How one alum is helping veterans get ready for tech jobs

Greg Tutunjian volunteered his time provide tech training to veterans at Northeastern. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

As a mechanic and helicopter test pilot with the U.S. Army, Morgan Stanley earned his MBA from Northeastern while flying battlefield surveillance missions in Afghanistan and chasing down drug dealers in Central America.

Now, after 20 years of service, he’s decided it’s time for a change, and his goal when he leaves the military on May 31 is to land a job with Microsoft.

Morgan Stanley, DMSB’17, plans to transition from the military to a career at Microsoft. Photo courtesy of Morgan Stanley

To help himself achieve that goal, Stanley enrolled in an intense two-day certification program offered for free by Northeastern’s Dolce Center for the Advancement of Veterans and Servicemembers, also known as CAVS. The program, which trained 16 veterans earlier this month, provides training in Agile, Scrum, and SAFe—three cutting-edge project management systems that have become essential skills in the tech industry.

“CAVS is taking care of my tuition and found me a place to stay, so for the price of an airline ticket I’m going to learn a skill that, along with my MBA, will make me a very competitive job candidate,” says Stanley, DMSB’17.

CAVS is able to provide this service—which typically costs about $1,500 per student—because Greg Tutunjian, LA’74, has volunteered to provide the training for free.

“I wanted to find a way to give back to Northeastern and have always been flabbergasted that men and women transitioning out of the service have a hard time finding jobs,” says Tutunjian, who has spent 20 years creating complex software programs for computer companies, healthcare organizations, and the federal government.

“Veterans are ideal candidates for this because being in the armed forces is all about teamwork, loyalty, collaboration, and accountability—which are the fundamental principles underlying Agile,” he says.

What is Agile?

Agile is a project management methodology developed to address a problem that had plagued the tech industry: Software projects had become so complex that budgets and deadlines were frequently missed, and by the time the work was completed, the customers’ needs had often changed.

“In the past, the customer would say, ‘Here’s what I want, here’s the money, call me when you’re done.’” says Tutunjian. “We needed a method that ensured better communication and adjustment along the way.”

Agile does this by breaking huge projects into bite-sized pieces that can be delivered in short intervals of a week or so over the life of the project. That ensures constant communication and adjustment between customer and developer. It also creates a framework for coordinating the work of dozens of different development teams, located all over the world, that are working simultaneously on the massive project.

Scrum was an early iteration of the Agile philosophy. Now the buzzword in the tech industry is “scaling,” which means taking the management principles pioneered in Scrum and applying them to the work of dozens of independent teams. This is the process is known as known as SAFe, or Scaled Agile Framework.

Once completing the course, students are eligible to take the Agile certification exam.

“When you have this training in your portfolio, it shows you can be an effective member of a complex team,” says Tutunjian.

Not just for programmers

Austen Venick, E’19, took the certification class last fall, even though he’s earning his master’s degree in mechanical engineering and has no intention of becoming a software developer.

“As technology progresses, there’s a lot more overlap between programing and physical engineering,” says Venick. “It’s going to be increasingly important to be able to facilitate work between the disciplines.”

As technology progresses, there’s a lot more overlap between programing and physical engineering.

Austen Venick E’19

After graduation, Venick plans to continue working with the Coast Guard, where he served for six years as a mechanic on ships in Alaska and the Great Lakes. He hasn’t decided yet whether he’s going to do this by reenlisting or by getting a job in private industry. He’s planning to do a co-op in the defense industry next year to help him decide which path will allow him to do the most interesting work.

He believes the Agile certification will help him advance his career regardless of which path he chooses.

“These work management tools can be adapted to any workplace,” he says. “Using Agile principles, you can develop your own workplace management system that streamlines your processes.”