In this edition of Voices of the Industry, Kirk Offel, CEO at Overwatch, explores the great qualities that military veterans can bring to the data center industry, including their integrity, tenacity, and their selfless attitude. 

Kirk Offel, CEO, Overwatch

When I got out of the Navy 20 years ago I faced a dilemma to which many veterans can relate. The skills I honed as a technician on a nuclear submarine weren’t very marketable in the private sector but the lessons I learned about teamwork, transparency, and resiliency seemed appropriate in nearly any context.

I got lucky. Over time I developed an expertise in data center logistics and two years ago gained the confidence to start my own data center strategic consultancy, Overwatch Mission-Critical. We expect to have more than 40 people by the end of this year.

Not all veterans are as lucky as I was. The U.S. military is a great teacher but not as great a guidance counselor. Many veterans leave the service without a clear picture of how to find a market for their skills in the private sector. The suicide rate for veterans is 50% higher than that of U.S. adults as a whole, with an average of 18 former soldiers, sailors, and airmen committing suicide each day.

We were acutely aware of this problem when we started Overwatch and we have made a commitment to improving the lot of veterans part of our DNA. Half of our staff members have backgrounds in the service. When we hire civilians we look for people who have a service mindset, such as former firefighters and EMTs.

Here’s why I think this matters: One of the remarkable things about serving on a fast-attack submarine is that you’re on board with 111 other crew members, each of whom would give his or her life to save any one of their crewmates. That commitment breeds a humble, selfless attitude that you don’t often see in business.

Military service also invests an eagerness to learn. No one enlists knowing what lies ahead. Your financial resources and educational background matter little. What does matter is how hard you work and how committed you are to the success of your mission.

Tenacity Matters

Think of that in the context of today’s data center environment. I know of no other industry that reinvents itself as aggressively as ours. I’ve also never encountered a group of people who love what they do so much.

Experience is great but its value is limited in a world that changes so much. Our industry doesn’t lack skills. It lacks courage. The qualities we look to bring into Overwatch are curiosity, tenacity, and a commitment to the success of the business and our clients. We can teach technology but we can’t teach someone how to be a good person.

We hope we bring that perspective to our market every day. Our job is to work with customers who don’t know what they don’t know and help them build sophisticated supply chains and vendor management programs. We have hundreds of years of collective experience and billions of dollars under management. We think clients like us because we are willing to ask tough questions and scratch the paint a bit.

We define success at Overwatch not just in financial terms but also by what we give back to the community. We created a program called OVITA (Overwatch Veterans in Transition) to help vets who lack technical backgrounds gain the skills they need to make a difference in technology industries. We’re on track to help no less than 1,000 former servicemen and women find positions this year. If we can make even a small dent in the suicide rate, it will be worth all the effort.

We are also the co-founder and a principal sponsor of the Data Center Anti-Conference, an annual event held in Austin, Texas that aims to take a dynamic and disruptive approach to explore the emerging technologies that are driving tomorrow’s data centers. We started DCAC because we thought existing data center events were too expensive, too exclusive, and frankly boring. Our just-concluded sixth DCAC attracted a sellout crowd of more than 500 attendees who came to learn, share and, well, scratch the paint a bit.

Each year we hold a companion charity golf tournament with the proceeds going to support veterans. Next year’s donations will go to One Tribe Foundation (formerly 22 Kill), a nonprofit that combats suicide among veterans, first responders, and other brave citizens.

I can’t think of a cause that better aligns with Overwatch’s mission.

Kirk Offel is CEO of Overwatch a strategic consultancy for the data center industry. Their primary mission is to help customers unleash the emerging technologies that improve the lives of everyone around the world. Contact them to learn more.

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