After Twenty Years in the Army, a New Start in Tech

By Workday Staff Writers

Sean Williams, Fort Bragg, N.C., 2004. All photos courtesy Sean Williams.

He’s an adventure seeker. Some might call him an adrenaline junkie. After all, Sean Williams has jumped out of an aircraft 72 times.

After 20 years in the Army — including 13 moves across the country, two deployments to Iraq, and one to Kuwait and Afghanistan — Sean decided to retire from military life and try his hand at something new: technology.

Now, he’s found himself at Workday as a senior program manager and Career Accelerator Program (CAP) graduate. CAP is just one of the Opportunity Onramps programs at Workday, a movement dedicated to creating economic opportunity for all. We sat down with Sean to learn more about his past military life, his career in tech, and why CAP is a game changer when it comes to transitioning into civilian life.

How’d you get started with the military?

My initial interest was through the United States Army Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship in high school. I applied for the scholarship my junior year and by senior year, I earned a three-year ride to the University of Pittsburgh. I graduated from college with a degree in psychology. One month after my college graduation, I was off to Fort Lewis, Washington, for my first leg of training.

What were you doing in the Army?

Short answer, I was an active-duty field artillery officer, whose job was to coordinate the resources needed for individual soldier and organizational proficiency in skills and tasks assigned to artillerymen. Daily physical training, individual performance counseling, training meetings, and equipment maintenance are examples of activities that I did on an average day. More exciting days included parachute jumps and various forms of live-ammunition training. I’ve been in cannon units at Fort Stewart, Georgia and Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

From your military experience, what are you most proud of?

Sean jumps from a UH-60 Blackhawk Helicopter at Fort Irwin, Calif., 2008.

I’m proud of leaving the organization and the people with whom I served a little bit better than when I found them. People rotate — that’s the nature of the military experience. Three years was the longest I ever held a single job in the military. With every new assignment, you become a mentor to new peers and new reports. To be able to not just get things done but make people feel like they made a difference is a good milestone to achieve. It was so satisfying to teach something or explain something and see that light bulb go off in others.

For those who aren’t familiar, what is CAP?

It’s a 16-week paid fellowship program that opens up career opportunities for military veterans at Workday. The program is aimed at breaking barriers that military veterans tend to face when entering the workforce after military service due to their non-traditional resumes. The program provides mentoring and professional development opportunities for participants to ease the transition into the corporate world. At the end of the program, there’s an opportunity for conversion [to Workday employment], though the program does not a guarantee full-time employment. In each of the three CAP cohorts to date, more than 80 percent of participants were offered full-time or contract employment at the end of their fellowship.

What was your transition from the military to the private sector like?

Starting off, it was really challenging. To go from 20 years of non-tech experience to working in a tech company was a steep learning curve. But the people at Workday are really friendly and willing to entertain my questions — and they acknowledge effort, at the very least. After a few months here, it’s clear Workday takes care of people.

What was the most valuable part of the CAP experience?

Culture fit was a big concern of mine in finding the right job, especially my first full-time job outside of the Army. I was paying quite a bit of attention to that. Being a part of CAP gave me a good long-term view, without much risk, of what it would be like to work here. It showed me the value of teamwork and personal communication. It showed me that Workday values culture and that there’s a sense of duty in everyone that works here to get the job done.

Sean Williams in 2014.

What’s something that you learned in the military that you apply to your job at Workday?

Mental resilience. With a little bit of teamwork and self-confidence, you can make it through. Teamwork is another skill set that’s valued both at Workday and in the military. You can always get more done with a group of people than you can by yourself. Workday has reinforced the importance of being mentally flexible, which is also something I learned in the military. Priorities are going to change, technology is going to change, but the idea is to remain dynamic as best you can. I like being a part of that type of environment.

Sean, center (behind the flag), with University of San Francisco ROTC staff, 2016.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about applying to CAP?

I’m living proof that you don’t have to have a strong technical background but you do have to be willing to learn and to start over. I think the older you get, the more age or pride — or both — can get in your way. Come in with a dose of humility and listen more than you speak. You will have the opportunity to learn.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Be comfortable with the 80-percent solution. I can’t tell you how many long nights or weekends I spent to make something just right or perfect. Life always has other plans for you. Don’t sacrifice the better parts of your life for job requirements or goals. Having a bit of balance, in the end, will make you happier and healthier.