Serving in the Armed Forces develops many skills and characteristics that transfer well to the civilian workplace, especially for those trained in a technical skill. My experience working on radios and radars as a surface Navy Electronics Technician helped to influence my decision of pursuing a career path of designing electronic hardware and systems. In my journey, there were a few lessons that I learned that may be helpful for other veterans to know when assessing a career path in engineering.
A lot of the electrical/electronics training that I received in the military established solid troubleshooting skills and general knowledge about electronics. While my experience as a technician built skills needed in engineering, I also needed education and experience to be prepared for the civilian world of engineering.
Education – ABET accreditation is key
My first attempt at education was to attend an online school that accepted a lot of my Navy training as course credit. This made sense to me since I was planning to transition out of the Navy, and new that I needed a degree to be competitive in the workforce. I completed this degree in Electrical Engineering Technology (non-ABET accredited), but was not able to find an engineering job that would scratch the design itch that I had. At the time, I didn’t understand that most engineering companies require new hires to have an ABET accredited degree, so all of the engineering jobs that I applied for at Defense and Hi-Tech companies did not respond to my job applications since my experience was applicable to technician work.
My second attempt at education was after I had become a civilian, and decided to go to school full-time for a B.S. in Electrical Engineering (BSEE) at an ABET accredited university. I won’t go into how hard of a decision this is for a lot of people due to life circumstances, but this was the critical piece of the puzzle for getting my “foot in the door”.
Work Experience – Internships are critical
After my Junior Year of my BSEE, I was able to get an internship at Texas Instruments in controls engineering for one of their semiconductor fabrication plants. I found that, applying for the internship, then following up with HR representatives on LinkedIn, was the most effective way to get an interview. I have found that most people are willing to help, so all you have to do is ask! The internship, while I am extremely grateful for the experience, was not the exact role I was looking for, but it opened the door for the job I really wanted at Texas Instruments (Applications Engineering).
Putting it all together
If you are a veteran who has a passion for engineering, start thinking about what specific industry you want to work in. This will help you understand what companies offer compelling work, and will also help inform your ideal geographical location. For instance, if you want to work for a Hi-Tech startup, you may consider the California Bay Area, or, if you want to work in Oil & Gas, you may consider Texas. I would highly recommend that you plan to attend a brick-and-mortar ABET accredited university (use that GI Bill!) since these schools tend to have good connections with popular companies in the area. Once you are a college student located in a specific geographical area that has the industry you are interested in, use your universities career resources, and your own ingenuity, and apply for internships!
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