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From the Military to IT Consultancy: A Veteran’s Perspective

Robert James
17 Mar 2021

After 8 years of working in the IT Industry, post a successful 24-year career in the British Army (Royal Corps of Signals), I find myself reflecting on the value we bring to industry and the challenges faced during transition.

One has only to read the news today, to understand the focus on resilience and emotional intelligence within the modern workforce.  Of course, resilience is something any military veteran has buckets of and then some to spare, which is why people are understanding more than ever the value military veterans bring to businesses.

Remaining Resilient

The challenges of transitioning, particularly in the early transition period, draws upon that resilience.  Deciding on a new career path, seeking new employment, finding a home, and establishing new friendships and support networks, all require resilience.  Once used, how do we rebuild our resilience?

In the military we had the team around us, social events, teambuilding, physical and educational training, all designed to build and rebuild resilience because they instilled confidence.  Once we transition, we find this structure disappears.  However, it’s that developed resilience, which drives us to find new ways to meet these needs.  I have instinctively, been telling myself to get up and do things, anything, to maintain focus during these difficult times.  Teambuilding through online events, reaching out for a virtual coffee, engaging with people, in as many ways as possible, to maintain the resilience to both survive mentally and continue to deliver on tasks effectively.

Tasks of course are important, the military is very much task oriented, as are we all in our work lives, another area we have enormous amounts of experience in.  It doesn’t matter how large a task is presented, we are taught as we progress through our careers, both military and civilian, how to take a task and break it down into manageable chunks.  Now more than ever it is necessary to set ourselves tasks, not just to meet the output required for our work, but tasks for ourselves to remain resilient.  This can be as simple as going for a walk or learning that new skill we have been putting off, taking up a hobby or reviving an old one.  If it involves doing something with others (maintaining social distancing of course), then even better.

Aligning Personal and Organizational Values

Helping (serving) others, particularly those in need, is why we chose to serve our countries to begin with.  Across the UK and Norway (my adopted home), military veterans are supporting our communities throughout not just the pandemic, but ongoing humanitarian disasters.  Just take a look at RE:ACT in the U.K. or sister charity Team Rubicon Norge to see the ongoing contribution made by veterans to today’s society.  Getting involved in voluntary work, for veterans, is also a way to maintain that resilience we are renowned for.  Having retired from active military service, often we find ourselves missing a sense of fulfilment and the camaraderie of service life.  Volunteering with charities, especially those, where we can maintain those military ties, can help to fill the void left behind.

Today, more and more businesses acknowledge the importance placed upon ethical and social responsibilities by today’s workforce.  Within the Military we have always had strong core values, in the British forces these are defined as: Courage, Discipline, Respect for Others, Integrity, Loyalty and Selfless Commitment.  It is easy to see the connection between these core values and those necessary to succeed in any business leadership position.

Lastly, choosing an area to focus your skills is key to enjoying the time spent at work.  The teachings of Confucius tell us “Choose a Job you Love, and You will Never Have to Work a day in your life”.  I would encourage all that are transitioning from the military into civilian careers, to look at what you are good at, what you want and the work/life balance you desire.  Answering these questions will narrow your focus, then try alternative employment roles in the civilian sector.  Something I have learnt, is that few people are lucky enough to find the right role for them first time, its ok to try and fail, it’s how we learn.

Systems Engineer to NATO Joint Warfare Centre, Head of Secure Networks and Maintenance

For me, I looked at the skills I had developed, while delivering secure telecommunications from the South Atlantic to Asia and everywhere in between.  Having started out repairing secure communications systems at age 18, continuously adapting to new equipment and technologies and applying those principles in each successive role.  This led to being accepted and graduating from the Royal Corps of Signals, Foreman of Signals training course, consisting of a 4-year sponsored degree in Telecommunication Systems Engineering, studied full time at the Defence College for CIS over 18 months.  My subsequent assignments; first at the College to develop modern IT training courses and facilities, within the newly established CIS training division; then at the 1st NATO Signal Battalion within Battalion Operations; followed by NATO CIS delivery to S.H.A.P.E. Headquarters, where I was responsible for delivering CIS projects across the headquarters, including the design and build of the modern Strategic Operations Centre; returning to Operations with the UK Joint Task Force Headquarters; and finally delivering CIS support to the NATO Joint Warfare Centre, as Head of Secure Networks and Maintenance.

I knew my interest in IT combined with my passion for coaching others; desire to focus on solving problems; creating effective multicultural teams, was how I wanted to continue in my second career.  With an outlook of continuous learning, a desire to succeed and plenty of resilience, I have continued studying, gaining a number of industry recognised certifications, including being Certified as an Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), which requires evidence of a minimum of 5 years Information Security experience, before being awarded by the governing body.

Finding a Match in Capgemini Norway’s Defence Portfolio

Next, I started applying for roles, to prove my skills were transferable.  I was lucky to find a company that gave me the opportunity to work on exciting new simulation technologies within IT and the freedom to use my experience to improve the overall system architecture and security, while delivering those technologies to their customers.  This led me to reinvest in my belief, that all industries can benefit through sharing best practices across the IT spectrum, particularly in IT security.  So, I setup my own consulting company and delivered on some exciting contracts but didn’t enjoy the sales aspect of running my own business.  I had found the type of work that I enjoyed but needed to secure a role within a company that shared my values.  Of course, I knew the big consulting companies by name, but I needed to find a company, with offices in my area, that shared my belief in supporting both civilian and military clients with best practice solutions.  I didn’t have to look far to find examples of Capgemini’s projects within industry and defence, which now include: major digital transformation programmes; cloud migration and transformation projectsuse of AR/VR technologies in training; support to a number of NATO and UK initiatives in cloud, infrastructure and testing reference centres, all areas where I have been personally involved during my service.  The latest area I’m really excited about, is the opening and potential uses for the Capgemini Cybersecurity Experience Centre in the Netherlands

Today, I consider myself fortunate to be able to continue to work with people that share my passion for technology, including a growing number of veterans, and how we can use it to make a better future together!

About the Author

Robert James

Robert is Security Service Manager – Cybersecurity at Capgemini. With a Telecommunications Engineering background in Information Security, Project Management and Architecture Design Consultancy, Robert’s passion is to assist clients in developing business cases and strategies to enable their communications infrastructure, while keeping it efficient and secure.