I work as a product manager, but spend two weeks a year as a reservist at a Navy operations center. I work 12 hour shifts where I send chat and email messages, make and take phone calls, and otherwise try to be of use. Some quick thoughts on the Navy as someone who doesn't do it fulltime anymore after being a submariner for a few years.

Operations is really demanding

The operations function is really, really demanding.

Navy operations staff are routinely woken up with phone calls at 1AM or other odd hours. These are people who might have gone from sleeping at work for ~1/3 of the time for the past few years as ship's inport duty force. That 1/3 figure doesn't even count at-sea time. Then, they rotate to a staff where they can get phone calls at all hours. That sucks!

A lot of tech workers are bothered by the odd Slack/email message "after hours." But if you work operations for an organization that runs 24/7, there are no after hours.

80,000 Hours lists operations management as a top high-impact career field in part because "many organisation leaders believe there’s a shortage of skilled operations staff." Part of me wonders if that's because operations is so demanding that people who are skilled at it burnout and transfer into another function. Out of the 60 people who entered submarines with me, only 5 are still doing it 12 years later.

The Navy still has the highest standards of any org I've worked for

This isn't to say that there aren't companies out there with higher standards--I just haven't worked for them.

High standards manifest them in a number of different ways. Things like managers coming in at 0430 on a Saturday to review a PowerPoint slide before it's routed up the chain. Phone scripts, standing orders, and runbooks galore--symptoms of the ever-present demand to not repeat mistakes. I was on an email that questioned whether to use "enroute," "in route," or "transiting" to describe a ship's movement.

That all may seem like petty operations staff concerns, but this neuroticism permeates how actual ships and conduct business.

Scaled talent acquisition

I think the we sleep on how well the military scaled talent acquisition. I'm a quant nerd at my civilian tech job, known as/the "data guy," and play with data in my free time.  25-50% people that I managed in the Navy had greater ease in learning technical subjects than I did.

Because of the aforementioned neuroticism that's a pretty verifiable range--we all had to take similar tests on engineering material and the results were mostly public. Most of these Sailors entered the Navy with not much in credentials that would establish such facility with technical material (high school education, maybe some college). Instead the Navy heavily relies on an aptitude test to place people and then invests months/years into training them to standard.

But it's not just technical subjects. When there's not much going on and you stand watch for 12 hours with people, you learn and see their interests. One of the Sailors I recently worked with passed the time by going deep on r/AskHistorians and watching YouTube playlists on world history. Sometimes they'll even go on to launch well-known history podcasts!


  • Standard sample size concerns apply here; I'm one person who has worked at 2 companies outside of the Navy.
  • Submariners are known for the being the most neurotic group within the Navy--it's probably not like this everywhere.
  • World events may have people a little more on edge, but it's always been like this.