 2015.

And I go through that process, right? We surgically take people's resumes apart and then put them back together again.

So I think it's fantastic that we've heard the importance of that from a few different people here.

We have about 10 minutes left.

So I just would love to use this last time to hear from each person.

So let's try to kind of keep it brief. And Teh, I'll start with you.

If you had a bit of advice to share with civilians who might be in our audience for this program, they may not know how to get involved in giving back to the military veteran community.

What advice would you share based off of your experience?

If there is an ERG in your company, definitely join it and definitely keep your ears open, be an active listener.

I think we come into this world with so much propaganda, you know, from since we're kids about what the military is, do not make any assumptions, listen, listen to what it is everyone's working on and care about right now.

And I think the best way to help if you have a colleague who is a veteran recently got out is there's a lot of support for getting into the company because that is like a big problem.

But once someone's in a company, how do they grow?

How do they get promoted? How do they make lateral moves? That's something we can all help with once they're within our lives.

Absolutely. And I think, did you mention that you had volunteered with American corporate partners in the past as a mentor?

Yeah. I think that is an opportunity that's open to anyone, right?

If you're a veteran and you'd like to volunteer as a mentor, ACP is highly recommended.

If you're a civilian, right, go ahead and apply. You can just look up American corporate partners website and find all the information there.

Hector, over to you. Brief remarks, please. If someone is interested in supporting Merivis, what would you recommend for them to do?

From a company perspective, at a minimum, go to the website, look at what the offering is.

But I'd say at a very high level, and it's been mentioned a few times, don't be afraid to lean in if your company or organization may not have the culture that we talked about earlier, or an ERG setup, or maybe don't know how to translate the skills from the field to the skills here in the business world.

Lean in and understand that the value you're going to get out of the individuals that possibly can come on board are going to be exponentially higher.

It's just you have to be able to think a little differently and be patient.

And then once you're at this stage where you've started to have a funnel come in, you'll see the difference.

So I guess the summary would be, don't be afraid to lean in and ask questions from a company perspective.

And when comfortable, set some larger term goals and objectives so that everybody can start marching toward perhaps even a certain percentage of target that we're going to try to hit hiring veterans responsible.

Awesome. Thank you.

Cynthia, same question. How can people get involved? How can veterans connect up to Operation Code today if they're looking for resources?

How can other folks from the tech or corporate sectors support Operation Code?

Yeah, for sure.

I think either, whether you're a civilian ally, military member, go to our website,, and then forward slash join, and you'll automatically go through the onboarding process.

You can join as a member for all of the free services, or you can join as an ally, a mentor.

Some of our most impactful mentors are civilians.

They never served. Maybe they have a family member or a friend that served, and they've found their own belonging.

So we are welcome to everybody.

Our scholarships are saved and reserved only for service members, veterans, and military family members, but we have so many other activities that are open to the public.

And if you're specifically in a tech role, you can be a tech mentor.

So you're basically doing a one-to-one pair programming, anything from resume review, but more focused on the tech side, developing their GitHub repository, looking at how can you do career strategy.

And don't take things for granted.

I think active listening is a huge part of being open and resilient, and having empathy.

Chances are for folks out there that are civilians, you work with a veteran already, or you work with a military spouse.

They just may not be open talking about it. So just do a little bit of questioning.

And Veterans Day is coming up. Most people are looking at like, hey, how can we get our company involved?

If you don't have the bandwidth to volunteer, you can give, you can donate.

A lot of these programs that we've heard around the room, including mine, the scholarships, a lot of what we do is built on financial donations.

But I think the biggest impact is not just going up to somebody and shaking their hand and saying, thank you for your service, but how can you translate that into actionable items?

A lot of what we do at Operation Code is advocacy.

So we work with Congress. Another thing to watch out for is the Military Spouse Hiring Act has been passed by the Senate.

It's about to get passed in the House.

And that will allow companies altogether to get tax incentives, just like when they hire a veteran.

And that will grow a military spouse talent base and employee base that will make it a little bit more palatable to hire.

However, the culture then has to catch up.

So if you're concerned about bringing more military folks into the workplace going, I don't know when the last time I actually worked with an employee who's part of the military, start to ask questions, right?

And find out, hey, is there anybody out there?

Like maybe it's your work Slack, maybe it's on Teams.

Who out there is a military member or former service member or military family member?

Let's chat. Let's get a lunch together. I think that's the biggest thing is people in our community don't want to feel like we're kind of put off in a corner or pitied for or that we're an other, like we're people too.

We all look different. We all have different political affiliations. We come from different areas of the world and people love to tell their story.

So just sit and have lunch and open that conversation.

You'll be surprised what you learn.

I couldn't agree more. Thanks so much for sharing that. Tawan, if you would like to bring us across the finish line, please.

How can folks get involved, support, connect with your organization?

Same thing. You could go to

You could donate. You can join our group. We do actually kind of tamp it down.

So unless you're not an active or retired military veteran, we won't let you in because we want to make sure we have the right support.

But if you'd like to donate, we'd be happy to help you.

Or if you have a company, if you are a company and you'd like to do a training path, we'd be happy to beta test skill sets for you.

We've done this a couple of times for different companies. They've told us we'd like to beta test a specific training path.

We'd like to test it out on some groups.

We want to see their performance and how well they will actually learn our culture, our company culture.

And if this is a good fit, then we hire them afterwards.

So if you're thinking about it and you want to do a trial, create something out and we will give you feedback on what works and what doesn't work and how you can find a really good quality candidate based on what you're presenting us.

So if you have a training path and you wonder, why does this not work?

Why do we not get any good individuals after this training path? We will go through it with you.

Send a trial group through and explain, break down the analysis of what you're asking for is not what you're training for.

That's happened before too.

People have done training programs specifically targeted for veterans, military spouses.

They finished the program and they can't get a job. So what's the point of it?

We've had this discussion with multiple different big companies too, actually.

We're like, why are you wasting their time and you're ours?

So those are one of those things that we want to make sure, don't waste people's time.

And everybody wants to find a great candidate and someone wants to work for a great company.

And let's match that up and we can help. One million percent.

That's so fantastic. Thank you so much. In the true style of the military veteran and military advocate and ally community, we are ending right on time.

So thank you all so, so much.

It's been so wonderful to spend this time together. Really appreciate your willingness to take the time and we'll look forward to staying in contact in the very near future.

Have a wonderful rest of your day and thanks to the audience as well.

Bye-bye everyone. Bye y'all.

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