Army captain becomes Accenture consultant: An MSSA graduate forges a new career after military service
In December 2014, LaVanda Harrison graduated from Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA), an intensive 16-week program that helps military service members train for a civilian career in technology while they are still on active duty. Today she is working at Accenture as a delivery performance project manager, coordinating the work of teams serving the company’s roster of Fortune 500 clients. She credits both MSSA and her military experience with teaching her the skills she uses on the job.
“The class helped me understand the tech world better: the terminology, how things are done, different methodologies,” Harrison says. “I didn’t have any of that prior to that course. The other thing it did was help me in translating those military skills into something more explainable to a civilian employer.”
As a captain in the Army doing intelligence work, Harrison was frequently responsible for coordinating the efforts of a large number of people working on time-sensitive, complex projects. She didn’t always have the latest project management tools at her disposal, but she learned how to structure processes and procedures that ensured success. The same skills come into play at Accenture, where she oversees software releases, manages budgets and tracks progress toward deadlines.
“In the Army we’d make sure that everybody had the training they need and the resources that they need to complete their jobs,” Harrison says. “And basically that’s what I do here, making sure everybody has everything they need so things are on time and within budget. Also in the military, you have to make sure everybody knows what they’re doing and what their piece is, but also how their piece affects everyone else. If they’re behind, then everyone else is behind. So having that kind of experience in the military is really helping out here.”
Harrison was a graphic designer at a newspaper before enlisting in the Army, so she had some idea of what to expect as she transitioned back into civilian life. But she found that her MSSA training helped her better adapt to the culture of the professional world outside the military, particularly at Accenture where consultants can apply for specific projects that interest them.
“It’s different; coming from a military background, there’s a lot of ambiguity,” Harrison says. “Your career is in your own hands. There’s not a set path for you to follow, and your reputation is built on your performance. So you really have to put your best foot forward and be cognizant of building a good reputation because it’s going to precede you.”
Microsoft guarantees an interview to every successful graduate of MSSA, but also works with hiring partners including Accenture to ensure graduates have a full range of career choices. Harrison says that one benefit of joining Accenture was the chance to relocate from the Seattle area to Atlanta, where she is closer to her extended family and friends. She enjoys exploring the city’s museums and nightlife, but is also investing personal time in professional development, completing training for a project management certification and weighing whether to pursue an MBA. And she’s quick to recommend MSSA to other service members who are preparing for their own transition to civilian life.
“I really think MSSA and other programs like it are very, very important for service members transitioning out,” Harrison says. “I got lucky at Fort Lewis because the program existed and it’s still growing. I just try to make sure that everybody knows that you have help; you don’t have to do this by yourself.”