I struggled in the transition to civilian life from the first day I left my last duty station.
After military service, I used the GI Bill to get a degree in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering. I struggled to make friends outside of my study groups at the university – burying myself in my studies so that I could graduate sooner. I knew I was older than my peers, so I had to move fast. I had a new mission – to be a software engineer. Because according to the Soldier’s Creed: I will always put the mission first. I never went to parties. I studied even on the weekends. I overloaded my credits every semester.
And then it happened. I got an internship. And then another role, and then another. Until I found myself a home at Airbnb. My purpose was to strengthen and secure Airbnb’s platform. I spent half of my civilian career there, almost 5 years. It’s where I met one of my closest friends, Lizzy Nammour, the co-founder of our technology start-up company.
It has not been an easy journey. I had been trained in the military to either give orders or take orders. No questions asked. I didn’t know I had a voice. Until my manager at Airbnb, Chris Ballard, said to me: “One of your peers gave you a performance review comment that said you should speak up because you have great ideas.” Chris also encouraged me to speak publicly about the things I was building at Airbnb. That is when I broke the barrier between my military life and my new world — 6 years after leaving my last duty station. That’s a long time. I finally felt like I belonged. I developed camaraderie among my peers and mentors and to this day, we are very, very close and I consider them my family.
We had training in the military to help with transition into the civilian world. It was hosted at the military base where I was last stationed, and representatives in military contracting companies came in to give us advice on how to prepare our resume. I thought that was not enough to ensure our success. The civilian world is a very different place and I see now how veterans struggle to succeed, let alone survive in it.
In my days at Airbnb, I became part of the Veterans group. By 2020, we were 11 strong out of over 9,000 employees. All of my peers had jumped straight into a civilian job. I had taken a different path – going from the military, then to college, and from there into civilian work.
As a group, we often hosted large groups of military service members who are transitioning into the civilian world. Most of the transitioning service members we hosted at Airbnb had been in service for at least 20 years. Less than 1% were interested in becoming a software engineer; even fewer were interested in going back to school to get a degree. I remember that when I joined the Army, my recruiter had promised me that whatever MOS I chose would be completely translatable in the civilian sector. They weren’t really, because our military jobs were specialized for warzones.
While part of the Veterans group at Airbnb, we took transitioning service members on a tour of our offices and hosted a panel where they could ask us about our experiences and get advice about how we transitioned into the civilian world ourselves. I found this to be the most helpful way to assist my fellow service members. Looking back, I wish I had the opportunity to do those same tours in tech companies and ask the same questions they had asked me.
I felt fortunate to be with my 10 peers — among the very few who transitioned from military life to the business world.
Now, I’m on a new mission built on my experience at Airbnb in a startup venture where we’re creating software that automates the drudgery of protecting data privacy and security. I’ve still got a lot to learn and I’m asking lots of questions, but my military training has served me well in the discipline it takes to set goals and stay focused on the mission.
There is life after the military, if you choose. It won’t always be easy, but you’ve got a huge network of other veterans who are your comrades and will always be there to help. Just be sure to help them, too, when it’s time.
Army veteran Julie Trias is a cofounder and chief technology officer of Teleskope.