Military service members have the discipline, teamwork and problem-solving skills that the tech industry needs to fill thousands of new jobs. They have on-the-ground tactical experience with complex technology systems, along with the ability to quickly learn how to make the most of their resources. What they may not always have is the specific science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) training or certifications that are in high demand. Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA) is bridging that gap, with comprehensive training and career mentorship that help prepare service members for long-term, high-paying tech careers.
MSSA is an intensive 18-week program of tech skills training, interview and resume preparation, and individual coaching from tech industry professionals, many of whom are also former service members. Five new cohorts of students are registering now and will start classes in August and September: two at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), one at Camp Pendleton, one at Fort Campbell and the first cohort to be hosted at Fort Benning. Launched in November 2013 at JBLM, MSSA is projected to expand to nine regions servicing 14 bases across the U.S. in the coming years.
The program currently offers three learning pathways: Server & Cloud Administration, Database & Business Intelligence Administration, and Cloud Application Development. Participants who complete the program are guaranteed an interview with Microsoft or one of its hiring partners. Other companies are also active in recruiting program participants — to date, 138 companies have hired MSSA graduates with a national average salary of more than $70,000. The program has a 90 percent graduation rate, and 84 percent of employed graduates are working in the IT industry.
Ryen Macababbad, a self-described “wannabe computer nerd” in school, loved maintaining systems and technical equipment as an Army specialist. But she wasn’t sure she had the software skills to turn that passion into a civilian career. She got the chance to learn those tech fundamentals in an MSSA cohort at JBLM. Today Macababbad works at Microsoft as a program manager for Azure Active Directory, and is thrilled to be part of the rapid rise of cloud technology, which she sees as the next new thing.
“In five years or less, everything is going to be connected to the cloud. And I wanted to be a part of that,” Macababbad says. “When people ask me what I do for fun, I say my job is also my hobby. When I’m relaxing, I like to do things that interest me. Learning about different authentication methods and different technologies that connect you to cloud services — those are the things that I enjoy. They also happen to be a part of my job.”
Marine Sgt. Jose Cruz worked as a data network specialist in an artillery unit before enrolling in MSSA at Camp Pendleton. After graduating from the program, he joined Microsoft and is now a network engineer with Skype for Business. He’s exchanged his military uniform for the tech industry’s office casual look, and he’s kept the sense of being part of a larger organization where he can make a real difference.
“What I love about Microsoft is that they’re willing to step out of the box to try to get people with potential,” Cruz says. “They push the boundaries to find candidates that can bring something else to the table. That, to me, is what they’re doing with MSSA. Through this program, they’re giving veterans a chance to combine new skills with that inherent drive that veterans have to get the mission accomplished.”
A former sergeant in the Army Special Forces, Bernard Bergan graduated from the first MSSA cohort ever, at JBLM. Today he’s a technical account manager at Microsoft, working with cloud and enterprise technologies — and, as he wryly points out, he doesn’t have to jump out of a perfectly good airplane to get the job done.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University facilitates the software and systems education portion of MSSA at all locations except JBLM, which is administered by Saint Martin’s University. Both universities are currently accepting applications for MSSA from service members who are scheduled to separate from the military or who are honorably discharged. Applicants must meet certain educational qualifications, including a high school diploma or GED certificate, completion of high school algebra, and a Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) certification. Candidates who are not currently stationed at a base with an MSSA program may be eligible for transfer. If you’re passionate about technology and want to start a new career in civilian life, click here for more information and to apply today. Click here for stories of successful MSSA graduates in the tech industry.