When Nathan Green started thinking about life after serving in the Air Force, he had no idea where to start searching for a new career. He only knew military life — the requirements to be met, the mission to serve, the camaraderie, and day-to-day skills to succeed. But what to expect when making the transition to the private sector was a complete mystery to him.
"I think the hardest part for me personally is understanding the perspective in the private sector,” he told me. “I'm used to leading and being put in high-pressure situations. In the military, everyone has the same priority—it's all about the mission. The mindset and perspectives in the industry are different. I want to learn these variables and how the commercial sector does business."
Nathan discovered the DoD SkillBridge program through one of his mentors. A few weeks ago, he launched his internship into industry with Zscaler. Through SkillBridge, Nathan is "test driving" our company through hands-on learning, mentorship, and guidance. The program provides him first-hand experience on what to expect in corporate life, with the military still backing him.
The DoD SkillBridge internship provides transitioning service members, who have at least two years Time in Service (TIS), the opportunity to test drive a company, apprentice/job shadow, and learn more about a potential new role. During the 180-day internship, the intern still remains a government employee and, as such, continues to be paid by the government. While a job with the interning organization is not guaranteed, the opportunities to deliver value are endless. Through this daily interaction, service members are able to illustrate the quality of their work, display their camaraderie, and become a known asset to the company at large. Regardless if the service member receives a job offer or not, through on-the-job training and immersion, service members transition from the military better equipped to develop their next Courses of Action (CoA) and plan their civilian career.
Jeffrey Adorno is another veteran who came to Zscaler through SkillBridge, and is now someone I can proudly say is my Zscaler colleague. When I asked him about his internship experience, he said he “wishes more service members not only knew about the program, but also took advantage of the time to disconnect, decompress, and refocus.”
Jeff shared how his SkillBridge experience was critical in his transition from a 21-year Army career to the civilian workforce as it gave him a framework to learn and understand the key differences between military service and the corporate world. That understanding gained through an open learning environment, which internships are designed to do, was key in setting him up for a successful transition into civilian life.
Many service members enter the military at a young age, right out of school and are trained to focus solely on the mission at hand. They are not afforded the time to plan for what's next or even be aware of the options available before they take their leave of government service. SkillBridge and other DoD programs were created to help them transition and educate them on the different career paths available.
Zscaler understands the value in investing in strong partnerships between the military and industry, the exchange of ideas helps to push modernization forward.
The Zscaler SkillBridge Internship
At Zscaler, the SkillBridge program is defined by each service member’s needs. We partner with future participants to figure out what they want out of the internship, what their goals are, what motivates them, and how they can make an impact. Once the goals and objectives are laid out, the internship plan is outlined and put in place, but we remain flexible to adapt to what the service member wants to get out of the program.
Each experience is customized to the participant's personal career goals. It could be as simple as getting exposure to a tech company. This is a key component, as when I started planning my next steps after the Army, I needed to understand what I didn't want to do as much as what I did want to do. With so many options and paths to take, honestly, I was kind of lost. My biggest struggle was not knowing what I didn’t know. For 22 years, the military programmed me to think a certain way. Not really knowing what the commercial world had to offer was a big question.
This is a unique and challenging transition for a vet—whether they have served two years or 20making the jump from a service career to private/industry can be daunting. SkillBridge helps service members ease into that transition by providing a “once in a lifetime opportunity” that assists vets like Nathan, Jeffrey, and myself in finding exciting post-service careers.
It wasn't too long ago that I went through this process myself. I was the first person to move through Zscaler’s SkillBridge program and am now closing in on celebrating my two-year anniversary at the company. I had no idea if I would be a fit in a fast-growing cloud security company. Yet, I did know of Zscaler’s solid commitment to supporting veterans as they transition from government service into the private sector. The Zscaler team, from the leadership down to my colleagues across departments throughout the company, was not only highly supportive of my transition out of service but also in helping fuel my career growth.
SkillBridge is not the only program we support—or that is available—for mid-career service members. Training With Industry (TWI) is a 10-month exchange program and Defense Ventures Program (DVP) is a 6-week immersion program, where the service member remains on active duty but joins a company where they can "see under the covers." The purpose is to understand the business model and the technology to use in the military role. The service member also brings operational experience and knowledge of the DoD's needs and culture to the company, which is valuable for organizations like Zscaler. We are just kicking off our participation with TWI and are excited to be hosting our first DVP service members now.
I am proud to work for this company and grateful to be in a position to mentor and help others who may be on similar paths become aware of the opportunities out there and programs like SkillBridge and TWI.
My best piece of advice for success in transitioning to civilian life: the earlier you can start the process, the more you will get out of it. I wrote a series of articles about the phases of transition that I posted on LinkedIn during my transition a couple years ago. Start here with Phase 1 because I think it's important to do some soul searching. SkillBridge and other internship/exposure programs are Phase 3.
SkillBridge, as with any internship, is what you make of it. In the military, you're told who you're going to work for and what you're doing. That's not corporate America. Finding the right program and fit for you is vital. Challenge yourself, be open, and ask questions or you might not end up in the place you really want to be. That's why we let the interns help shape the program here and expose them to people throughout the company.
If Zscaler seems like a place you’d like to explore, reach out. We’d love to talk to you.