Sixer Spotlight with Edmund Dunn
After 20 years of active duty service in the US Army as a Russian linguist and intelligence analyst, Edmund Dunn, a service-disabled Veteran, shares his journey to the civilian and tech world. Let’s find out how he now helps Veterans transition into tech and learn about the importance of his work as a Drupal Engineer at Agile Six.
Who is Edmund Dunn?
I'm a husband. I'm a father. I'm a Veteran. I'm a soldier. I'm autistic. I'm disabled. I'm an animal lover. I love the outdoors, books, history, and people.
We can't look at people and treat them as less than others, but look at all people as human beings first.
[Pictured: December 1995, Edmund Dunn, with the then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General John Shalikashvili, taken in Hungary on their way to Bosnia]
I served from 1993 to 2013, and one of the major reasons I joined the Army was to help people. You see responses to natural disasters and things like that, and even in war, you see soldiers helping people. For me, that was important. It was something I wanted to do, and part of it was also fighting wars for the right reasons.
[Pictured: Edmund Dunn, 2002, reenlistment as a Staff sergeant at Ft. Carson, Colorado]
Tell us about your transition from the military to the civilian world.
The transition was hard because the briefings they gave you didn't cover nearly enough about the VA that they should have covered. I had a job lined up with a small language training company, but it was a terrible fit. I happened to be talking to a bank representative who is also a Veteran, and I mentioned I was trying to figure out what was next. He brought up Vocational Rehabilitation with the VA. My VA briefings hadn't even touched it, so I looked it up, and with my back injuries, I knew I needed something. With my wife's encouragement, we saved some money, and I applied and was accepted into the program to be a social worker.
After a semester of that, I realized with my back injury, I wasn't going to be able to sit in a normal office environment and went back to my caseworker and said this isn't going to work. She had me do an aptitude test and working in software development was one of the top things.
Remote work was starting to come into its own at that point, around 2015/ 2016, and our local community college had a good web development and design program. The rehabilitation paid for me to go through that program, and I got an internship at a local web development and design company in the eLearning space. I then got a full-time offer and worked for them for a few years, and they made the mistake of sending me to DrupalCon in Seattle. I remember I had that sense of community working in Drupal, but going to DrupalCon, that's when it sank in.
The hardest part of the transition for me, and probably for most service members, is losing the sense of belonging and that camaraderie. I found that again with the Drupal community.
How did you find Agile Six?
I saw a job listing for a Drupal engineer to work on Va.gov. I wasn't actively looking for a new job. I get a lot of newsletters about Drupal and tech, and one of them is called the Weekly Drop; it's all about Drupal. At the bottom, they always have job listings, and that's where I saw it. I always check what companies are looking for and do that for two reasons - one, to see where my skills are, and two, because I still actively mentor Veterans so I can help steer them towards things they can do to help get hired and jobs.
I just saw this job, and it feels like I have to apply because it’s to work on Va.gov, and here we are.
Tell us about the work you are doing at Agile Six.
I'm a Drupal engineer on the sitewide CMS team and work on the Drupal CMS for VA.gov. My team is the overarching team for the whole Drupal CMS. There are other teams that work on different pieces of it and focus on different areas, and our team oversees the entire CMS.
It is rewarding because I know what I'm doing is helping Veterans find the information they need and get access to the services they need, etc.
It's also interesting work because this is the first job where I've worked single code base. Whereas before, there have always been many projects with many different code bases.
What I'm doing now is helping to maintain the system and enhance things for users of the system. The users we primarily focus on are the editors, people at all the various VA locations and sites that are inputting the information into Drupal for the Veterans.
As a Veteran, how important is the work that you are doing?
It's extremely important. As a Veteran, there's nothing more important I could be doing.
You start talking about identity, and how we see ourselves and identify ourselves; being a Veteran is a huge part of my identity, and being a husband and father is also a large part of it. After serving 20 years, ensuring we provide information and access to services is so important because this has been so hard for Veterans in the past. Now, with the internet and this website, it's gotten so much easier, and it will continue to get easier as we continue to improve the website.
Tell us about Edmund The Mentor.
It started with Drupal Diversity Camp and speaking about my journey from military service to becoming a Drupal engineer, followed by A11yTalks (Accessibility Talks), speaking at DrupalCon, and advocating within the Drupal community to bring more Veterans and disabled Veterans into Drupal.
There are so many unfilled positions in tech right now, and there have been for a few years. Veterans are an untapped resource, and a large part of the reason is that Veterans just don't know why and what the jobs are. What does a software engineer do? What does a program manager do? What does a product owner do? What does a designer do? What does a UX researcher do? They just don’t know. It’s also getting the word out amongst disabled Veterans because this is a job I can do, and I think most disabled Veterans can do.
Mentoring through LinkedIn, I work with Veterans interested in getting into tech or Drupal. Some are already in tech and are interested in what a developer does, for example, or I steer them toward training. I talk about options for training like freecodecamp.org and coding boot camps that also target the Veteran population.
Let's talk about the company culture at Agile Six; what stands out most to you?
Purposeful work is a big deal; the purpose there is huge, and continuing to seek that work is huge too. The deliberate pursuit of this work is a big deal. Helping to improve things for the government and the VA on how they can deliver work makes it easier for Veterans to access information and services, which is important.
Our Just Cause is, “We build better by putting people first.” What does that mean to you?
A leader I always admired in the army said if you take care of your soldiers, they will accomplish the mission. So, in this case, if you put your people first, they will get the work done. A company looking for work that means something will attract a certain type of individual, and those are the kind of people you want to work with. They're not people just motivated by money; they want to make the world a better place.
Q. Do you see Agile Six as a different kind of company?
Yes, absolutely. The lack of middle management is amazing. Being treated like an adult has been a huge adjustment, and I'm still adjusting. After 20 years in the army and then working in more traditional companies, it takes adjustment. I see it work effectively here, and the leadership team is open and willing to talk to anybody. I can go to anyone on the leadership team and say do you have a minute to talk, I'm curious about X, Y, or Z, or I have an idea or issue about this - they are open to talk. At our monthly all-hands meeting, they talk about contracts and are open about it. Development isn't behind this wall; it’s open and transparent.
Transparency and trust are win-win for everyone.
Q. What core value resonates most with you – Purpose, Wholeness, Trust, Self-Management, Inclusion?
Trust and inclusion resonate with me. Trust because that goes back to transparency. Everything going on here is out there for all of us to see. They are showing trust in us, and we're also showing trust in them. With regard to inclusion, that goes back to everybody, period, has something to contribute.
Q. Do you think Agile Six is a place where Veterans can thrive?
Yes, some of it will take some help as it takes a little getting used to as the self-management is a little different. After 20 years in the Army and then working for more traditional agencies, it's different. It's not different, bad, just different.
One of the things I was really good at in the army was taking the initiative and not having to be told constantly what to do. If you see something that needs to be done, just do it or make sure it gets taken care of. That's essentially what this is.
Tell us about your team and what it’s like working in a self-managed environment.
Oh, that's great. I mean, we're accountable to the team. We're accountable to our delivery manager. But it's more like we're accountable to the team and accountable to each other. But that also means that we all support each other. So there are days when my back hurts, and I have to take wellness time and say I can't today; I have to take my medication and lay down. And there are days, you know, when the other developer on the team was out sick for a few days and had a few tickets in a sprint that he couldn't finish. I was able to step in and finish those off and make sure they got through the sprint. That kind of stuff. It’s nice because it's all about the team. It's not about me.
It's not just about what I'm doing. It's seeing what the team is doing and seeing what we as a team are accomplishing. Because by myself, I can accomplish a very, very tiny fraction of what this team is accomplishing for Veterans.
Agile Six is doing great work, and there's much more to do. I'm so glad that you are here to help build better.
Sixer Spotlight is an ongoing series to share the stories of our team. If Edmund’s story piqued your interest in a career with Agile Six, explore our open roles.