NCO still in the fight with his civilian career at USAA.*
Imagine if you could transition from the military into a civilian career that still allows you to defend against bad guys and pays really well. That’s what Air Force veteran Rob Smith did.
Smith leads a team at USAA* in San Antonio that conducts vulnerability and security configurations assessments across the company’s network. It pays well (a cybersecurity specialist’s average salary in the US is about $93,170 a year; managers earn more), it’s in demand (US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 32% job growth through 2032), and it makes a difference.
“This field keeps you in the fight,” Smith said. “There are many parallels to defending your space from the bad guy.”
Here are a few highlights from a video interview with Smith.
Manager, Senior Information Security
Job Location: San Antonio
Employed Since: January 2019
Military Service: Senior Master Sergeant (E-8),
Air Force (1998–2019)
AFSC: Aerospace Propulsion, Jet Engines & Turboprop/Turboshaft Prop (2A671)
Computer Systems Operations Apprentice (3C071)
Cyberspace Defense (1B471)
Post-secondary education: Bachelor’s degree, information technology, Western Governors University, 2016
Master’s degree, management/leadership, 2021
Why did you volunteer to serve your nation? Initially to continue my education. After understanding my purpose, I served to affect the lives of young people. The military gives leaders prime opportunities to interface with individuals in ways that can have a lasting effect on their lives.
What did you do in the Air Force? I served six years as a heavy aircraft engine mechanic, eight years as a computer system administrator and seven years as cyberwarfare network operator conducting defensive and offensive operations.
How did you get from fixing engines on C-130s to cybersecurity? I recognized that the job that I was in was not a job that I wanted to do for the rest of my life. And so there was a thought. OK, what do I want to do or where do I see myself more comfortable? And so that’s kind of why I looked at other jobs that were open. I chose communications. and then it was just a natural progression to go from being an administrator to being one who protects the systems and secure systems.
What was your exit plan as you approached retirement? I prepared to leave the military utilizing the DoD SkillBridge program to work with outside institutions and accomplish the necessary certifications.
How far out did you begin to prepare for your retirement? 12 months
What was the biggest challenge transitioning from the military? Leaving the military as a senior leader with the possibility of working for an organization that did not have the same cultural standards. I worried what would happen if I had to start over.
Did social media play a role in your job search? Yes, I leveraged my connections on sites like LinkedIn and utilized Glassdoor for certain background information.
What do you love most about this career field? It does not inhibit thinking outside of the box.
What’s the biggest challenge? The landscape continually evolves, this requires us to move security as far left as we can. If left is the beginning of a process, we want to inject security or a security mindset early in that process so that it is baked in and part of the foundation. Security can become cumbersome when it has to be implemented late or after an incident.
How are the pay and benefits? This is one of the biggest reasons why I have made a home here at USAA. Pay is great and benefits mirror much of what I was used to in the military.
What hours and days do you typically work? I work Monday through Friday from 8-5.
If you could do it over again, what do you WISH you knew when you transitioned from the military that you know now? What my skills in the military were worth.
What mistake would you advise service members or veterans interested in pursuing this career field to avoid? Avoid thinking that the outside industries will be different. Business (the mission) is always king and your job is to educate the business on why what you do is relevant to its success and will always be critical.
This article is from the February 2024 issue of G.I. Jobs magazine.