So after your service in the army...

another guy

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So I'm thinking about applying to USMA in the near future and have plans laid out after the four years and after the mandatory service period (assuming I made it it USMA and whatnot), and I was thinking, 5-8 years in active duty, is a pretty large chunk out of your life. You just spent 4 years learning skill sets not only when it comes to military training and knowledge, but you probably also have a degree of some sorts.

I want to pursue computer science at USMA and onwards after my service, but I can almost guarantee that I'll forget most of what I learned after I get out. Sure you can keep your skills sharp in whatever you pursue but as an officer you probably have more important things to do to fill up your time, and computer science isn't something you can just look at for 30 minutes and refresh yourself. So I have two questions for graduates and the vets, did you find yourself struggling after your service to relearn the skills needed for something like a job, and when and what you did while you were still in active duty and after your term to keep your skills sharp. I can't imagine someone getting a job a month after they finish their contract and they preform as well as if they had just gotten out of college.

Sorry, I couldn't find the answer online and I really wanted to know as I feel like this could apply to most people at any of the service academies, any other advice is appreciated as I'm just a high school student that doesn't know much.
 

shiner

USAFA Grad, Faculty 3yrs, ALO 7yrs, DS USMMA '24
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Most people never use the degree they earned in undergrad in the sense that you think of it as a High School student gazing into the future. Most degrees are general areas of study that have a vast number of career fields that can use them. SA degrees have an engineering background - even when you are a history major. The SA core curriculum ensures you are a good problem solver, have an engineering mindset, and are exposed to a wide array of disciplines.

Once you enter your career field, let's assume cyber, you are thrust into some of the most advanced stuff out there. You go from theory at school to REAL WORLD as you seek to guard our national defense assets against enemies - foreign and domestic. The real world element is valid for every military career field. You are generally well funded, people's lives are often relying on you, and there is nothing like that kind of pressure to make you rise to the occasion. Understand the role of the officer corps - we are there to lead and facilitate. Most are not coding or hacking, but rather leading teams who are. It ultimately depends on what role you want to pursue. If you want to be a cyber security expert (do-er) than your college training may go stale, but not as much as you would think. If you want to be a cyber leader in an organization, then there is no better training than a junior military officer role in a cyber unit. Regardless, you are in the middle of it and have tremendous experience under your belt whenever you choose to depart the military.

So - would a company want to hire a military vet with years of front line experience in cyber or a college grad fresh out of school lacking real world experience? It depends.... do they want to groom them or do they need someone ready for their corporate challenges right now? As a cyber officer, you are right in the thick of it and are very up to speed on all things in that domain or may be allowed to pursue a sub-specialty within the field.

Note: I was a Pre-Law major who went into Cyber because comp sci required 1 more math and I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I code today and lead a team of coders. The engineering background helps tremendously and the law background makes me consider risk differently - so it works....
 
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Capt MJ

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It’s good to be a long-term thinker and planner, as long as you are flexible, because life just happens sometimes.

Your college major may or may not have anything to do with what you spend your working life on.

Military officers are valued in the civilian job market because they are trained and experienced leaders, can operate successfully in high-pressure situations, can allocate and manage resources, are successful team leaders, learn new skills quickly, are geographically adaptable, are generally healthy, already have a security clearance and many more factors attractive to the private sector. An officer’s STEM background can make them informed leaders without doing the hands-on stuff.

There are dozens of threads about graduate education opportunities, how majors do or do not directly correlate to careers, etc.

There are junior officer placement firms which actively look for separating junior officers, hired by Fortune 500 companies. One example:

Another point of Internet research: post-9/11 GI Bill educational benefits. You have to do 36 months after you complete your USMA commitment to be eligible for 100% of this very generous benefit, less time gets less %.
 

another guy

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It’s good to be a long-term thinker and planner, as long as you are flexible, because life just happens sometimes.

Your college major may or may not have anything to do with what you spend your working life on.

Military officers are valued in the civilian job market because they are trained and experienced leaders, can operate successfully in high-pressure situations, can allocate and manage resources, are successful team leaders, learn new skills quickly, are geographically adaptable, are generally healthy, already have a security clearance and many more factors attractive to the private sector. An officer’s STEM background can make them informed leaders without doing the hands-on stuff.

There are dozens of threads about graduate education opportunities, how majors do or do not directly correlate to careers, etc.

There are junior officer placement firms which actively look for separating junior officers, hired by Fortune 500 companies. One example:

Another point of Internet research: post-9/11 GI Bill educational benefits. You have to do 36 months after you complete your USMA commitment to be eligible for 100% of this very generous benefit, less time gets less %.
I really like your points, but say I don't use that degree and can't apply it to my military service by going into the technology field, I feel like I can't really use what I learned for a couple years. Currently, I want to go a more "grounded" field after graduation, like infantry. I can't really apply a CS degree to that if I'm being honest. I'm rereading what I just typed and I'm having a hard time processing it myself, sorry if it doesn't really make sense.
 

another guy

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It’s good to be a long-term thinker and planner, as long as you are flexible, because life just happens sometimes.

Your college major may or may not have anything to do with what you spend your working life on.

Military officers are valued in the civilian job market because they are trained and experienced leaders, can operate successfully in high-pressure situations, can allocate and manage resources, are successful team leaders, learn new skills quickly, are geographically adaptable, are generally healthy, already have a security clearance and many more factors attractive to the private sector. An officer’s STEM background can make them informed leaders without doing the hands-on stuff.

There are dozens of threads about graduate education opportunities, how majors do or do not directly correlate to careers, etc.

There are junior officer placement firms which actively look for separating junior officers, hired by Fortune 500 companies. One example:

Another point of Internet research: post-9/11 GI Bill educational benefits. You have to do 36 months after you complete your USMA commitment to be eligible for 100% of this very generous benefit, less time gets less %.
Thank you! I've heard about programs like these before briefly but looking into it, it looks like a good path
 

Capt MJ

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I really like your points, but say I don't use that degree and can't apply it to my military service by going into the technology field, I feel like I can't really use what I learned for a couple years. Currently, I want to go a more "grounded" field after graduation, like infantry. I can't really apply a CS degree to that if I'm being honest. I'm rereading what I just typed and I'm having a hard time processing it myself, sorry if it doesn't really make sense.
You will have learned critical thinking, trouble-shooting, analytical approaches, understanding of databases, computer languages, coding and many other bits of knowledge at a macro level useful to a junior officer.

First things first. Figure out if you want to serve at least five years as a military officer. Research all the services, all the SAs, all the officer communities, then reverse engineer that to where you want to start. The end of a five-year service obligation is almost 10 years in your future. Be open to the journey, make plans, don’t sweat minutuaie at this point
 

aa-ttention

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If you want to do STEM/technical jobs, find a service branch and job where you can grow your long term career. If you are interesting other areas e.g. law, business, or general leadership position, then go to graduate school (Law, MBA etc) after service. There are great programs in top universities for such and SA background has great advantage.
 
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I don't know much about Army Cyber, but generally, Army officers are supposed to be generalists and not really specialists in one field. Also, I've met a few people who were cyber majors and branched infantry. Their thought process was they were okay with not coding for a few years and doing Army stuff that they will never get to do if they ever got out. If you really want to practice coding, I'd say try to branch Cyber. To be honest, I think if you were truly passionate about cyber, you would also have small side hobbies/projects. I know a lot of cyber companies have asked about side projects (according to my coding friend who lives in NYC).
 

MidCakePa

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Some excellent responses above, so I’ll throw in a couple simple things for you to also consider.

First, is your short-term goal to work in computer science or to become a commissioned officer? If it’s the former, then an SA may not be right for you. You may be better off attending a civilian college and entering the field directly.

Just because you’re an infantry officer doesn’t mean you won’t use what you learned as a computer science major. Successful infantry officers must be analytical problem solvers who can quickly weigh opposing variables and come to a clear decision about complex issues with many moving parts — a skill set that can be honed by studying computer science. (With all due respect, thinking that you can only do what you literally learn is an immature perspective.)

Second, after 4-5 years on active duty, your primary value to civilian employers will be as a leader, not a computer scientist. Indeed, your computer science knowledge will erode on active duty. But your leadership acumen and experience will grow. Few college grads start their career managing dozens of people and millions of dollars of assets in potentially life-or-death situations. Private-sector companies and public-sector organizations will want you for those leadership credentials — anything else you may bring is pretty much secondary. You’ll be seen as a manager of teams and projects, not a mere doer of things.

Which then brings us back to point #1: What’s your primary goal?
 

Casey

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You learn a way of thinking and problem solving with an Academy degree, regardless of major, that’ll serve you well as both an officer and whatever field you pursue after the military as discussed by others above much better than I will attempt to.

What I will add though is that if you’re scared of how hard it will be to relearn a field after being out of it for a while, realize that there are plenty of people, military or not, who pivot career fields for whatever reason. My background is engineering. I didn’t touch any higher level math for five years after graduating college until I recently went back for my masters. My masters degree is back into very technical engineering. First semester was definitely a bit of work up front to knock off cobwebs but very doable. Keeping notes/problem sets, textbooks, and finding ways to stay relevant with your field if it’s something that you’re passionate about pursuing down the road will help you out.

Between then and now, just enjoy the ride if the Academy and service is the military is the path you choose. For all of the technical skills you might miss out developing your peers jumping into the field you’re interested in right after college, the scope of responsibility and managerial potential you’ll be given as a junior officer tends to more than surpass their opportunities. You’ll bring a different skill set to the table that plenty of companies are looking for and you’ll still have opportunities to pursue your own technical ambitions. Depending on the field, you might have the ability to do it as an officer while in the military. There’s a lot of paths to explore within the military as well.
 

UHBlackhawk

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As others wrote, what you do after the military may… or may not have anything to do with your major in college or your military career.
I just had a few drinks with a good friend from college. He was a history major and, after serving his minimum time as an infantry officer he got out. He was trained by a major financial company, went off in the world and now does bond deals probably worth more than everyone in this forum makes in a year combined. A colleague of his and classmate of mine from high school was a lacrosse player at West Point, combat arms officer, and also a well know Wall Street bond trader. It may not sound sexy, but without people like them Pfizer wouldn’t be developing new drugs and my company wouldn’t be financing new airplanes.
Another friend was an English major, went to Army flight school. Got out as a senior captain and is now a VP at a major airline. He has never flown outside the Army. Another VP at my airline was a West Point grad but never flew.
A couple friends went to law school.
Some went to medical school. I “know” some who did other stuff in the military such as logistics and aviation, in some cases both, then went to medical school.
I know someone else real well who did study engineering at MIT, was a Marine FA-18 driver, and is now getting his doctorate in engineering.
And I’m the boring one. German Lit/History major, went Army aviation, and still fly commercially. I’ve flown what was one of the smallest military aircraft (the mighty TH-55), to one of the largest US made airplanes, the 747.
So… who knows what you will do.
 
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Capt MJ

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You will have learned critical thinking, trouble-shooting, analytical approaches, understanding of databases, computer languages, coding and many other bits of knowledge at a macro level useful to a junior officer.

First things first. Figure out if you want to serve at least five years as a military officer. Research all the services, all the SAs, all the officer communities, then reverse engineer that to where you want to start. The end of a five-year service obligation is almost 10 years in your future. Be open to the journey, make plans, don’t sweat minutuaie at this point
Minutiae. I hate it when Siri changes what I wrote.
 

another guy

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Some excellent responses above, so I’ll throw in a couple simple things for you to also consider.

First, is your short-term goal to work in computer science or to become a commissioned officer? If it’s the former, then an SA may not be right for you. You may be better off attending a civilian college and entering the field directly.

Just because you’re an infantry officer doesn’t mean you won’t use what you learned as a computer science major. Successful infantry officers must be analytical problem solvers who can quickly weigh opposing variables and come to a clear decision about complex issues with many moving parts — a skill set that can be honed by studying computer science. (With all due respect, thinking that you can only do what you literally learn is an immature perspective.)

Second, after 4-5 years on active duty, your primary value to civilian employers will be as a leader, not a computer scientist. Indeed, your computer science knowledge will erode on active duty. But your leadership acumen and experience will grow. Few college grads start their career managing dozens of people and millions of dollars of assets in potentially life-or-death situations. Private-sector companies and public-sector organizations will want you for those leadership credentials — anything else you may bring is pretty much secondary. You’ll be seen as a manager of teams and projects, not a mere doer of things.

Which then brings us back to point #1: What’s your primary goal?
I was thinking about it, and my primary goal would be to serve as a commissioned officer, I was probably thinking too much about the other things that I forgot the bigger picture. After reading everyone's feedback, which I greatly appreciate, I think I should just focus on military duties and then whatever the future has after that time period.
 

VelveteenR

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To be honest, I think if you were truly passionate about cyber, you would also have small side hobbies/projects.

This. Our son has been coding, developing, and self-studying since middle school. By the time he got to West Point, he had so much CS background, he decided to major in electrical engineering where he could use his CS knowledge and coding skills to build and control robots, radios, and whatever else they threw at him. He’s two years in to the Cyber branch as a 17D (Development Officer) and, though he has a small team, he codes round the clock. He’s just returning from Guam testing under jungle conditions something they developed; they are now in Arizona to test it under desert conditions. He “invented” this product, he and his team brought it to proof-of-concept, and he is the one managing the code and enlisted developers as well as handling communications with and briefings to senior command. So, he’s managing, but he’s also developing.

No matter how his Army job morphs from less doing to more managing, he’ll never stop coding. It’s just what he does. He’s co-owned a software development company with his BFF (another officer) for several years, and that side effort takes up much of their free time. They consider it play.

So, if losing your coding skills is a concern, let that go. You don’t need to rely on a formal job (or even a CS degree) to keep those skills intact. There is plenty of side opportunity for someone who is motivated.

(From an English major who retired from a 30-year career in IT)
 

Devil Doc

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@VelveteenR excellent post. My son in law, non-military, has been in IT his entire adult life. He maintains the system that #&+*# at the #@“=*& agency. Makes a boat load of money. He and his boss, also a friend, have a side gig doing IT consulting. He also by the way, owns a few properties and is currently closing on a couple million dollar deal on another apartment building.

I’m not too far out on the limb when I say IT is part of all careers in some form. If there isn’t enough in one’s current job, then build a system, program, or start a business.
 

cb7893

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Excellent posts, one and all. There is a piece of my Army Captain DS in each of them.

His approach when applying for an AROTC scholarship was, "There are so many cool things to do that I just want to get through the front door and the rest will take care of itself." His long term plan changed about every two weeks from Day 1. Even now, 6+ years in, his long term goals continue to morph.

He was always going to build a technical skill set regardless--in or out of the military. And he was going to be good at it. What the Army gave him, as the other posters have emphasized, was/is automatic managerial responsibility for human and material resources beyond anything his college cohort would receive.

Wish you the best of luck!
 

billyb

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My 2 cents.....
1. go to USMA
2. major in CS and get a solid GPA
3. branch infantry (as you are leaning towards) and do all the cool airborne ranger stuff
4. if you want to get out after 5 years go to MIT or Stanford and get a MS in CS

I'm sure some lowly company will give you a chance after all of that "non-hands-on" coding experience
 

another guy

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My 2 cents.....
1. go to USMA
2. major in CS and get a solid GPA
3. branch infantry (as you are leaning towards) and do all the cool airborne ranger stuff
4. if you want to get out after 5 years go to MIT or Stanford and get a MS in CS

I'm sure some lowly company will give you a chance after all of that "non-hands-on" coding experience
thank you! straight to the point
 
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