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Kathy Borkoski

Profile in Service

Alumni

Mavens
Veterans

My parents both enlisted in the Navy in order to pay for their education. They met in boot camp and served in the Navy for their entire careers. They raced each other to Master Chief – they both always promoted early. My mom was a hospital corpsman. My dad was an aviation mechanic. We say that she fixes people and he fixes everything else.

I grew up around Navy bases for my whole childhood. It was fun – I felt proud of my parents. My mom is insanely smart – the smartest person I have ever met. And she was a woman leading in a place and at a time when that was rare. My dad is a great storyteller, and he would spin tales about leadership. The moral of the story was always ‘Real leaders serve in the military.’ Fortunately, they rarely deployed at the same time. When they did, my sister and I would stay with our neighbors for a few months. Our neighbors were also in the Navy, so they understood.

As I approached high school graduation, all I wanted to do was go to the Naval Academy. It was prestigious, and everyone said it was so hard. Well, if it was hard, I was drawn to it. I had straight A’s in high school. I was the salutatorian of my class. But I didn’t apply anywhere else – there was only one school for me. I got accepted on Halloween – I still remember that feeling.

I showed up at the Academy, and decided to major in Aerospace Engineering. Everyone said it was the most difficult track, so I decided to go for it. Looking back, that’s a bit of a theme. At the same time, I also played on the Under-23 Women’s National Rugby Team. I loved it. It was a great combination of intellectual and physical pursuits. When I graduated from the Naval Academy my mom gave me my first salute, and my dad swore me in.

Somewhere along the line, I heard about explosive ordnance disposal (EOD). Jeremy Renner later popularized it in Hurt Locker. But at the time, I was told EOD is where the smart, strong people go. Navy bomb techs work both on land and under water. So, to be accepted, you have to succeed in Dive school, which is physical, and EOD school, which is academic. Only characters are drawn to this line of work. Just a handful of super forward-leaning people even find out about it. As a woman, I couldn’t go into the SEALs. But the EOD community demanded similar levels of peak performance, and attracted a similar profile: The best and brightest folks, who also liked to work out.

It sounded great, so I applied. When I got it, people would say, “wait, you got EOD?” Yeah, yeah I did. A guy from my company at the Naval Academy also got it. We became so tight. It didn’t matter that he was a straight dude and I am a gay woman. He’d say, “Of course you should come pig-hunting with me.” We’d hang out and build bikes together. He taught me all this fun stuff, and he was always there for me, even when I was going through hell.

I stuck with it for years. There is nothing like disarming bombs. People talk about the adrenaline thing they do on the weekends. I got to do that for work. I remember one week of training. We had a day each of diving, blowing things up, parachuting, shooting guns – everything you could imagine. And the people were awesome. I got to work with folks like Jeff B. He would tell me that he ‘pissed excellence.’ He was hilarious, comfortable with himself, and smart as hell.

I loved it, but EOD also takes a toll. In 2008, it was time for me to try something else. I remember stepping out of the military, and feeling that I was voluntarily giving up everything I knew. That was my whole identity, how I saw myself, who I was. I didn’t know how to separate myself as a person from the work I did as a professional. I thought, ‘If I’m not the work I do, who am I?’

It didn’t help that I transitioned out at the beginning of the Great Recession. Nobody was hiring in 2008. Every prospect I had dried up. I interviewed with a bunch of folks, went to every career fair. It was a mess. I didn’t understand the roles described to me. And I had no idea what skills I had that would be useful for a non-military context. I assumed I would be a government contractor because that’s what people around me were doing. In reality, I just didn’t know I could do anything else.

Through some twists and turns, I wound up as a stunt double in Hollywood for two years, and then a former SEAL hired me to help build a boutique consulting firm. I moved up to the Bay Area with my wife, Lauren. The tech industry was literally all around me, but I couldn’t figure out how to get into it. I submitted my military/ government resume online everywhere, and it didn’t get picked up by a single system. I didn’t know how people got those jobs. Lots of people would help a little bit, but not a lot. I would have done literally anything, but then I happened to see a post about BreakLine on social media.

I went through BreakLine and felt really drawn to Facebook because of the culture. Everyone I talked with loved the company. I have been here for 2 years now, and culture is why I stay. I remember when my first manager asked me: “what projects do you want to work on?” I had never been asked that question before. I felt comfortable and valued right off the bat.

Until recently, I worked for Loree Draude, who was one of the Navy’s first female combat pilots. She hired me at Facebook, and gave me a chance. I didn’t have to sanitize or translate my background for her. She said, “wait – you were EOD?” That signaled something to her that a civilian might not see right away. The first thing she did was make sure I felt supported. She would say, “Do you have everything you need? What else can we do to help?” I’m encouraged to pursue my strengths here, which are meant to be things I am good at and also that I love to do. Now, I’m in a position to hire and help others. There are cool, feel good reasons to work with veterans, but that’s not the most important reason why I hire them. Ultimately, it’s because I know I can take one of them, drop them into the middle of a shit show and they will be scrappy and hustle to develop a smart, effective solution.

Veterans recognize the value of veterans. Once a veteran has helped another veteran break in, everyone else around says “this person is amazing, where do they come from?”

© 2022 BreakLine. All Rights Reserved.
© 2022 BreakLine. All Rights Reserved.