San Antonio Express-News
Written by: Eric Killelea/San Antonio Express-News staff writer
Aug. 3, 2023 Updated: Aug. 3, 2023 4:57 p.m.
Job seekers and recruiters mingle during the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Joint Base San Antonio Career Summit at the Boeing Center at Tech Port San Antonio on Wednesday. Photos by Josie Norris/San Antonio Express-News
After six years as a mechanic in the U.S. Air Force, 28-year-old Daniel Rodriguez is looking to transition from the military to San Antonio’s technology sector.
Rodriguez was among hundreds of veterans and spouses who attended a job fair Wednesday hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes, Joint Base San Antonio and Port San Antonio. The job seekers met with more than 100 employers at the Boeing Tech Center at Tech Port.
“I like hard labor, but I’d like to use my brain more than my lower back,” Rodriguez said. “There’s plenty of opportunities in IT and cybersecurity here. It’s the future, and if you don’t prepare for the future you’re going to get left behind.”
The job fair at Port San Antonio reflects how the city’s largest tech hub plays a key part in perpetuating the city’s branding as Military City USA and the local push to work with the Defense Department. It’s also an example of how the campus has been boosting the city’s efforts to live up to its newer moniker of Cyber City USA, as it builds partnerships with tech companies in Texas and across the country.
Site of the former Kelly Air Force Base, the 1,900-acre Southwest Side campus has about 80 tenants, including Boeing and Knight Aerospace, which attended the event. The campus is home to about 18,000 employees, representing the largest share of the city’s 48,000-plus information tech workers. During the current fiscal year, which began in October, the Port said employers on campus have created 2,000 jobs.
Tiffany Solache smiles as she talks with a recruiter during the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Joint Base San Antonio Career Summit at the Boeing Center at Tech Port San Antonio on Wednesday. Josie Norris/San Antonio Express-News
The recent event attracted giants like Amazon and FedEx. It brought in a wide range of employers like CPS Energy and Northside Independent School District in San Antonio and the Houston Police Department. It reeled in firms like Technica, a cybersecurity outfit with an office on campus that has been hiring network and systems engineers who are eligible for security clearances.
“San Antonio is a sleeping giant for IT,” Jessica Mathis said while recruiting at the event for Virginia-based IT services and consulting firm Core4ce, which has 100 employees in the city. “It’s a hidden gem in cybersecurity, and if you’re looking for someone, not everyone is looking for, you want to come to San Antonio.”
A ‘natural fit’ for vets
While job seekers spoke with recruiters at the event from U.S. Border Patrol, H-E-B grocery chain, and IT and engineering company Leidos, Serafina De Los Santos, executive director for the 502d Force Support Group at Joint Base San Antonio, said she oversees programs that attempt to help about 4,000 people transitioning out of the military each year.
She described the majority of the base’s military workforce as “white collar,” such as people in the Air Force’s cyber wings.
In recent years, she has noticed a trend of people looking for positions in the local cybersecurity industry. Overall, she estimated that about one quarter of those in transition end up working in the tech industry, while others find employment in logistics, health care and management.
“We have a lot of talent at JBSA,” she said.
Standing at his information desk, Freddy Ramirez, chief executive of CNF Technologies, described how 80 percent of the 110 employees were military veterans who often worked on DOD-contracted projects.
The San Antonio-based cybersecurity firm had 25 job openings, of which 17 were on campus. The CEO and staff attended the event to recruit military veterans who might have security clearances or certificates showing they have entry-level cybersecurity skills.
“San Antonio has a talent pool,” he said. “We don’t have to go to Washington, D.C., to find cybersecurity professionals. They’re likely down the highway here.”
Ramirez’s father, Fred, was a former civilian employee at Kelly Air Force Base. He founded the cybersecurity company in 2005, about four years after the base closed.
Ramirez was the company’s chief legal officer before replacing his mother, Roxanne, as CEO. Previously, he worked for nearly a decade as an assistant district attorney in Bexar County’s Public Integrity and Cyber Crime Division.
Over the years, he has noticed obvious differences between people recruited directly from college and those from the military. For example, he gives all his employees his personal cellphone number, a move that could be new for people transitioning out of the military who have experience working in “chain of command” styled settings.
“The company is a natural fit for veterans to serve a mission,” he said. “Sometimes, moving into the business side of things requires a little tweak, but overall, they’re a tremendous asset.”
Nearby, Boeing operations manager Sam Losek told passersby about 21 job openings in San Antonio. The company, which has the most employees on campus and remains one of the largest employers in the city, is actively recruiting for engineers, mechanics, security professionals and event planners.
About 40 percent of Boeing’s 2,800 local employees are military veterans.
“They have discipline, good worth ethic and integrity,” Losek said.
He mentioned how Boeing bought the naming rights for the Port’s concert and esports venue in January. He spent the afternoon “talking with everyone” at the event about job openings in hopes of recruiting them to join the powerhouse on campus, where it developed the world’s largest free-standing, high-bay aircraft hangar and performs maintenance of the Air Force One fleet.
‘A whole different ballgame’
The Port is home to the Air Force Medical Operations Agency, and it is adjacent to JBSA, where the Air Force Civil Engineering Center and the 16th Air Force, known as Air Forces Cyber, are located.
Last year, Austin-based accelerator Capital Factory opened an office at then-newly opened $70 million Boeing Center with plans to bring its Center for Defense Innovation program here to further its mission to build partnerships between the private sector and the Defense Department.
“We are in a prime position to support government institutions and the military,” said, Dr. Chaunte Hall, a former medic in the Air Force who is director of community engagement at the Port.
“The military culture is a part of what the Port has kept.”
Hall — founder of Centurion Miliary Alliance, a nonprofit that helps people transition from the military to the civilian life — described how the companies on campus have a large job pool in military partners already working with cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. But she noted that people transitioning from the military to the private sector can sometimes struggle with new lifestyles and support systems and could benefit from being educated on salary negotiations, for example.
“It’s a whole different ballgame,” she said.
Some military veterans and spouses at the event described hardships when searching for jobs in the local tech industry.
Divante Parness, who served for five years as an Army infantryman, walked around the event searching for tech jobs.
“No undergraduate degree, no master’s degree,” he said. “That’s the issue.”
Parness, 30, said he left the military in 2018 and has since been working “temporary jobs” as a laborer and in food processing plants. In recent years, he’s become interested in becoming a data science analyst or engineer.
“I realized I’m not going to be big and strong forever, so I have to figure it out,” he said.
Last week, he graduated from an online course at CodeUp, a San Antonio-based tech bootcamp that trains people for programming careers. Without a full-time job yet, he’s been spending time at the downtown Geekdom to network and apply to job openings on his laptop. On Wednesday, he joined fellow graduates at the Port’s job fair where he handed his resume to potential employers and hoped they’d hire someone without college degrees.