Oorah! Cortez leads the charge to reskill veterans for jobs in techJul 27, 2015
They come from big towns and small in every state across America. They’ve served their country and learned valuable skills along the way. And today, they are an emerging work force seeking to bridge the gap between one rewarding career and another.
In the next few years, tens of thousands of active duty military personnel will be leaving the armed services in search of their next adventure. Meanwhile, the technology industry has thousands of unfilled seats that are costing potentially billions in lost opportunity.
According to retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Chris Cortez, that’s where Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA) hits home. MSSA is a 16-week technology training course delivered in the classic, intense military style. Using a curriculum developed by St. Martin’s University, it’s a technical school delivered on military bases, designed to give active duty personnel real-world skills to succeed in life as a former service member.
“Why not bring those two together?” says Cortez. “Why not fill this need in IT by training people that are interested, that are leaving active duty, and preparing them for those jobs?”
They say a Marine is always a Marine, and Cortez lives up to the billing in his post as vice president of Microsoft Military Affairs. Sharp and no-nonsense, with the air of a man who spent 33 years as an infantry officer, his eyes brighten when he talks about MSSA’s mission to help soldiers succeed after enlistment, showing the same passion that won him two stars and countless accolades leading troops in action.
“This is an amazing talent pool,” he says. “Here you have a group of young men and women that have served their country. They put their organization above themselves. They come with skills. They come with discipline. We want them to have this opportunity after the great career that they’re in now, to go into another great career in the IT industry.”
Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Chris Cortez, now vice president of Microsoft Military Affairs, served in the Marine Corps for more than 33 years, including during Operation Desert Storm.[/caption]
That Cortez is such a strong advocate for service members makes him a perfect fit for his current post. For three decades he built his reputation as a commander who took care of soldiers on the battlefield. His stories about front-line preparation during Operation Desert Storm illustrate the kind of officer he represents.
“Soon after we arrived I came upon some Marines as they were digging their foxhole, and all I wanted to say to them was, ‘What can I do for you? What do you need to do your job as best as you can?’ These young warriors weren’t concerned about food or anything else. They were focused on their mission. And that, to me, speaks to the amazing young people that serve our country.”
Today Cortez is working to serve those young people in turn. It’s a spirit of dedication and commitment that was fostered at a very young age. The son of first-generation immigrants to the United States, Cortez doesn’t hail from a background of affluence. Instead, a hardscrabble childhood taught him the value of strenuous work, self-discipline and continually striving to improve.
“I grew up with those values imprinted in my soul,” he says. “If I can really apply myself and prepare for college and then go to college, then maybe I can move on and do other things. It all maps back to education. I really believe education is the differentiator.”
Understanding his convictions makes it easy to see why Cortez was eager to take on his role at Microsoft — giving young people an opportunity that they may not otherwise have is a priority that is near and dear to him. For Cortez, getting each individual through the training and into a great IT job after they leave the military is what it’s all about. As a retired senior officer, Cortez understands the difficulty of transitioning from military life and finding a new career in the civilian realm. In his position now, he’s able to help others make that transition.
“Wearing a uniform for years and all of a sudden, taking it off — going from an environment that’s very familiar to you to one that’s unknown — that’s difficult for anyone, and it was difficult for me,” he says.
Programs like MSSA are important to help former servicemen and women land with both feet on the ground as they leave the service. With the success of MSSA, Cortez hopes that other companies in the industry will rally behind Microsoft’s example and try to do the same thing, for the health of the industry, for the U.S. economy as a whole, and to give opportunity to as many young men and women as possible who have served the country.
Just 18 months into the program, it has already made a difference in a number of lives. Cortez points to examples like Bernard Bergan, a Special Forces sergeant who served in Afghanistan before becoming one of the first participants in the MSSA program.
At Microsoft now for a year and a half, Bergan has been hired into another position with more responsibility, effectively a promotion that shows a young career on the rise. And there are many other examples like his.
“That’s proof, right there, that we’re doing the right thing,” says Cortez. “The great thing about being at Microsoft is that we have this vision. The company’s top leaders know that in order to continue to grow and be competitive, we need to have young people come in and do great things. Giving these talented young men and women a start in the company, and then watching them grow, is really something I’m proud to be part of.”
To which we can only say, OORAH!