Community Spotlight: Andre Aponte, FourBlock SF

The U.S. Air Force veteran discusses his desire to give back to the next generation of transitioning service members.

Andre Aponte

Service: U.S. Air Force, 21 years
Education: University of Denver, UMUC
Major: Information Systems Security
FourBlock Affiliation: Associate Instructor, San Francisco
Current Company: Facebook
Position: Technical Program Manager
Hobbies: Drums, video games

On March 27, FourBlock’s Spring 2019 Career Readiness Program will kick off in San Francisco, co-led by Andre Aponte.  (Registration is open through March 18.)

In anticipation of the city’s launch, we spoke with Andre to discuss his own transition, his previous experience with FourBlock, and his passion for helping fellow veterans transition into meaningful careers.

What struggles/barriers did you face during your transition from active duty back into civilian life?

I joined the Air Force straight out of high school, so the military is all that I knew for my entire adult life. TAP helps you with putting a resume together and gives you pointers on how to do an interview, but the information is very general and I had no sense of what my self-worth was. I didn’t know if I should be looking for a job making $40k or $100k. I have an IT background, but I never specialized in any one technology, so I wasn’t sure where my skill set fit. I had to talk to people I knew that had already transitioned out of the military to answer many of the questions I had.

What civilian jobs have you held since transitioning out of active service? How was your experience?

I got lucky and managed to get a contractor position as an IT Project Manager supporting the Missile Defense Agency at my first duty station in Colorado. After a few months I decided I wanted more of a technical role and was able to move into a Cyber Security Engineer position working in the same building. I eventually wanted to move back home to California and tried transferring to a new role there with the company I was working for at the time. At one point it didn’t look like the transfer was going to work out, so I updated my profile on LinkedIn and got recruited by the security team at Yahoo! After being at Yahoo! for almost a year, I found out about a Cyber Security program Facebook was offering to veterans. I managed to get into the program and met a lot of really good people at Facebook, one of which told me about a position on his team which he thought I would be great for. I interviewed for the position and got it. I’ve been working as a Technical Program Manager at Facebook for 10 months and love it!

I initially transitioned into government contract work, so I essentially swapped my uniform for a suit and tie (and a bigger paycheck).  The culture and environment was almost the same as being active duty. It wasn’t until I started working at Yahoo! that I started running into issues adjusting to civilian life. Silicon Valley culture is very different than working for the government, and it took a lot of adjustment, flexibility, and help to adapt. I struggled a little at first and had to take a step back to figure out what I needed to do to be successful.

How did you first hear of FourBlock?

I first heard of FourBlock when I volunteering to speak to a cohort that came to Facebook. I got to know the Associate Instructors and often ran into them while attending other events supporting veterans in the SF bay area.

What drove you to become involved with the foundation?

I discovered very quickly after joining Facebook that I have a passion for helping my fellow veterans transition into meaningful careers. I know what it is like to have no idea what the outside world is like and wonder how I was going to make a living. My goal is to ease the fear of transition and change by helping veterans and giving them the tools they need to be successful.

I remember lying awake a night wondering if I was going to be able to support my family after I retired from the Air Force. Knowing that I can spare people from having that same feeling of uncertainty makes it all worthwhile. There are many great programs in the SF Bay Area that help vets build the skills we need to be successful. I am thankful that I get to be a part of one of them.

What is is you like most about the Career Readiness Program?

I love how FourBlock takes cohorts onsite to major companies in the area so students can see what they are like firsthand. Being able to speak to veterans at these companies provides a relatable face and a sense that if they can do it, why can’t I.

What do you love about your current company?

I love the freedoms and flexibility Facebook offers. I also continue to feel that I am dedicating myself to something greater by connecting the world and building community. Facebook has the best veterans resource group that I have ever seen, and I love that helping my community is a part of my job.

What one piece of advice would you give to veterans who are currently transitioning?

The best advice I can give is to know what you want. You have to have a destination before you can start on your journey. Also, recognize your strengths and use them to get closer to your goals. You may want to work in tech but have strengths working in a different field. Learn to leverage your strengths to get into the environment/company/culture you want to be in and then pivot to the job you want once you are already inside.

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