The Microsoft Software & Systems Academy: A bridge from one great career to another

The following post is from Brad Smith, Executive Vice President and General Counsel, Microsoft.

Earlier this year, Staff Sgt. Adam Citterbart, a member of the elite U.S. Green Berets, found himself in the most intense firefight of his career. His unit, a Special Forces mountaineering team, faced an 11-hour engagement in Afghanistan. During the battle, Citterbart, a sniper, maintained communications with five aircraft and the four truck-based communications systems on which his unit depended, all while tactically positioning Afghanistan National Army soldiers on the battlefield.

During the engagement, Citterbart was forced to repair a truck antenna that had been shot in half, while maintaining accurate suppressive fire. The battle was a success, reducing attacks on coalition forces in the area by 95 percent. And fortunately, no one in his unit was injured.

Citterbart has had extensive training, including the Special Forces Qualification Course, which involves classes in Korean Language and Culture; “Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE)”; and Radio with Computer Communications Systems. He has attended two military schools for advanced training. As a result, he’s a leader with technical and problem-solving skills – the type of profile sought by employers in the technology field.

Halfway into Citterbart’s most recent deployment, a member of his Special Forces team told him about a new pilot program run out of Joint Base Lewis-McCord (JBLM) in Washington state, the Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA). Since he was deployed in Afghanistan, he applied over the phone. This summer, he was granted permission to return home for the birth of his daughter. While home, he applied in person to the MSSA. He was accepted and afforded the opportunity by his unit to begin his new journey while still on active service.

Now, we are officially announcing this new program. The Microsoft Software & Systems Academy is an intense 16-week course that builds on the unique work experience and training that service members have, and helps them obtain the certification required for information technology careers such as a developer, applications engineer and IT project manager. The pilot program is already up and running at JBLM, and it will expand to bases in California and Texas next month, with other states to follow.

“To get into this career, you couldn’t ask for a better offer,” said Citterbart. “The best thing about this program is that it’s 16 weeks training for a new job rather than searching for one, as service members usually need to do.”

Any career transition is difficult, but as service members approach the end of their military careers, they face a particular challenge. It’s not always clear to them how their skills apply to jobs in the private sector. This causes stress to both service members and their families. But today, thanks to legislation sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray, service members may begin the employment process before their separation from the military. That’s what inspired our program, which is especially important as our military draws down after two major military operations overseas. Over the next three years, JBLM alone will release an average of 8,000 service members a year.

In addition to receiving a Microsoft IT Academy-powered curriculum provided by Saint Martin’s University, service members who complete the pilot program will be hired into entry-level roles as Software Testers by either Microsoft or Launch Consulting, the technology consulting firm administering the program. As the program reaches additional bases, we will offer job interviews to all of those who complete the program. We’re confident they’ll do well. They will be well prepared to compete for jobs in a vibrant, growing sector of the economy. Active-duty service members transitioning from all branches of the military, as well as members of the National Guard and Reserve returning to their civilian jobs, are eligible.

Microsoft has a long history of working with veterans, through programs such as Elevate America, and we know that service members possess drive, creativity, problem-solving and analytical skills essential for successful careers in the technology industry. Adam’s story helps illustrate why.

The Microsoft Software & Systems Academy is a bridge between one great career – serving in the U.S. military – and another, creating technologies that improve lives.