I wish that I could say I joined the U.S. Air Force, because it had been a lifelong dream or even that I was looking for a leadership opportunity. In all honesty, I joined after watching Pauly Shore in the movie, “In the Army Now.” He and his buddy joined to raise enough money to start their own electronics store. It inspired me to call an Air Force recruiter from whom I learned that you could get in-depth, specialized training while THEY pay YOU. A brilliant plan, I must say.
As a kid, I had always been interested in computers and began tinkering with them at age 7. By 12 years old, I had built my first computer and started learning how to repair them. So, I wanted to do something similar and joined the Air Force in 1996, specializing in Ground Radio Communications. As an airman, I received over a year of specialized training troubleshooting and repairing radio and communications devices, air traffic control systems, encrypted radios, etc. It was a great foundation, but it left me wanting more.
I served for over three years and learned quite a bit during that time. But, in my spare time, I sought training on my own to become a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer and a Database Administrator. This gave me the credentials to apply for government contractor positions, as many servicemen and women do when they transition out of the military.
When I left the Air Force, I leveraged my military experience and the computer training I obtained to serve in a civilian position as a Network Administrator for the Navy. I worked my way up into a LAN (local area network) Manager role, working for the Navy until 2001. It gave me solid experience and propelled me from making $30K to $65K.
After leaving this position, I worked as a Network Engineer and then made the transition to software development where I worked with Wolters Kluwer as a Senior Manager in IT Applications, managing and overseeing WK’s Tampa offices. During my time at WK, I managed the software team that built ComplyTrack GRC (Governance, Risk, and Compliance) workflow software.
Leveraging Military Lessons
I am grateful for everything I learned in the military. In particular, it helped me determine a path forward and gave me clarity on what I wanted to do with my life. What I appreciated most about the experience was:
- Operational Productivity – In many ways, I prefer the way the military operates. Someone gives an order and that order is carried out and not questioned. It’s a very direct way of communicating and extremely conducive to productive workflow.
- Provides Leadership Skills – Regardless of rank, the military is always putting you in a leadership role. It teaches you how to accomplish a task and keep your team focused on that task’s successful completion. I tend to have a “suck-it-up” mentality, which does rub people the wrong way sometimes, but it also makes me a very focused leader.
- Prepares You for Crisis Management – The military teaches you how to deal with crises in a very practical, reasonable way. You learn to identify the problem, determine what needs to be done and rally the team to fix it. Then, you take time to reflect and learn from the experience.
I leveraged these lessons, built on the foundation established and worked my way gradually up the ladder until July 2014, when I founded my own company, Clearly Agile. My colleague, Ed Gorski, and I worked together at Wolters Kluwer and decided to take a leap of faith to become business owners. We launched the company in 2015 and began developing software for businesses.
Our second company, Synuma, was founded roughly two years later and was designed to provide an advanced project management solution to franchisors, franchisees and other multi-unit developers. Synuma was actually an idea conceived by identifying a problem (recalling my military experience) and seeking a solution. I lived across the hall from a beautiful woman named Tiffany. She worked late every night and all weekend updating spreadsheets for a franchise concept. She didn’t even have time to go to the movies she was so busy. As a software developer, I set out to build a prototype for her that would streamline her reporting and track her projects more efficiently – freeing her up for dates with me, of course.
It took some time to refine the prototype into what it is today. Tiffany’s company validated it and then we formed a team to bring it to the marketplace. We really did our homework and we were convinced that we really had something the industry was missing. We were right and continue today to add new clients and grow our company, providing others like Tiffany with a solution that makes their multi-unit development jobs easier.
Tiffany and I were married and we recently welcomed twins into our family. It’s been quite a journey for the kid who got his start repairing his computer so his dad wouldn’t be upset that he broke it in the first place. The kid who joined the Air Force because he saw a Pauly Shore movie. The kid who always dreamed of being a successful business owner.
Fred Mastropasqua, CST, MCSE, is Co-Founder and Senior Managing Partner of Synuma, an advanced project management solution that effectively synchronizes and efficiently manages the entire development process — from sales, real estate, and ground-breaking to construction, unit opening and operations. Fred also is a Certified Scrum Master and Trainer, as well as President and Co-Founder of Clearly Agile, Inc.