Step Up and Lead: Surviving the Crucible and Getting into Tech with Brandon Seymour (1/3)

In episode 260, we’re joined by guest Brandon Seymour. This week we’ll share part 1 of an interview with Brandon detailing his decision to join the Marine Corps and the experience of boot camp, the impact of a significant injury while serving, his transition back to civilian life, the decision to pursue a career in technology, and his shift in focus from networking to operating systems.

Original Recording Date: 12-18-2023

Topics – Meet Brandon Seymour, Joining the Marine Corps, Boot Camp and Leadership, A Medical Discharge, Transition to Civilian Life, A Focus on Technology, A Directional Shift

2:29 – Meet Brandon Seymour

  • Brandon Seymour is a director of solution architects at Calian, a technology solutions company headquartered in Canada.
    • Calian acquired a solutions provider called Computex in 2022, which was similar to places Brandon has worked in the past.
    • At the time of this recording, Brandon has been with Calian for about 3 months.

3:09 – Joining the Marine Corps

  • Brandon is 47 years old now, and in his time at the University of Arkansas he remembers meeting someone who had planned to go into the Marine Corp after college.
    • Brandon feels many kids are seeking some kind of break between high school and college, a time of adventure.
      • “I needed an adventure to fulfill. But I also came from a home that didn’t have a father, so I needed something to help me discover who I was as a man. And I looked to the Marine Corps to kind of fulfill both of those things for me.” – Brandon Seymour, on pursuing the Marine Corp
    • It felt safer to pursue going into the Marine Corps since Brandon had a friend who would go through boot camp with him.
    • Brandon’s grandfather was a Marine, and he remembers hearing the stories of how the Marine Corps had the most difficult boot camp of any branch of the military. Not everyone who would go through boot camp would become a Marine. Brandon wanted to pursue it to prove something to himself.
    • Brandon had originally gone to college to pursue studies in international economics (which was a new program at the University of Arkansas built with Wal-Mart’s help).
      • Ideally Brandon would pursue the program and then go work for Wal-Mart someday, eventually becoming a billionaire. That never happened.
    • “I needed something to bring areas of discipline in my life. I needed something to give me a little bit more direction in life. I needed something to bring some adventure in my life. And it fulfilled all those things for me…. I finished around 2 years of college and then left for the Marine Corps.” – Brandon Seymour, on pursuing the Marine Corps
    • Brandon didn’t tell his mother about his decision to go into the Marines until she drove him to the airport to leave for boot camp. Despite this being very upsetting to his mother at the time, she recognizes now it was something Brandon needed to do.
    • Brandon did take advantage of the GI Bill for veterans to help pay for college after his time in the Marines.
      • Brandon was medically discharged from the Marines after breaking his back and his legs. He would use funds from the GI Bill to get certifications related to computers.

7:43 – Boot Camp and Leadership

  • How was Brandon’s experience in boot camp after hearing about the difficulty and deciding to join the Marines?
    • There is a mental aspect of boot camp with which many people struggle. Brandon has known people over the years who went through boot camp and were not successful.
    • “I think it takes a mental fortitude to get through boot camp where you learn how to deal with very, very stressful situations but how to remain calm through them and think logically through the situation to get yourself and those around you out of the situation you find yourself in.” – Brandon Seymour
    • Brandon tells us he was one of the first to go through something called The Crucible, and there was a camera crew that filmed his platoon during this process.
      • The Crucible was meant to simulate war. It involved very little sleep, little food, and a number of exercises and obstacles with those around you with the goal being to get through and think through the obstacles without falling apart.
      • The Crucible was conducted at MCB Camp Pendleton, and once it you are through it you are essentially a Marine and receive an eagle, globe, and anchor.
      • “That accomplishment of that boot camp has always stuck with me, so whenever I look back or I am going through something that’s difficult I can always look back at that and point back to that moment in time and say ‘if I was able to accomplish that, then I can accomplish other things as well.’” – Brandon Seymour, on getting through boot camp
    • Going into boot camp Brandon was pretty fit already and did not struggle with the physical aspects of it.
      • He had been a competitive swimmer for much of his younger life and played a number of sports recreationally. Brandon played basketball, baseball, and ran track at various points even if just for fun and received encouragement from his parents to consistently spend time outside.
    • Brandon didn’t really struggle with the mental aspects of boot camp either. He graduated as first squad leader and was promoted in boot camp.
      • Brandon mentions growing up in a home that was a lot like a boot camp in its own right. Listen to the way he describes it.
      • “Yeah, I don’t know how you can mentally prepare for something like boot camp. It’s a shock to the system. One of the aspects of the boot camp is that they’re tearing you down as an individual to build you back up again. And that tearing down I think can be very difficult for a lot of people.” – Brandon Seymour, on the mental aspects of boot camp
      • Brandon has known people who’ve had mental breakdowns during boot camp. In those cases the Marine Corps may have had the person leave.
  • Brandon’s only regret going into the Marines was joining so suddenly without a lot of long term thinking about his life. He had gone into the Marines with a friend and put a large focus on just getting in.
    • Brandon was classified as infantry in the Marines. This was a very positive experience for him.
    • In many situations when a task needs to be accomplished by a group of people, the group can be indecisive or lack clarity on who will step up and take on a task or lead the group through accomplishing it.
    • “I never had a fear of just stepping into the role and stepping up. Whether I failed or not, at least I tried is my mentality. If you’re going to lead, there’s always a possibility of failure. So don’t be afraid to fail, but at east step up and attempt to do something that nobody else is trying to do. That’s one of the reasons I became squad leader in boot camp….I stepped up and took charge, and that sort of followed me in my career with the Marine Corps as well, always being willing to step into leadership roles and take responsibility for things whether I failed or not. And I’ve had many failures in my life.” – Brandon Seymour, on stepping into leadership
    • In boot camp, many people are hesitant to take on any kind of leadership because it meant the drill instructor knew your name and might be harder on you than others. Brandon tells us there’s really no way to hide and that he would get seen anyway.
    • Leadership is about stepping up to perform as task no one else is willing to do, whether that is managing the people and directing their steps or just doing something specific because it needs doing. Brandon believes this is true in everyday life as well.
    • In his career, Brandon has adopted an above and beyond mentality because he naturally wants to be in leadership type roles that allows him to step up and do what others are not doing.

16:51 – A Medical Discharge

  • Brandon was injured 3.5 years after joining the Marine Corps, breaking his T11 and his tibias. How did the mental impact of this injury compare to what he experienced in boot camp?
    • Brandon learned to allow himself to lean on others for help during this time and not look at asking for help as a sign of personal weakness.
      • Brandon thinks he may have been trying to be a tough guy to this point, shouldering all responsibility on himself.
    • This time of injury (and loss of mobility) is something Brandon feels like God used to teach him some valuable lessons on the importance of having a willingness to lean on others for help.
    • “I couldn’t even walk to the commissary. I had to have somebody push me in a wheelchair. And things like that were very taxing on me as a man that I wanted to be seen as being strong, not weak. I felt very weak in those moments when I couldn’t stand because my legs were hurt and my back was healing….” – Brandon Seymour, on suffering injury
    • Brandon rejected visits from his family during this time because he didn’t want them to see him in his condition and perceive him as weak.
    • It was a very difficult time for Brandon. Other people encouraged Brandon to look at what things were within his circle of control and focus on those rather than things which were not.
    • The advice Brandon received was more impactful coming from others who were with him through boot camp than from family members or anyone else.
      • Hearing stories from other Marines who had been injured was inspiring to Brandon.
      • Someone gave Brandon a book about medal of honor winners, and he would sit and read the stories at night. Learning about what others had been through shifted Brandon’s mindset away from feeling so much self pity and realizing many others were not as fortunate.
      • Showing and embracing his vulnerability allowed Brandon to grow significantly as an individual.
    • The medical team triaging Brandon’s injuries originally focused on his legs and didn’t realize his back was broken at the time. He had to pass a physical qualification to return to the fleet.
      • Though Brandon did return to the fleet, and time he would put on the 60-pound back members of the infantry carried, he would complain of back pain. Upon taking him in for X-Rays (about a year after his injury), they determined Brandon’s T11 had compressed like a pancake when he was injured and now was naturally fused.
      • There was nothing that could be done for Brandon’s condition at the time, and he was medically discharged from the Marines.
      • “So I got medically discharged and left the Marine Corps, and that put me in a whole other experience of learning how to deal with some of my limitations at that point.” – Brandon Seymour

22:20 – Transition to Civilian Life

  • Though Brandon went heavily into technology after leaving the Marine Corps, his first exposure to it came much earlier.
    • The accounting firm Brandon’s mother worked for was upgrading computer systems, and she had bought Brandon a used Commodore 64. Brandon would go to the library and check out programming books so he could try to create video games.
    • There were other exposure points through middle school and high school, and though Brandon originally chose a different direction in college, he always had a love for computers.
  • What are some of the things people don’t realize when it comes to people adjusting to life outside / after the military?
    • “Your best weapon in the Marine Corps is your mind.” – Brandon Seymour
    • Brandon feels like transitioning people back to civilian life is isn’t something the military does well.
    • “When you’re in the military, everything is taken care of for you….Transitioning back into the real world tends to be a little bit more difficult initially….You’re doing for yourself now, and you don’t have somebody making all these decisions for you. So now you need to make decisions for yourself, what you’re going to do and where you’re going to go.” – Brandon Seymour, on the transition to civilian life
      • Brandon tells the story of sitting in a restaurant and having to decide what to order. It wasn’t something he had to do while in the Marines.
    • If you’re part of a service branch during war time you’re looking at all situations as a possible threat to your safety and the safety of those around you (i.e. a different mentality). Civilians aren’t necessarily thinking this way.
    • Brandon had help from his family during the transition. He cites his mother as a great help and advocate for him during this time.
      • Rather than continue to pursue economics like before going into the Marines, Brandon wanted to go back to school and focus on computers. He leveraged the GI Bill to help pay for school.
      • Brandon didn’t get heavily involved with the VA (Veterans Affairs) or any other aspects outside the Marine Corps once he left.
      • “That period of time in my life that was a chapter in a book…. I felt like I needed to close that chapter and focus on what I wanted to do next.” – Brandon Seymour
    • Brandon has stayed in touch with people who were in the Marines with him over time and is still in touch with some to this day. He mentions they have been able to support one another through different challenges. Some of his friends stayed in the Marines and made a career out of it.

27:55 – A Focus on Technology

  • Brandon found a small school focused on computer certifications and training. During his time there, he was able to obtain certifications in areas like Novell, computer hardware (A+), networking, and Microsoft.
  • Brandon’s first job was working for a company in California called Netport Internet Access, replacing broken dial up modems as one of his first tasks.
    • Brandon also did web page design for the company’s customers because they needed someone with HTML skills. Brandon taught himself how to do it to fill this need.
  • How did Brandon adapt to the need for communicating with customers in these technology jobs?
    • Communication was an important part of the job in the Marine Corps. Brandon remembers having to clearly communicate objectives to others and what would be done to accomplish the objective(s). There were no issues Brandon recalls related to communicating with others in his adjustment to working as a civilian.
    • The challenges Brandon had to work through were in the troubleshooting of the modem functionality. He gives the example of a dial-up modem misbehaving when someone plugged in a dryer in the same outlet, for example.
  • The experience working at this first company was a great starting point for Brandon in the technology field.
    • In addition to the work on modems and with HTML, he gained experience with networking technologies, operating systems like Windows NT, and even managing / administering Novell servers during his time there.
    • “Getting your hands into the technology is key. You can book learn all day long, but once you actually physically touch the stuff it’s completely different.” – Brandon Seymour
  • Brandon tells us prior to his first job the technology education program he went through was a mix of book learning and getting hands on with the technology.
    • For example, during the program Brandon built a computer and gained exposure to networking technologies.
  • The technology Brandon loved most at first was networking.
    • “I wanted to do everything networking. It was the backbone to everything…. If networking wasn’t working properly and secured properly, nothing was going to be working outside of that. That’s really what drove me deeper into technology initially was the more I got involved with networking.” – Brandon Seymour
    • At one point Brandon moved away from Netport to a different company in Los Angeles and managed all of their networking. He was a network administrator and continued to develop skills and expertise in networking.

32:53 – A Directional Shift

  • After focusing on networking for several years, Brandon got interested in other aspects of IT. Brandon had earlier achieved his MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) but had done very little with it.
    • Brandon decided to get recertified in this area and convinced his company to move him over to Windows systems administration. Network had become a little boring.
    • Being in Windows administration allowed Brandon to meet people on the development and operations teams and have conversations about the applications these teams wanted to deploy. Brandon was able to learn about the applications, their requirements, and their dependencies as well as what it would take to build systems which could run these applications. Note that this was happening well before virtualization came onto the scene or became popular.
    • When Brandon was doing networking, he wasn’t really involved in these types of conversations. The new role focused on Windows and applications brought a sense of enjoyment in being a part of the application focused conversations.
  • What was the role of mentors in Brandon’s decision to focus on Windows (if any)?
    • Brandon had stayed in contact with peers from the school he attended over time, developing friendships from the time spent being a part of study groups.
    • Not everyone took the same path after getting out of school, and Brandon would talk to his peers about the different aspects of what they were doing compared to what he was doing.
    • Brandon also spoke with his manager about things he wanted to pursue in his career, and the manager felt like Brandon would enjoy the new responsibilities of Windows administration and be more productive.
    • Nick feels like many people may be missing this element of asking their manager for what they want or what they want to change in their career (day-to-day work, within a project, overall focus and specialty, etc.). Some people may not feel comfortable approaching their manager on these topics, for example.
      • “I think a lot of the time we just do our day-to-day jobs, and we don’t really think about what could be next or whether or not we’re even happy with what we’re doing. Sometimes I think that doesn’t necessarily translate, you know. It’s just a job and we’re trying to do our job and pay our bills and go home. But for me…I felt like I needed to make a change. I felt being driven in a different direction.” – Brandon Seymour
      • Brandon would classify himself as a very open and transparent person. He felt comfortable speaking to his manager about moving in a different direction. Brandon’s manager was open to the conversation and supported the change, even making the proper introductions to the team where Brandon wanted to work to help him get there.
      • “I’ve been blessed with some fantastic managers…. If you leave the organization or you change and you’re changing for the better, then I think that they’ve been successful in helping you with your career. And that’s what managers should do.” – Brandon Seymour

Mentioned in the Outro

  • Are we conditioning ourselves to ask for what we want in our careers?
  • We’ve heard multiple guests mention that good managers support you even if it means you need to leave their team. Some episodes to reference on this topic are:
  • The leadership qualities and skills discussed need not involve managing people (i.e. stepping up when no one else will). We can be leaders without needing to be managers.
    • Remaining calm in tense situations is a form of leadership. High performance coach Brendan Burchard cites lack of emotional control as a hindrance to career progression, especially for leaders. Stories of remaining calm and thinking through situations carefully could be good to highlight in a job interview.
  • Brandon stayed connected to others through struggle and gained support.
    • This includes staying connected to others in the Marine Corps and learning that it’s ok to ask for help. But it also includes staying connected even after being in the Marine Corps.
    • Getting support is especially important for our veterans transitioning to civilian life. For more perspective on this check out Episode 170 with guest Joe Chenevey.
      • Many companies today offer support for veterans and are looking to recruit them. For perspective on the value hiring managers place on a veteran’s experience, listen to Episode 93 with guest Paul Green.
    • Brandon stayed connected to those who went through computer courses with him, discussing how their careers were different from his and learning what else might be possible.

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