Software bugs cost the global economy an average of $312 billion a year. Yet there is a virtually ignored unemployed population of systematic, methodical, hard-working, team spirited individuals out there desperate to progress in careers. Perhaps marrying the great swathes of jobless ex-military with the need for rigorous global software testing could achieve an extremely socially responsible and lucrative system?
Alex is 27. His suit is exceptionally well pressed. His shoes shine so hard you could check your teeth in them. As he firmly shakes your hand, his gaze is clear and steady. This is a man who understands routine and processes, respects authority implicitly and can be relied upon to systematically take any task right through to the bitter end. But Alex is the same as the millions of ex-military personnel discharged annually around the world; once he returned to civilian life, despite being anxious to find a career, he struggled to even find a job.
A 2012 US survey of new veterans from Prudential, Inc. showed that 60% of those spoken to reported that “translating their military service to the civilian job market was a significant challenge”. Whilst in China this month the China Legal Aid Foundation launched a special fund for soldiers who left the armed-services, stating that tens of thousands of ex-military personnel face problems in finding employment following release from service.
However, the world over, the army teaches discipline, following procedure and leadership, all qualities that certain aspects of the corporate world craves. As Shane Robinson wrote for Forbes “At 18 I was placed in charge of $5M worth of classified equipment. I have colleagues who in their 20s were appointed interim governors of entire towns.” Irrespective of the political charge to these roles, the people who perform them have an incredible skillset which appears to be being ignored.
Now Karen Ross, the business owner of internet technology and consulting firm, Sharp Decisions, in New York City may have come up with a solution. Her scheme is aimed specifically at post 9/11 veterans in the US, but it perhaps has potential for ex-military around the world. Ross’ scheme started six months’ ago and involves paying those selected for two weeks’ intensive training, grouping them into small teams and then placing them as quality assurance analysts/ testers. Could this be the perfect fit?
Earlier this year Cambridge University calculated that the global cost of debugging software has hit $312 billion annually. The research discovered that, on average, software developers spend 50% of their programming time finding and fixing bugs. Yet maybe this is part of the problem. Programming and testing are extremely different skills. Programmers are often (and this is, of course, generalising) extremely creative; they stay up all night to come up with unique solutions then crash once the project is complete. Testers on the other hand need to be systematic, methodical, organised and process-orientated. To add to which, many businesses need testers to come in for specific projects only.
Ross explains her V.E.T.S. Program to me over the phone form NYC, describing how she wanted to prevent jobs from being constantly outsourced overseas, to give ex-military personal something back for their country service, but also to marry up their unique skillsets with the job market. After more than twenty years in the technology industry she describes the quality of software as “garbage.” What is more, she sees the attitude of veterans as “refreshing.” The first group of 75 – 80 pre-selected veterans aged 23 – 32 behaved very differently to usual training groups, she explains. There was none of the usual doodling on paper. Phones went off before the class and remained off. People were prompt, courteous and maintained a consistent level of focus throughout.
The first trial was a huge success. After the boot camp, Ross tested members of her initial group on two clients as a proof of concept and has been amazed by the results. “They go above and beyond,” she says, “they organise the chaos within organisations and deliver process without emotion.” By this she means there is none of the “I can’t do that because she says…” type of stuff. They just systematically and methodically undertake a task. They are not shy of hard work and putting the hours in, and want to go onto the next level of progression. In exchange Ross offers further careers as project managers and hopes to have trained 200 veterans by 2014.
Ross sees the biggest differentiator amongst former military as their team spirit. “You never see that in corporate culture anywhere in the world. Corporate people are scared [always worried about getting fired].” Interestingly, this has clear parallels with a recent conversation with Gertjan van Stam who lived in the African bush for 12 years and highlighted the same point; there is a real “I” culture throughout the West, but especially the corporate world. This isn’t necessarily the best approach to get things done, but it is the way everything has evolved. Ross sees her differentiator as that she only sends testers out in squads of three or more, specifically to facilitate this team spirit.
Amongst ex-military personnel their unique experiences can make it hard to identify fully with the average civilian population in the workforce. This can include cases of PTSD which are impossible for other people to understand. But also means it is easier for them to operate together in tight knit groups. Perhaps organisations which learn how to tap into these skills offer an incredible opportunity both to help unemployed ex-service people and to reap the benefits for corporate culture?
The military is extremely controversial. Most people hold some form of opinion about governmental policies both in their home countries and beyond. But the interesting thing about Karen Ross’ solution is that it answers a truly global problem. Obviously military initiatives vary around the world, but the question does remain: how do you find suitable livelihoods for people who have been damaged by difficult, dangerous experiences? How do you give them something back after many have (often voluntarily) offered their lives to serve their country? And above all, how do you ensure it actively benefits a modern corporate culture? Maybe software testing and IT project management could provide the answer.
Posted by Kathryn Cave
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