Oklo’s Director of Marketing & External Relations, Bonita Chan, interviews Brian Kloiber, a Reactor Engineer at Oklo, to discuss his career move from the U.S. Army to Oklo. Watch the full conversation here and read the abbreviated highlights below.
You had an exceptional career in the U.S. Army before joining Oklo. What was your military journey like?
My Army career began in 2010 as a cadet at the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY. In 2014, I graduated from the academy as a second lieutenant United States Army in the Corps of Engineers. During my initial officer training, the Army’s salvage diving units selected me for their specialized subset of the engineer branch. Being selected meant attending the dive school for an additional eight months of rigorous training at the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center in Panama City, FL. After dive school, I was certified as a diving officer to oversee and lead the military diving operations.
As a diving officer, I served with two different units. I commanded the 511th Dive Detachment during their deployment to Kuwait. We provided underwater port security for all U.S. maritime traffic into and out of Kuwait and trained our Kuwaiti counterparts for diving salvage and recovery. We conducted multiple partner training events with Kuwaiti units, including an underwater salvage project to remove a 35-ton bridge section from the Persian Gulf and a few exercises in the United Arab Emirates. The second unit was back at the dive school, where I got to oversee the same dive instructors that I had as a student.
In 2020, I was at the tail end of my tour as a dive detachment commander and about to attend graduate school for nuclear engineering. I had been selected to teach at my alma mater of West Point, but I was inspired to pursue opportunities outside of the military when I discovered Oklo. There is not much exposure to Silicon Valley or the startup world within the military, but my wife had shifted careers into the tech sector, and I was drawn to the agile team mindset and unified spirit. I saw that spirit in Oklo, which was a perfect match with my passion for nuclear engineering and different from what I saw in my coming years in the Army, so I decided to reach out and try to connect with the team.
You led a team of 25 engineer divers. Did that experience prepare you for working in the startup environment?
I have noticed some foundational similarities in the team dynamics between my time with the dive detachment and Oklo that feel similar despite the drastically different organizations.
I think that the biggest similarity is how we both collectively work to solve complex problems. In diving, no two projects are the same, and although the solution might not be apparent at the onset, the job will get done. It can take some trial and error, and sometimes it takes a creative idea from a junior diver that ends up being what works. Although the Army is very procedural and hierarchical, in general, my unit had to be open to input from all perspectives to accomplish our mission. At Oklo, I see a lot of those same dynamics. There is no doubt that designing and pioneering advanced fission power is a complex problem, and we go about it in the same collective way. The Oklo team has great chemistry and trust. We effectively share ideas to find the best way to collaboratively develop solutions and end up creating some truly impressive products.
It sounds like even though there were some parallels between the two organizations, I imagine working at Oklo is quite a departure from what you may be used to being a U.S. Army Commander. What are some things that surprised you the most about making your career change?
It is refreshing to be driving progress forward with innovative and modernized approaches every day. I also value the cooperative nature of the company. One thing I thought that I would miss from the Army was the camaraderie of such a tight-knit organization. I was surprised to find Oklo had such a strong focus on team bonding and relationships which made this feel a lot like the family I had with the Army.
Another thing that surprised me about making my career change is how long it takes me to pick out my outfit! Before, I always knew that I would be wearing the Army physical fitness uniform in the morning, followed by camouflage and boots. Now I must try not to recycle the same shirts too often and have consequently added to my wardrobe.
You first joined us as a Project Engineer Intern, and we are fortunate to have you with us full-time as a Reactor Engineer! What influenced you the most when it came to joining the Oklo team?
Aligning values such as strong team dynamics, a growth mindset, and clear unity of effort were the big influencing factors to join and stay with Oklo after my internship. I also believe in the critical work that we are doing. Not to mention the trust, support, and camaraderie I feel from the beginning that has continued every day since.