Cyber security is a booming industry with a plethora of opportunities for veterans. Senior Vice President and Chief Security Officer for USAA Gary McAlum is trying to pair the two.
Prior to joining the USAA team, McAlum completed 25 years in the US Air Force. He entered the Air Force in 1983 as a Distinguished Graduate of the Air Force ROTC program at The Citadel, Charleston, SC.
Throughout his career, McAlum worked in a variety of staff and leadership positions in the information technology career field. He’s done multiple deployments and his accolades are many. Perhaps most impressive? Gary was inducted into the Air Force Cyberspace Operations Hall of Fame in 2016. Now, he’s championing getting more veterans into the cyber security field. WATM had the chance to sit down with McAlum to find out more about why veterans are a good fit for this field… and why this field is a perfect fit for veterans.
WATM: USAA is ranked by Forbes as the 6th best employer for veterans. Why are veterans in such high demand for employment in the Cyber Security field?
First of all, we’re a company that is focused on serving veterans and the veteran community. We have a commitment to hiring military veterans and their spouses. I spent 45 years in the Air Force and that has made me very knowledgeable about bringing that talent into USAA. Our Cyber Security Team is a very diverse team, we have people who come from other entities from various companies. We have people who we bring in from internship programs but veterans also bring a lot of good qualities to the Cyber Security Team.
We hire anyone who served in Cyber Security in the military because it is a skillset that is highly desirable. There are other qualities that vets have that served them for a lifetime that work great for us too.
There are three things veterans bring that are of great interest to us:
One, they already understand that they’re coming into a purpose driven company like USAA. It resonates with them that they serve the veteran community in Cyber Security. We’re in the trust and confidence business, so, that’s a natural fit from a culture perspective.
Two, every veteran I know is team oriented. They come in and adapt to the environment they work well with the team and that’s important for Cyber Security. It’s a team sport.
Finally, I think, which they don’t often think of – they bring speed to the company. I spent my entire career moving around every two to three years between assignments. They have to learn new organization, new processes, perhaps a new mission area to become very knowledgeable quickly.
When they come to an environment like USAA they’re going to be focused on picking it up quickly. Which is value added. Those are three qualities among many that should attract and hire veterans.
WATM: What about veterans or active duty who have a different Military Occupational Specialty than Cyber Security, what certifications can they attain that will help them transition into this career path?
We do get veterans who have done something totally different, although it’s not a lot. They sort of took a backroad way to get into Cyber Security.
Some people for example, they get out, separate, or retire and use their G.I. Bill to get a technology degree with a focus on Cyber Security.
To any veteran who is starting from scratch, I would say get a technical degree and technical training and really understand technology, networks and how they’re built and implemented.
I really do think there is a technical foundation you need to have.
It’s not impossible.
Usually people who come in after doing something else adapt quickly and professionally after they get the foundation training that they need.
Once we get that, plus any experience would help, but a certification by itself is nice but it’s only part of the journey to get there.
WATM: What kind of mentorship training do you offer for veterans who are close to separating?
Almost every veteran that I know that has gotten out they’re committed to paying back. What I mean by that is helping other veterans make the transition. Whether it’s separating after a four-year tour or, like me, 20+ year career – I’ve spent my last ten years, after getting out, helping Senior NCOs and Officers transition out.
I do think that military veterans, regardless of going into Cyber Security, or anything – retirement is easy. All the processes, the pay and paperwork is going to sort itself out. It’s a big machine. All of that is going to come your way, the one day magically it’s your last day, and you’re going to retire.
Retirement is easy, transition is hard.
What I really mean is, you have to think about what’s next? What am I good at? There are all sorts of other variables: where am I going to live? What is my personal situation? Family issues? Am I looking for a job or a career? When I work with transitioning members we take all of that into consideration.
When we talk about a job, it’s sort of the last thing you go through. We focus on, especially after 25+ years, once you start over – you start over. We talk about the need to reinvent yourself in a world that you haven’t been in for a long period of time. It’s more about the actual transition than the magical process of just retiring in my mind.
WATM: Since USAA is one of the best employers for veterans, especially in this field, what can veterans expect from USAA?
We’re committed to hiring veterans.
We aim to make sure that at least 25% of our workforce is a veteran, spouse, or a family member. We’re committed to bringing them into our company and we’re committed to lots of external organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and the Hiring Our Heroes Program which helps train and place service members who are transitioning out of the military.
That’s really important.
We participate with the military and their training programs and education within the industry. We host some active duty military members here. Sometimes they get out and we look at the opportunity to bring them back.
Our culture at USAA is focused on embracing the veteran and helping him be successful in corporate America at USAA. WATM: USAA was listed on November 9th, 2020 on Forbes’ list of best employers for veterans. See for yourselves that the juice is worth the squeeze.