How I got here: From an army cop to a career as a software engineer at Vanguard
Dennis Paskel, now application engineers at vanguardHe has lived many lives in his 34 years.
At the age of 16 he got his first job in retail. Then, at 18, he enrolled in the US Army. Between 2006 and 2008 he worked as a military policeman, which took him around the world. Eventually he returned home to the Philadelphia area, eager to see family and friends.
“Honestly, I think at any age it’s hard to imagine where a career could take you,” Paskel said during an AMA interview on Veterans Day last Thursday on Technical.ly’s public slack. “I’ve always believed in life as a journey, and careers are stepping stones on that journey. It has really helped me grow and mature over the years. “
Since returning to the region, Paskel has worked in IT support while completing a degree in criminal justice and political science from Temple University. He held positions in sales at Comcast, as a bank clerk and as a probation officer and probation officer. In January of that year he decided to embark on a career he had always been fascinated by – technology – by working at Tech elevator‘s local boot camp.
Take a look at the interview below about his professional background. It’s been edited slightly for length and clarity, but you can check out those Full length conversation on Slack.
Have you ever thought about what a civilian career might be like when you were in the military?
Dennis Paskel: I hadn’t really given that much thought to myself. Back then, I went into the military to pay for college. I don’t think I even had an idea what a career was like back then, I just knew that military service wouldn’t make a career out of me. The amount of sacrifice service members make on a daily basis is really overlooked as a civilian.
What was it like to step out of that role and get into the mindset that there were many career path opportunities?
DP: What’s a stronger word than overwhelming? Because I think that might not even make you feel like you are adjusting to civilian life. Here I am, 21 years old, coming from the most rigid and structured experience and have given myself back my freedom to do as I wish. It definitely took some time to find direction and meaning.
As a kid, I always thought that adults had all the answers. Then I learned they didn’t; they just had more experience. This experience teaches us to hopefully make better decisions. I wish I had listened to me sooner because I would be where I am now many years ago. At the same time, I really appreciate all the perspectives and insights that have been given to me.
I think it’s a universal experience that we believe growing up will give us all the answers. What made you think about technology?
DP: I’ve always been interested in technology. I started assembling and repairing computers when I was 12. I spent four years in computer programs at a vocational school while attending high school. Fear of the unknown has kept me from pursuing this career all these years.
What changed this year when you took part in the Tech Elevator Bootcamp? Was it your idea of technology?
Attending a boot camp was the first step for me to pursue a career that I would love. I think coding boot camps are a great way for people with life experience to get into the industry. It’s intimidating at first. I left an area where I had a great deal of knowledge and I devoted 10-12 hours a day to learning new skills. Being in boot camp meant I wasn’t alone. I had 27 other classmates in the same situation and we always helped each other.
Tech Elevator did a great job simulating what the work in tech would look like. They also invited companies to talk to us about how technology is used in the company and what it’s like to work there. We then had 10 employers who came to Tech Elevator’s matchmaking event where I had the opportunity to speak to a few companies of my choice, which ultimately led to my being hired at Vanguard.
Were there any capabilities of the military that could easily be transferred to technology?
DP: I think the skill that translated best for me was the attention to detail. In the military, especially in war, you and / or others can be seriously injured or killed by the smallest of overlooked details. I enter this level of detail in all of my work, sometimes a little too meticulously.
What advice would you give to your younger self or maybe someone who is unsure about the next step in their career after trying so many?
DP: I think I would tell my younger self to believe in me more. My concern about not pursuing a career in technology sooner was the fear that jobs would be outsourced and I would be laid off or not have a stable career. I sold my luck for stability and I would never do that again. There are things in life like good risks, and sometimes we have to take a leap of faith and believe in ourselves. This is the only way we can reach our full potential.
Most importantly, it is never too late to change your life. As a probation and probation officer for five years, I’ve seen people of all walks of life and of different ages change their lives for the better. If they could, surely each of us could change our careers and pursue what makes us truly happy and fulfilling.
You are more likely to regret the choices you didn’t make in life. Seize opportunities, seize opportunities, connect and learn from others, find out what makes you happy in life, and chase after them. If you fall, dust yourself off and stand up. The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now.