When a financial services system went down after a reboot, network wiz Denny Nunez tracked the triggers in a server program to get the banking data up and flowing smoothly again before the start of regular business hours.

Although Nunez might have an uncommon background from his third-shift IT colleagues with this type of server issue, he’d dealt with it before, in a realm where “mission critical data” takes on a dual meaning.

Nunez came to his roles as network administrative assistance and IT help desk resource at Advanced Technology Services (ATS) in Peoria, Ill. in April, following four years of active duty in the Marine Corps. After enlisting in 2009 and going through the same combat lessons and boot camp as any other enlisted service member, Nunez also started training for server and networking roles, an area of interest that had been a bit out of reach in civilian life back in his hometown of Peoria. Months later, Sgt. Nunez was deployed to South American and the shores of Haiti, where he readied vital network systems after a devastating earthquake there, and later Afghanistan (pictured at left), where he and a team of six built server and network communications “from the ground up” to keep the data side of air wing rescue missions marching along.

Reflecting on his non-traditional path to the server room, Nunez says there’s a battle of awareness as service members return to home to a workforce clamoring for experienced data managers and IT experts. The acronyms for servers and routers may be different between the two, but the raw military exposure to systems primed Nunez, and others in the military, for their own career.

“Especially with IT in the military, it’s sink or swim. You either learn it and you become good at your job and standout, or you fall to the back and let someone else do it,” Nunez says.

Nunez is one of tens of thousands of U.S. service members returning home from frontline duty over the next few years during troop drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan. The federal government has long pushed programs for private companies to hire service members as they return home, though there has been a recent push to match those efforts with the drawdown and the country’s IT and data jobs “skills gap.” In May, for instance, the White House unveiled a public-private partnership with big-name IT vendors to train and clarify existing capabilities held by more than 161,000 military members, with a special focus on database design, cloud computing, QA and IT security. The federal government estimates 1.8 million technology jobs in these or related fields by 2020, with an average salary exceeding $81,000.

ATS is one of a crop of companies across the U.S. bringing in veterans and service members as part of their hiring and support for positions in IT, manufacturing and more, for clients such as Caterpillar and Motorola. Of the 1,500 military applications received by ATS in the past year, there were 250 specifically related to IT and data positions. It's a pool of applicants ATS expects to increase, with the firm estimating approximately 250 veteran hires total for the year, says Holly Mosack, ATS director of military recruiting. Mosack, a former Army Captain who served in Iraq, started at ATS in 2005 to lead their efforts to transition military members to civilian careers where they sometimes find “a different world.”

The differences in “nomenclature” range from data system alphabet soup and jargon, to hesitation over a service members’ time away from a traditional office work environment, Mosack says. Unknowingly, the differences can put up a wall between highly competent service members and employers desperate for applicable data skills.

“When those service members are writing their resumes and explaining what they do, it’s somewhat intimidating for the civilian recruiter to read that and talk to [a candidate] about what they did in Afghanistan. That’s not your typical candidate,” she says.

Hardest to fill are those DBA and high-level system admin and developer roles, says Mosack. Specific to database and data management roles, there are certainly changing demands with server and database admins, evolving with business demands for more application development and experience in handling unstructured, varied and real-time data streams. But those changes hold lots of opportunity for high-paying careers, as DBAs, network and server admins, and other data and analytic intensive roles are some of the most in-demand positions in the broader and steadily growing IT hiring field, according to hiring community Dice.

Possibilities and experience in that higher-tier data management realm are exactly what brought Nunez to ATS. While still under the Marine Corps’ inactive reserves for another three years, Nunez is prepared for new working roles at home to better life in Peoria for himself and his wife, Crystal. He’s grateful for his military background – and its data management experiences typically reserved for certification courses and college classrooms – and is eager to fill them out with more civilian techniques to eventually aim for a bigger role as a network admin. And he’s got a good feeling he’ll be joined across the country by his military colleagues.

“Some of us come out a little scared, not realizing how similar systems and processes can be,” Nunez says. “But we’re ready to take it on.”

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