As the United States celebrates and reflects on Veteran's Day 2020, all of us at MetaRouter are incredibly grateful for the sacrifices that active, inactive and fallen military members have made for our country.

    The MetaRouter team is fortunate enough to have an Air Force veteran working alongside us. So, we decided to sit down with our very own Val Kautz, a former Air Force Staff Sergeant and current Product Engineer for MetaRouter, to chat about her own story and maybe help Veterans looking to venture into the tech space along the way.

    Q: Can you tell us a bit about your involvement in the military and what your active duty experience looked like?

    I served six years in the Air Force as an F-15E Avionics Technician, the last few as a Staff Sergeant. It involved a lot of troubleshooting, wire repair, and some occasional moments getting really dirty. The fighter aircraft fleet is aging rapidly, so there was never a dull moment. I was stationed at Mountain Home AFB for my entire enlistment, apart from training and some short trips to other bases for exercises.

    Q: Can you talk a little bit about your decision to join the military? Do you remember at what age and why you decided to join?

    Like many in their late teens and early 20's, I felt pretty lost in life. After trying to get into the music production industry in the middle of the economic fallout from the 2008 recession, it quickly became apparent to me that I needed some job security with a steady paycheck. I had always been interested in military hardware and history, so it seemed like a good option for me at the time. I was 20 when I joined, and happened to turn 21 in the middle of basic training (I think it was even on the gas chamber day).

    I really wanted to see the world, though I ended up with a job that doesn't have a lot of bases to choose from, and even then I didn't get orders anywhere else either. It helped me really get to know my unit and the people working with me, so I guess it was a little nicer than moving around all the time.

    Q: What are some of the most impressive and amazing experiences you had?

    By far, the experience that left the most impact on me was my one deployment to the Middle East. After years and years of training, it was finally time for the real deal, and REAL munitions. It was truly special working with a tight-knit team on 72-hour weeks hundreds of miles away from home. We were a huge contributor to the liberation of Mosul. When the church bells in the city started ringing again, it was a beautiful moment.

    Q: After you left the military, you moved around a bit and decided you wanted to spend your working life in the tech industry. What inspired you to look for opportunities there?

    To be quite honest, I had decided that I was done working around aircraft. I love them and I love to learn about them, but aircraft maintenance didn't really feel like my place in life.

    I always had an interest in computers, yet after some experimentation with code in high school, I never really thought a career in software engineering was for me, either. I can't remember exactly what the spark was, but one day after I had left the military, I decided to give it another shot, and this time it stuck. Turns out there's more languages our there than just JavaScript!

    Q: How did you land at MetaRouter?

    After working on some personal projects on my journey of largely self-taught software engineering, one of my friends at MetaRouter mentioned that they might be looking for a junior engineer to bring on. The rest is history, I guess!

    Q: Can you talk about some of the challenges of the transition?

    So, before the military, I had not worked a civilian job. The Air Force was my first real gig, and with that, I developed some work habits that are pretty unique to that environment. When I joined MetaRouter, it was a completely foreign world to me. Tracking hours, not having to get the approval of what felt like twenty people to take some time off, individual expression- and valued input?! It was pretty amazing, yet at the same time, terrifying. The military is very structured, and when you're working on an aircraft from the late 80s, the processes are pretty set in stone already so there's not a ton of room for innovation in the 2020's. Entering the software engineering world left me with a lot of challenges and a lot of confusion. I think this happens to every veteran to some extent when they re-enter the civilian world, so I think it's very important to be patient as they transition.

    Q: What are some of the similarities and transferable skills? Was it surprising?
    I was genuinely surprised and really excited how much of my troubleshooting knowledge was applicable in the software world, especially when I moved into more of a DevOps/SRE role. From talking to pilots and trying to figure out why the RADAR doesn't work, to chatting with a customer and finding out why they're having trouble with a specific service - I felt right at home.

    I've also seen a lot of success with my multitasking experience from the military. For a while, I was working as a Flightline Expeditor, and my entire job was to triage all of the maintenance that needed to get done and assign people to take care of each task. This also required me to be aware of the status of a half-dozen or more projects at once and give regular updates to the Production Superintendent. While this may be the opposite of what a core software engineer likes to do (e.g. "let me focus on my project"), it feels exceptionally helpful working as an SRE. Monitoring a complex micro-service architecture over multiple clusters and namespaces can get overwhelming quickly unless you thrive in the chaos. I'm truly loving it so far!

    Q: What advice would you give to someone in your own shoes looking to get into the tech space? Are there resources out there to help?

    I think from the outside, the tech space looks really daunting to a lot of people, and especially for a veteran that probably doesn't have much experience with programming. I think it's really important to remember that:

    1. You can absolutely get a job in this industry without a college degree if you work hard enough.
    2. Programming is literally learning a new language - it's scary and seems like a lot of work, but small steps towards a goal start to add up, and suddenly you're thriving. You might even be surprised at how similar some thought patterns and processes are!

    Q: Lastly, as we celebrate you and all veterans on this day, we're eternally grateful for your service. What does Veteran's Day mean to you and is there anything you do personally to reflect and honor veterans each year?

    I always do my best to think of some of my fellow service members that have separated from the military, and reach out when I can. It's a tough transition and sadly, many veterans are out there struggling with mental health or living on the streets. Serving your country requires a lot of personal sacrifice, and we need to strive to support our veterans through the unique challenges faced when returning to the civilian world.

    Dave Paprocki

    Written by Dave Paprocki