Technology

Veterans take part in "Hackathon" event at Facebook HQ

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

There is a very special "Hackathon" underway in Silicon Valley, organized for local war veterans. But in this case, hacking doesn't mean breaking into computer systems. This event is all about designing new programs and helping recent war vets get help with the next chapter in their lives.

At Facebook's sprawling headquarters in Menlo Park, you'll find employees having barbecue out on the patio or taking pictures of the now famous fox cubs living in the garden.

But at this company, founded on hacking, there's one group working straight through lunch. And actually, none of them work here.

"I was in the army, in South Korea," said Albert An.

An is leading a team of veterans in this Hackathon on Facebook's campus. It's a competition to quickly design and build computer programs. But it serves a higher purpose. An is the first to admit that coming home hasn't been easy.

"In the military everything's structured, so I had so much discipline," the army veteran said. "I woke up at a certain time, ate at a certain time. Coming back to college, there was so many parties, I was uh drinking, and many different things."

It's a common story. The Bay Area group "Vets in Tech" started holding events like these to make sure that story ends happily.

"To help their integration, their reintegration into an industry, in particular the tech industry," Vets in Tech founder Katherine Webster said.

Though the transition to the corporate world can sometimes be tough, it turns out tech is an industry where veterans ultimately tend to thrive. They may not all know a programming language, but they often have a lot of other skills that are much tougher to teach.

"Leadership, discipline, ability to work in uncertain environments, all these give them the same qualities that we look for for employees at Facebook," said Jeff Marshall, Facebook User Operations manager.

For Laura Renner, who served six years in the Air Force, the allure of winning a prize takes a back seat to the experience itself. Hacking with other vets is a chance to bring something familiar into an unfamiliar world.

"We have the same kind of humor, and so it makes doing something new a little bit more comfortable because you're doing it with people you already resonate with," Renner said.

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veterans, facebook, menlo park, military, air force, army, marines, navy, jobs, websites, internet, apps, homeless, hunger, social media, competition, technology, jonathan bloom
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