After 20 years, Edmund retired from the Army in 2013. He’s currently a senior Drupal engineer working on the site for VA.gov, with a company called AgileSix. While Edmund’s very happy where he is, it’s been an interesting road getting there.
Edmund’s found tech to be a natural landing spot for veterans. And, the tech world to be more broad than you’d think. There are multiple soft-skills a lot of veterans have regardless of their military career, and it significantly benefits their work.
Edmund grew up just west of Denver, Colorado, up in the mountains. His mom knew since he was about two years old he would join the army. It wasn’t a surprise at all when he enlisted.
He was trained to be a Russian Linguist and an Intelligence Analyst, and served all over the world. Edmund initially enlisted for five years because of the length of the language school. He never thought he’d serve past his initial enlistment, but he ended up serving for twenty years.
Once enlisted, Edmund found he really liked the military. It was kind of a natural fit for him. Obviously there were parts he didn’t like, but he really had an affinity for it. There were some things that he wouldn’t wish on anybody, but he had no regrets in enlisting, or reenlisting.
Edmund went to basic training in Port Jackson, South Carolina, just two weeks after high school graduation. (He doesn’t recommend South Carolina in the summer.)
His favorite place he was stationed was Germany. In the early 90’s the American and German army were very different, specifically the sense of camaraderie.
When they’d train they’d be out in the German countryside, just up on the edge of some farmer’s field. They were careful to treat the land well, so in the evenings the nearby farmer would come out with some beer and shoot the breeze with them.
Edmund’s since learned a lot of Germans have an affinity for American soldiers. It was common for a German family to take in an American soldier during the holidays and celebrate with them.
The German bases weren’t like the bases in the US. They were very small, so during PT (army physical fitness) they’d just be out in the German countryside. While running through vineyards people would wave and say good morning, and they’d wave back. They were able to build some really great relationships, and would do a ton of things in the community. They had a German sister unit that they’d train with and do community events with, and they were very close.
Edmund said that when he got back to the states it was just different. He was stationed in Monterey, California four times, because that’s where the defense language institute is. He’s also been stationed in Colorado, Hawaii, Arizona, and deployed once with the Navy to the Western Pacific.
His last tour duty before he retired was in Maryland, which was also where Edmund met his wife. Due to the nature of the assignment he had, that was his least favorite station. He’s glad that was his last station rather than his first. Otherwise, it probably would’ve changed his excitement towards his career.
Being in the army for twenty years, we asked Edmund how he handled his transition back to civilian life. The biggest things he missed were the camaraderie, and the sense of belonging. Those were a big part of what led him to the Drupal community. They put in a lot of effort to provide that sense of belonging. Edmund went to his first DrupalCon in 2019 in Seattle. When he got home he told his wife it was like finding his tribe again.
Edmund had a friend in the community who wasn’t a veteran, but agreed with the feeling of “finding your tribe”. His friend once said something like,
“I came for the code and stayed for the community”.
Edmund feels it’s common for open-source spaces to have a large sense of community. However, that also means the community can be easily susceptible to change by a toxic person. He’s found Drupal does a great job of keeping their community strong and healthy, and he really enjoys that.
I typically ask the question, “How did your experience in the military impact where you are today.” Because Edmund was in the military for twenty years, his time serving largely impacted most of his life. In both positive, and negative ways.
The negative being he sustained injuries that left him with chronic pain, and a deteriorating spine. The positive is that a lot of his skills translated well to his current job. Especially when it came to things like analysis.
In regards to soft-skills, Edmund picked up the value of not only communication, but being thoughtful with his communication. Being clear and concise, and not just spewing stuff out and hoping the meaning comes across. Edmund has a hard time with that concept. He’s learned to communicate well and often, but a lot of people outside the military don’t prioritize it.
Edmund learned quickly the importance of tone and being thoughtful with your words. Because in the military, if you didn’t prioritize those things, you’d get chewed out by somebody superior. The military also taught him the significance of respect, in that you treated everyone the way you would a senior. It didn’t matter their role, or position. You were just respectful and clear and concise with everyone, which really does simplify things.
Being able to draw on those soft-skills, Edmund said it seemed to have made him a better developer. He’s very good at breaking down the problem and identifying potential solutions, communicating those solutions, and executing them.
He also loves collaborating, and thinks he draws on that from the team work in the military. No one person can do it all, and no one can do their job entirely by themselves. The team Edmund is working with now is small enough that they tend to work together often.
Edmund and I talked about how exciting it is to see more people advocating for that useful communication. Especially now while the world is continuing to provide remote opportunities, and communication is changing. Edmund said it’s been useful to him with his back injuries, because he can’t work in a traditional work environment.
The company he works at, AgileSix, was founded by a disabled Veteran. Something they’re passionate about is taking big steps to help teach their employees how to function independently. It’s common for military vets to be dealing with a lot while they try to transition back to civilian life. Sometimes they’re going to need specific accommodations. If they know how to be their own manager, they’ll be able to succeed with whatever accommodation they need.
Before Edmund started his current job, he tried doing some independent contract work. It was kind of just what everyone was doing at the time, but he really didn’t enjoy it. At one point his wife told him to quit, and they’d find a better solution.
One day Edmund called his bank for something, and the person on the phone helping him was a disabled veteran. While waiting for things to process, the person was telling Edmund about the degree he was getting in finance. He happened to be with the bank doing a work/experience program. He was going through Voc Rehab, and Edmund said he’d never heard of it.
Voc Rehab is short for vocational rehabilitation. It’s a program the government offers to help separating military vets learn how to join the civilian workforce again.
“You may receive Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) (Formerly known as Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment) services to help with job training, education, employment accommodations, resume development, and job seeking skills coaching.” [source]
Edmund went on to say how he thinks getting word out is one of the hardest parts of the transition. There are all of these resources available to veterans, disabled or not, that people just don’t know about. One of the biggest reasons Edmund shares his story is to talk about these resources for disabled vets.
Voc Rehab helps pay for a lot of things. Some of which being school, training, and even equipment to help you start a home business. There are a lot of ways they can help, and a lot of people just don’t know they exist.
It’s essentially a retraining program. Edmund ended up getting two associates degrees, one in web development and one in graphic design. (It was only one extra semester to add a design degree.) Edmund knew he’d always be a better developer than a designer, but having design experience made him a better developer.
Over time, Edmund’s talked to a lot of different people about Voc Rehab. They all seem to have participated for the same reasons. They wanted employment that allowed them to earn a living, and provided accommodations for them to be successful. Edmund chose tech, but that’s only one of many possibilities.