By: Yadira Y. Caro
The day of my interview with Jamie Muskopf from her home in Washington state, she received a called from school saying her kids would have no class that day. Even with that unplanned event, she still went through her day as usual managing her responsibilities as a Project Manager for Microsoft’s Military Spouse Technology Academy, recording an episode of her podcast S.O. Unbecoming, and this interview. Jamie is also completing her Doctor of Social Work studies at the University of Southern California while taking care of her three children and her active duty Navy spouse.
This was another typical day for a military spouse. While significant others perform their jobs at home or abroad, these military spouses must manage their households and in many cases, their careers as well. Jamie has made her mission to advocate for them.
Before marriage, Jamie had started her started thriving career in technology as a developer in college, a job she learned “accidentally” when her supervisors at her summer job at the University of California Santa Barbara asked her to create a website. A few years later, back at home in Hawaii, she became a Director of Web Services at Pacific University and completed a Masters in Information Systems. Later she joined the U.S. Pacific Fleet to develop their Knowledge Management program. At her job she met her future husband. She continued working until the demanding schedule at work and at home forced a career break. In the meantime, she completed her Masters in Knowledge Strategy from Columbia University with the goal of one day returning to the workforce, which happened last year.
During our conversation we talked about her career in tech and Knowledge Management, her mission to use what she has learned for social good, and her weekly podcast S.O. Unbecoming, where she interviews military spouses who are “unbecoming one version of themselves in favor of another.”
What made you realize that knowledge management was important?
As you know, the military is full of different tools and they’re all there for interesting reasons. But there’s always this assumption that “if I use this tool everything in the world will be better.” And really you need more of an understanding that the information you work with and create are part of a larger eco-system. Where I was working at HQ at Pacific Fleet, it was definitely always tied into decision making.
I learned to be very empathetic ultimately to the Commander because there are all these people generating a lot of information (for him). I happened to have a commander that said “pump the brakes, you are giving me all this stuff, tell me why it matters. You can’t just give me a bunch of raw data. I need you to collaborate, and I need you to create something that is just a higher level than what you’re giving me right now. It’s good information, but it’d be richer knowledge if you put it all together first.” I listened very intently to what he wanted. He eventually took high notice of that and he became a really big supporter of knowledge management because he just got it. He understood what we were trying to accomplish.
When did you take a break in your career?
My husband was my boss’ flag aid. I had no intention whatsoever (to go out with him) but he kept bugging me (laughs). A year later, I was like fine (laughs). We got married and then a month and a half after he went to Connecticut for school. I was pregnant at the time, so I ended up staying in Hawaii. I worked after getting married for the next two years. Then I had two babies who are 18 months apart. Once I had my daughter, he was on a sea tour.
My career and his career were way too competing because at that point I was traveling once or twice a month. We had built a knowledge management program to be pretty wide and all across the fleet, and I was doing a lot of speaking engagements. But it was just not sustainable, so I left. It definitely had a huge impact on my life. It definitely taught me how much my identity centered around my career. I felt kind of lost for a little while.
I loved being a stay at home mom. It was something I dreamed about because I was a single mom for a while and then I was working. I loved my job, but I also hated the fact that I was gone from my son, even though my mom and dad were in Hawaii, so I didn’t have to worry about that so much. But it was tough making the switch from being very career driven to being mommy.
What were your assumptions about military mothers before?
I just had this assumption that it would be easy. I really felt “what could be so hard about having someone else pay your bills and staying home with your kids?” Overtime I learned, on the other side, there are people thinking the same thing about you “they have it so easy, they work, they have their own money, not have to worry about all of these things.
What prompted you to switch to social work?
Because that is knowledge management. People don’t understand that really, at the core of knowledge management, is people and behavior and a culture. If you don’t have a culture that supports good knowledge management, that supports the idea that people need to collaborate and share, we don’t have good knowledge management, that is impossible. You might have semi decent information management but you don’t have knowledge management. If we’re going to really do knowledge management in the world, something more has to be done about how we address behavior. That is not psychology, it’s not necessarily education, it’s a little bit of all those things, but what is it?
When I was still at Columbia University, a friend of mine who’s a social worker was always telling me “you should be a social worker.” (I thought) I would cry every day; I get too emotional over things (laughs). But she said “Look at the Doctor of Social Work program.” So I did and I realized that the program is an innovation program. It almost should be like a Doctor of Social Innovation because what we’re learning right now is what is social innovation, what does that mean, and ultimately, how do you address or how do you identify social norms. The program is bringing me a completely different set of research and lenses. I love that because of what I care about now, which is advocating for the military spouse community. There’s a lot of crazy social norms involved in that, that keep us from working.
How would you describe what you’re doing now at work?
I’m the Project Manager for Microsoft Military Spouse Technology Academy. Right now I’ve been working in the Pilot Program Classroom. It’s been interesting watching this whole process unfold; seeing from both a participant side and being empathetic to it because I am a military spouse. Then seeing from an employer side: what social norms are in place there, what culture, what things are operating in the norm, and the norm being that military spouses unemployment rate is 54%. That norm is very much on purpose. It’s part of a culture around military spouses that has been there since the beginning of the military; your number one job is to support your spouse.
The military spouses now, they want to work, they are working and if the military wants to retain active duty people, they’re going to have to really figure out how do we support working military spouses.
Changes have to happen inside the culture that is the Department of Defense, changes have to happen inside the culture of military spouses. Then there’s also changes that need to happen inside employers and potentially inside the law when it comes to employers creating more innovative ways other than just saying “why don’t we just make all jobs remote.” That is part of an answer, but its not the whole answer. I might suddenly had to pack up-house, I might suddenly have to prepare my household for an unexpected deployment and I need my employer to be flexible about those things.
If I need to move, I would like my employer to be flexible, either allowing me to continue remotely or maybe helping me find another position in our company. Maybe connecting me with a partner in the location that I’m at. Employers need to be incentivized to do such things by the local state governments and potentially, the federal government.
I feel like being in the DSW program is going to give me that lens and that science background to really look at that whole problem or the series of problems, and come up with a model or multiple models that can provide solutions.
“The military spouses now, they want to work, they are working and if the military wants to retain active duty people, they’re going to have to really figure out how do we support working military spouses.” – Jaime Muskopf
Why did you start a podcast on the topic of working military spouses?
My whole point in that podcast is do three things: one is to give to military spouses who are going through the process of getting back into their careers or maintaining their careers, the opportunity to share their stories. I want military spouses of diverse backgrounds; I want to see the diversity in the military spouse community that I see day-to-day, represented in some platform.
Number two is I want to give other military spouses the opportunity to hear those stories, and be inspired by them, or at least, have community with them. As the show goes on, not all the stories are going be great, some of the stories are really heart-breaking and are really frustrating. I know that there are stories that other military spouses will connect with because they’ve had a hard time getting back into the workplace or continue their education.
The third piece of it is definitely to educate civilians, educate employers on what these people are going through, and how are other employers innovating or how are they operating in a way that is supporting military spouse careers. I’ve been very surprised and not surprised at how little people really understand about the military spouse experience, and the kinds of stereotypes and biases that people have about military spouses. It’s been very eye opening.
What are three resources or pieces of advice that have helped you in your career?
My number one thing is to always be growing and tending your network. The way that I have done that over the years has been LinkedIn. Now it is more widely used and it’s a great way to build your professional network. I got recruited for the job with Microsoft over LinkedIn.
The second piece of advice is to always be in learning mode and to have a growth mindset. Even when I was home with babies and sitting there wondering if I’m ever going to get more sleep, I took every opportunity I had to keep up with what was going on, to learn, to read. I listened to the Tony Robbins podcast, Gary Vaynerchuk, Side Hustle School. I love listening to Malcolm Gladwell, Hidden Brain. There are just so many podcasts out there, you can put it on even with your baby on (laughs).
The third thing is just be kind to yourself. It is a hard lesson that I had to learn. I never really give myself grace to be like “it’s okay, you don’t have to be going and going and going all the time, you’ve done that for a long time.” Being kind to myself also has meant changing the perspective of failures to opportunity. I think once you start recognizing that you may fail at things or things that you do may fail, it is just about getting an opportunity to learn something and then try something differently again. That to me is being really kind to yourself.
Do you have questions, feedback or suggestions of people to interview? Contact me!