Microsoft expands tech training program for active duty service members

Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant (GySgt) Sarmiento-Louttit’s United States Marine Corps missions have taken her all over the world: from Okinawa, Japan, to the Red Sea to off the coast of Africa, where she was part of a crew involved in a high-profile operation: rescuing Captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates. But her latest mission brought her back to base to participate in a rigorous 16-week program learning software development at California’s Camp Pendleton.

The program, the Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA), provides software development training to eligible U.S. active duty service members who are transitioning out of the service. On Monday, we announced that the program is operating at Camp Pendleton in California and Fort Hood in Texas. The program was first launched in 2013 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) in Washington state, where a third class is now benefitting from the program. With the expansion, nearly 90 service members are enrolled in or have already graduated from the MSSA.

After completing the MSSA, service members are brought to Microsoft for job interviews at the company. Nearly 70 percent of those who have already completed the program have been hired into a technology-focused position by either Microsoft or a Microsoft partner company.

“We have the necessary skills and discipline to work at any time, at any place and complete the mission with no regard to time, distance and environment,” explains GySgt. Sarmiento-Louttit, a current member of the first MSSA cohort at Camp Pendleton. “It’s been ingrained in us since training.

It’s not hard to understand how the perseverance GySgt. Sarmiento-Louttit speaks about applies to the technology industry. Companies such as Microsoft look for employees who, like GySgt Sarmiento-Louttit, apply creativity to solve big problems, often under time and other pressures.

These are qualities that fit another current MSSA participant, Sergeant First Class (SFC) Luis Rivera, a petroleum supply specialist for the U.S. Army who is based at Fort Hood. SFC. Rivera’s job includes taking a truck with a 2,500-gallon tank of fuel to the front lines in order to refuel tanks. While the pressure of overseeing a large flammable vehicle on a battle’s front line is intense, what goes into preparing for an engagement is also complicated. When his unit travels 300 miles, for example, he has to calculate, based on distance, weather conditions, terrain and other factors, how much fuel, oil and ammunition are needed to complete the mission. There is little margin for error, considering that the mission’s success or failure – and the safety of his unit – is on the line.

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Sergeant First Class Luis Rivera, United States Army

Service members like GySgt Sarmiento-Louttit and SFC Rivera are why we started the MSSA program, which is part of Microsoft YouthSpark, the company’s global initiative to help young people gain the critical technology skills required for today’s jobs. Many service members already have leadership experience and an aptitude for complex problem-solving – qualities that appeal to technology companies. But most need an intensive program to update their computer programming skills.

One of those students is Marine Sergeant (Sgt) Rick Finlay at Camp Pendleton. Sgt. Finlay is an aircraft mechanic who started out working on the fuel systems of F-18 Hornet aircraft – twin-engine, supersonic jets that take off from an aircraft carrier’s tiny airstrip. He eventually moved into a supervisory role in aircraft maintenance, leading a team of mechanics responsible for the safe operation of a dozen planes hopping on and off aircraft carriers in Japan, Iraq and elsewhere.

“We work at a fast pace, over long hours,” Sgt. Finlay said. “If we miss something, someone can be hurt or killed.”

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Sergeant Rick Finlay, United States Marine Corps

While the responsibilities of his job weigh on him, so does his impending separation from the Marines. Because of our drawdown from two overseas operations, there are thousands of service members like Sgt. Finlay who worry about finding the right fit for their skills as they transition out of the military, and who have families who depend on their success.

“The Microsoft Software & Systems Academy has afforded me a great opportunity to build new job skills for my transition from the military to an exciting and innovative industry,” Sgt. Finlay said.

We encourage other innovation sector companies to learn about the directly applicable skills – which include teamwork, drive, determination and intelligence – that service members bring to the table. By each doing our part, together we can ensure that more U.S. veterans continue their service to the country by helping create technologies that improves lives.

For more information, including general eligibility guidelines, please visit WeStillServe.com/MSSA.

About the Author

Vice President of Military Affairs, Microsoft