In their own voice: A day in the life

Jun 29, 2015

Bernard Bergan
Current Title: Technical Account Manager, Microsoft
Former Title: Sergeant, Special Forces

Even though I’m in Seattle, I wake up on East Coast time. Maybe it’s because all of my brothers live there, or maybe it’s just the soldier in me.

Waking up so early gives me time to work out, and plenty of time to sit and have breakfast with my wife. We’ve been married 12 years, and I didn’t realize how much of her light I was missing until I was back, able to have breakfast, get a text message at lunch and go home for dinner.

When I get in to work at Microsoft at 9 a.m., my team and I always meet to discuss the day’s priorities. It could be addressing issues for different customers, or it could be planning out new features. After that, we dive into our code and develop what needs to be created that day.

In the Army, I was trained to be an information-technology sergeant. I spent six years in a Special Forces unit, and I did see combat. It’s hard to explain what it means to serve until you’ve done it for yourself. Over that time, you build a sense of selfless service that deepens to this level where you really come to understand what it means to care about your community.

I have a favorite shirt with all the names of people we lost during my service. These are guys we trained with, got to know their families, did barbecues together. And suddenly we’re at their funeral, sitting with their children and trying to help everyone take the next step.

That next step sometimes is like losing a breath. You want to catch your breath so badly, but you can’t — but then you do. You do it for them. Somebody has to be there to bridge that gap. So in my hardest day at Microsoft, when we have deadlines, when a build breaks and customers want answers, I just take a deep breath and reset: I’m going to go home tonight. I think veterans all live with the reality of surviving and the duty to keep that bridge built and that road paved for those who are behind us.

Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA) provided that bridge for me. Before I started the program, my wife and I were considering moving back home to Virginia. It took some convincing, but once I started speaking to members of the military community at Microsoft, hearing that this was a great environment and such an amazing company to work for, I committed — even though the only thing guaranteed was the interview.

The program was intense, but I did 11 months in Afghanistan. I went to Airborne School where they taught me to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. When you do that, you learn: Believe it or not, you can land, recover your equipment and hit the battlefield. Not only do you realize you can do anything, you learn that with the right mentors, there will always be a path ahead.

So I figured I could do 16 intense weeks down a pipeline of new technologies that I had never touched before. After those 16 weeks, I graduated with 20 other people who all deserved the opportunity. You want to see them make it, but you also want it for yourself and your family. In my case, I did get that call — Bernard, we’d love to have you here at Microsoft.

More than a year later, I’m still here and unlocking even more of what it means to work in technology. I’m working with some of the most brilliant minds on the planet in an industry that’s brand new to me. I have great mentors, great team leaders, people that I can grab coffee with, sit down with and get a different perspective. Sometimes that’s all that’s needed, a difference of perspective. And then you remember: At least I don’t have to jump out of an airplane.

Would I say MSSA is a success? Absolutely. Would I say that my success is typical? Anytime I hear that word, I always think about the 1 percent of Americans who serve. A typical person doesn’t make that commitment. It takes someone extraordinary. You give that person a great opportunity like Microsoft Software & Systems Academy, and you’re combining their skill sets, their talents, their know-how, their can-do attitude with what technology really is — solving problems.

Microsoft is really taking a risk investing in me and others like me, and it’s something that I value greatly. The MSSA program really is that bridge over the gap between leaving the military and finding an amazing career.