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After receiving a B.S. in computer science from UCI, Jim Sherriff ’79 went on to have a successful career in the tech industry, working first at Hewlett-Packard and eventually becoming senior vice president of sales and development at Cisco. He’s now using his 30-plus years of experience and expertise to train military veterans for high-tech sales jobs. His new company, Tech Qualled, provides veterans with seven weeks of free training in sales, technology and business acumen to help them transition from active duty into successful careers at leading technology companies.

Can you tell us a bit about your path to the Donald Bren School of ICS?
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I wanted to go to school in Southern California. I was only considering UC schools, and once I stepped onto the UCI campus, my decision was made. I originally planned to go to medical school, but as soon as I took my first computer science course, I was hooked.

What was most memorable about your time at UCI?
I lived on campus three of my four years, and most of my best memories involve the on-campus experience. I was a resident advisor (RA) at Mesa Court one year, and that was truly an amazing and life-changing experience. My favorite computer science course was a class on micro-programming. UCI was a pioneer in computer science and had more computing resources than most schools, so I was very lucky to have found my passion at a school that was leading the way.

How did your UCI education help prepare you for your career?
Graduating from UCI with a B.S. in computer science was critical to landing my first job at Hewlett-Packard. I was recruited by Dick Lampman, who later ran HP Labs. Lampman was so impressed with UCI’s computer science program that he made UCI a top school for recruitment. The knowledge that I gained during my studies at UCI helped me get off to a fast start at HP.

What motivated you to start Tech Qualled?
In 2014, my wife and I decided that we wanted to launch an initiative to help veterans prepare for high-tech careers. We both spent a year at an innovative program at Harvard called the Advanced Leadership Initiative (ALI), where we developed our business plan and recruited two veterans who were getting their master’s degrees at Harvard.

Our belief was that the IT industry did not properly value the skills and personal characteristics of veterans and that, with the right training, we could help veterans land rewarding positions. We founded Tech Qualled as a for-profit social enterprise, and we receive revenue from placement fees and corporate training. Since launching the company in 2015, we have helped more than 100 veterans land rewarding sales roles in high-tech companies. We estimate that our graduates are earning, on average, $50,000 more per year as a result of our program, which means that our total annual impact so far is over $5 million.

What has the response been like so far, from both companies and veterans?
Our graduates have created a very strong brand for Tech Qualled. Their performance has paved the way for future veterans. We have over 80 companies that utilize Tech Qualled as a source of talent, and more than a dozen of those view us as their primary source of talent. Our reputation within the veteran community is very strong, and we can only accept about 10 percent of the candidates who apply. We are proud of the fact that 100 percent of our graduates say they would recommend Tech Qualled to friends and family, and more than a third of our applicants learned about us from one of our graduates.

Veterans from Tech Qualled’s third cohort, with Jim and Karen Sherriff (back right).

What are your future plans?
We always intended for Tech Qualled to be owned by veterans, run by veterans and serving veterans. Over the next year, we will transition key leadership roles to veterans within the company who will be responsible for taking Tech Qualled to the next level. We are also expanding our corporate training business while staying true to our mission of enhancing the lives of veterans.

Any words of advice for UCI students?
As I look back at my successes in the business world, my time as an RA at Mesa Court was probably the most important university experience. My advice is to balance your focus on developing hard skills (science and math) with soft skills. Technical skills can be automated and outsourced. Strong people skills will always be valued in business.

— Shani Murray