From the Marine Corps to PayPal - Finding Purpose After Service

Apr 4, 2017 12:15 PM ET
PayPal manager Heather Holcomb, a former U.S. Marine, knows how challenging re-entering civilian life can be while searching for the next career path. After spending four years in the military, Heather, 29, hoped her experience would be a straight shot to a job in communications technology. Unfortunately, she struggled to gain traction. Without a degree in applied technology or engineering, her hands-on experience didn’t seem to resonate with employers. To bridge the gap, she joined BreakLine, an immersive educational program designed to help veterans transition from military jobs to fulfilling private sector careers in finance and technology. 
Today, Heather is a Product Manager for Availability, Performance and Scalability at PayPal’s San Jose, California headquarters. Through her job, she has found a way to help other veterans who are facing the same challenges that she faced. By working directly with BreakLine and PayPal, she can help them find rewarding careers of their own.
Let’s talk about your work in the military. What was that like?
I served four years as a Marine Corps Communications Officer, leading large teams of Marines to build secure and reliable data infrastructures in austere environments. This means that I’d pack systems onto the backs of trucks, drive to desolate environments and build out multiple data centers to connect Marines in the air to the Marines on the ground. It was an incredible experience and it made me see how important it is to have reliable communications when it matters most - it can even save lives. I saw firsthand how technology was paving the way to the future and that ignited my passion for a career in technology.
It also set me up for success in my current role on PayPal’s APS team. Although PayPal’s systems and architecture are different from the deployment architectures we use in the Marine Corps, the same system qualities and concepts apply to the PayPal site. 
How does the BreakLine program prepare veterans for careers in the tech industry?
Well, the program is a combination of classroom learning, networking events and exposure to some of the top business leaders in Silicon Valley. It’s four weeks long and each week is hosted by a different tech company – like Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Andreesen Horowitz, Salesforce and PayPal.  Because the companies host the program on their own campuses, the vets who attend are able to really see what it’s like to work at a major tech company in Silicon Valley, instead of this abstract feeling of being in a classroom somewhere. At the same time, the program offers structured business classes taught by faculty from top universities, as well as fireside chats with technology leaders from different companies.  
Earlier this month, Serve - our veterans affinity group here at PayPal – hosted a lunch for BreakLine participants to share advice about how they were able to successfully pivot in their own careers, which is also a great opportunity for them to grow their own personal networks.
When you attended the program, what was it about PayPal that made you want to work there?
I really wanted to find a technology company where innovation was at the heart of the work they were doing. I was drawn to PayPal for the same reason I was drawn to military service: I was passionate about being a part of something bigger than myself. PayPal’s vision of democratizing financial services really resonated with me.
What does democratizing financial services mean to you?
It means providing financial services that the traditional banking industry is not set up to provide. I love that I can help contribute to this vision because I have known Marines who were the only members of their extended family with a bank account or access to a line of credit. I saw the stress that came with carrying the financial burden of their entire family by trying to extend their own access and opportunity to those they cared for most. The first time I heard PayPal’s vision of financial inclusion, I thought of the positive impact it would have on those military service members and their families.
When you’re not working, what do you do for fun?
Because my husband is still an active duty Marine stationed in Hawaii, PayPal allows me to work remotely for one week each month so I can visit him. We really appreciate that flexibility and support. While together, we enjoy spending time with other military families. We also love to hike, explore the beaches, and enjoy all of the amazing food that is native to the islands.