Opening doors for service members and the tech industry

In the coming years, the technology industry is facing a shortage of candidates who are trained and qualified for the roles needed to build the innovative devices, online services and business infrastructure of the future. At the same time, U.S. military service members transitioning to civilian life find themselves challenged to translate their military skills and accomplishments into terms that employers can understand, and to identify the careers that will help them support their families and build a rewarding future. Microsoft is aiming to bridge that gap: to add a layer of technical training that brings transitioning service members into employer networks and civilian careers.

I led troops during my 33 years in the Marine Corps, and witnessed firsthand the hard work and dedication of the men and women of the U.S. armed forces. Our military service members are mature, confident, and have the leadership skills to make their mark. Those skills are in abundance: They know how to keep calm under pressure, to weigh options and quickly make informed decisions, and to not just command but inspire the people around them. Because they put others first, it can sometimes mean that they don’t always know how to showcase their own skills, talents and character when the time comes to meet civilian employers. Now that I am on the civilian side of the equation working with Microsoft, my focus is to help members of all branches of the armed forces create new careers even as they complete their active duty military service.

For the IT industry, we do that through a unique program called the Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA) with the specific aim of using a service member’s time prior to transition to train him or her in specialized technology management areas like server cloud/database, business intelligence and software development. Not only does this prepare candidates for the specific areas where new hires are needed in the IT industry, it can lead a service member to a high-paying, long-term career opportunity.

Microsoft has been steadily building the MSSA program over the past two years. Today, thanks to a growing commitment between the public and private sector, and the IT industry to hire strong talent right out of the military, Microsoft is announcing the expansion of MSSA from three to nine regions, servicing 12 bases.

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Hundreds of U.S. service members have graduated from MSSA, and the results are beginning to speak for themselves. At Microsoft, we’ve hired a quarter of those graduates. They include Bernard Bergan, who has gone from service as a sergeant in the U.S. Army Special Forces to a role as a technical account manager in Microsoft’s Services division. And Tara Overfield, previously a warrant officer in the U.S. Army Reserve and now a software engineer with Microsoft’s .NET Framework Set-Up and Servicing team.

More than 80 companies have hired MSSA graduates, with well over half of them in the IT industry, landing at places like Amazon, Expedia, Tableau, Century Link, even Apple. The average salary of our graduates has reached more than $70,000, with many of the grads doubling or tripling what they made in the military.

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On this Veterans Day 2015, it’s the responsibility of the IT industry to honor those who have served with more than an artillery salute and a brief word of thanks. We are compelled to set an example of what it can look like to dig in with our transitioning service members as they prepare to cross the bridge to the civilian world.

My parents were immigrants and migrant farmers who worked very hard to help us build a better future. They taught me that education and hard work would make the difference. Now it’s my turn to extend a hand to today’s service members so they can build their own futures. As the IT industry steps up to this hiring challenge, we’ll be helping thousands of brave and dedicated men and women build new careers that inspire their passion.

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