Life After the Army: How OMSCS Helped One Soldier Achieve His Dreams

Nov. 10, 2017

In 2015, the College of Computing produced a story highlighting active-duty service members of the U.S. Army who also happened to be current students in the online Master of Science in Computer Science program. Michael Brown, one of our featured service members in that story (pictured second from left), is now a veteran of both the Army and of the OMSCS program, after graduating in 2016. Brown hopes to inspire other members of the military and veterans -- to help them see that they also have what it takes to earn their master’s in computer science from Georgia Tech.

When Michael Brown returned from his tour of service in Afghanistan, with two years left on his commitment to the U.S. Army, he began to think about life after the military. What would his future look like -- in particular, his career -- as a veteran?

My time in OMSCS was both extremely challenging and rewarding,” he said. “As a student and TA for five of the six semesters I spent earning my master’s in computer science, the time commitment necessary to be successful was very high. At times it felt impossible to manage everything, when I factored in the demanding and constantly changing work schedule military pilots endure. I’m fortunate to have an incredibly supportive wife, Laura, who has demonstrated patience beyond measure with my educational pursuits. It was a lot of work day in and day out, but it was worth it.”

The challenge of balancing any full-time job with family and graduate school can be overwhelming, but adding instability of location and a constantly shifting daily schedule presents a different type of challenge for those students who are in the program and serving on active duty.

“I had some unique experiences compared to the typical graduate student,” Brown said. “On two separate occasions I found myself completing assignments and watching lectures while living out of a tent during field exercises, and one summer I simultaneously took a course, got married, moved across the country, and found myself checking in on course forums while 6,000 feet in the air (the other pilot was flying at the time -- don’t worry)!”

Brown always loved computers and knew that he wanted to use those skills in his career. The struggle for him and for many soldiers is determining what the next steps look like for career success during and after a transition out of service.

“My father was a self-taught software engineer, and he exposed me to computers and programming at a very early age. I built my first computer at age 13, and have been hooked ever since,” Brown said. “The degree I earned in this program provided a pivot point for me to make an upward move from military service rather than a lateral one. I truly believe that the quality education I received in OMSCS will enable me to continue learning in this field, conduct novel research in computer science, and achieve my goal of furthering science discovery in the U.S. space program.”

Brown now works for the Georgia Tech Research Institute as a research scientist, has made a new life for himself and his family in Atlanta, and just celebrated the birth of his first child. He is currently applying to Ph.D. programs and continues to advocate for the OMSCS program however he can.

“Obtaining a M.S. in computer science from a prestigious university can help soldiers looking to change jobs or re-branch and soldiers looking to re-enter the civilian workforce when their commitment is complete,” said Brown. “OMSCS offers a unique opportunity to advance your education while still on active duty. Had I not had this opportunity, I would be in a completely different place in life than I am now – likely trying to pursue a residential master’s program part-time while working a different job than I currently have, one not nearly as suited to my career aspirations and passions.”

To hear more from Michael Brown about his experiences with OMSCS and life as an active duty service member and student, you can watch him in a recent panel discussion led by The Atlantic for “The Future of Work” Summit.

You can also join in a discussion with Michael about the logistics of being a soldier or veteran in OMSCS during our upcoming OMSCS Career Seminar Series talk, on Nov. 29 from 8-9 p.m. ET.