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Meeting the tech demand for security-cleared veteran talent

This post was originally published on LinkedIn and written by U.S. Marine Corps Major General (Ret.) Chris Cortez, vice president of Microsoft Military Affairs, on November 15, 2018.

Today the United States government faces an unprecedented range of threats—from both traditional foes to modern menaces in the digital realm. And as our country faces these new challenges, it is also in the midst of a digital transformation of its services and operations. Equipping people on the front lines of national security with modern skills and technological awareness is paramount, and we’re committed as industry partners to helping along that journey.

Yet, the work of modernizing and protecting the US government is not just a technology story, it is a people story. Our ability to safeguard our people and institutions relies on a highly specialized and skilled workforce to build, code, and innovate for the future. What we’re seeing now though is a gap between the demand for capabilities and the supply of this much-needed talent.

Many of us have heard about the technology skills gap. We know that technology jobs are growing at a faster rate than the average for all other occupations, and that the demand greatly outpaces the supply. The Brookings Institution suggested last year that digitization of the US economy will require significant investment in education and training both to broaden the pipeline of talent and also to ensure that underrepresented groups aren’t left behind in the new digital economy.

In government though, there is an even more specific gap—that of “cleared talent”—those with security clearances that can be applied to tackle problems that require access to highly sensitive information. And within this pool of talent, there is a very small population of cleared talent with the background in technology that is required to help our government modernize at levels needed. Despite the need to expand this workforce, we’ve seen the population of cleared talent decrease by 30 percent since 2013, with wait times for security clearance approvals now at their highest level ever. Last year, the US was sitting on a security clearance backlog of more than 700,000 applicants.

New data we obtained in partnership with LinkedIn shows the demand for cleared software engineers is very high—with the Washington, D.C., area as the highest demand in the country—and that only 5 percent of professionals with a security clearance hold a degree in computer science. The top two industries hiring cleared talent are also expected to grow even more in the next year: The defense and space industry by 53 percent, and the information technology industry by 49 percent.

The stunted pipeline for cleared talent is not just an HR problem. It is a matter of national security and a threat to progress and innovation.

One population that is critical to help close this gap is our country’s talented veteran workforce. We know that 200,000 military members transition out of the service every year, and, of those with security clearances, many are active duty military, according to a 2018 ClearanceJobs.com report.

At Microsoft, we pioneered Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA), which trains transitioning service members and veterans over the course of an 18-week program for careers in the IT industry. Since MSSA started five years ago, nearly 400 companies and organizations have hired our graduates. For us, it’s proof not only that veterans are an incredible talent pool, but that programs like MSSA are essential to addressing critical skills gaps in the tech industry outside the traditional four-year degree. Companies like Microsoft are better for having these phenomenal veterans working for us and helping advance our mission.

That’s why I am excited to announce that Microsoft will launch a new, dedicated MSSA-cleared talent cohort at Washington state’s Joint Base Lewis-McChord this spring. The program will cater to service members and veterans with active clearances who are interested in learning cloud application development, which is in high demand in the technology industry. As with every MSSA cohort, these students will be mentored by current Microsoft employees and upon completion of the course will be guaranteed an interview with Microsoft or one of our hiring partners, including the US government.

National security depends on private and public institutions working together to prevent and address emerging threats. And being a trusted partner for government transformation means that we are just as committed to investing in our own talent pipeline as we are in theirs. Innovative training programs like MSSA, which benefit both veterans and the industry as a whole, are critical.

There is much more that can be done to address both the technology skills gap and the cleared talent gap, but we must seek new and innovative ways to both build our pipeline of workers and support those who are being left out of the digital economy. Empowering active duty service members and veterans to transition to careers in technology is a win-win for helping to sustain a vital population of our workforce while building a critical, diverse pipeline for in-demand talent. By prioritizing IT and technology training for veterans to operate in the private sector, we can transform our collective capabilities to keep our country safe and moving forward.

Visit military.microsoft.com/MSSA to learn more.

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The Navy helped her find her voice; Microsoft helped her transform her career

For U.S. Navy veteran and Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA) graduate Jessica Helmer, building a career wasn’t an easy journey. Her road was fraught with setbacks, but she paved it with a determination to always learn and a refusal to ever settle.

Now, as a program manager with the Shared Services Engineering team at Microsoft, she can’t imagine a more rewarding career — or a more welcoming home.

Growing up in Point Blank, Texas, was challenging for Jessica. Her dad died when she was young. At times afterward, she, her mother and older brother had to skip meals. When they were “between homes,” they couch-surfed with family and friends. Even when her mom enrolled in college and they moved into campus housing during the school year, things never felt steady for Jessica. She was extremely shy and performed inconsistently at school. Through years of moving around, she tried to stay on track but eventually found herself failing out of college.

When Jessica did find a way to start attending classes regularly in her early 20s and earn decent grades, struggles at home once again threatened to throw her goals off course. So she made a plan: She would see her classes through finals. Then, she would enlist in the military.

During the semester, Jessica had connected with her stepdad’s secretary, who was married to an Air Force veteran. Their conversations inspired her, and she determined that military service could give her the stability she’d long craved — and more important, a sense of belonging.

Jessica at her first Hackathon event in July 2018.
Jessica at her first Hackathon event in July 2018, where her team supported the Agaram Foundation.

To put her plan into action, Jessica returned to Point Blank to visit the military recruiting centers. Within just three weeks, she had completed her paperwork, aptitude test and physical exam, and was headed off to Naval Station Great Lakes for boot camp.

To this day, Jessica recalls boot camp as the biggest mental and physical challenge she’s endured. Yet, it was a mostly positive experience because of the people looking out for her.

“Our Recruit Division Commander was like a father or a big brother to me — he wanted to make sure all the females were set up for success,” she recalls. “He gave us an idea of what to look out for in our male-dominant environment, and how to handle ourselves.”

As an electronic technician charged with maintaining communication and navigation systems, and the only female in her division of 35 people — and still extremely shy — success meant figuring out how to establish herself and prove she deserved to be there. It wasn’t easy.

“Some people doubted what I was doing or assumed I wasn’t smart enough, especially since it was technical stuff,” she says. “There was this mentality that women don’t do tech, they do nursing.”

The more she strived to do her best work and learn as much as she could, attitudes shifted. Still, Jessica felt continual pressure to prove herself. Doing so took a mix of figuring things out on her own and embracing guidance from de facto mentors. They pushed her when she wanted to settle. They encouraged her when she felt out of her element.

For instance, when she was in charge of systems during a power loss on the USS Boxer, tasked with keeping the ship afloat and in readiness, she successfully stood her watch.

“It was frankly terrifying,” she says. “But it was also a huge source of pride because I was young in terms of how long I’d been serving, and I was the only female that had done it.”

Her willingness to jump in and learn as she went served Jessica well throughout her 10 years of naval service. It’s how she turned a misassignment at the Fleet Anti-Submarine Warfare Training Center into a career opportunity, even though it meant learning a completely new set of skills, shifting from administering systems and networks to coding software.

“The captain straight-up told me, ‘Yeah, we messed up, you’re not the type of technician we need. But you’ve got this, you’ll figure it out,’” she says.

After being trained on the basics, she did figure it out. And she enjoyed it. Along the way, she gained another mentor: a senior systems engineer who regularly came out to help her with repairs.

So when the time neared to consider re-entering civilian life and Jessica discovered MSSA, she felt the program, designed for military veterans and transitioning service members, was a natural next step.

Jessica poses with the Halo 2 Master Chief.
Jessica poses with the Halo 2 Master Chief after her first Microsoft interview in September 2017.

Jessica attended the 18-week MSSA Cloud Application Development course in San Diego, where she learned database programming and other skills for building and maintaining modern applications. As a graduate, she was also guaranteed an interview for a full-time job at Microsoft or one of more than 360 hiring partners.

When her official transition date neared while she was still in the interview process, Jessica went into hyper-drive. She split her days between applying to jobs and taking online courses to deepen her technical knowledge, all the while remaining hopeful and determined that her efforts would pay off. They did.

After several rounds of interviews, including one in which she had follow-up meetings with two separate groups at Microsoft, Jessica accepted an offer from the team that had been urged to consider her for the role by her MSSA mentor.

“I think the interview process speaks to Microsoft’s desire to find the right fit,” Jessica says. “For both the hiring team and the person they’re bringing in.”

Now, she’s a program manager working on the back end of the systems that enable Microsoft to build its products. Her team is “the backbone of the company,” as she puts it. And she’s proud to be right in the mix of it all, coordinating and translating information between nontechnical customers and highly technical engineering teams.

It’s still mind-blowing to this Navy veteran that she has a successful career in tech, working for a company she admires. She credits her success to the military and MSSA, and especially the support network she’s developed.

“I’m so impressed that the military and Microsoft teamed up,” she says. “To me, growing up, the idea of being a software developer was like this magical thing that only the most special people could do. But here I am. It’s obvious that my Microsoft team wants to help me to be the best that I can be, and therefore make our team the best it can be. It’s been a fantastic transition process for me.”

Life after the uniform: helping veterans when their tour of duty is complete

It was one of those moments when life seems to both speed up and slow down almost to a standstill. Solaire Brown, suited up in heavy gear, braced herself inside the specialized mine-resistant vehicle where she was training with her fellow US Marines. The vehicles are built to withstand improvised explosive devices and save military lives. But sometimes, when struck, they roll over. The Marine Corps requires extensive training on how to escape if a vehicle flips in an explosion.

Brown and her teammates were in the middle of this training when suddenly, Brown was tossed across the cab as her vehicle spun two and a half times—over, up, over, up, over—and landed upside down. Disoriented Marines hung from their seats. Quickly, they reached around to unclip seatbelts, help each other down, and grab their packs.

Brown exited the vehicle and took her position around the perimeter to complete the training, holding her rifle steady, not noticing the blood running down her face or realizing that the trajectory of her life had just begun to shift.

She soon learned that the impact had caused a concussion and a broken nose and had crushed multiple bones in both of her feet. After two surgeries and a year of rehabilitation, Brown realized that because of her injuries she wasn’t going to be able to maintain the rigorous lifestyle that the Marine Corps requires. She was devastated.

“I loved the Marines, and I wasn’t ready to get out,” Brown said. She’d planned a military career, so after five years in, she felt apprehensive about being without her fellow Marines.

“We trained together, ate together, slept in a pile like a litter of puppies, trying to get even five minutes of sleep between flights to and from deployments or amid missions, ” she said. “They had been my right-hand people for so long that I was sure I’d forget how to operate without them.”

Brown had to figure out what her next step in life would be, without them.

But Marines never get stuck for long. She immediately began to scan the perimeter of her life for other options.

YouTube Video

Solaire Brown (formerly Sanderson), who was a Sergeant in the US Marine Corps and is now a security analyst, learned tech skills in Microsoft Software and Systems Academy, which connects veterans to civilian jobs.

Brown is in good company. Nearly 200,000 service members leave active military duty for civilian life every year. Many of them don’t have college degrees and worry that will keep them from building new careers.

“It doesn’t matter if you serve five years or 40 years, transition is tough,” said US Marine Corps Major General Chris Cortez (Ret.), vice president of Military Affairs at Microsoft. “All of a sudden you’ve got to start all over again.”

While the unemployment rate for veterans has been on the decline, some groups of veterans, such as men aged 25 to 34, face higher unemployment rates than their civilian counterparts. Finding a job is a top concern.

Many veterans have found their footing in the civilian work world. But some really struggle, not only with lack of training for another career and little experience looking for work in a competitive environment, but also with overwhelming feelings of isolation, anxiety, pressure, and unfamiliarity.

“In the military, you walk into a room and you look at people in uniform, and you know exactly who they are, and they know exactly who you are,” Cortez said. “But in the industry, it’s much different. There is no uniform.”

In some cases, civilian jobs don’t offer the camaraderie or sense of purpose that drives many veterans. Corporate culture can feel disorienting, where passion isn’t a prerequisite and duty doesn’t drive work hours. And while many veterans yearn to find a new sense of belonging, some say it’s easy to be misunderstood in the civilian work world: coworkers might have no idea what they’ve experienced or keep their distance because of stereotypes around post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The hardest challenge for me is just trying to figure out people’s idea of what military people do, of what we are like,” explained Brown. “Some are so curious and supportive, but others are really intimidated by it. They think you might bark at them.”

Several years ago, a group of employees at Microsoft who had gone through the military-to-civilian adjustment themselves wondered: What if there was a way to transform a perceived weakness or lack of experience into a new set of talents? How could veterans maximize their strengths—grit, systems savvy, strong decision making, and steadfastness—and build needed skills on top of that? How could they connect with organizations who needed them and communities where they could feel like they belonged?

The answer came into focus: inspired and motivated by stories like Brown’s, Microsoft started a unique training program called Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA) in 2013, an effort which soon led to a the broader Military Affairs program to support veterans across the company.

From its inception, MSSA had the mission not only to inspire veterans to transform their lives, but also to help address a key challenge facing the technology world: the vast skills gap between the hundreds of thousands of needed computing jobs and the far fewer trained professionals entering the workforce.

After her life-changing injury, Brown was ready to start over, but she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. A few months prior to her scheduled departure from the military, she heard about MSSA from a friend on base who was enrolled at the time.

The 18-week educational program is specifically designed to prepare military service members, before they step out into civilian life, for a career in the technology industry. To date, more than 240 companies have become hiring partners that seek out MSSA graduates.

Military members take the course on their base or at nearby community campuses; it’s their duty assignment for that period of time. Wearing civilian clothes—a subtle way to help begin the transition—they receive both classroom and hands-on training in technology products and skills. They also get help writing resumes, translating military skills to civilian and corporate audiences, and preparing for interviews by learning how to talk about themselves in the business world. Students also receive mentoring from Microsoft employees. Both veteran and nonveteran mentors walk students through the ups and downs of landing and thriving in a technology career.

Brown wondered if she could parlay the intelligence analysis skills she built in the Marines to the next step in her journey. Through MSSA at Camp Pendleton and her interaction with Microsoft employee mentors, she discovered that her skills could translate and that she had everything she needed to build a great career.

This is precisely the kind of connection Cortez hopes for, because veterans are such a great fit for technology companies, he said. They are trained to quickly assess, analyze, and fix a situation with the resources at hand while working with all different kinds of people. Supporting others and working as a team is second nature to them, and they thrive when working toward a bigger goal and purpose.

And they are badly needed. There are currently more than 490,000 open computing jobs nationwide, according to Code.org. Yet last year, only 42,969 computer science students graduated into the workforce.

Infographic with statistics about the MSSA program

“The IT industry overall has so many unfilled jobs,” said Cortez. And the military has hundreds of thousands of skilled workers.

“Why not bring those two together to help military men and women so they can leave and get into a new career?”

Microsoft Military Affairs invited other technology companies to hire the graduates because “we can reach more vets through partnerships,” said Cortez.

MSSA has a graduation rate of more than 90 percent, and graduates are guaranteed an interview with Microsoft or one of its hiring partners upon successful program completion.

Brown landed almost 20 interviews and received seven job offers from multiple companies.

“We wanted to make it a level playing field with our hiring partners,” said Carol Hedly, program manager for Microsoft Military Affairs, explaining why Microsoft partners with other companies. “Our hiring partner companies receive the resumes at the same time. We have an agreement: no one makes job offers before the interview week, and we all release our offers at the same time.”

MSSA graduates have been hired at more than 240 different companies, including Dell, Expedia, Accenture, the Department of Defense, Facebook, and many more. Greater than 90 percent of successful MSSA graduates are either employed or opt to complete a college degree.

“We want the individuals to have the choice and the best offer for them,” said Hedly. “That’s just good business for everyone.”

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Microsoft launches Military Spouse Technology Academy

Spouses of active military service members face unique challenges. Frequent moves often pull them away from existing support networks, forcing families to build new relationships every few years. Relocations also require a constant job search while simultaneously finding new schools and childcare. This can be especially difficult when new assignments send families to areas with poor employment opportunities and when deployments necessitate extended periods of separation from loved ones. As a result, spouses face a 16 percent unemployment rate, which was four times the national rate for adults over 20 in the year 2017.

Today, Microsoft Military Affairs is expanding its commitment to this community with the launch of a new pilot program uniquely designed to train military spouses with necessary skills for long-lasting and meaningful technology careers that are both high-paying and portable.

Providing programs and support tailored to military spouses is a critical component of giving back to our broader military community. Through the Military Spouse Technology Academy (MSTA) pilot program, Microsoft seeks to deepen its commitment to military spouses by working with nonprofits and business leaders to not only help this community build the skills necessary to succeed in the technology sector, but also to enable military spouses to continue their career progression in the face of frequent moves. The program was specifically constructed to take these needs into account, offering an avenue to skilled jobs that can often be performed remotely.

“The success of Microsoft Software & Systems Academy is evidence that our programs for the military community work,” said U.S. Marine Corps Major General (Ret.) Chris Cortez, vice president of Microsoft Military Affairs. “Now we’re eager to apply what we’ve learned to a new, groundbreaking program called Military Spouse Technology Academy. This pilot program is one of a kind and furthers our commitment to service members and their families.”

MSTA cohort
Nineteen military spouses will participate  in the MSTA pilot program.

MSTA will provide soft-skills training, technology training and mentorship. The 22-week classroom-based program will empower spouses to seek careers in Server and Cloud Administration, working jointly with USO’s Pathfinder program, which supports military members and spouses during their transition with services, opportunities and resources.

Nineteen military spouses will participate in the pilot, which will take place Sept. 26 to Feb. 28 at a USO classroom space just outside Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Lakewood, Washington. The schedule is optimized for spouses, who often are primary caregivers to their children. The USO will provide wrap-around assistance, helping cohort members complete MSTA and seek purposeful employment.

MSTA enjoys broad support across Washington state at the highest levels. “It’s incredibly important that we help promote opportunities for the families and spouses of the men and women who serve in our military. I am proud that Washington has the first statewide effort to establish a military spouse employment empowerment zone. We have great partnerships in place with installations from all branches of military service and commitments from a wide range of employers who are ready to leverage the workforce talents of this important community,” Gov. Jay Inslee said. “I am pleased that Microsoft is expanding their commitment to families of service members and look forward to future efforts to support our nation’s military spouses.”

Gina Kirby, an MSTA mentor and principal specialist for Azure sales at Microsoft, is a military spouse. “I am proud to see Microsoft commit time, resources and energy to a key participant in our military community: spouses,” she said. “The sacrifices of a military spouse are unique and challenging. I have seen firsthand the abilities these individuals have, the obstacles they overcome and the impact they have on the group at large.”

MSTA participant
MSTA is designed to address the unique career challenges military spouses face.

Today, Microsoft Military Affairs will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the launch of the MSTA pilot program. J.D. Crouch II, CEO and president of the USO; Senator Steve Hobbs, 44th District; Joint Base Lewis-McChord Commander Sergeant Major Kenny Clayborn; and Elizabeth O’Brien, senior director, Military Spouse Program, Hiring Our Heroes will also be present to support and celebrate this achievement.

“Military spouses are extremely strong, resilient and innovative — and the value and benefits to building up this community are tremendous,” said USO Vice President of Programs Jeremy Albritton. “When we support our military spouses, we also strengthen our service members and military families. The USO is thrilled that companies like Microsoft are making a dedicated effort to help educate and empower military spouses, particularly within the field of technology.”

MSTA reflects the success of Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA), which launched in 2013 to provide veterans and transitioning service members with critical technology skills for the digital economy. Since its inception, Microsoft has seen a retention rate of over 90 percent of MSSA graduates after the second year and beyond — compared with most transitioning military members and veterans who stay in their first job less than two years. In March 2018, Microsoft completed Phase One of its 2015 stated goal to open 14 MSSA locations coast-to-coast with the capacity to graduate 1,000 students yearly.

Microsoft is proud of this groundbreaking new pilot program as part of its journey to continue learning how best to serve military spouses. It’s a small part of the company’s broader commitment to members of the armed forces through MSSA, YouthSpark and more.

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Microsoft celebrates promotion of employee Doug Pierson to USMCR Brigadier General

Doug Pierson is officially a one-star general officer in the United States Marine Corps Reserve (USMCR). He’s also a full-time Microsoft employee.

It’s an impressive accomplishment, made even more remarkable by the fact that the Marine Corps allows for only up to 60 brigadier generals at any time.

At his promotion ceremony, on July 11, 2018, at Microsoft’s main Redmond campus, Pierson was joined by family, friends, and colleagues eager to celebrate his achievement.

“I was truly humbled by how excited everyone was to help out and be part of the event one way or another,” Pierson said. “The response and support was overwhelming.”

For Microsoft, Brig. Gen. Pierson exemplifies why the company is committed to supporting employees who serve in the Reserve and National Guard—a commitment for which we were honored to receive the 2016 Extraordinary Employer Support Award from the U.S. Department of Defense.

Color Guard
Color Guard provided by Combat Logistics Battalion-23 was in attendance at Pierson’s ceremony.

The award reflects how we view our military members: Their contributions are undeniably valuable in a workforce that thrives by being inclusive of all backgrounds and experiences. And because National Guard and Reserve members rarely have access to the same resources as active duty and veteran service members, our support is built to help them thrive both at work and in service.

Even logistically, staying committed to both roles can become grueling. In Pierson’s case, the balancing act often means flying across the country on a Friday to spend the weekend training with the USMCR, then arriving home before dawn on Monday.

“But having a loving family and committed teammates who champion what you’re doing makes it all worth it,” Pierson said. “It reenergizes your spirit.”

As an area IT manager at Microsoft, Brig. Gen. Pierson can attest to the importance of that spirit as well as the accompanying mindset. By regularly applying the skills and values he learned as a Marine—leadership, perseverance, collaboration, and determination, among others—to his Microsoft work, he has attained success across the board.

And as Brig. Gen. Pierson continues to bring his best to everything he sets out to do for his country, his family, and Microsoft, we are proud to support him—and all who still serve.

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‘Chance at greatness’: Former Army paratrooper lands at Kronos after graduating from Microsoft Software & Systems Academy

To Ashish Singh, your network matters. More specifically, your support network.

For the paratrooper medic turned software engineer, that network has always helped him navigate life’s twists and turns. It’s what brought him from Nepal to America when he was 17 years old. It’s what led him to enlist in the U.S. Army. And it’s why he chose to work at Kronos Incorporated—a global leader in workforce management and human capital management software—after graduating from Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA). The rewards have been consistent, and hard-won.

A solid educational foundation eluded Ashish in childhood. “We could barely afford my school,” he says, “and because of political unrest, the school was shut down often.” His mother dreamed of sending Ashish, her only child, to study in America. Eventually, in January 2008, her dream was realized when Ashish and two of his friends were accepted at Ferris State University in Michigan. They arrived with almost nothing—save one another. Even now, Ashish mostly remembers feeling overwhelmed.

“My English was horrible. People would ask me to repeat myself about a thousand times a day,” he says.

Determined to make the most of his opportunity no matter the obstacles, Ashish began to study manufacturing engineering. But after a couple years—during which he pivoted his studies toward computer science and earned a scholarship to study computer engineering—Ashish couldn’t shake the feeling that there was more he wanted to do.

“I’d always wanted to do something great,” he says, “but throughout that time, I felt like I was studying for my family rather than for myself.”

Then, with just one semester remaining in his degree program, Ashish stumbled upon what seemed to him a chance at that greatness: The U.S. Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program.

Originally established to enlist foreign nationals in the U.S. military to bolster its foreign language capabilities and improve cultural diversity, the MAVNI program was temporary, Ashish knew; it had been suspended once before. So he chose not to risk waiting until after graduation to enlist. He even hoped to pursue computer engineering after enlisting.

But when a physical exam revealed that Ashish was colorblind and therefore disqualified from pursuing IT in the Army, he was unsure of what to do. He chatted with his bunkmates and discovered they were hoping to become paratroopers. Before long, Ashish was training with them to come to the rescue of their fellow soldiers around the world.

Ashish Singh and Army Sgt. Mario Da Silva in Capri, Italy.
Ashish and Army Sgt. Mario Da Silva exploring Capri while stationed in Italy.

Stationed in Italy, Ashish traveled and trained with allies throughout Europe. Alongside the intensity, Ashish found solidarity and a sense of pride. With support from family, friends, and fellow soldiers, he was doing his “something great.”

Then, after a bad jump on a training route over Germany resulted in a back injury, it came time for Ashish to consider his own health. He and his wife—whom he’d met and married in Latvia—relocated to Fort Bragg in North Carolina. But, despite limiting his physical activity, Ashish’s pain worsened. His wife encouraged him to consider other options, and so his thoughts returned to software engineering.

Through his network of friends and former classmates, Ashish learned about MSSA, a Microsoft Military Affairs program launched in 2013 to help U.S. service members and veterans transition from the military into technology careers. He applied and was accepted into the second MSSA cohort at Fort Bragg, which taught Cloud Application Development.

Now available at 14 military locations nationwide, MSSA can graduate up to 1,000 participants each year. Graduates are guaranteed interviews with Microsoft and/or some of the program’s 280 hiring partners. On average, graduates land IT jobs with annual salaries starting at $70,000.

Amid the demanding coursework, Ashish once again found value in the camaraderie of his cohort. “Even more than the course, we learned from each other,” he says. “We helped each other out, we created and implemented projects together, we attended meetups together.”

They even prepared for interviews together. Ashish applied and interviewed at several of the program’s hiring partners, but Kronos stood out from the start for its culture, which has earned it accolades around the world, including Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For,” Glassdoor’s “Best Places to Work,” and Forbes’ “America’s Best Employers.” When it came to deciding which job offer to accept, the community appeal won out.

“We recently asked our interns to count how many potlucks, cakes, dinners, and other activities we’ve had,” Ashish says. “They lost count.”

But even better, he says, is the support to grow professionally. As an MSSA hiring partner, Kronos is committed to helping participants like Ashish effectively transition into a rewarding career—offering support and guidance they might not receive elsewhere. The result is a close partnership that is helping to address the need for more skilled workers in technology while also equipping transitioning service people to thrive in a digital world.

Ashish touring Capri, Italy, with his friends.
Ashish touring Capri, Italy, with his friends.

“Veterans across all branches of the military have honed exceptional skills and abilities that are in high demand for technology companies—including paying careful attention to detail, executing in a high-stress environment, and collaborating to fulfill a mission,” said Kristen Brown, vice president of global talent acquisition at Kronos. “Yet translating what they’ve learned and what they’ve done into corporate speak doesn’t always come naturally in the transition to civilian life. Programs that help veterans develop business-world confidence and open the doors to corporate opportunities are invaluable.”

In his role as a front-end developer, Ashish is generally focused on application modules that impact user experience. But he’s taking advantage of the opportunity to grow in multiple ways. For example, given his background and broad interest in coding, his mentor also gives him opportunities to work on back-end scripting. And to cap it off, he finished his last semester of school, earning his computer science degree online in May 2018.

“With everything going on, I thought I would never graduate,” he says. “But nobody in my family has a degree, so I wanted to be the first one and make my mom proud.” He’s looking forward to walking in the graduation ceremony in December 2018.

“I’m going to walk, just for her,” he says.

Because in the end, it’s always been a team effort.

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Microsoft expands commitment to military spouse community

Today in San Francisco, Microsoft Military Affairs will join our partners from LinkedIn to each share new commitments to the military spouse community.

Military spouses are an integral supporting force for members of our military, but face staggering 18 percent unemployment and 53 percent underemployment due to moves every two to three years, according to a 2016 study from Blue Star Families on the social cost of unemployment and underemployment of military spouses.

As part of our commitment to the military spouse community, Microsoft will launch a pilot program to provide spouses with technology skills training beginning in September.

Microsoft has successfully opened a technology career pipeline for transitioning service members and veterans via the Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA) program, which has expanded coast-to-coast and has a graduation rate of over 90 percent. We are excited to explore how to expand and tailor these opportunities to military spouses, which represent a diverse talent pool that is adaptable, resilient and highly educated and ready to take on new and exciting opportunities to further their professional and personal goals.

The U.S. government estimates information technology occupations are projected to grow 12 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. Because there are 500,000 open technology jobs annually, we know that career programs are needed to help close the technology skills gap.



“Microsoft is excited to work with technology leaders and other organizations committed to supporting military spouses, and to find avenues that lead to meaningful career opportunities for active duty military spouses,” said U.S. Marine Corps Major General (Ret.) Chris Cortez, Vice President of Microsoft Military Affairs.

LinkedIn also announced today that it is expanding its military and veterans program to include military spouses through a new partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense’s Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program. Beginning this July, LinkedIn will provide one year of LinkedIn Premium to every military spouse during each of their moves to new installations to facilitate their career transitions, and once again upon conclusion of military service. This will include free access to LinkedIn’s online library of more than 12,000 LinkedIn Learning courses, including its newly-launched learning path designed to help military spouses succeed in flexible, freelance or remote-work opportunities.

The Microsoft Military Affairs team is working closely with military spouses and nonprofit organizations to understand firsthand the unique challenges this community faces as we build out and learn from our pilot program.

We are thrilled to begin our pilot program in the fall and to continue our support of military spouses and their community by providing the skills they need to enter technology careers.