From soldier to software: NAIT student feature

by | Dec 13, 2022 | News

NAIT student Brendan Spence is looking for a career, not just a job. After eight years of service in the Canadian Armed Forces as a combat engineer, he is now studying software development—his second NAIT diploma. 

“Typically, a lot of guys who go through my trade, they’ll either go through the construction route or kind of more of the blue-collar,” said Spence. His decision to return to school was influenced by the need for credentials to move into a new career. After taking multiple personality tests, the IT and software development field was a top 10 choice. “Growing up, I always enjoyed playing with computers, so I kind of just jumped the gun and tried out software development,” said Spence. 

In his transition to student life, Spence found that some skills he learned in the military also applied to being a NAIT student. He deemed three of those skills as the most important. “It’d be discipline, leadership and teamwork, to be honest,” said Spence. 

Having the discipline to stay in on a Friday night when there is work to be completed is an important post-secondary education skill. For some students, this skill is necessary for a passing grade. “It seems small, but it does go a long way,” said Spence. 

“[As] for leadership, I’ve been in a lot of these team projects, and it seems that people always float to me and make me the person in charge,” Spence recalled. His leadership skills helped keep his teams on track, ensuring everyone knew their jobs and submitted their content on time. “It’s a good characteristic I got from my service,” he joked. 

Spence’s ability to recognize when to be a teacher and when to be a student is part of the military’s philosophy. “In the military, everything is teamwork. In that context, the military has many trades and sub-trades, and it all has to intertwine to make the mission work,” said Spence. This team-oriented philosophy is another useful skill for completing group projects at school. “You’re only as strong as your weakest link, and that’s where the leadership component comes in to lift that person whose struggling up to the same level as the rest of the team so you can get the job done.” 

When asked what NAIT could do to better support veterans, Spence replied, “I would say maybe make a networking coffee luncheon monthly so veterans can talk and network. It doesn’t even have to be a monthly thing, it could just be Remembrance Day in November, setting up a free coffee networking event for all veterans who ever served. We don’t really ask for much.” 

When Spence first arrived at NAIT, he heard by word of mouth that there was a nurse on campus who is also a military veteran that he could go to if he was having trouble outside of school. “NAIT could have an outreach number or email for a veteran to contact when they are struggling. I find that some veterans get out, and they feel so isolated, they don’t know where to go,” said Spence. “I think NAIT could do something like this, and it would be nice to see.”

Although there are currently no peer mentors specific to NAIT student veterans, NAIT offers counselling services to all students. Students can find information on their student portal or by emailing

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