Changing Careers After Military Service: A Veteran's Story
“Returning to civilian life was a bit of a challenge since I joined the military at quite a young age. And, you know, working in the military was pretty much all I knew.”
Alex Asuncion dedicated his life to serving in the United States Air Force as a cyber system operator. When he decided he wanted to transfer to part-time status with the Air Force Reserves after more than five years in active duty, he hoped to do some soul searching.
Alex says he wanted to change his career focus from purely technical to something in business management. But mix in some time off to go back to school with a global pandemic, and he says the job market wasn’t exactly welcoming him with open arms. In fact, the veteran unemployment rate across the entire country saw a significant rise from 3.1 percent in 2019 to 11.7 percent in 2020.
“I graduated with my MBA in May 2020,” says Alex, “but with the ongoing COVID pandemic it was quite difficult to get a job, especially with my work experience being mostly in the technical realm.
That’s when Alex learned about the T-Mobile TechX Returnship program.
The program made some big changes to between its pilot that began in 2019 and its second cohort in 2020 to create more inclusivity for those finding it challenging to re-enter the workforce after a career break. Originally a program that served women through its partnership with reacHIRE, an organization that offers a path into leadership roles for women in tech after time off to care for family or other personal reasons, T-Mobile extended the six-month, full-time, paid return-to-work program from six to 26 participants in roles beyond just technology, and also began to accept applications from men, primarily to reach veterans in need.
“The positive results from the Returnship pilot and the profound impact it has had on our Returnship graduates led us to broadening the scope of the partnership across multiple technology organizations,” said T-Mobile’s Executive Vice President & Chief Information Officer Brian King, who sponsors the program. “With this diverse applicant pool of 75 percent women in tech, 74 percent people of color and 4.5 percent veterans, we are now setting our sights on going even bigger in the future!”
The program’s next cohort will expand to 37 roles across technology, HR, consumer markets and finance that offer a chance to gain relevant work skills and experiences through challenging projects, assignments and training, all while building a professional network and providing ongoing coaching and mentorship to potentially lead to full-time or extended contracting roles at T-Mobile. Alex says after graduating from the program, he was able to find the right full-time role as a technical project manager with the company’s Technology Project Management Office group.
T-Mobile has shown its commitment to honoring those who have served by offering active military, veterans and their families it’s best discount on family plans, but the company is also focused on its employees by committing to hire 10,000 military veterans and their spouses by 2023. Inclusive of veterans and veteran spouses the Un-carrier brought on board with the Sprint merger, the company has announced it’s over halfway to meeting that goal.
And as the Returnship program is actively seeking applicants for its third and largest yet cohort starting January 2022, Alex spoke with us from his home in San Diego about his story, and explains why he thinks the program is an invaluable service to veterans like himself and for people who simply have taken a career break and need some support to break back in.
Tell us a little about your journey from the military to when you first took a step back into civilian life.
I enlisted with the United States Air Force back in 2011 and was assigned as a cyber system operator, where I was in charge of ensuring that the Air Force network was safe and secure from any network attacks or threats. And while I was on active duty, I had some opportunities to support several missions across the country. But the majority of my career was spent at Langley Air Force base in Southern Virginia. In 2016, I decided to transition out of active duty and move to more of a part-time military status with the Air Force Reserves.
When you decided to transfer to part-time status with the Air Force Reserves, how did you come to realize you wanted to refocus your career and what challenges did you face?
When I got out of active duty, I was offered an opportunity to work as a contractor in the government space and to continue in a similar line of work from what I was doing in active duty, primarily in IT security. A few years later in that role, I decided that I wanted to make that break out of IT and be in a role that was less technical. So, in 2018, I decided to pursue my master’s in business administration at the University of San Diego.
How did you first come to learn about The T-Mobile Returnship, and what was the program like?
I was introduced to The Returnship at T-Mobile through this veteran hiring program called Hiring Our Heroes. And I’m so glad that I was! The Returnship was just an amazing program that not only gave me an opportunity to work for a great company, but also provided me mentorship and just that much needed experience that allowed me to be more confident and knowledgeable in the role that I was trying to pursue. I know several veterans like myself that have considered a career shift, which could be challenging due to a lack of opportunities. But when a company like T-Mobile partners with veteran organizations, it’s just really a win-win on both sides. A company gets someone that’s disciplined and has experience of being a leader, while the veteran gets a chance to gain that much needed experience for that role that they’re trying to pursue.
So how’s it going living the Magenta life?
My life so far with T-Mobile has just been just amazing. The culture here is exactly what I was looking for and everyone here has been so supportive of me, including my managers and my peers. Currently, I’m leading several projects for the one ID migration, which would allow all former Sprint employees to be fully integrated with T-Mobile. My career at T-Mobile is still very young, but I’m hoping to continue to grow more into my role as a project manager. I find T-Mobile to be such an interesting company and I’m constantly hearing about all the cool and innovative things that they’re looking to do.
Anything you want to say to those who are reading this and aren’t sure if the Returnship is the right fit for them?
I just want to reiterate how amazing The Returnship program is. Before this, I hadn’t heard of any other company doing something close to this. It’s such a great initiative, and I highly recommend all veterans, especially those looking to do a career shift, to at least look into the Returnship program. The tools they provide to help you succeed and the mentorship are incredible. Even for those who aren’t veterans and are just looking to get back into their careers after a long break, I would also highly suggest looking into this program. From my cohort, we had many that fit that category of people having to take a step away from their careers due to family reasons or other factors. And I for sure know that they all greatly benefited from this Returnship program and it definitely helped them all restart their careers.
Inspired by the generosity of the T-Mobile Foundation and our VAN employee resource group during our first DE&I Giving Month in July, this Veterans Day we want to expand T-Mobile’s support of the One Tribe Foundation by raising this year’s donation to a total of $100,000. We’re proud to support an organization deeply committed to protecting the mental health of veterans, first responders, medical frontline workers and their families.