My Twelve Year Career Path to Network Engineer as a Female: Part One

My best friend, Katherine, aspires to have a job similar to my current career as a network engineer for the government. She asked me to provide a sort of career map of what I did to get to where I am now. I started writing Kat an email and realized this could be a good blog post for other people with similar aspirations.

December 2007 to March 2008- Joined the United States Marine Corps at 17 years old; I signed up as “open contract” (meaning I would take any job they found for me). The night before I shipped out, I was told to sign different paperwork as a BX Data Operator that would extend my four year contract by a year, even though I swore I knew nothing about computers. The Gunnery Sergeant brushed me off and said my ASVAB scores proved I would be fine. I went to boot camp and was the guide aka leader of the platoon for two of the three boot camp months until I was fired (see story here). I graduated as a normal recruit with no accolades and a damaged ankle/ego.

April 2008- Marine Combat Training. Dirty, sleepy, lots of hiking on a broken ankle. Learned how to shoot a lot of cool guns.

May 2008 to August 2008- Attended Marine Corps Communications School as a tactical data networking specialist (0656, baby!). I was the Class Commander aka leader of the class. I was the youngest in the class at the age of 18, and one of two females in the class of twenty-four. I wasn’t fired this time (probably should’ve been because I broke A LOT of rules). Upon graduation I received the distinction of being first in class, which was a combination of physical and intellectual tests (I beat Lambert by .4 points, sorry, Lambert, but I ran that PFT with a shattered ankle and you didn’t have to inspect everyone’s rooms once a week and bug them about accountability. I KNOW you ran faster than me, so I am sorry the Marine Corps’ views on male and female fitness kinda screwed you over). I received a meritorious promotion to Lance Corporal (E3) as the first in class. The Marine Corps had also given me my Secret Clearance at this point.

September 2008 to March 2010- Checked into my first unit and was promptly sent to EVERY available class to prepare for my eventual deployment (Satellite Wide Area Networking (SWAN), Active Directory (only class #4 out of 5, wtf? I was so lost), Something Something Command and Control (C2PC?), Blue Force Tracker, A+ (which I failed because I had NO IDEA how to build a computer. I was 18 and not a nerd), Network+, Command Operations Center (COC) training, Security+). If I wasn’t in training, I was in the field. I was also going to college at night to get my college degree. This meant that during field ops I would have to schedule my college exams for when I was supposed to be sleeping. This caused a lot of issues with my command because I would have to leave the site to take the tests. When I pointed out that I was using my sleep-time for college, I was granted a little leeway but really pissed off a few people. During this time I was also given a maintenance billet that required me to work until 11 pm the nights I wasn’t in school. I was responsible for the maintenance and tracking of millions of dollars of equipment and had to direct my (older than me and in the Marine Corps longer than me and also all male) peers to organize and work to pass inspections. Then I would be up again at 5 am for PT. Tons of responsibilities, hardly any downtime. It was a Marine Corps with two active war fronts. This life was normal for many Marines. I was young and it was actually fun. I re-imaged computers, worked with crypto and satellites, set up servers, ran a ton of cables…The class that set me up for the most success was the SWAN class. I became known as the SWAN expert (there weren’t many), and suddenly I became a huge asset. I gave myself carbon monoxide poisoning during one field op using the SWAN incorrectly. I slept for an hour and got right back to the op. Communication Marines typically don’t sleep during field ops because if services aren’t up, why would you be sleeping? During this time I walked around with Marine Corps Captain chevrons on the inside of my cover because I wanted to become commissioned (Captain Cannon always struck a cord with me). I attempted to apply to MECEPS or use the green to blue program to become a Naval nurse and was told to pound sand by my NCOs. I was placed on a meritorious board for promotion to Corporal and didn’t win. I had a few NCOs fight for me to get promoted anyway (Shout out to Brown!). I was promoted to Corporal (E4) in November of 2009, about a year before my counterparts.

March-September 2010- Deployed as the SWAN expert. I continued to hold the maintenance billet until I left for my second base in Afghanistan. I was placed on the combat meritorious Sergeant book board (you don’t have to be inspected; they just look at your write up, education, rifle qualification, etc) and lost to a man who got a purple heart…(obviously). If you’ve read my book you know this deployment was a shit show. I did all of the online MCIs (Marine Corps Institute) exams I could find to get further in my degree. Learned a ton of shit on the job. Broke a few things on the network. Learned some hard lessons.

October 2010 to October 2012- Moved to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and was placed in charge of the Area Control Center as the Watch Officer. I was in charge of the watch schedule and the Marines under me to provide official messaging services for the Marine Corps. We worked 12 hours on 12 hours off. I was SO BORED that I started bugging the contractor who managed the servers. Ryan taught me the ropes and I started becoming more technical regarding servers. However, I wanted to work on the networking team (I missed networking after Afghanistan) and started influencing my move to that side of the team. About a week after I was promoted to Sergeant (E5, normal promotion), I was placed as the Network Operations Chief and was given a Top Secret clearance. I would spend the next almost two years in that billet. I was the youngest person, and again one of the few girls. I worked days, nights, and weekends trying to take back the Marine Corps network from the contractors who had ran it for over a decade. I had about 10 Marines under me and a few contractors. We were in charge of networking services for everything west of the Mississippi for the Marine Corps. I barely slept because services would go out pretty often and I would need to troubleshoot and fix the network. I messed up a lot here too, both technical and managerial. I was not patient and I was not kind. I wiped out the entire Marine Corps secret network in one fell swoop. I had a contractor who worked for me call me a bitch. I made my Marines cry. I was stressed from the pressure. I was 22, and awfully fucked up from Afghanistan. Near the end of my contract I begged to be sent to a Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) class and passed after a week. I got out of the Marine Corps after five years and there was much rejoicing (from everyone).

December 2012 to July 2013- I moved to Japan. I was in school full time to finish my bachelors but again, I was so bored. I didn’t choose to move to Japan so I was pretty bitter about not getting to work the dream job I had pursued while getting out of the Marine Corps (24 Hour Fitness’ networking team in Carlsbad). Since I knew no one in Japan, I knew I had to socially network to find an IT job. Most IT jobs in other countries are not advertised as being in the other country, so job searches yielded nothing. I volunteered for the Single Marine Program collecting donations, painting facilities, driving people around…and eventually applied to become a government worker. The only thing I was qualified to be with no degree which is usually required for technical government jobs unless waiver-able by years of experience (they generally wanted 7-10 years and I only had five) was a secretary. I was hired as the only white woman in the facilities engineering department (except for my eventual friend Tea, who is a civil engineer) at the GS-5 level (ego-blow for me). Everyone else was Japanese. My boss expected me to act and dress a certain way. I got him coffee, used a typewriter, edited documents from the entire department, and continued my bachelors. I knew my skills and knowledge were being underutilized and I knew how quickly you could be left in the dust if you didn’t stay working in IT (even me getting a degree in the field without working in the field would put me behind). So I found out where the IT team worked…and started visiting when I could. I talked to them about what I knew (was ignored for awhile as a girl but once you use certain terms you get the typical shocked face and they start to accept you). So when a position in their company opened up about six weeks later, they told me and I applied and was hired immediately at TekSystems. My old boss called me out for using the secretary job as a rung in the ladder and I told him it wasn’t completely intentional but that I was going somewhere better suited for me.

August 2013 to June 2014- I worked for TekSystems as an FSR (field services representative) supporting the Marine Corps bases in Japan. I worked with a team of all men, but we each did our own thing. We would be assigned trouble tickets into our individual queues from the main trouble ticket database for Japan and it was a crap shoot for what we would need to do daily. I did everything from rebuild computers, fix printers, connect computers to the network, fix Blackberry phones and the users’ accounts, backup files and create storage…FSRs were the first tier support for every dumb Marine who touched anything technical. One time I pulled a nude playing card from a CD drive from the infantry guys. I worked alone and set my own pace. As long as I met the contract requirements, no one bothered me. Contractually, we were required to do four tickets a day; I would aim for 20-30. If it was in my queue, I wanted it out. I was approached by a coworker who said I was messing with their deal because they would do four tickets and go home. I shrugged and said I would be bored so I wasn’t going to play along. I was given an entire camp (Hansen) to cover on my own. Things got busy when we suddenly ended up with thousands of tickets in each of our queues. We got to work overtime and the money was great. When the Queue Manager left, I was given his job and had to continue doing my own (with no raise). It was my responsibility to hand out the thousands of trouble tickets to each of my coworkers spread throughout Japan. When I finished my queue, I would go into my coworker’s queues and work on what I could remotely. Our response times dropped and our service skyrocketed. I finished my bachelors, took the GRE, and applied to grad schools. Then I got pregnant.

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