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Air Force vet risks it all for a chance into tech

“…Ask that stupid question. Please do not be afraid to look dumb in tech. One thing I have learned to be incredibly true is that everyone in tech is constantly learning and they typically find it exciting to teach you something they know. You won’t be ridiculed for not knowing something.” Casey Pense, former Air Force Airborne Cryptologic Language Analyst and recent TLG IT Careers Network Development Engineer (NDE) IT Pre-Apprentice graduate encourages anyone newly entering the NDE program on how to get the most value out of their learnings.

Casey can’t take all of the credit for flying into the unknown and getting into tech. He had learned about the pre-apprenticeship opportunity with TLG IT Careers while scrolling through a vet tec reddit post that mentioned TLG, but his real “jump all in” moment didn’t happen until he casually mentioned it to his wife, Brandy. She fully supported the idea and even had to convince him to chase his dreams – which would entail moving from Texas to Washington with two young kids under five in tow. 

After risking it all in a move across the country (before getting accepted into the NDE program) and living in a single hotel room for a month with his entire family, Casey is now a Cloud Support Engineer Apprentice with the Amazon Web Services team. To say he and his family have faced some challenges along the way would be an understatement. 

Learn more about Casey’s fascinating journey and the sacrifices he and his family made on his path into tech in our interview with him below.

How did you find out about TLG IT Careers’ Network Development Engineer IT Pre-Apprenticeship

I was up late looking at a vet tec reddit post and TLG was mentioned there. I wasn’t even thinking about swapping careers at the time. As I read about the experience this individual had I realized that I could absolutely do a bootcamp and change my life with TLG.

What were you doing before joining the program?

I was an Airborne Cryptologic Language Analyst in the Air Force for 6 years. I was med-boarded out of the Air Force because of a knee surgery that I had. After the Air Force I moved from Omaha to Texas with my wife and 2 kids. (1 year old and 3 year old at the time). In Texas I went to college for Arts Technology and Emerging communications. I wanted to develop video games. I did this somewhat to just buy time and have income using the GI Bill. Very quickly I realized how much I did not like college. The pacing was just too slow and being required to spend money on classes I found utterly useless became too frustrating to just keep going.

What led you to make a jump into tech? 

I’ve always loved tech. I had always seen it as a hobby though. I have been a gamer since I was 5, I built computers since I was 10, I struggled through port forwarding at 12 so that I could play Halo with my friends.

The real jump happened when my wife and I just felt like we were just surviving in Texas. We realized while we had enough money and freedom to raise our kids, we were not really happy just doing what had to be done. We wanted to be able to homeschool our kids and I wanted a career that I enjoyed and actually brought me a sense of fulfillment. 

One night I casually told my wife, Brandy, about TLG and showed her what I learned about tech bootcamps and the VA. Almost the moment I stopped speaking Brandy said “Let’s move to Washington, you’ll get a spot and we’ll be better for it.” I was somewhat shocked because I hadn’t even really considered dropping everything and pushing a goal I didn’t even officially have. Brandy was incredibly supportive and somewhat had to convince me to chase this dream I didn’t know I had. 

Did you know which route/direction you wanted to go in before starting (software vs. network)?

At first I wanted to go software and I waited quite a while to try to get a spot. Then after talking to some friends and folks at TLG I decided that Networking was going to be the route I chose. I am so glad I went this way too. I feel like being in networking is making me a very well-rounded technical professional. I love knowing the ends and outs of every part of a network.

Did you have any hesitations and doubts about joining the program? If so, what were they and how did you overcome them?

I absolutely had doubts and hesitations. I was terrified while moving my family across the country without even having a dedicated spot at TLG yet. Every day for two months I was so scared that I had made a bad decision and that it was not going to work out. Luckily, TLG was always very open with me and anytime I needed to ask a question Martin was always there ready to answer. When we first arrived in the Seattle area, we were supposed to be living in an AirBnb for a month while we found a townhome or apartment. When we got there, it was filled with black mold, and we had to get out. We ended up living in a hotel for a month. 4 people and 2 dogs in one small hotel room was definitely a scary place to be.

As cheesy and cliché as it sounds, We overcame these challenges and doubts by constantly leaning on each other. My wife, even though I know she was scared, never once faltered or acted like we had made any mistakes. Brandy constantly reassured me that I was capable and going to succeed in what we were doing.

We referred to what we were doing as a video game adventure when talking to our kids in order to reassure them that we were okay and excited regardless of the massive changes.

What was the biggest challenge for you during the program?

The biggest challenge for me was confidence. I was in my element when it came to the pacing of learning and I succeeded week to week but when it came to confidently speaking on topics we were learning, I felt inadequate quite often even though TLG and the instructors made sure I was not.  

What did you enjoy the most during the program?

The pacing and the instructors were just amazing. They constantly pushed the bar and pushed us as individuals to succeed at higher levels than we expected of ourselves

If you had one piece of advice for someone newly entering this program, what would it be?

My advice would be to immerse yourself in the world of networking. There are people like Network Chuck on YouTube that make quality networking content that is interesting and even fun. Find ways you can work on your own with what you are learning. Make a videogame server, play with your personal network at home, install Linux on an old laptop.

Most importantly I would ask that stupid question. Please do not be afraid to look dumb in tech. One thing I have learned to be incredibly true is that everyone in tech is constantly learning and they typically find it exciting to teach you something they know. You won’t be ridiculed for not knowing something. 

What has your experience been like as a Cloud Support Engineer Apprentice at AWS?

Being a Cloud Support Engineer Apprentice at AWS has been nothing short of a dream come true. I am working remotely on incredibly awesome technology. I get to work with people from all over the world whose goal is to further advance technology and help each other learn. My management is amazing. While I am an apprentice I am trusted to complete my work at my own pace and to succeed in my own way. I couldn’t ask for a better place to continue my learning in the tech world.

Is there anything that you would have done differently on your path to tech?

I would have started asking the dumb questions earlier. I feel I hindered myself by being too proud to sound dumb or goofy. TLG really helped me open up and start to ask anything I wanted.

Is there anything surprising to you about working in tech that you didn’t expect? If so, what?

The most surprising thing for me is just how helpful people in tech are. Coming from a somewhat toxic environment in the Air Force, I expected tech to be somewhat the same. I was so incredibly wrong. Knowing that everyone wants to help everyone was such a huge relief.

What’s in your future? Future goals, etc?

Short Term I plan to secure a Cloud Support Engineer role with AWS around Summer 2023. I do hope to get into a DevOps or Solutions Architecture role within 2 years at AWS.

Longer Term I hope to specialize in Machine Learning and AI development. I hope to be at AWS with this goal but it is a ways off so we will see!


Wow! What an incredible journey you’ve had, Casey! Your story is definitely one for the books and a great example of taking (calculated) risks and getting rewarded after the hard work is done. We continue to wish you so much success in your future goals into machine learning, AI, and beyond!

To learn more about your options with TLG IT Careers, visit our site or schedule a meeting with one of our Educational Consultant to discuss your unique needs and to determine if an IT apprenticeship or IT pre-apprenticeship is right for you!