048 - From soldier to IT specialist with Ryan Chasteauneuf

September 29, 2020

Ryan Chasteauneuf had always dreamed of being a soldier. But after disaster struck in Afghanistan, his military career came to an abrupt end.

He eventually discovered the power of online resources like Pluralsight and began a successful new career in IT. Jeremy Morgan spoke with Ryan about his powerful story, the challenges of IT and his advice for anyone looking to take that next big step in their career.

If you enjoy this episode, please consider leaving a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen.

Please send any questions or comments to podcast@pluralsight.com.



Hello, and welcome to All Hands on Tech, where today's leaders talk tomorrow's technology. I'm Daniel Blaser. Ryan Chasteauneuf had always dreamed of being a soldier, but after disaster struck in Afghanistan, his military career came to an abrupt end. While searching new career, he discovered the power of online resources like Pluralsight and began a successful new career in IT. Jeremy Morgan spoke with Ryan about his powerful story, the challenges of IT, and his advice for anyone looking to take that next big step in their career. 


So tell us a little bit about yourself and what you're doing right now.


So my name's Ryan Chasteauneuf. I am a network administrator for a company called Moortec. Moortec is a global company. It makes the heat sensors on microprocessors. We've got offices in Europe, we've staff in America, and in China. And I manage their network and their security. 


Awesome. That's pretty cool. So you have a very interesting story, and it's a very impressive story. So tell us a little bit about your early life.


Obviously, in my professional career, I started out as a solider, which was something I always wanted to do when I was a kid. I idolized the military. I always wanted to be in the army. And I think the main reason was because I wasn't all that bright when I was growing up, and the army seemed like an area where I could do well because it was a place where you just work hard and that was it, and I didn't have to think too much. So that's why I joined the military, initially. And it was great. My career was going really well in the army. I worked with some fantastic people and I got to travel the world a lot. And I really, really enjoyed my time. But unfortunately, as it goes for some of us, I went out to Afghanistan, and I was injured out in Afghan, and because of that, I was medically discharged. And after getting medically discharged, I found it very, very difficult to find work.


Did you have any kind of plan, or was it kind of like starting over?


When I joined the army, I always intended to be in there forever. So getting medically discharged kind of threw a spanner in the works, and I was desperately kind of scrambling to try and find out what the hell I was going to do with my life. Yeah, I ended up washing cars, delivering pizzas, just to try and pay bills, really. Because when I was in the military I was a signaller as one of my jobs, I decided to try and get a career in IT because I figured the signaller's role would transform into IT role quite well. Well, obviously I'd been in the army for a while, so I'd saved up money, and I used that money to pay for some classroom training, which basically consisted of a person reading a book in front of a classroom to me. And by the end of it, I just felt like I should've bought the book instead. So it was a little bit of a waste of money, I felt. And a lot of these certifications didn't lead to a job because I didn't know what I was meant to do. I was taking random qualifications that didn't really add up together. And I was just spending all the money I'd saved throughout my military career on training, and it wasn't getting me anywhere.


So were you interested in technology at all as a kid, or was it just something that happened in the army?


From a very early age, I was playing with computers. I got my hands on a BBC computer in the '80s, and there was a shop near where I grew up that used to throw away broken pieces of tech, and me and my brother used to go down, raid the bins, and put it back together and try and build it out of the rubbish, mainly so we could play games together.


Yeah, that's a very common motivation at that age.


And it's how I ended up in networking, because we were trying to get the computers to talk to each other so we could play against each other.


Oh, yeah, of course.


Yeah, it transpired into me doing the networking, I felt, quite well. And then in the military, because I was a signaller, there was hands-on setting up, again, it's very similar to networking. But yeah, when I left the military, it was very hard to find a job to fall into, so I ended up washing cars, which was quite painful, I felt, from being in the army.


Yeah, I can imagine it's like starting all over again.


It felt like a huge leap back. Eventually I found, well, one evening I was coming in to do the cashing off, and someone there was having a drama with their computer, so I fixed it for them. And then they got me an interview with their IT department. And then from there I went from the IT department into fixing their network, and then one job led to another job, led to another job, and so on and so forth.


Wow, that's pretty cool. Did you start to realize that you had a learning style? You know, everyone has kind of a learning style, and you mentioned classroom instruction not working that well, which was how it was for me, as well, when I was in college.


Biggest issue with the classroom training was, especially in my earlier years of training, I was too embarrassed to ask questions. When I was going on this classroom training, I was a lot older than anyone else in there, so you felt very intimidated kind of asking questions, like I should know this. Whereas, you know, when you're doing the online training, you just type in a message and then someone gets back to you. And the other joy is, if you don't understand something in a classroom, there's only so many ways the instructor will be able to reword it or rephrase it. With the online training, I just rewind it. And the other thing I really like is, well, the other way I learn is by doing. I think everyone is pretty much the same. First you'll see it, then you'll watch someone do it, and then you do it yourself. And that reinforces the knowledge you've done, and eventually you'll teach it to someone else. And that just helps solidify that information and helps you remember it. So, you know, watching someone doing in online training and then labbing it yourself, it's invaluable.


Yeah, yeah, computer different, especially with networking. It's really difficult, and that's actually what I my degree was in when I was in college, was networking. And it's nearly impossible to teach some of those concepts if you don't have a computer in front of you. 


It is the weird thing, because it's like when you're working with a server or anything else, that's a physical thing. You can see it. But when you're doing the networking, it's, how is this traveling from that server to that server? And it's an invisible trail that you've got to visualize in your head, how those packets are going across your network, whether it's, you know, through the air or through some cables, through firewalls. And when it hits this device, will it be dropped? Why is it not getting there? And it is a lot of stuff you've got to visualize, something that is just 0s and 1s going over an electrical cable.


Yep, absolutely. So you started out in a support position. Did you have your eye on where you are now, or was there kind of a different path that led you there?


Didn't know where I was going. And I think that's important, because IT changes so quickly. I mean, when I started out, there was no concept of the cloud, and now it's everywhere. I think it's a good idea to know what you like, but you've got to open, and you've got to look out for that shiny thing in the corner that's going to take off. Because this wonderful industry we're in changes so fast, and there's new technologies coming out. And if you get fixated on one technology, that could disappear, and you don't want to be starting again. It's important to keep up to date and keep current with, you know, emerging technologies. And again, the online training gives you the ability to do that. It's there for you to have a look at. It's great.


Yeah, sometimes it's nice to be able to go on and see something you don't recognize. That's helped me throughout the years when I see something online that I'm like, I have no idea what that is. Let me check it out. And it ends up being something that I end up being crazy about.


You end up falling down the rabbit hold a bit.


Yeah, absolutely.


It's like this technology I've been playing with lately, Ansible. Well, 3 weeks ago I'd never heard of it, and now I'm using it to manage a system. 


That's often how it works. And I think people that are easily distracted are attracted to tech. That's a theory of mine.


Yeah, it's a bit of a double-edged sword because you never seem to finish anything.


Yeah, exactly. But you get to learn a lot of things. So is there anything that you learned from the military that has helped you in your career later?


Hard work and perseverance. The skills you get in the military are invaluable, and they, although there isn't much call on civilian street for artillery fire, there is call for some of the other skills, I think they're called soft skills, like the hard work and the teamwork, the kind of things you develop in the military just by being there. Attention to detail, I mean, the amount of times in the military you have to make your bed a certain way, and you have to really focus, or cleaning your weapon, or something like that, where you have to very meticulous that it's done properly. Otherwise, you, I think out in the States you call them drill sergeants, will absolutely hound you for it. So the attention to detail is quite key for IT. And also, one that I've found is very good for IT is having a backout plan.


That definitely sounds like it maps pretty much exactly.


If it all goes wrong, how am I going to put it back to normal? is a very good skill you learn in the military that works very well in IT. The amount of times I've come up with an amazing plan, then at 2:00 in the morning it's not working out, and I've got to roll it all back.


That's usually when it's not working in IT, it seems like, is the early morning hours.


It's the early morning when you're on your own.


Yeah, exactly. What advice would you give yourself back at the carwash? Like if you could talk to Ryan who's delivering pizzas or back at the carwash, what advice would you give yourself?


Don't give up. There were a lot of times back then when I nearly, I was so close to just throwing in the towel and giving up. And luckily, I had a fantastic wife who really kind of wouldn't let me. She kept pushing me and everything. I mean, I wish I'd got onto the training sooner. I wish I'd found this online training sooner and didn't waste all my money on classroom courses and doing certifications which weren't worth the paper they were written on. But, you know, if I didn't do that, then maybe I wouldn't have seen the value in the online training. So, yes, I would just really try and push myself not to give up. And maybe get into Cisco a bit earlier.


Oh, yeah, Cisco stuff is fun.


Yeah, the CCNA was the first certification that I passed, and that's what really accelerated my career.


I bet. That's a big one.


Yeah, because back then the CCNA exam was a lot of practical questions. It wasn't like the Microsoft exams, where it's just like, where would you find this file, and it's click A, B, or C. The CCNA back then was, this is broken, why is it broken, how would you fix it? I know my way around a command line, so you just kind of, it felt like a real-life experience.


So what do you think are some changes in the security field that you're kind of excited about?


Well, I wouldn't say excited, worried, more.


Yeah, I guess that's probably a better way to say it.


I mean, the world of security is brutal, because at the end of the day, you are always on the losing side. You cannot defend yourself against something until you know it exists. And unfortunately, with the right amount of processing power, everything's crackable. 


If it was invented by a human, it can be broken by a human.


Yeah, all you're doing is buying yourself enough time to see the attack. The scariest thing for me at the minute is the fact that it's no longer a case of the threats coming from the other side of your firewall. It's not out on the big, bad internet. It's a disgruntled employee comes in and puts a bit of malware in your system because he doesn't like you. The internal, everyone---a quick google, or a quick look on YouTube, and you can find out how to make malware yourself. It's quite a scary world out there at the minute. As well you have countries sponsoring hackers. It's a very interesting but very scary environment to live in.


That's one of the things I've heard from other security professionals, is there's an increasing threat from the inside, which is kind of interesting. Because I've worked at companies as a software developer where I had access to everything, you know, customer data, email addresses, credit card numbers, whatever. And none of us ever thought anything bad about it, or didn't think there was anything wrong with that. Because we were like, well, we're not going to use it, you know, we're honest people, we work here. So let's just make some fake test data so that we don't expose it. But, you know, other than that, there was kind of an attitude that this was okay. And nowadays, it's like, that is not okay at all. You have to protect inside, outside, everywhere.


Yeah, I mean, it's no longer a case of if I'm going to be attacked. It's when I'm going to be attacked and how am I going to recover from it?


I can imagine in security it's much like IT, actually. If you're doing a good job, nobody notices, so that's kind of a challenge as well.


Trying to explain to people that you need to put in a restriction just in case something happens is quite challenging.


So what was the very first course you took? Do you remember?


A+, ComTIA's A+, Network+ and Security+. I got a three packaged deal on them. They were classroom-led courses, and so spent a week on each course. At the end of each week, you do an exam on each of them, and I failed all three.


Oh, wow.


Yeah, well, a clean sweep of complete failures on all of them. At that point, I was ready to throw in the towel. I was like, well, clearly, I'm no good at this. It cost me quite a bit of money, and it was like, wow, that was a waste. And yeah, it was a bitter pill to swallow, that was.


Yeah, I can imagine that's where the "don't give up" part comes from, because if you'd have given up at that point, then you'd have no idea how enjoyable your career would be now.


Yeah, definitely. And I still drop exams today, when I go and take exams. And it still hurts, but it doesn't hurt like it hurt back then. Because I thought, you know, I'm going to live---I've left the army, I'm going to start a career in IT, and it was, oh, no, no, you're not.


Yeah, but you kept pushing and you won.


Well, I think luck had a really big part to play in it, because if I didn't go in and have that person struggling with their computer and go, "I know what that is." Then the first interview would've never happened. And that if that first interview never happened, then I could still be washing cars and delivering pizzas.


So what's an average day like in your job now?


At the minute it's quite brutal because we're having an upgrade. We're upgrading our VMware, we're upgrading our network, we're creating a disaster recovery plan, a much more solid disaster recovery plan. We're going to have a second data center in an office at another location. So we want a bit of redundancy, as well as being able to recover if our main site goes down. So there's a lot of work going on. We've also got a lot of Linux systems on our network, which we are battling with and trying to find a better way of managing them, hence the Ansible training. But, yeah, there's a lot of tech we are playing with, and it's a lot of hard work, a lot of late nights reading and lot of early mornings studying. But we just chip away at it a little bit at a time.


Would you say a desire to learn is a requirement for this field?


Oh, it's got to be. It has to be. You need to stay up to date, and you need to want to know about stuff. If you were the kid who took apart things when you were growing up to see how they worked, IT is best for you. It's no good just coming into an IT system and going, oh, it's works because it works. If you do that, then you're going to get destroyed if someone attacks you, especially on network. You need to know your network better than you know your house. You've got to know how the traffic flows, you've got to know where your servers are, what your access lists are doing. And you've got to know it inside and out. It's no good just going, it works because it works.


Yeah, absolutely. There's like a curiosity element that always has to be present. So how are things changing for network engineers with the move to the cloud, and some companies are completely in the cloud, some are hybrid. How do you think that's changing things for network engineers?


For networking, you're always going to have devices connecting to something, whether it's just connecting to a router that then goes out to your cloud system or connecting wirelessly, there's always going to be a network because the devices need to talk to each other. But again, you've just got to stay fluid and accept these emerging technologies. Don't be resistant against things. Because you get that a lot where people are, we've done this this way for so long we're sticking to it. And you've got to evolve with the times. And a lot of the technology that's---the cloud is here to stay. Which was quite interesting because it brought back one of the things I saw quite early in my career as a network engineer, where router on a stick, where you split the channel on a router so you can have multiple VLANs going through a router because of the cloud stuff. It was interesting to see that make a comeback because of the cloud.


Yeah, definitely. And I remember talking with some of my friends who were in network engineering years ago, and they were pretty worried about the cloud because they were like, this is going to put me out of a job, and this and that, and now they're busier than anybody I know.


Like I said, you're still going to need to connect to the internet, and then when you get to the internet and you get to your cloud, your cloud's still going to have a network. It's just virtual now. But you never could see how your traffic traveled around your network anyway, so what's the difference with it being in a cloud?


True. What advice would you give to someone who's in a very similar situation to you, and so if they're just coming out of the army, they're a little bit older than someone that just graduated high school, and they're trying to figure out what to do with their life?


The big thing with leaving the military, and everyone goes for it when they leave the military, and it doesn't matter what country you were in the military in is, when you're in there, it feels like a family unit or maybe a very dysfunctional family, but you're still part of this family. And leaving the military is very, very hard. It's a huge part of your life. But it is only part of your life. You've still got a massive amount of life to go, normally. So just because one chapter of your life's over, it doesn't mean your story's over. Just keep going.


That's really profound. I like that. What can you tell us about Help for Heroes?


They're a British charity who help veterans who have been injured. And yes, I joined a Help for Heroes called Band of Brothers, and it's just, basically, it helps veterans help other veterans. I get a lot of value out of it. Not everyone does. I'm not sure if you have a similar thing out in the States, but it's a fantastic charity. Well, it has been for me. They've helped veterans find employment, reskill after the military. But it's very much about helping yourself. It's not like giving you a handout. It's trying to steer you in the right way so you can, you know, because at the end of the day, you're not a child. You need to look after yourself. And it's about trying to get you to take responsibility of your life again, instead of having a drill sergeant shout at you and tell you to sort your life out. Because once you're out, you're on your own. Help for Heroes kind of give you a little bit of a bridge in between that.


That's pretty cool. Do you have any final advice for anybody in any stage of their career that wants to move ahead?


Get hungry. Get hungry for information. Have a look, take things apart, break things, fix them again, and just enjoy it. You spend so much time at work, you've got to find fun in it.


Absolutely. That's great advice. So what do you think your future looks like? What are you intending to do with your career now?


Because networking's worked out so well for me, I'm going to keep that, keep that up to date. And still to this day, I've really enjoyed playing with switches and routers and firewalls. But I am going further and further into security now. This year, like I said, I'm studying at the moment to do the CCNP Security. After that I've got to do the ethical hacking course, the, what is it, the Systems Security Certified Practitioner. A ton of work ahead, but, you know, it's fine because I'm hungry for the information. Python, I do Red Hat quite a lot as well, so there's quite a lot of technologies there that you just, like I said, getting distracted by other things.


Yeah, and Red Hat has kind of their own ecosystem. You know, there's Linux, and then there's Red Hat.


The joy with any of the Linux products is the amount of freedom you have with them. You can do anything with it. But that's also the worst thing about it because everyone can anything with it, especially when you're working in security. You're like, right, we need to restrict this. Um, no, you can't. 


Yeah, that would be quite the challenge. Thank you for talking with me today. This has been really fun.


Thanks for having me.


Thank you for listening to All Hands on Tech. You can find show notes and more info at pluralsight.com/podcast. Thanks again, and have a great rest of your day.