Vets in the Valley, part 1: Snacks, class and fireside chats.

This is an ongoing, multi-part series detailing the experience of veterans in a month long, mini-MBA immersive program in Silicon Valley called Breakline.

For the last week and a half, I’ve sat in a room full of 20+ military veterans in the belly of the Silicon Valley beast as part of the Breakline program. We’ve been at Andreessen Horowitz, Paypal and in the next two weeks, Salesforce and HPE learning from those on the inside about what it takes to lead great people, products and companies.

Despite the sleep deprivation that comes from a zero dark thirty commute from San Francisco and the heartache of seeing my daughter for minutes a day on FaceTime, I could not be more excited about the tech sector and the impact that my fellow vets will make in Silicon Valley.

As a bunch of outsiders with sharp haircuts looking in, we’ve learned a few things that I’d like to share with those inside and outside the valley.

First, generosity is the prevailing social norm. Yes, it’s about who you know, but it’s more about how you leverage who you know to help others. People want to help. When they say email me and I’ll connect you, they will not only respond, but they’ll follow through.

For example, I emailed Bill Krause, founder of 3Com, board advisor at Andreessen Horowitz and an elder statesman of the tech sector to thank him for speaking to us and to ask him if he could recommend a book that was helpful in his leadership journey. He responded within an hour with 6 books and some very kind words. Woah. Others have done the same.

There is a leadership gap in the sector and vets are well poised to capitalize on this opportunity. We’ve all led teams in some way shape or form in high stakes environments. Some have flown jets (yes, just like Tom Cruise, but taller), ran special ops (whatever that means, besides badass), done surface warfare (yeah, that’s a thing people do). While this may have required us to be less than nice and throw a few f-bombs around to complete the mission, we ultimately kicked ass because we are masters at adapting to the people, place and mission at hand. We do what it takes to ensure our teams succeed and our objective is reached, it’s who we are. We also like hugs, bugs (in systems) and like working on cool shit, just like entrepreneurs and engineers, so I’m sure we will fit in just fine. Plus, who doesn’t love free snacks.

We have a wealth of unique experiences doing uniquely military things, which makes it uniquely difficult for us to find the right roles where we can add the most value. Some jobs just don’t translate, but how we did those jobs does. We worked effectively in teams, found creative solutions to overcome bureaucratic baloney and accomplished the mission. With a little face to face time and some strategic thinking about the company, it’s needs and goals, I have no doubt there is at least one role at most companies that we can absolutely blow out of the water (sans weapons).

Although we are midway through week 2, we’ve all been so impressed by the generosity of the participating companies, their executives and employees, not to mention the incredible Stanford Graduate School of Business faculty who’ve given us crash courses in accounting, leadership, organizational design, communications and design thinking.
We’ve met and chatted with bhorowitz dick costolo Marc Andreessen donfaul Steven Sinofsky Lars Dalgaard, Steve Weiss, and many others from Andreessen Horowitz and their portfolio companies. So far this week, we’ve met executives and vets from PayPal and are excited to meet Dan Schulman their CEO soon. Each and every one of them has welcomed us warmly, engaged with us fully and shared valuable insights we can all use.

I can’t wait for what we will learn next.

Stay tuned for more about our Breakline experience and what we are learning.

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