How I got here: from an Army police officer to a career as a software engineer at Vanguard

Dennis Paskel, now an application engineer at Avant-garde, has lived many lives during his 34 years.

He landed his first retail job at the age of 16. Then, at 18, he enrolled in The American army. Between 2006 and 2008, he worked as a military police officer, which took him across the world. He finally returned home to the Philadelphia area, eager to see his family and friends.

“Honestly, I think at any age it’s hard to imagine where careers could take you,” Paskel said in an AMA interview for Veterans Day last Thursday on Technical’s Public Slack. .ly. “I have always believed in life as a journey, and careers are stepping stones on this journey. It has really helped me grow and mature over the years.

Since returning to the region, Paskel has worked in IT support while earning a degree in criminal justice and political science at Temple University. He has held sales positions at Comcast, as a bank teller and as a probation and parole officer. In January of that year, he decided to pursue a career that had always fascinated him – technology – by joining Technical elevatorlocal bootcamp.

Take a look at the interview on his career path below. It’s been tweaked slightly for length and clarity, but you can check out the full conversation on Slack.

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Have you thought about what a civilian career might look like when you were in the military?

Dennis Paskel: I hadn’t really thought about it. At the time, I joined the army to pay for my studies. I don’t even think I have an idea of ​​what a career was like back then, all I knew was that I wasn’t going to make a career out of serving in the military. The amount of sacrifice that the military make on a daily basis is really overlooked as a civilian.

What was it like to step out of that role and get into the mindset that there were a lot of possibilities for career paths to follow?

DP: What word stronger than crushing? Because I don’t think it can even convey the feeling of adjusting to life as a civilian. Here I am, 21, coming out of the most rigid and structured experience, and given back my freedom to do with it what I liked. It certainly took a while to find some direction and a sense of purpose.

I used to think when I was a kid that adults had all the answers. Then I learned that they had not done so; they just had more experience. This experience is what teaches us to hopefully make better decisions. I wish I had listened to myself sooner, because I would be where I am now, many years ago. At the same time, I have great appreciation for all the perspective and insight this has given me.

I think it’s a universal experience that we think growing up will give us all the answers. So what prompted you to consider technology?

DP: I have always been interested in technology. I started assembling and repairing computers when I was 12 years old. I spent four years in computer programs at a professional technology school while in high school. The fear of the unknown is what kept me from making a career out of it all these years.

What changed this year when you joined the Tech Elevator bootcamp? Was it what you thought the technology would be?

DP: Tech Elevator offers a comprehensive program. Some of their campuses offer students the choice between VS# Where Java for the backend. The Philadelphia location at the time I went only offered Java, which I would have chosen anyway. We also learned PostgreSQL, JavaScript, and a front-end framework called Seen. For our last capstone, the students were divided into groups and built a full-fledged web application.

Joining a bootcamp was the necessary first step for me to pursue a career that I would eventually love. I think coding bootcamps are a great way for people with life experience to break into the industry. It’s intimidating at first. I left an area in which I had a wealth of knowledge and spent 10 to 12 hours a day learning new skills. Being in a bootcamp meant I wasn’t alone. I had 27 other classmates in the same situation, and we always helped each other.

Tech Elevator did a great job simulating what the tech job would look like. Plus, they’ve brought companies in to tell us about how technology is used in the business and what it’s like to work there. We then brought in 10 employers for the Tech Elevator matchmaking event, where I had the opportunity to interview a few companies of my choice, which ultimately led to me being hired by Vanguard.

Were there any skills in the military that translated well into technology?

DP: I think the skill that translated the best for me was attention to detail. In the military, especially during war, even the smallest detail could injure you and / or others seriously or be seriously injured or killed. I wear this level of detail in all of my work, sometimes a little too meticulously.

What advice would you give to your young self, or maybe someone who is unsure of the next step in their career after trying so many?

DP: I think I would tell my younger self to believe in me more. My concern about not pursuing a career in tech earlier was the fear that jobs would be outsourced and I would be laid off or my career would not be stable. I sold my happiness for stability, and this is something I will never do again. There are things in life like good risks, and sometimes we have to take a leap of faith and believe in ourselves. This is the only way to reach our full potential.

Most importantly, it’s never too late to change course in life. As a probation and parole officer for five years, I have seen people from all walks of life and of different ages change their lives for the better. If they could, any of us could certainly change careers and pursue what makes us truly happy and fulfilled.

You are more likely to regret the choices you haven’t made in life. Take risks, take advantage of the opportunities available, reach out and connect with others and learn from them, find what makes you happy in life and pursue it. If you fall, dust yourself off and get up. The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now.

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Gordon K. Morehouse