Jama Veterans Share Journey from Military to Tech

November 9, 2018 Eira Long May

From left, Jama Software’s Chloe Elliott and Dana Medhaug.

On Veterans Day at Jama Software, we honor the service of all military veterans, starting with two of our own: Chloe Elliott and Dana Medhaug.  

Elliott and Medhaug met at Milwaukie Junior High outside of Portland, Oregon, in the ’90s before their divergent yet overlapping paths led them to Jama. Both enlisted in the military, both turned an interest in code into a career in tech and both now sit on Jama’s Customer Care team. Medhaug, a technical support engineer, has been at Jama for a year and a half, while Elliott, a community manager, started in the spring.  

When Elliott arrived at Jama, she hadn’t seen Medhaug since their eighth-grade graduation. “I saw him and was like, ‘What’s your last name?’” Elliott recounts. Once they recognized each other, they realized their lives had plenty of parallels.  

Why They Enlisted  

After high school, Medhaug walked into an Army recruiting office looking for structure and a source of adventure. Given the choice between serving in Washington, Colorado, Texas, Germany or Korea, Medhaug opted for Texas, where he was an M1A2 Armor Crewman: “At the time I thought driving a tank in Texas would be pretty cool,” he says. And was it? “Yes, looking back I believe I made the right choice when I chose Texas. I made some lifelong friendships and it was the perfect training environment for life in Iraq, where I was deployed for 18 months.”  

Elliott graduated from the University of Oregon in 2001, in the midst of a recession. She was working three different retail jobs when she enlisted in the Air Force to attend the Defense Language Institute, which offers instruction in more than two dozen languages.  

“Then,” Elliott says, “literally a month after I signed up, 9/11 happened. My friends were, like, ‘Obviously, you’re not going to go now.’ I said, ‘Actually, I feel I was meant to go. This was meant to happen.’” Elliott trained in Monterey, California, but like Medhaug, she would be stationed in Texas, where she served as an intelligence analyst in San Antonio (“Her military career was more interesting than mine,” adds Medhaug).    

The Other Boot Camp  

When their military service ended in the mid-2000s, neither Elliott nor Medhaug was planning on a tech career. “I’ve always been interested in coding,” Elliott says, “but Medhaug and I came up at a time when people were trying to figure out what even to do with computer programming.”  

Yet even when Elliott expressed an interest in computers, her high school counselor shut her down, telling her she would be “uncomfortable” in the computer science courses — despite the fact that Elliott was already taking AP math classes.   

“I wish I hadn’t listened to her, but I did,” Elliott says. “When I asked about computer science, it was like I had said, ‘I want to play on the football team.’ It wasn’t a thing girls did.”  

After she left the Air Force, Elliott initially worked in sales and marketing, but that wasn’t the right fit. “I like working with customers, but I don’t like having to sell them things,” she says.  

Elliott used her GI Bill to earn an MBA from Concordia University in Portland. After that, she opted to stay home for several years to be with her young children.   

“While I was home,” Elliott says, “I was crafting, designing. I was really interested in tech, but I always thought, ‘I’m not smart enough to do it.’ I thought the barrier to entry was just too high. But then I found this learn-to-code app. I thought it would tell me I was stupid, but once I started, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s all it is? I do the same thing when I create my knitting patterns.’ It was the same logic I’d been using all my life. Why does it seem like the keys to this industry are too hard to find?”  

Elliott’s triumph with the coding app was, she says, an “epiphany.” She tracked down every free resource she could find and started teaching herself to code. She still had more money left from her GI Bill, so she found a local code boot camp that accepted the GI Bill: PDX Code Guild.  

“I liked that PDX Code Guild was Python-based,” she says, “because I’m interested in data analysis and data science.” As soon as she started code boot camp, Elliott realized, “I need to work in tech. I love this.”   

From Construction to Coding 

Meanwhile, after leaving the Army, Medhaug worked in construction for 10 years. “I would get laid off every once in a while,” Medhaug reflects, because of dips in demand when the economy faltered.  

When he wasn’t working construction, Medhaug started teaching himself to code in CSS, JavaScript, and HTML. He also taught himself Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator and began building custom websites and graphics for fantasy football fans. “I had a customer base, and I was actually getting paid,” he says. “But I never saw myself doing the backend work. I didn’t think I was smart enough. I was like, “‘Programming is way too intense.’”  

Not until Medhaug was injured on the job and recovering from back surgery did he decide to pursue “some type of coding career” full time. Medhaug learned about PDX Code Guild and went for it even though he wasn’t fully versant in Python.   

“I decided, ‘OK, I’m going to go to this boot camp and kick butt,’” he says. “Everybody else in there had experience. They all had college degrees. I was the only one in there that was ex-construction. I didn’t know what they were doing at first, but I made it through, and then I interned at PDX Code Guild for a year after I graduated.”  

“He has 16,000 points on Treehouse now,” Elliott interjects. “I’m gunning to beat that.”  

Enter Jama  

Toward the end of his internship, Medhaug was sending out his resume and going to networking events, but he wasn’t enjoying himself at those meetups: small talk isn’t his favorite activity.

Luckily, WorkSource called Medhaug to prescreen him for the Business Support Internship at Jama.  

Initially, Medhaug hadn’t been interested in a support role; he was looking for a job as a junior developer or engineer. “I didn’t know if I’d like dealing with customers,” he says, “but I do. By nature, I like helping people, and I like problem solving.”  

When she finished code boot camp, Elliott was looking for the next opportunity to develop and deploy her skills. She had never worked in tech before, and even the job titles and functions were unfamiliar to her, so she decided to find a company where she could learn “by osmosis.”  

Elliott was drawn to support because it requires a holistic vision and versatile abilities: “You have access to all kinds of information,” she says, “and it requires a generalist application of your skills.” The Business Support Internship at Jama struck Elliott as the best way to launch her career in tech. 

Redefining “Mission Critical”  

Medhaug says his Army service changed him for the better: “I used to be kind of a screwup in high school,” he says, “but not anymore. I learned to take my job seriously.”  

After her time in the Air Force, Elliott finds day-to-day stressors easier to shake off. “Things that upset other people or seem like big deals are just not big deals to us,” she says. “We’re like, ‘It could be worse.’  

“For Medhaug, it’s probably, ‘Hey, at least I’m not sitting in a tank where it’s 130 degrees. At least I’m not sitting in a skiff, no windows, can’t bring my phone in, waiting for something bad to happen.’”  

It’s not just that military service gives a whole new meaning to the term “mission critical.” Military service requires that people put aside their individual fears and personal priorities to work as a cohesive whole: the ultimate teamwork.  

“If there’s one thing you learn in the military,” Elliott says, “it’s to think unselfishly about the mission. It’s not about you. I’m not saying everyone should join the military, but I think people are at their best when they think about the mission, not about themselves. I feel like Medhaug and I are aligned on that.”  

Military service requires fundamental self-sacrifice, and it’s those sacrifices we honor on Veterans Day. “I don’t know how to explain how many freedoms veterans give up,” Elliott says. “We literally know what it’s like not to have any kind of autonomy over your person, where you’re going, what you’re going to wear, what you’re going to do, how you’re going to think. I would do that all over again. Serving my country was one of the best things I ever did.

Thank you to all of our nation’s veterans. Interested in launching a career at Jama? View our open positions 

Previous Article
A Developing Story: Mark Smith, Senior Software Engineering Manager at Tektronix
A Developing Story: Mark Smith, Senior Software Engineering Manager at Tektronix

Tektronix knew that with an upcoming launch, a single error in the design of an oscilloscope could lead cus...

Next Article
When Should You Involve Functional Safety Teams in the Development Process?
When Should You Involve Functional Safety Teams in the Development Process?

When building complex products that must adhere to strict standards, too often the functional safety team g...