Veterans Transition to Cybersecurity
Oct 22, 2019

What do you do after an 18-year career? Better yet, what do you do after an 18-year career in the Armed Forces?

I know I’m not alone in finding it difficult to answer that question. Whether you’ve gone through this process yourself, are soon to, or a loved one is, the end of a military career can be as difficult mentally as those first training and assessments were physically (... and that’s saying something!).
For someone like m,e who had spent his entire adult life in the military – joining the Forces at only 16 – I had absolutely zero experience in how to even look for, let alone get a ‘normal’ job.

Plus, how would I manage going from the top of my game, having the skills and know-how in a competitive and challenging field, to a new career in an area where I had no experience? I was completely unsure about this next step.

Simon Desjardins then.

When I was transitioning, I couldn’t see a lot of options out there that were a good fit for ex-military members. Thankfully, I wasn’t left to struggle alone for long. After I stepped down from duty in 2018 due to medical reasons, my Armed Forces community quickly stepped up and supported me, as I know they have for many others here.

Through that support, they opened my eyes to FortiVet, a program that helps transition exceptional military veterans into the cybersecurity industry. What I learned was compelling. They told me that through professional networking, training, and mentoring, direct from fellow military veterans, I could smoothly transition into this new civilian career. Plus, entering the program wasn’t competitive, so there was nothing to lose. I decided to give it a shot.

I wasn’t sure what to expect at first. I asked myself why a cybersecurity company would be so interested in a military veteran. In my Forces experience I had been involved in the tech and IT fields as a first-line maintenance technician and server administrator, so I had some relevant experience. But cybersecurity… that’s not for me. Right? Wrong.

The Armed Forces community in the FortiVet program helped me see that my skills, honed in my years with the military, were not only useful to a cybersecurity career but actually in demand.

Simon Desjardins now.

In the military, we’re trained to work under pressure, meet timelines however we can, think creatively in tackling problems and, most importantly, have a rigid mindset when it comes to overcoming difficulties. All of this is a huge asset to employers – so, whether you’re tackling hacker threats, balancing quick-paced and demanding workloads or, as in my job, talking customers through a complex and sometimes risky topic as their trusted expert, the training kicks in to see it through to a successful outcome.

What’s more, cybersecurity in Canada is a field that has plenty of jobs available and is actively looking for people that have this mindset and skill – even if technical training is needed. According to a 2016 study, more than 85% of hiring managers and recruiters in the cybersecurity profession couldn’t fill the positions they needed simply due to a lack of talent, and I’ll tell you that hasn’t changed much.

Today, one year after leaving the military, I’m a Sales Engineer at Exclusive Networks Canada, a Global Fortinet Distributor. I’m involved in the preparation of technical presentations and other materials required for client meetings, I also analyze service engagements and technology solutions to address customer requirements. As part of my team, I help identify business opportunities and solutions through analyzing a client’s current requirements. I’m also responsible for coordinating the transition between pre-sales specifications and implementation once contracts have been signed.

Overall though, what worked best for me in the FortiVet program is that it put myself and my veteran experiences front and center. I’m not sure I could have gotten to where I am today without FortiVet providing me with the information and mentorship from my fellow veterans to help me take those first steps.

The lesson for others reading this is clear. It’s natural to worry about the jump to civilian life. But tap into your community, and listen to those offering opportunities, even if at first blush they don’t seem to be a perfect fit. You might be surprised about what you’re capable of.
While I still enjoy looking back at my military ‘glory’ days, I’m excited about my new career and what the future holds. And that’s something I never thought I’d get the chance to say as a veteran.

Simon Desjardins is a Sales Engineer at Exclusive Networks Canada.

Fortinet’s FortiVet mission is to facilitate the transition of exceptional military veterans into the cyber-security industry, providing professional networking, training, and mentoring. FortiVet was awarded Best for Vets 2019 by the Military Times.

For more info about the program, visit