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Which of the Armed Forces is Better for IT-Types? 45

Posted by Cliff
from the geeks-in-the-military dept.
tang asks: "As a Computer Science major who will be graduating this year, I wanted to know the experiences of any slasdotters who have been/are in the military. I'm exploring my options after college, and wouldn't mind serving my country. The question is, which branch of the armed forces? Physical shape is no problem, I just wanted to know which branch would have the most use for a computer programmer. The army seems to have only slightly interesting computer positions, while the navy has some better ones. Will any particular branch give me better training for when I get out?" We've already argued the point of whether it's better to go to college or sign-up, so if one had their heart set on joining, which service is better if you are planning on a career in IT, afterwards?
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Which of the Armed Forces is Better for IT-Types?

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  • Didn't the Navy use NT?
    You can sign up and fix their computers every other week...
  • by Raven667 (14867) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @06:45AM (#2588385) Homepage

    While I was in the Air Force and liked many things about the experience (I think that they are the least obnoxiously uptight of the services) what little of the Navy IT system impressed me. I know everyone is going to point out the NT-on-a-ship thing but that story is mostly bogus anyway.

    Anyway, what little I had to deal with Navy-built systems I found several examples of them being better designed (from an IT perspective) than our own Air Force stuff. My experience with the AF IT system as an ADPE manager was pretty horrible. The people I met weren't very bright or well trained, constantly understaffed (they only had 12 people, including networking, server, desktop and manager people trying vainly to support over 1500 desktop systems all over base) and had very poor tools (who's bright idea was basing the entire IT infrastructure on MS Outlook and NT (even for secure messaging) anyway!?!!!). The worst part was that they were completely incapable of supporting desktop Windows users, they didn't even have a helpdesk, and everyone had to fend for themselves (including software and hardware purchasing.) Unless things have changed you would find the constant disaster very frustrating.

    Oh, and I know everyone already told you this but Don't Trust Recruiters. When they aren't lying to you because they honestly don't know something they are lying to hide the ugly truth. If they tell you that they can't get your name into a slot for a certain job, implore you to select "Open/General" as a carreer and hope for the best don't sign! Get it in writing that your name is in a slot for the job you want before you sign a commitment. Don't cry too hard if the slot closes after you sign, shit happens, but at least they should try. Unfortunately the military isn't going to have you sitting on your butt waiting for annother slot to open up so you will probably be reclassed into something that they need at the time.

    • Disclamer: I'm a USAF vet, but I have family members who served or are serving in every branch of the military.



      The branch you select depends on what you are looking for: job training & experience that's usable in civilian life, college money, quick promotion, quality of life & working conditions, or adventure.



      If you are after the adventure factor, the Marines have the market on macho bullshit pretty well wrapped up. The Marines' reputation speaks for itself. Remember that the USMC's philosophy is that a Marine is a Rifleman first, and a $WHATEVER second, and plan accordingly -- don't be suprised if you spend more time doing grunt work and PT than you spend doing your nominal job. Probably not the best choice if you value physical comfort or independent thought. From an IT perspective, the USMC is probably the worst choice you can make.



      The Navy likes to bill itself as high-tech, and while they do have pretty good training for basic electronics, general IT training (that would be applicable to a civilian job) is marginal at best. Quality of life and working conditions are the worst of any of the branches, however, particuarly if you are single and enlisted. Promotions can be pretty rapid if you stay out of trouble and are reasonably smart; the people you are competing against are (ahem) generally not of the highest calibre. Based on my personal observations (I did several TDY's to Navy facilities) and the experiences of family members who served in the USN, I would have to say that you should avoid the Navy like the plague.



      The Army is the biggest branch, and probably has the most choices, career wise. Living & working conditions are (on average) a bit better than the Navy, but not nearly as good as the Air Force. They can give the Marines a pretty good run for the money in the Macho Military Bullshit department when they put their minds to it, but this is minimized if you are in a non-combatant job. Army IT is generally pretty close to what you'd find in the corporate sector, except the users are dumber and will usually outrank you.



      The Air Force is probably the best choice from an IT perspective. The working and living conditions are the best of any of the branches, and the Macho Military Bullshit is barely noticable once you are out of training. The downside is that it's harder to make rank than any of the other services. IMHO, the USAF is the best choice if you want to prepare yourself for an IT career in the corporate world. (It's a pretty good choice if you are planning on a military career -- they are more family-friendly than any of the other branches). My experience was exactly the opposite of the parent poster's: I too had to work on some Navy systems and I found them far worse than ours. The people I worked with were generally top-notch. (although I was in a software development shop, not lan & desktop support)



      Definately heed the advice in the parent post: DO NOT TRUST RECRUITERS. They have a quota to fill, and they could care less what happens to you once you sign up. Enlisting with "Open/General" as your job choice is like putting a "kick me" sign on your back. However, at least in the Air Force, if you have good ASVAB and EDPT scores you have a very good chance of getting an IT job. The EDPT -- electronic data processing test -- is (or at least was in '89) the test you must take to qualify for any computer-related job. The higher your score on that test, the more likely it is you'll get an IT job -- they have a very hard time finding enough people who can pass the test to fill all the available slots. The EDPE doesn't test any technical computer knowledge -- it's actually an IQ test (identifying patterns, sequences, etc). To prepare, do tests like the Mensa Workout [mensa.org].

      • OK, you were out to trash the Navy, but what you actually did was write a useful summary of the opportunities in the four major branches. The only thing missing is info on the various Guard and Reserve entities. They recruit on much the same basis as the regular forces -- give us a bit of your life and we'll give you personal and professional skills.

        In particular, how to choose between the Guard and Reserve. I've heard Guard recruiters claim you're less likely to be sent overseas, but I'm sceptical.

      • Eh, you're probably right. For the first couple of years of my enslistment I was working out of an Army base in Germany and that sucked. This was circa 1997 and we were still using Unisys i386 machines (souped up!) for the management's desktops. Unisys made a great machine, built like a tank and very expandable but it was still a 386-25 (running Win95, eek!). My next assignment was to a real Air Force Base but the IT shop was as I described, understaffed and clueless, spending all their time trying to piss out 4 alarm fires. It was total chaos. We used some Navy products in our job and they were pretty spiffy, we definately preferred them to our AF equivilants. Maybe I just have a "pasture is greener" syndrome 8^)

  • by Martin S. (98249)

    Whilst we might consider the spook's as the [enemy] :) they are the only branch engaged in IW, and are the only ones that would give your skills to kill for :) rather than be killed for.
    • by kk5wa (118020)
      Not necessarily....the USAF has a multi-million $ IW center that they are very proud of.
  • Air Force or Navy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ratbert42 (452340) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @08:58AM (#2588594)

    I can't speak for how things are today, but I know several good IT/IS guys that came out of the Air Force with decent training (and in one case a Master's degree in Math that he earned while in the Air Force). Like someone else said, it's the "least demanding" of the services, if you care about that sort of thing.

    If I had to pick between Navy and Air Force, I'd consider my lifestyle. In the Navy there is a decent chance you'll get assigned to a ship at some point. If you're single, that can be somewhat cool. Go see the world, one port at a time. If you've got a family, in the Air Force you're going to get to come home almost every night to your wife & kids. You might be living in base housing in a foreign country, but at least you'll see them.

    If you do this, be very careful with the recruiter(s). They will verbally assure you that you'll go into the MOS you want, then you'll get assigned to some crap that isn't useful out in the civilian world. I know a power generation guy and a communications tech trying to get MCSE certifications so they can get a civilian job. Get everything in writing.

    • Re:Air Force or Navy (Score:3, Interesting)

      by excesspwr (218183)
      I totally agree with you.

      I just got out of the military (AF) a little over a year ago. I still work as a DoD contractor at the base I was stationed at for the four years I was in.

      Prior to coming in the hardest decision to make was between which branch. It narrowed down rather quickly to either Navy or AirForce. They both have decent tech jobs, but it was mostly an issue of lifestyle.

      Both my mother (6 years) and father (22 years)were in the AirForce so I was leaning on going towards Navy for a change of pace. He had served as a recruiter for a couple of years so I had the added advantage of taking him with me when I met with the recruiters so I wouldn't get stuck in some non-useful AFSC (Air Force Specialty Code).

      The best advice you will hear over and over again is "get everything in writing". Remember it, but also read everything before you sign it and remember everything is waiverable. Two other little pieces of advice that helped a lot.

      Do not just take the word of the recruiter or any one else. Things can be changed with a waiver and you are not committed to anything until you sign, so read it. It is nearly impossible to get something changed once you sign it. After you sign up you become government property (don't get a sun burn :) so they will not be willing to change anything.

      My experience was a good one. It could have been a lot better; however, it could have been a lot worse.
      • I still work as a DoD contractor at the base I was stationed at for the four years I was in.

        That's something I forgot to mention. I've known several people that went back to work as techie civilian contractors for the Air Force, but none for other services. I'm sure there are civilian contractors in every branch, but all the ones I've known were Air Force. I even know one guy that got started in the IT/IS consulting business with contacts he made while in the Air Force.

        • I've known several people that went back to work as techie civilian contractors for the Air Force, but none for other services...

          There are people from all branches of service who get out and do DoD contracting, however, I would have to say the majority of them are AF. For instance even at the Joint National Integration Center some of the people working on contracts for other services were prior AF.

          Also a quick note on making contacts. It is quite easy in the Air Force with a techie type job because you are usually stationed in one area for a long duration so you get to meet many people, however, that would be one of the downsides of it is that you don't move around or change jobs much. Which is on occassion why people join the armed forces..."see the world and meet new and interesting people" (and then kill them :)
        • That's something I forgot to mention. I've known several people that went back to work as techie civilian contractors for the Air Force, but none for other services.

          It's not all that unusual for the Navy either. I know more than a few guys that walked out the door in uniform and walked back in civilian clothes working a contractor.
  • in any of the services, you might get a guaranteed job as a computer person, and end up working on a computer system that's older than you are. or you might end up pushing buttons. or you might end up doing a job that's directly related to being a civilian. there are no guarantees; the *only* thing a recruiter can guarantee you is that you'll get a certain career field (and only then if you have it *in writing, on the contract you sign*). also consider that many tech jobs are contracted out to civilians, so as a uniformed person you may not get to do the fun stuff anyway. (I'm not trying to talk you out of signing up, just trying to point out that the commercials you see on tv are not necessarily the way things are once you get there.)

    note tha if you're going to be an enlisted person, that CS degree won't do anything but look good on the wall, at least to start with. you might ask the recruiters about commissioning opportunities.

    another possible option you might consider is the reserve / national guard. being a part timer would allow you to get a foothold as a civilian IT person, plus get some good training and benefits as a military person. later on, if you decide you prefer the military, you can always switch over to active duty status. talk to a guard or reserve recruiter.

    good luck, whatever you decide.

    • The impression that I always had was that if you had a college degree when you signed up you would become an officer, and that all officers did was paperwork & management of enlisted men. Getting my BS and then spending 4 (6?8?) years -not- using the skills I got from my schooling before going off to work in the civilian world doesn't really seem like a good idea to me. That's pretty much the whole reason I crossed the military off my list when I enrolled in college.

      Of course, if you're interested in employment through Uncle Sam, the Federal gov't [opm.gov] employs large numbers of civilians, and the military has a considerable number of civilian employees as well.
      • not necessarily. I knew several enlisted folks that had BS/BA degrees (and higher). in many cases, having a decent amount of civilian education can make a big difference when it comes time to promotions, especially for senior enlisted folks.

  • One guy I worked with was considering branches, so he went into several recruters. One asked him to sign a health release form so they could do a background check to see if he would be elligable. He did without reading it. Turns out that wasn't a release form is was an agreement to enter the service, and there was no way out.

    I don't know if there is any accualy health release forms, but make sure you don't sign anything without understanding it.

    • This is BS. I am a vet and there is no such thing in military recruitment as "no way out" until you get sworn, period.

      And, while it is more difficult, there is pretty much a way out of some kind at any point unless you are in a combat zone somewhere. It can actually be somewhat difficult to stay in the military if you don't have a penchant for following some very demanding and annoying rules.

  • Voice of Experience (Score:4, Informative)

    by sysadmn (29788) <sysadmn AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @10:11AM (#2588841) Homepage
    I graduated with a degree in Computer Engineering in the mid-80s. I faced a similar choice as yours - too burned out for grad school, civilian jobs were scarce and uncertain, and the military was desperate for engineers. I chose the Air Force, was commissioned, and served 5 years. Here are my thoughts:
    1. If you want to make the military your career, you won't be a programmer for very long (if at all). What the services need are leaders; except for a lucky few (who camp in the research labs or service academies, and usually have PhDs) after your first assignment you'll be directing the work of others, rather than doing it yourself.
    2. Ask what your first two or three assignments will be like. If you are interested in graduate studies, ask what the opportunities are. The Air Force runs the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) near Dayton, Oh; the Naval Postgraduate School is in Monterey, CA in Leland Stanford's old mansion. Don't know about Army and Marines opportunities.
    3. If someone makes a promise, get it in writing. In the words of Yogi Berra, "A verbal contract ain't worth the paper it's written on"
    4. Of all the services I talked to, only the Air Force was able to guarantee that I would be working as an engineer. The best the marines and army could offer was 'commo officer'. That means you run the radios and telephones. On the plus side, you get to do plenty of camping in fun places like Korea and Camp Lejeune. The Navy offered me an engineering officer position. That's running a powerplant, at sea, for months at a time. I grew up a Navy brat, and knew how hard that life is, and couldn't see doing it for 20 years.
    5. The pay isn't as good as in the 'real' world, especially compared to high tech jobs. There are some tax breaks and perks that help offset that. It might not be as big a deal just out of college, but as time goes by it could become one. The problem is even worse for techies who are civilian employees of the military, but their job security is better.
    6. Did anyone tell you that you have to put in 20 years to draw retirement pay? and that pay maxes out at 30 years at about 50%? Sounds good? Did they mention every few years you come up for promotion? and that if you don't make it twice in a row, you leave the game with nothing?
    7. The military are not the only Uniformed Services. Have you considered the Public Health Service, or the National Oceanigraphic and Atmospheric Administration?
    8. If you're really sharp, and can pass an extensive background check, consider a career in the intelligence agencies - NSA, NRO, CIA, etc. NSA is even running a program that pays for a graduate degree in exchange for service. On my background check, I had to list every address I had lived in the last 10 years (7 - Navy brat, duh). They even interviewed my neighbors, checked the computerized crime records, and probably ran credit checks.
    • A recruiter that would say you would be a "commo" officer must have been an infantryman. Most folks not in signal battalions see a field phone a say "commo," True: there are dedicated commo officers, but that is only one tour out of many.

      Tactical telephone and data communications in the Army are provided by Signal Battalions. As a new signal officer, you will pull one command tour and one staff tour. Typical staff tours are as "commo" officers for a combat arms battalion (infantry, armor, artillery, etc) with command of the battalion commo platoon a bonus. Commo platoons handle the internal battalion communications (telephones, faxes, PCs, radios, etc).

      Command tours will be in command of operational platoons in the signal battalion providing infrastructure services including the military equivalent to cellular telephone. As a commissioned officer, you have given up most of your "down and dirty, hands-on" technical rights, unless you get into R&D or become a warrant officer. You will be given very little technical training on the equipment you are signed for. Your NCOs and enlisted folks are the technicians. That's just the nature of the U.S. Army - officers insure that the work gets done.

      I spent 11 years in the U.S. Army in Signal. I have also worked for the USAF as a civilian in IT for the past few years. 2 different organizations with 2 different missions. Hard to quantify what you want if you don't know what is there.
    • by fm6 (162816)
      Did anyone tell you that you have to put in 20 years to draw retirement pay? and that pay maxes out at 30 years at about 50%? Sounds good? Did they mention every few years you come up for promotion? and that if you don't make it twice in a row, you leave the game with nothing?
      I'm too old to consider a military career, speaking as a taxpayer, I have issues. "Up or out" is part of the Vietnam-era bullshit that infiltrated the military, back when DoD was run by business school grads who didn't understand the difference between winning a war and making toasters. Things have changed a lot since then, but somehow this stupidity is still around. I hate to think of how much skill, experience, and yes, wisdom, we've just discarded because of this policy. Write your congressperson, or call up W and give him a piece of your mind!
      The military are not the only Uniformed Services. Have you considered the Public Health Service, or the National Oceanigraphic and Atmospheric Administration?
      Uh, no offense to these entities, but do they really count? People in these Corps are medical and scientific civil servants who wear naval officer's uniforms (there are no enlisted personnel) mainly to comply with Geneva Convention rules.

      The Coast Guard is more to the point. They're more of a public safety entity than a military service, but they have an impressive history.

  • Consider the Army (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Daengbo (523424)
    Although I left after four years, the Army holds many perks that are often overlooked.
    1. They will pay off your college loans while you are in. The unbelievable weight that gets off of you is staggering. Although the pay is not great, if you include the roughly $15,000/yr that they pay off, it ain't shabby.
    2. Promotion is much faster than in other services. That means that, if you are single, you will get out of a double room that much faster or, if married, get a larger house.
    3. This may not sound like a pro, but: the competition is less severe. I mean, the AF and Navy have all the best and brightest, so, in the Army, if you aren't lazy and don't mind running, you will stand out immediately as someone who knows something. You will be a larger fish in a smaller pond.
    4. If you are perfectly clean, you will probably get that NSA or whoever job anyway, because they are all joint service staffed.
    5. It's a lot more sexy to say you program AND shoot AND blow sh*t up.
    My experience: in four years, I learned two languages, got out of debt, payed off student loans, finished my degree, AND got C4 training, 2 weeks sport climbing training, worked with SF, and fired virtually every weapon Spec Forces had. Not a bad way to spend four years.
    Email me if you want to talk more

  • If you're getting a degree in C.S., why not work for the NSA? Your current skills will almost defenitly be useful, and you'll get to work on top secret stuff that nobody else knows about.
  • by A nonymous Coward (7548) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @12:57PM (#2589932)
    Seriously, the services have nothing to offer IT-education wise. Don't join for that!

    Here's my rundown of the 5 branches, and a disclaimer: I was in the Navy, 72-76, on a carrier mostly in Japan and around the far East, and had a great time.

    Navy, and at sea, for an adventure none of the others can match. That old slogan really was true (It's not just a job, it's an adventure). Pick a rating which goes to sea on destroyers (radioman, quartermaster, supply, etc) and transfer after two years to a carrier. Get one Pacific ship and the other Mediterranean.

    Navy, shore based. A joke. What's the point of joining a sea service and not going to sea?

    Navy, if married. Forget it. Sea duty ain't for newlyweds.

    Marines. If you want to join the MILITARY, this is it. Again, make sure you at least get one sea tour.

    Air Force. I used to think the Air Force would be better technical education wise, but have talked to enough people who knew both and said otherwise. So I personally think the Air Force is just a ho-hum choice; nothing marks it special.

    Army. Ditto; nothing to make it special.

    Coast Guard. The only one which actually does anything every day other than train. If you want the satisfaction of doing something real every day, like search and rescue, this is it. A plus for many is short sea stays and stateside duty.

    To sum it up, if you want to do something you will always remember and will never be able to do after you're married and settled down, join the Navy and make double damned sure you go to sea all four years. Do it for the adventure, not for what you might learn. If you think you might want to make a career of the service, join the Coast Guard. If you simply like military pomp, join the Marines. If you want to join a boring corporation, join the Air Force or Army.

    You will never get another chance like those four years, so make the most of it AS AN ADVENTURE.

    Think about it: the military has no use for programmers or hardware engineers. That's what industry does. The military is about bodies and weapons, not about IT. Any military job is there to support the guys in trenches.
    • by Mudhiker (15850)
      Well, I'm two years into the Coast Guard so I can cover that;
      First, I've had almost a year of electronics training that can be transfered to college credit fairly easy. I know the Navy has longer schools (we go to some of them for some of our equipment that we get from them) but theirs are very focused. Coast Guard ETs are given a broad little-bit-of everything because that's what our support task is like. We are much thinner on resources than the other services and so we must make them stretch.
      Notice that I am an Electronics Technician. I've got plenty of background in computers and I wanted to stay away from that whole psyched up shebang...though I'll be reprogramming some RADAR Eeproms via a custom serial interface when I get back from leave next week...
      In any service it helps a lot to know what you want to do before you get in. Don't rely on recruiters or their aptitude tests. If possible talk to folks who've been in and are doing the job you are interested in.
      The Coast Guard's IT program is a sad joke, I don't even want to go there. I pity the fools who are going to be going to the new IT school they're brewing up...(NT 4.0 basics and some exchange hacks that nobody knows how to support and you're on your way have fun. You're an "IT".)
      I'll stick to my hardware thank you, as somebody's sig pointed out, if it ain't on fire, it's a software problem. But even then, almost half my job is spent with the human support side. I spend more time training folks (and fixing their mistakes) than I do ripping open racks.
      Seeing as you'll have your degree, you'll be pushed into being an Officer (three times the pay for a third the work ain't bad) which is mostly paperwork and babysitting. Unless you get on one of the engineering staffs I dunno what kinda technical stuff you would be doing.
      And another thing: Those of us lucky enough to be on whitehulls (Real Ships) spend at least half the year at sea. Don't listen to some sandpeep or squid who tells you otherwise.
      good luck!
    • i absolutely agree. the military can be incredibly rewarding. but expecting to find real-world cutting edge computer work in the armed forces is not such a good idea.

      when the military wants serious work done, they outsource it.

      i'm a hard-core geek but served 4 years in the marines before college. marine infantry was a tons of fun.

      bottom line, do it for the discipline, the adventure and the personal satisfaction you get out of spreading imperialism all over the world while oppressing indigenous peoples.
  • My situation is quite similar to yours. My advice: look into the guard/reserves. A couple thoughts:
    • You may not end up doing what you want in the military. CS degrees present a real problem here. A poli sci major can spend a few years leading a platoon and sitting in a staff shop, decide the miltiary isn't his thing, and he still has a piece of paper that says he went to college (which is all a poli sci degree is). You may find yourself away from commercial technology for a while, and your degree depreciates fast if you don't use it.
    • Even today, the difference between what an O1 and young software engineer makes is pretty substantial. The difference between E2 and junior engineer pay is, umm, substantial. Money isn't everything, but it is something. The perks the military provides aren't nearly enough to compensate for the difference. Unlike doctors, lawyers, and pilots, techies are not paid extra. This obviously results in serious retention problems. (I laughed out loud at a recent announcement that the Signal Corps has a goal to improve its reelistment rate to the Army average. Perhaps that general would be interested in a bridge in brooklyn...)


    • Now that I've tried to dissuade you from active duty, consider the guard/reserve. You get much of the perks of active duty: tuition assistance for grad/prof school, management/leadership experience, a broader technical view, some free training which may/may not be useful and the military experience. For me at least, it's a win-win situation. You'll probably want to look into commissioning programs for college grads in any particular services since you're probably missed the boat on ROTC.

      As to which service, I know that both the Air Force and the Army always need more technical people. (The Navy probably does too, but it is my duty to dissuade you from having anything to do with them.) The AF and Navy use more COTS(commercial of-the-shelf) technology than the Army, but we're picking up more new toys every year. As information tecnology starts percolating into lower levels and field units the Army may soon be a more high-tech organization than other services. The Army also has the advantage that it's fairly easy to get a non-active duty commission and you'll almost certainly be leading a platoon or running a fairly large staff shop as soon as you get done with training.
  • I spent ten years in the Navy and learned a lot of the IT I know now while in, there was lots of opportunity to tinker with the small scale LAN on board ship and lots of practice on desktop systems that were crashed by the proverbial drunken sailor.
  • As a current Navy IT Officer, here's the current deal. Note that this may vary somewhat from the "past" since this is the most rapidly changing career field in the Navy. The Navy stood up the "Information Professional" community about September 1. I am technically not an IP since my intake community (submarines) both pays more and refuses to let me out of the community. However, my "shore duty" is as an IP.

    1) With a college degree you should go in as an officer. Period. End of story. You will be very unhappy with your treatment as a junior enlisted person. Even with accelerated advancement to E-4 or E-5 you still will be unhappy. You will spend much of your first two years cleaning and standing relatively menial (but important, nonetheless) watches with minimal computer use. With a college degree you can attend Officer Candidate School.

    2) Officers rarely if ever program. They work in IT management, system design and implementation, and contracting. If you want to program see 1) but realize enlisted personnel rarely if ever program (5-10 years down the road). They do a lot of front-line system management and network management though.

    3) There is currently no direct method into IP. Either become a surface officer or as an Engineering Duty officer (specializes in IT acquisition as well as shipyard management). Direct accessions are planned in a few years.

    4) If what you want is to do the job of a network engineer, programmer, etc. don't join the Navy. The 4+ years of training in surface warfare is not worth it if computers are what you're in for (and equals lots of sea time). There is a large and important role for people with a substantial warfighting background in IT management but that's years down the road (and may not be what the surface force has in mind for you).
  • I'm a Comm & Info Officer in the USAF. If you decide to join the Air Force, you'll have to ask yourself if you want to do strictly hands-on stuff, or do you want go into a managerial position? If you want manage, join as an officer. With the exception of the System Engineers, officers are expected to fill leadership roles. If you want to stay within a particular specialty, such as programming, then enlist (with a 4 year degree you may join at a higher enlisted rank than someone out of high school. Check with a recruiter. Yeah, I know...)

    If you decide to take the officer route, this is what you'll experience: Since you indicated you're about to graduate, you'll most likely get your commission through Officer Training School (OTS) at Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, AL. This is your standard 12 week-long drill of marching, PT, getting yelled at, saluting, standing at attention, etcetera.

    After gratuating OTS, you'll head off to Basic Communications Officer Training (BCOT), located at Keesler AFB, Biloxi, Miss. Three months long, the best thing about this school is that it's less than an hour from New Orleans. With a CS degree, you will have absolutely no problem with this course. Trust me. After that, you'll be off to your first assignment. The good thing about being a Comm officer is that it's a global specialty, unlike some other fields (especially pilots) that are restricted to a handful of locations.

    The Comm and Info career field is huge. You could have a twenty year career and have a completely different job each assigment. This is just an example of some of the jobs I and some of my friends have filled:
    Network infrastructure and fiber optics (routers, switches, working with construction crews)
    Airfield Comm systems (Mostly radios and specialized Air Traffic Control and guidance systems)
    Network Control Centers (care and feeding of server farms)
    Satellite systems
    Desktop support and Helpdesk management
    Combat Comm (Not really combat, this is setting up basic comm systems in a bare field from scratch, living in tents, eating MRE's)
    Radar systems
    Security (Firewalls, IDS, passwork cracking, assesments, incident response...)
    Visual Information (very cool job, get to work with graphic media, photography, etc)
    Information Management ('Powerpoint Rangers')
    Information Warfare (hacker in a uniform)

    As for the other services, I've had some contact with the Navy and Army. If I didn't join the Air Force the Navy would have definitely been my second choice. Those guys are even more dependent on their systems, and it shows in the quality of their personnel.
    As for the Army, let me just say those guys should be standing on top of a hill waving semaphore flags. I don't think they could handle anything more complex.

  • The services offer a 6 month course for people who have already gotten a degree. I forget what its called, but the camp is in GA i think. Anyway, if you are going to join you should get commissioned as an officer, otherwise it is not worth it. And the Air Force has the poshest living environment of the other branches, but you will always be the brunt of many jokes.
  • I spent 6 years in the Navy instead of pursuing college. I went in with a self-taught background in computers and after I got out I continued to pursue a career in IT. I found several unique aspects of ship-board Navy life, compared to other branches, that could make a difference for an IT person.

    When you're in the middle of the ocean you cannot just call over the next hill for additional supplies or expertise. You have to make do with what you have and what you know. It also means that your troubleshooting skills must be honed.

    During long stretches at sea, entertainment is limited to what's onboard. For an IT person, this isolation can be ideal for learning or tinkering to improve one's skills. I found the time useful for reading manuals and fixing my shipmates' broken gear.

  • I was in the Air Force for 6 yrs. They definitely have the best quality of life and plenty of tech jobs. If you want to get more education, they'll pay for classes you take off-duty.

    If you want to be a programmer, enlist rather than becoming an officer. It's a 4 yr minimum commitment, then if you like it, you could re-enlist or apply to OTS to become an officer. As an officer, you'd most likely be a manager.

    Whatever you do, don't enlist until they guarantee you the job you want.

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