In their own voice: A tale of two careers

Jun 29, 2015

Tara Overfield
Current Title: Software Engineer, Microsoft
Former Title: Warrant Officer, Army Reserve


My name is Tara Overfield. I’m a software engineer with Microsoft’s .NET Framework Set-Up and Servicing team.

Before coming to Microsoft, I was in the Army Reserve for 14 years. I served as a marine engineering warrant officer — the person who takes care of all the mechanical systems on a boat. I dealt with engines, generators, hydraulics, electrical and refrigeration systems, heating and cooling, and of course making sure there were no holes in the boat.

Today what I do is very different, but it’s just as challenging. I set up the basic functional testing for .NET. We have a matrix of machines that are available to test on, and then we install and test upgrades from different platforms to make sure everything is right. We run thousands of tests on each build to make sure all of it works properly with the functionality we expect.

I joined the military so I could pay for education. My family didn’t have money to send me to school, and I did not want to end up with tens of thousands of dollars of debt. Through the military, I actually was able to graduate with a bachelor’s degree and absolutely no debt. But even though I had my degree, I never really knew how to bridge that gap between my military career and a civilian one.

I was always interested in technology, and I learned about Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA) toward the end of my service, when I was with the Warrior Transition Battalion. They posted a flier about a seminar for MSSA and I went. I liked everything I heard. MSSA turned out to be the perfect fit to transition from what I had been doing into a civilian career that I really love.

I think anyone transitioning out of the military goes through a few different emotions. At first I was upset. I didn’t want my time in the reserve to end, didn’t want to lose the comrades that I had become so close to. But I decided it would be better for me to move forward, to be able to grow my career and my family.

At the start of the program, I was apprehensive about how I would perform, but it went really well. The program doesn’t give you time to worry about those things. It starts and it doesn’t let up. You are just pummeled with information every day. To keep up, I got a Surface tablet, put all my books onto PDF and brought that with me everywhere. Any time I had down time I was reading textbooks and studying. We also had study hours with classmates — everybody worked together so that we all came through successfully.

That teamwork, the way we pull together to make sure everyone succeeds, that’s all part of the accountability that somebody walks out of the military with. We know how to get a job done, to be accountable for the job that we’re supposed to have done, and we do not stop until it is done.

Anyone who’s been in the military has been in some very stressful situations, so something that might feel stressful to most people may not be to a military person, just because of everything we’ve experienced. I think that really helps me in my current career. I’m accountable for the setup testing on the .NET framework. I know that when the project manager sends me information, I need to get back to them within an expected timeframe, and I will do that.

I loved what I did in the military, and I love what I do today. It’s so much fun, so interesting, so challenging, and I work with a lot of very intelligent people. Down the road, I’m looking at staying on my team, growing with my position and continuing to learn. I guess you could say that, for me, the MSSA program was a perfect opportunity. I learned a new skill set, got an interview at Microsoft, and now I’m in a new career that I’m very happy with.