Zach Marshall, Head of Business Development at Accrete.ai was interviewed by Iryna Nevozhai, Founder at EquallyHR.com. Zach shares his experience about how he made this leap into the tech industry and how companies can benefit from veterans' experience. Only excerpts of the discussion are published below, click the following link for the full article From Navy Seal to AI Startup.
From Navy Seal to Startup
Zach Marshall is Head of Business Development at Accrete, a hot New York City AI startup. Prior to this, he was a decorated U.S. Navy SEAL Sniper and Freefall Jumpmaster before transitioning into leadership as a U.S. Navy SEAL Division Director. During his military career, he and his platoon received two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals along with an Army Commendation Medal and Combat Action Ribbon for service performed in Afghanistan. We met to discuss how military veterans can transition into the tech startup world and what challenges they may have to overcome.
How did you discover your passion for tech?
I guess you could say it came backwards. It wasn’t “tech” first, it was “passionate teams” first. Coming from a very specialized, highly-motivated unit of the military meant as I transitioned from the military I was looking for the same thing in civilian life. I wanted to find small teams who were super dedicated to an outcome. It wasn’t going to be by working at a huge biotech company or in a cubicle somewhere. It was going to be somewhere where people were entrepreneurial and working together and solving problems creatively. Before I got out of the military I spent a good amount of time doing information interviews with people and finding out more about different sectors — management consulting, entrepreneurship through acquisition and startups, or venture-backed businesses. The positives drew me to venture-backed companies — people there are all experts and they are all passionate about their projects.
How long did it take you to find a new job?
It depends on how you look at it. It took me 18 months to find the job in tech, but I never missed a paycheck because I leveraged my program in the military to be working at my first job before I even got out.
Let’s talk about your first day at work. How was it difficult for you?
It was fun, but the more you learn the more you realize you know nothing. Day one, it was almost like an internship, I felt very junior, but also a little less stressed about my performance. I had to fight that off. Coming out of the military, I had to build up credibility with everybody. If you hire a programmer who says they have a certain skill, and they do a code challenge to prove it, they should have that skill when they show up. Even though I had certain skills the day that I showed, it took a long time to have people trust that.
Why do you think technology companies should look at hiring veterans?
When you find a military veteran and have a good hire, you’re automatically going to get a level of passion, dedication, and attention to detail you won’t get anywhere else. You’re going to get mission-oriented people. Especially with technology companies that are growing, the mission is almost everything. You need to have a mission and a group mission. I think military members are predisposed to want to fight for a mission.
When a company wants to hire a military veteran, what should they know?
Both sides should know that when there’s a really good match it might feel like everything has already worked out, but that’s not really true yet. Being in a military organization and being in a civilian organization might as well be on two different planets. There has to be an understanding with military veterans that they’re ready to learn and probably already more than qualified to do the tasks they need to do. Whatever onboarding that does have to occur will probably be different. More communication is better, more feedback early on could be really effective in helping them to move forward. Examples include asking them, “Hey, how did you get feedback at your command? How did you actually change your behavior? How did you learn? How did you do everything when you were there?” We’re not used to the ways that these evaluations happen, or how one-on-ones happen. A lot of things that happen in the military, the things that really matter, are less official. The official evaluations are very systematic. The real stuff happens in conversation. There’s definitely a transition between the two.
A Silicon Valley recruiter since 2016, Iryna has seen how much is at stakes for young companies when it comes to adding a new member to their team. With a passion for helping people and a background in tech recruiting, she founded Equally, a company that specializes in finding the right fit for each project and each company.
Iryna is passionate about developing training programs for tech recruitment. She loves living in Silicon Valley, observing first-hand the constantly changing tech landscape, meeting fascinating people, and envisioning what the future holds. Iryna holds Bachelor’s diplomas in Languages and Economics and multiple recruiting credentials, including Cornell University’s Diversity and Inclusion for HR.