In this week's My Job Story, we hear from Jennifer Ostrander, an Information Systems Manager with the US Army. Jennifer has been in the Army for 20 years and nearly two years in this current role.
High Demand, Low Supply: How do you describe your job?
Jennifer Ostrander: I am the Information Systems Management officer of a 3,600 Soldier Infantry Brigade Combat Team. I serve as senior signal advisor to the Commander. I am responsible for planning and implementing communications solutions. As well, I manage the brigade's Information Assurance campaign for all users and automations equipment. I have developed and implemented a Brigade information technology plan, automation standing operating procedures, continuity of operations plan, incident response procedures and life-cycle management plan for information technology assets. Networking with supporting organizations such as the Network Enterprise Center, and Field Service Representatives is also imperative in order to reach our goals.
HDLS: How did you get this job?
Jennifer: The Army has voluntary transfer incentive programs that allow you to apply for special “functional areas” that are outside of the career and specialty that the Army originally trained you in. In my case, I had been trained as a Logistician, the functional area I was able to apply for was as an Information Systems Manager. Because of my degree in Computer Information Systems as well as my years of experience at Manteca Unified School District as a Systems Analyst, I was accepted to transition to a more computer science related role.
HDLS: What is a typical day like for you in your role?
Jennifer: Morning physical training with my section. Each day may have a schedule of meetings with other departments, I tend to work with equipment integration and future plans a lot. I also have to go to my subordinate units to work with them in areas they are not familiar with. We are truly expected to understand a broad range of computer related areas of knowledge. It can be a bit to keep up with. I spend a lot of time on the phone locating resources needed and reading manuals to learn what some of our communication equipment is capable of, I’m not school trained on the majority of it and rely on my Soldiers to be the subject matter experts.
As an example, yesterday I did my morning physical training, then came into work and went through what Help Desk trouble tickets were being worked on that day. I then checked email and ensured that the meetings I had scheduled on my calendar had not been canceled or rescheduled. I then worked on the presentation of information I have to provide to the subordinate commands on the latest training statistics of their Soldiers for Cyber Security awareness as well as the latest projected timeline for some new equipment they are receiving. I was actually able to get away for lunch with my husband. That doesn’t happen very often! After lunch I had my meeting with the subordinate units I manage and went over the information I would be providing their commanders as well as received input from them on areas they needed support. Finishing up my day with some soldier evaluations that were due. And today? A completely different start with doing physical inspections of building security. It is certainly not Groundhog Day here.
HDLS: It sounds like you have many interesting days.
Jennifer: I can tell you about many interesting days I’ve had in this job. Here's one.
We had been out in the field for about a week. This is the "no shower, no potties, and digging trenches kind of fun" field. We had “jumped” our area of operations twice already - meaning we had packed it up, moved, and set it back up. We did a tactical night move, and the area that we ended up in was an old set of buildings used to train infantry Soldiers on clearing buildings. We set up our equipment inside instead of putting tents up. Even though it was at night and we should have been tired, my team was having fun, joking about as we put up new Ethernet cables, and the great part about it was I was able to be a part of it helping to put in cables. We all slept in this run down room and I got to hear some of their deployment stories as we settled in to get a few hours rest before the morning stand-to. Some of the best moments as a leader are being able to jump in and roll your sleeves up, it really developed my section and I saw a huge change when we returned from the field.
HDLS: What are the best parts of your job?
Jennifer: Training my Soldiers and as much as I gripe about it, I love being in the field doing our job. I think it is because when you are out training, you are really all doing your assigned roles. I love seeing the tents go up, the trucks drive in and the Soldiers dig in and enjoy doing what they have been trained to do. I’ve had some pretty cool moments. When I was stationed in Europe and training with NATO troops I got to serve as a photographer for an air lift of supplies by the Bulgarians!
HDLS: What was your first job?
Jennifer: Doing clerical work for my Grandfather. I used to go to Sacramento in the summer time and spend time with my Grandparents, my Grandpa kept the books for some local creameries and I used to help total up the deposits and file the checks. That’s where I learned to operate a 10-key calculator! Everything was done by hand then, no computers. Checks were hand written and deposited. I always did love to organize it all, we had one of those alphabetic paper sorters we’d put all the checks in with invoices. That must have been the beginning of my OCD.
HDLS: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Jennifer: Honestly I wasn’t one of those kids that fantasized about being in a specific career field. I wasn't really (and am still not) one of those people that can look too far in the future. I know that’s against the grain of what we are taught. When I was a kid I went from gymnastics to swimming to dance pretty quickly. I’ve never been one that just was so focused on one thing. I guess that’s why I’ve loved the Army. I am constantly having an opportunity to evolve and try new things.
HDLS: How did you start your career in the US Army?
Jennifer: This is where I get to feel old? No seriously, it all started with an Army recruiter knocking on my parents door after I had graduated high school and a miserable awakening to the fact that I had no idea what I was going to do for a job. I was not doing well in the college courses I had tried to attend, I’d lost my job as a hostess, and I just felt like the only way to do it was to break away completely. The Army offered that to me. I left for basic training right after I turned 18 and began a journey I would never have been able to foresee.
HDLS: What is the best career advice you have ever received?
Jennifer: That "no" never really means "no", it means "ask someone else". I’ve been told that what I’ve wanted is not possible many times. I’m usually just talking to the wrong person.
HDLS: What is the worst career advice you have ever received?
Jennifer: “No one really loves their job, just deal with it and be happy you have a job.” I remember having someone tell that to me as I struggled with a job that I just didn’t fit. I’m glad that circumstances made me realize that jobs have ups and downs, but if you're miserable, there is something else out there.
HDLS: What career advice would you give your younger self?
Jennifer: This assumes my younger self would listen. I didn’t listen that well then and seemed to think I knew the right way. Just ask my mother. Maybe I would tell myself to pay more attention to how to tie what it is you enjoy doing into what type of career you set out for. I didn’t go to college until 5 years after I’d graduated high school and it wasn’t until I took a course in Computer Logic that I realized what I really enjoyed doing. The crazy thing is I’m in my mid-40s and feeling a shift in what it is I love to do, as much as I’ve gained from the Army I find myself wanting to teach. It is important to me to allow myself to evolve and to remember that I have the most joy when I trust my instincts. The times I didn’t were the worst.
Jennifer has a passion for the work she does and for the US Army. Her education and previous work experience allowed her to take advantage of the transfer incentive program to change the job she held. Thank you Jennifer for sharing your job story with us!
In addition to being another fellow Tokay High School classmate of mine, Jennifer is a graduate of San Joaquin Delta College and University of the Pacific. Her career in the US Army has taken her all over the world. She and her husband Fletcher currently live in New York and are stationed at Fort Drum.