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Classes, seminars and military exercises are résumé builders, says Staff Sgt. Ben Tompkins, an Air Force reservist who works in intrusion detection systems on the civilian side.

Classes, seminars and military exercises are résumé builders, says Staff Sgt. Ben Tompkins, an Air Force reservist who works in intrusion detection systems on the civilian side. (Terry Boyd / S&S)

BAUMHOLDER, Germany — The virtual world is getting scarier by the minute — and that may mean more money and better job security for U.S. troops who work in information technology.

The payoff comes when they transfer their skills into civilian careers thwarting spammers, hackers, crooks and people trying to heist corporate secrets.

Network security is such a hot segment of the information technology sector that it’s difficult for the military to retain soldiers and airmen with these skills, said Master Sgt. Robert O’Connor, an Air Force reservist.

“If you give [the military] four good years of service, then you go make $85,000 at 25 years old, good for you,” said O’Connor, who was in Baumholder recently for Combined Endeavor 2005, a U.S. European Command-sponsored communications exercise.

Military discipline and work habits really stand out in the often-anarchic high-tech world, said O’Connor, who is also chief operating officer of Computer Solutions Inc., a Wakefield, Mass.-based software and systems support company.

Private companies also look favorably on people coming out of the military with computer credentials and security clearances, said Ralph “Wil” Williams, vice president of corporate communications for San Diego-based The Titan Corp.

But even with credentials and clearances, getting exactly the job you want can take patience and discipline.

Staff Sgt. Ben Tompkins said he had four years in radio satellite communications with the Marine Corps. He’s now an Air Force reservist with the 102nd Information Warfare Squadron, based in Rhode Island.

Tompkins left the Marines in 1997 and went to work in Newport, R.I., doing research and development on torpedoes for BAE Systems, a multinational, publicly traded military contractor. That was fine, but information technology was where he wanted to be.

With a little planning and pickiness, he made it, but it took him five years to find the right job in network security, where jobs are more and more outsourced to temporary agencies, he said.

Tompkins advises that job hunters not jump into a position just because it pays more, or because it’s an entree into a field. Wait for the job with security and benefits, he said.

Now, Tompkins works with intrusion detection systems for VeriSign Inc., a 10-year-old digital communications and commerce company, based in Mountain View, Calif., a publicly traded company that reported 2004 revenue of $1.4 billion.

To get that great job:

Don’t job-hop when you leave the military. Prospective employers “will ask you, ‘Why did you stay at that company for only two months?’” Tompkins said.Do take advantage of any classes, seminars and, especially, military exercises. They’re résumé-builders, Tompkins said.By all accounts, the information technology field is wild and wide open, which is good for people coming out of the military.

It’s very difficult managing high-aptitude people with all their skills, O’Connor said. Most want a “Toys ‘R’ Us environment,” he said. His company allows techies about 10 percent “play time,” but expects them to work the rest.

He often works with techies who are clever, but undisciplined, O’Connor said.

He recalls watching a guy tracking hackers through the virtual world, “and I asked him what he was doing. And he said, ‘Sarge, this is live from New York!’”

His work was unscripted and unprecedented.

“What he was saying was, no one had ever done this or had ever gone this far before.

“He was creating the future.”

That’s fine, O’Connor said, but companies also need employees who are following the company program, employees “who ask ‘What do I do next?’ and ‘How do you want me to handle that?’”

“That’s why employers appreciate people coming from the military,” O’Connor said.

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