Depressed and Homeless: How the Tech Industry Positively Reshaped Two Lives
By Sooraj Shah
When Ryan Chastenaneuf was deployed in Afghanistan as part of the British Army in 2007, he was one of a very small but close-knit unit. While on patrol, his team unfortunately walked into an ambush and many of his friends were badly injured. When he returned home, he couldn’t shake the guilt and tragically contemplated suicide. He was forced to leave the military and was washing cars, but felt no sense of purpose. That was until he began a tech training program, and became a certified IT technical specialist. He is now an infrastructure technical specialist at ITEC.
As a seventeen year-old, Dean Forbes’ family was made homeless while he was the primary carer for his disabled mum. For a year, his family lives in and out of homeless shelters in south London. After missing out on a professional contract with Premier League soccer team Crystal Palace, Forbes’ debts were piling up. But after being given opportunities in the technology industry, regardless of his skill set, Forbes worked his way up. He is now CEO of CoreHR, a company with a £50m+ turnover, with over 350 employees.
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Both Chastenaneuf and Forbes feel like the technology and IT industries let them in, at a time when perhaps no other industry would.
“I didn’t have a great technical education and I hadn’t been to university. In many areas of the IT industry, the barriers to entry and progression to leadership are relatively low, compared with science, engineering, legal or financial professions, for example,” Forbes says, adding that not everyone has to be a developer or network engineer to succeed in the industry, and that other industries require a much more arduous path to the top.
Chastenaneuf meanwhile, used technology skills platform Pluralsight to get the expertise required for a role in the IT industry.
“One of the best things about Pluralsight, is that there are no requirements for existing IT skills. You can use the platform to assess where your skills gaps lie and find out exactly which courses you need to take to close the gap,” says Chastenaneuf.
He adds that after leaving the army, he invested in a number of training programs to try and get the skills needed to pass various IT exams and progress his career, but felt that they were often expensive, classroom based and time consuming, meaning he didn’t get to spend time with his wife and children.
“As they weren’t engaging or convenient, they also didn’t help me to pass my exams and I felt disheartened about being able to progress through the career I really wanted,” he says, adding that Pluralsight finally made him believe there was a future for him in the industry.
A New Perspective
Chastenaneuf says technology and the wider IT industry have given him a hugely different, positive perspective on life, helping to lift him from rock bottom.
“After my team, which included my best friend were injured in combat, I had to carry on the tour without them. I felt unbearably guilty that I had escaped being hurt and it all became too much for me. This ended my military career, and I felt like all of the plans for my life had gone up in flames. In the months that followed, I suffered with depression, felt bitter about the way things had turned out and had no sense of purpose nor goals,” he says.
“Starting a career in IT has given me a whole new sense of purpose and something to wake up to every day and look forward to. I have had the chance to learn new skills again and feel useful, passing multiple exams and helping a company to set up a new network from scratch – now I work as an infrastructure technical specialist, something I wouldn’t have expected when I left the army 10 years ago,” he adds.
Forbes started with a telesales job at Motorola before working at a number of IT companies, eventually becoming head of international operations at software company Primavera , which was subsequently acquired by Oracle.
He feels a similar level of gratitude towards the industry as Chastenaneuf.
“The tech and IT industry has enabled me to grow and use my talents for creativity and entrepreneurial leadership in a positive way. It’s a world full of opportunities when compared to life when I was younger,” he states.
Chastenaneuf hopes that others can learn from his journey that finding a new career path can be both hard and rewarding.
“Just because one phase of your life comes to an end, doesn’t mean there are no more opportunities out there,” he says.