YNM Ep. 7 From the US Air Force to Google to Amazon Web Services: How one retired serviceman is crafting a successful career in tech

YNM Ep. 7 From the US Air Force to Google to Amazon Web Services: How one retired serviceman is crafting a successful career in tech

Your Hosts    

Kajal Shelat is CCS Learning Academy’s Director of Business Development. She holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration and has 10+ years in the education and professional training sector. She specializes in developing sustainable partnerships and implementing technology training solutions for private and public entities. She uses her passion for education and business to keep our programs current, engaging, and relevant to today’s professionals.    

Maurice Wilson is on CCS Learning Academy’s Board of Advisors. A retired Navy Master Chief Petty Officer with 25 years of service, Maurice is the President/Executive Director of the National Veterans Transition Services, Inc. (NVTSI), a non-profit organization he co-founded with retired Rear Admiral Ronne Froman after serving as an advisory member for the Call of Duty Endowment (CODE).    

Our Guest

Nick Bielinski is a retired US Air Force Security Analyst who is currently working as a Security & Software Recruiter at Amazon Web Services (AWS). Nick also serves as Vice-Chair of the Phoenix Workforce Development Board, where he plans, strategizes and implements workforce development for the city of Phoenix under Mayor Gallego. His previous roles include Technical Recruiter for Google, Recruiting Manager, and Influencer & Marketing/Branding professional.  


Kajal: Welcome to the eighth, podcast. I’m happy to have you both.  

Nearly two thirds of new veterans say they face a difficult transition into civilian life. This podcast is all about helping veterans find their identity after service and providing guidance on how to achieve that.  

So Nick, tell us a little bit about your history and your background.. 

Nick: It starts with my family’s military culture. My dad, served in the Navy. That created an interest and planted a seed early in my life. He went overseas and was on a boat… The pros and cons outweighed each other to the point where I wasn’t an individual that was comfortable being in the classroom. in high school. I was the individual that got the most out of making friends and being involved in certain activities. I got more out of my education being involved with people than books. That resonated with me and aligned with my father’s experience you know, this is my walk, this is my journey. 

The military was something I wanted to experience. I wanted to start working. I wanted to be part of the workforce, build relationships of culture and heritage and alumni that I believe was going to be very beneficial to my career. I didn’t go in to be patriotic. I didn’t go into fight a war. I didn’t go in because I needed it monetarily. I went in for the experience. I wasn’t someone biting at the bit to take my SATs and get into college. I was probably one of two in my class that went into the military. No regrets. Glad I did it. I never looked back and wouldn’t change a thing.  

The reason I joined the Air Force rather than the Navy is I get seasick.  

I really wanted to learn a trade that was a little bit more unique. I ended up being an security analyst and a communication specialist, which in the civilian world, is downloading comps. That was my skill in the military. Never deployed overseas for four years. I was always on the Army base, so I wouldn’t know what it’s like to be stationed on an Air Force base. I worked with the Marines, Navy, and civilian contractors. I got a little bit of everything, which was great. Working with the contractors let me build relationships with those who didn’t wear a uniform, which made my transition a little bit easier.  

Kajal: What did you like most working in the service?,  

Nick: The peers. We had our own like fraternity in a way. We were a group of friends that worked together, lived life together. We saw each other almost 16 hours every day. It was a very interesting dynamic. You’re in a bubble. You have to get along with people, but it was easy to understand everyone’s perspective. If you didn’t, you were going to be the outsider pretty quick. So, no matter what your background, if you didn’t embrace diversity and differences of cultures, you were the outsider. 

You had to be able to build comradery with your peers. No matter what the differences are. That’s an experience I haven’t had since. I don’t know if many veterans can relate, but when you’re surrounded by people with different backgrounds and experiences and upbringing, it’s a beautiful harmony in the workplace and your relationships. 

Kajal: I’d like to hear a little bit more about that diversity and how you were able to work with others. How was that? 

Nick: One was just all different branches, right. Even though there was bantering amongst different -the same team. But at the same time, we definitely had different upbringing between branches. That’s a high-level view. 

Being able to understand that my upbringing in Indiana was going to be completely different and exposing myself to those bringing their west coast or New York or Atlanta experiences… You absorbed so much by just learning about them and growing your perspective and. 

Being part of a small-town farm–I graduated with in a class of 47 people–I had no life experience. So being able to absorb that from people you work with learning and building those relationships, it opens your eyes to the world. That’s not to say that you’d ever be able to walk in their shoes or understand that their experiences completely, but to understand that the world is different and allows you to, have a different perspective in life on no matter where you are. It taught me to enter most scenarios with no agenda and have a little bit more of an open mind. 

This is helpful when I’m attracting and recruiting talent. Yes, I want to know your story. I want to know where you’re from. I want to know your differences because I’m trying to build a team that has different perspectives. I’m not trying to hire the same person over and over, even though it may be a very similar skill. Different perspectives and experiences can relate more to a broader audience. Companies want a big audience. If you can’t speak to those customers and that audience, then what’s the point of hiring the same person over and over? 

Kajal: What got you into the dynamics of working with different teams and different individuals? What got you into a technical role? How did that develop you as an individual and working within your teams and your peers as well? 

Nick: Early on in my career, I was good at math. I studied economics in college. When I was introduced tp recruiting, I thought of it like the Jerry Maguire movie. Like being a sports agent. Instead of the New York Yankees, it’s Apple. Instead of the Chicago Cubs, it’s Tesla. When I added economics to relationship building, I came up with recruitment. You’re your own GM for the team you support and the company you work for. Having that mindset of, “I want to be involved with talent. I want to be involved with the workforce marketplace.” How do I put all these pieces together into what I enjoy to do, but what I’m also good at?  

The economic piece was a easier for me because it’s all based on supply and demand of skills. Being able to put in that relationship piece, of genuinely helping people and listening to the point where you can provide information. A lot of students change their degrees, their jobs… My goal is to be transparent with information so each person I talk to understands the company itself, but also the job. I enjoy that piece of my job a lot. There’s a certain level of compliance that’s always there. But being able to bend those rules as best as you can without breaking them allows you to stand out as someone that truly cares about the person.  

Kajal: That’s really interesting. Did you learn that over time? Or is that something that became innate with you? 

Nick: Like most, the job market wasn’t friendly to me at various stages of my life. I do know what it’s like to be ghosted, to not have feedback, to not know what you did wrong. Remembering what that feels like I try to do what I call the, pay it forward model. 

Some people in the military are referred to as a band of brothers. I call it the band of people. Even though a company signs my paychecks, I still want to be a recruiter for the people. Someone that is very genuine with that information, holds it responsibly, but doesn’t hoard it. That’s something that I continuously believe in. I see the frustrations. Hiring people is one of the oldest work operations. We face the same frustrations 2000 years later as when people first started looking for jobs 

The lack of feedback and translation and understanding causes the frustration. My goal is to pave the way of information for those that aren’t having a good time transitioning or don’t know, or have the information. Some people call that equality equity.  

That’s where I find myself. Someone removing the door a little bit, pulling back the curtain, looking under the hood. If I can give you information, I do. Like most of us, lack of information and transparency rattles my trust factor of the world. And the information that we see out there, how valid is it?  

Kajal: Marice works with veterans every single day, specifically with transitioning veterans. What advice can you  give to transitioning veterans today?  

Nick: From my experiences, you’re always going to be in transition. It may not be as dramatic as certain stages of your life, but if you’re not continuously adapting to the chapters of your life, it’s going to be harder for next chapter. You’ve got to do your homework in every stage. 

In my last role at  Google, I was content. I was happy. I was satisfied. I enjoyed what I did. It would be wrong if I didn’t explore what other companies were doing, what other roles were out there, and having conversations. Do this as early and as often as you can, because even if you’re not actively looking for a transition, you want to be planting seeds. Do your homework. Build relationships to the point where you don’t have to start from scratch. I believe the military is fond of starting early and starting transition homework in of your second or third year in service. Don’t wait until your last six months. Plant seeds early. 

One of the biggest programs is Skillbridge. It introduces you to the market as early as possible. I see those doing homework their second year in the service with two years left. That is a very strategic thing to do. It’s like playing chess when the world is playing checkers You’ve got to think 10 moves ahead, not just your next move. So when these stages come into your career, you have a blueprint to work with. 

 I think those that understand this strategy thrive when they do need to make a dramatic change. If they get tapped on the shoulder saying, “Hey, your job doesn’t exist anymore”. Or, “Hey, we’re not going to renew your military contract” or “Hey, you know, something dramatic happens. We need you to relocate.” They’re ready. They adapt to those changes because they have contingency plans.   

I see a lot of people thrive when they start thinking in longer terms It’s not fun or exciting. We have our heads down daily. We’re trying to do as many tasks as we can. We’re trying to just tackle today, not tomorrow or next week.  

Kajal: Maurice, do you have any follow-ups? 

Maurice: Absolutely. First. Nick, hat’s great advice. It’s very mature advice that people should really listen to.  

I also agree that we’re always transitioning. That’s a  constant in life and where you should be seeking to improve as much as possible. 

But Nick also said something that I think is beginning to resonate with a lot of people. That is start that transition early. Don’t wait until the last minute. If you do, I can pretty much assure you things will be difficult and challenging. There’s a mindset today of soon as the person gets in that they’re looking at their options to get out. They’re saying, “Okay, I really need to start thinking about what my future will look like post-military.” Because everyone is going to get out eventually. The big question is when. And most people can’t answer that question, because again, they’re still figuring things out, evolving, maturing, defining and becoming. 

But once you do make the decision to leave, then you want to be decisive. One of the things that I always tell people is to start finding your fit. Even if you get out of the military and you haven’t necessarily found your fit, someone’s going to hire you because you got great skills. Veterans have a great reputation for doing stellar work so someone’s going to hire you. So that first job may not be the perfect fit, but it’s a chance to learn. And that’s what you want to do. Use that opportunity to figure out what the culture out there is like, how is the game played, what the rules of engagement are. Each time you go from one place to the next, you’re always improving yourself so you can find that ultimate fit.  

I’ll just let you know that for a lot of us, we don’t get it right the first time.  I had to  zigzag a little here and there. I kept my options open, kept an open mind and got along with everyone. I waited until that right moment came where I was ready and I found my fit. Now I’m in the best place. 

When you leave the military, you will become your own brand at that particular point. And you want to do everything you can to ensure a brand integrity.  

Nick: When you break it down, it is special to have served however, it doesn’t make you different.  You have to build your own brand and utilize that experience. What are you going to do with it? It’d be like me saying, “Okay, you went to college. That’s great. What are you going to do with it? What did you do while you’re in?”Having the military uniform in your closet may steer a conversation, but it’s not going to land you where you want to go  unless you put in the work.  

What relationships are you building along the way to elevate that experience and  share it with others? Why is being a military veteran different to this new team? What makes you different besides saying I served? What experiences, knowledge, and information are you going to bring that is of value to this company role? Because I can say the same for some that went to Harvard or the Big 10 like, “Oh, they’re different. They went there.” So, what’s your differentiator besides I served? 

Maurice: if I could go back to the diversity question. I remember when I joined the Navy in 1973, we had to participate in diversity training. And it made a lot of sense because we had people like Nick said, coming from all parts of the country, all together in one space, in one room, one living arrangement, if you will. We had to learn how to get together, how to work collaboratively and forget about some of our origins and start focusing on the mission at hand. What are we here for? What’s our goal? Our goal is to learn, to become ready to work as a team, to have each other’s back so that once we are placed in combat or harm’s way, we have unit integrity. 

There are so many valuable lessons taught in the military. We bring that to the workplace.  We  often hear that question: The value of a veteran. I think the value of the veteran is our diversity and our training. We learn to think beyond ourselves. What’s important to us isn’t necessarily a paycheck, but the mission itself. Sometimes it requires a personal sacrifice to make happen. 

These are valuable things that we’re taught in the military that bring incredible value to the civilian workplace. Patience, our understanding, our willingness to get along with others, to not focus on this thing, but to focus really on the mission and our skills.  

It’s good for all the veterans listening to focus on your strengths. If you make that your, your consciousness, what do I bring to the table? Reflect on what you just went through and what you learned. That’s immensely valuable to employers.  

Nick: Maurice, you’ve worded it very well. I hope veterans see that same value. In, many have a hard time articulating that and using it as a strength. The differentiator is more than the title itself and those that can put it into  efficient, direct content like that should be able to win the audience on why being a veteran is a value.  

And I would say just tell your story. It’s not hard. Just tell your story honestly, genuinely, and explain exactly “this is what happened to me since I’ve joined the military.” Because again, every story is going to be an amazing story of “I was over here. I was an outsider. I became part of the team and here’s what I learned.” Then tell the employer, “And this is what I can bring to your workplace.” 

Kajal: That’s awesome. Lots of good information there. Nick, since you work in that technical role, for some veterans who have not been in a technical role, but they want to get in tech, why should somebody who served be interested in going into the digital economy or that type of workforce?, what would you say to them? 

Nick:  Whether it’s technology or being a teacher or a policeman, is talk to those who are doing that work. Get their experiences. Reach out to them for an answer to that exact question: Why do they work in technology? 

Because I’m not a software engineer. I’m not doing the job day-to-day. So that’s a different kind of parallel to showcase. If I’m trying to get individuals to pursue a career technology, I would say, depending on the lifestyle you want, technology can be very lucrative and very flexible. You can do the job almost anywhere. Even though companies are trying to bring hybrid work into their environments, technology can be done a hundred percent remote. So, you’re evaluating the balance of a skill to maybe the passion and desire. Technology has a lot to offer. The hard part is you must be a continuous learner. That is mission essential. You have to evolve and adapt to the technology that is trending. If that’s not something that resonates with you, your career’s going to stagnate. Those who are hired quickly are those who showcase how easily they adapt and learn when there’s a change in the environment. What would you do tomorrow if your trade was obsolete or decommissioned? What would you learn? Engineers speak to this daily. 

How can you showcase that you’re an individual whose able to learn? That’s technology. There are those who have been in technology 40, 50 years. They still have to go to conferences to learn. It never stops.  

Kajal: Training is pivotal. Adapting and learning what technology can be, what’s current, what are the new trends … Putting yourself out there, getting on LinkedIn, start connecting with individuals, knowing other resources to find that information… It’s going to help, in the long run. Thanks for that, Nick. 

So, in every episode, we ask our guests three hot questions. Put you on the spot a little bit. So, tell me one of your greatest fears at this point in your life and your career. 

Nick: Probably what I think about most is my employer telling me my job has gone away. I think about that probably more than I should. Would I survive? Would I be okay? Yes, but that is a constant fear. Not just because of the job is financial security of my family, because I want to be there as a reliable spouse, as a parent.  

That may not sound like a big fear. I’m not afraid of death. And that goes to my faith, kind of comparison: Would you rather lose your job or die? While I truly believe I know where I go when I die, I may not know if I lost my job. But I do think about it and maybe it speaks to the audience, being tapped on the shoulder and hearing your job’ no longer needed, pack up your bags. 

Kajal: How do you cope with that?  

Nick: By networking, like no other. There’d be a Rolodex of people I’d go to if I lost my job today and I feel confident in that, but it’s still a fear. It’s still not easy to do. No matter if you have five, 10 employers, that would be happy to take you in, you know. Like an Aaron Rogers of the world right now. Maybe his fear is not having a job with the Packers. He’d be okay. There’s a lot of people out there that would take him in, but maybe he truly doesn’t want to lose his job. Maybe he really loves it there. And that it would be very scary to play for a different team. Those things, at least resonates with me. 

Kajal: I think that resonates with a lot of people–at any stage of their career What’s your biggest challenge right now? 

Nick: For myself, it’s being present in the moment. Every day it’s a battle and I arm up for it every day by limiting the distractions around me. Like being disciplined enough to put my phone away so I can do my job. It’s as simple as that. It’s an everyday challenge and it is hard. And being present with my wife at dinner, with my kids during the hour or two I can play with them. It’s really just trying to be as disciplined as you can to be present in the moment. It’s my biggest challenge. And I can’t conquer it. There’s no graduation from it. It’s just an everyday occurrence.  

Kajal: I think a lot of people struggle with that. I do to as well. So Nick, what’s your next mission?. 

Nick: My next mission professionally is a new journey working at AWS for Amazon. I’m exposing myself to something different on a team that sits all over the country and a technology I’m not too familiar with. So that’s my biggest challenge is making that jump from Google to Amazon. Even though it’s still a big company, it may have a lot of daily repetitive things, it maybe just a different laptop at the end of the day. I still have to build it from a personality perspective with the team I’m supporting and the mission and our customers. 

So that’s my biggest challenge professionally. I’m taking on a little bit of a risk leaving Google, but at the same time, I’m pursuing something I believe in and where my heart is.  

Personally, every day is a challenge for me in terms of staying healthy. The word I take into every day and that I’ve made a, commitment to is progress. Progress with being disciplined with what I take into my body, how I treat my body, etc. No matter how small, the goal is to treat my body better, and improve my habits and eating. 

That’s a hard mission, but I’ve seen the progress even though it’s only been at it a little over two months. I’m not looking to get a six-pack That’s not the goal. It’s really just progress. That my body’s my temple and I want to make sure I treat it well. Because without my body and health, those around me can’t depend on me.  

Kajal: I think that’s true for a lot of things in life. You don’t have to keep jumping to goal after goal, after goa after goal. It’s those small things that really do matter. And over time, they make a bigger difference. Good for you for having that discipline and that goal.  

So this concludes our eighth episode of Your Next Mission. I want to thank Maurice and Nick for your time and insights today. I want to thank all of you listening and for giving us your time.  

If you want more information about CCS Global Tech, CCS Learning Academy, go to CCSLA.com/vets. And there you can take a tech quiz to see maybe where your technology career path can take you and something that you might be interested as well.  

Maurice: Thank you, Nick. It was a pleasure speaking with you. Remember those great words that we hear out there: find your passion and you’ll never have to work.  

Nick: It’s true. Have a good one. Take care, everyone.  

CCS Learning Academy specializes in helping Veterans enter the tech sector. Whether you’re new to the industry or an established professional looking to move your career forward, we can help. Chat with our experienced team to learn how we can support your career-building efforts.