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Discovering New Passions Post Military: The Story of WillowTree’s First SkillBridge Fellow

Careers are rarely linear. They evolve through linked experiences—one opportunity lending itself to the next—which is especially true for our military service members. Prior to being WillowTree’s first Project Management Skillbridge Fellow, Nick Co never worked in the private sector; however, our Skillbridge Fellowship exposed him to both a leading digital product consultancy and our rich community who believed in his skills, appreciated his military service, and valued his contributions.

Offered through the Department of Defense, the SkillBridge program bridges the gap and eases the transition from military service to the civilian world. Participating service members work with leading industry partners during their last 180 days in service to gain valuable experience in high-demand roles. It’s a mutual benefit for both parties—industry leaders gain access to top talent at zero-cost, and service members gain training from a trusted employer while maintaining their military compensation and benefits.

Prior to joining WillowTree, Nick spent four years in the U.S. Naval Academy where he exemplified a strong skill set and a natural knack for leadership. Following graduation, he served for five years as a Naval Cryptologic Warfare Officer. When he decided to transition from the military to the civilian world, Nick feared stepping into a company where he didn’t feel heard, seen or understood—but WillowTree ensured that was definitely not the case.

WillowTree prides itself on crafting a positive employee experience. For instance, all employees receive a New Hire Mentor upon joining the company so they can immediately feel connected to a resource. Plus, Nick was first introduced to WillowTree by his manager and retired Navy Captain, Paul Bushrow. Paul and Nick easily related to one another and instantly felt a sense of connection. When recounting on his experience working with and mentoring Nick, Paul emphasized that being successful is simply to “Be Like Nick.” This means that Nick approached his experience in such a profound way through really engaging with a network of people and executing on each and every task, showing up ready to learn, identifying follow-up tasks to action, and ultimately bringing energy to his work.

“WillowTree has designed the SkillBridge Fellowship to be a discovery path for military members. We're equipping transitioning service members to "be civilian" in the way they arrive at work, because it can be tough to adjust to the non-hierarchical world. Quite simply, the rules are different - in the military it is all very clear, so this is a huge learning curve that WillowTree is committed to help ease,” says Bushrow.

A few of Nick’s most notable accomplishments as a Fellow included:

  1. Expanding his Project Management skill set through professional certifications and relevant client work.
  2. Learning from employees across the company to understand their diverse roles. To name a subset, he connected with project managers, designers, engineers, strategists, and user researchers.
  3. Gaining a deep understanding of the private sector and of WillowTree as a digital product agency.
  4. Developing a strong appreciation and passion for design.
  5. Spearheading a military hiring pipeline for WillowTree by identifying speaking engagements and potential partner companies, plus re-envisioning the onboarding experience for new hires with military backgrounds.

Nick’s robust, yet personalized experience was incredibly successful. The level of personal camaraderie, as well as the opportunities to contribute meaningfully to client work with an exciting workplace culture (so many regular happy hours, office events and team-building activities!), encouraged Nick and made for a memorable first, civilian working experience. WillowTree is excited to have him return as a full-time Project Manager in October 2022 after enjoying some much needed vacation.

“WillowTree is a place where I found exceptional people and a phenomenal culture," says Co. "Through my time as a Project Management SkillBridge Fellow, I have been surrounded by some of the most welcoming, honest, and smart people I’ve ever met. It really opened my perspective. I can’t wait to return in October.”

WillowTree looks forward to growing its fellowship programs and expanding its military transition program and partnerships. Nick’s experience was one of many to come. If you’re a military member and interested in learning more about the program, please contact

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Jennifer Strimbu

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