Mission accomplished — Blend Salutes | Blend

Mission accomplished — Blend Salutes

My journey from one purpose-driven organization to another

When I got out of the military in 2011, I didn’t know what to do. For the previous five years I had lived a life of rigorous training cycles and deployments. On social media I saw plenty of people I knew getting out and doing great things: consulting, working as a private military contractor, or carrying some other title that sounded successful. But I remained directionless.

I had served nearly five years in Special Operations as an Army Ranger. I had deployed five times between Iraq and Afghanistan working alongside the best soldiers in the world. I left that world as I knew it all behind: my best friends, the things I excelled at.

Finding a place that feels like home, especially one that aligns with your personal and professional mission, is a rare gift. But through perseverance and a little bit of luck, I  managed to find it not once, but twice — and I know you can as well. This is the story of how I navigated the uncertainty of leaving one home behind (my former life in the military) and found my new home at Blend.

Looking for support but finding a void

I had been stateside less than two months after returning from my last deployment. Now out of the military, I didn’t have much of a plan and was in uncharted territory. I had to retake the SATs as a 24-year-old before I could even apply to college. But I knew that taking advantage of the GI Bill made sense. It was free school and I got paid to do it. That was the extent of my planning. I packed my life into a U-Haul and drove halfway across the country, from Fort Lewis, Washington, to San Antonio, Texas, to start college.

In addition to this plan — which is a generous application of the term — I had no family, no friends, and no support system near UT-San Antonio, which I was now attending. I went from executing direct action raids in Afghanistan to a completely unstructured life within two months. I was setting myself up for failure in a big way, and I didn’t even know it.

I was surrounded by 18-year-olds living on their own for the first time. I tried to make friends. I got the “was it like Call of Duty?” question more than once. I dealt with the Veterans Affairs healthcare system that lived up to its reputation among vets. I joined the rugby club to try to fill the adrenaline void left by the military. I tried to do the right things, but they just weren’t working.

I turned inward and spent most of my days at school, at the gym, or holed up in my apartment, totally secluded. I did this for months, thinking it was part of the process and that things would get better over time. Except they didn’t. I was depressed and alone. Being alone was a new feeling. When I was in the military, no matter how tough the situation, I knew I could look to my left and right and see my Ranger buddies right there with me. I was in a tough spot.

Recognizing the need for a new direction

As my first year in college was coming to an end, I knew I needed a change. This time I actually sat down and came up with a plan. I made a list of all the things that weren’t working for me. I also jotted down ideas of things that interested me. I felt I wanted something fast-paced with a company that was an industry leader. I didn’t have specifics beyond that, but I didn’t need them. Like land navigation in the military, I just needed a distance and direction; I’d find my point after that.

I came from one of the army’s most elite units and loved being part of that culture. I was challenged every day and knew I needed that to keep pushing me forward. More importantly, I recognized that I needed a support system — I knew I needed help. I needed people who could understand me. Once I came to terms with the reality of my situation, it was time to roll. I transferred to Drexel University near home, switched my major, packed my life up again, and drove home with Brianna, my girlfriend at the time who is now my wife.

But when I started classes at my new school, things got even worse. Just over a year earlier, I had retaken the SATs and now I was taking calculus, physics, and all the rest. I felt I was in way over my head. At Drexel, all freshmen are required to take an orientation class. The class began with introductions, where a clean-cut, blonde-haired guy by the name of Casey Newman mentioned he was a Marine. I took note but didn’t think much of it.

Turning the corner with a new support system

It turned out we had the same major, so we had the same classes. He approached me asking if I was the Army guy from the orientation class. That conversation sparked a friendship that lasts to this day. He was in my wedding and I was in his. I finally found someone I could relate to. Someone I could commiserate with when the course load got too heavy, someone I could lean on. Between him and Brianna, I had my support system. I didn’t need a big team. I was able to get all of the self-doubt and dark thoughts out of my head and talk about them openly with the people who understood and cared about me.

I had a job lined up out of college as a process engineer at an oil refinery and was excited to get started. But after a few months I began feeling frustrated. I wanted more. I wanted a mission to align with. I wanted a sense of purpose. I wanted to feel that I was doing something that mattered.

As a Ranger, our mission and purpose were never in question. When it came to execution, we were only as good as our last mission. Every time a new objective appeared, we were pushed to go further, faster, and fight harder than the last time. This job lacked all of the things that excited me. I didn’t know exactly what type of job could scratch that itch, but I figured the best way to find out was to go looking for it.

Over the next few years, I moved on to other industries, working for companies in banking and software that I hoped would fill me with mission and purpose. But somehow, the promise was unfulfilled. I still had the hunger to make a stronger contribution and have a positive effect on people’s lives.

Everything changed when I learned about Blend. I was fortunate to land an interview at the company and, after speaking with the people that worked here, I knew this was the one.

Finding a mission and sense of purpose at Blend

Blend has a clear and admirable mission: better lending, for all. With our unified platform for any consumer banking product, lenders can deliver a fast, frictionless, and consistent application experience for consumers across a wide range of products and channels. I wanted to be part of that objective.

So many of the characteristics that motivated me in Special Operations can be found at Blend. We emphasize speed without sacrificing quality. We think fast, build fast, and learn fast. When we make a mistake, we learn from it and move on. Everything here is high-tempo. There isn’t some regimented hierarchy to control for this. Each person is empowered to solve hard problems and execute. We focus on the task at hand and help each other to make sure we accomplish it. This was the opportunity I was looking for.

How Blend supports veterans

Blend cares about its employees in a way that is genuine. As co-chair of the Blend Salutes Employee Resource Group (ERG), I get to see that firsthand. The ERG is made up of both veterans and allies whose purpose is to support and raise awareness of the veteran community both inside and outside Blend. Blend has also partnered with Breakline, an educational organization that helps veterans, women, and people of color pivot into challenging careers in the tech industry.

Through its leadership and support, Blend provides veterans with the space to lead.

I’m 32 now and have been working as a product operations manager at Blend for just over a year, focusing on the post-sales enablement of product releases. We try to solve the knowledge gap when we release a product. Is it valuable to customers? Are customers set up for success? Does the release improve their business operations? Those sorts of important questions.

What I like most about my job is that it’s nearly 100% cross-functional. I work with product managers, deployment leads, account managers, sales engineers, support staff, product marketers, customer enablement leads, and sales enablement team members nearly every day.

Brianna and I are happily settled in our new adopted city, the lovely City by the Bay, where Blend is headquartered.

It’s been quite a journey.

Lessons from a worthwhile quest

I got out of the military with minimal direction, no support system, and only a hazy understanding of what success looked like. I think the majority of veterans feel this way. It’s up to each of us to write our next chapter.

My advice? Don’t go it alone. Lean on your support system. Don’t just make connections on LinkedIn or anywhere else — initiate meaningful conversations with people who have professional and personal experience in areas that excite you.

Veterans develop skills and build toughness you can’t find anywhere else. Keep that top of mind as you find your next point.

Please feel free to reach out if you would like to learn about opportunities for veterans at Blend. We look forward to hearing from you, and most importantly, thank you for your service to our country!

Blend is hiring across all teams. If you’re a veteran interested in working with us, we’d love to hear from you. Please check out our open opportunities and get in touch.