Understanding people, processes, leadership brings success at Microsoft
One thing Microsoft values among its employees who are former service members is their diversity of experience. Who better to exemplify that diversity than a Marine Corps veteran who went on to become an Army combat officer before starting his civilian career?
Today Peter Cowman is an incident manager for the Microsoft One Store Operations Center, supporting online subscription services across platforms like Xbox and Microsoft Azure. Whenever there’s an issue with those services, Cowman drives the company’s response — a stressful job, but less so for one with his range of experiences.
Cowman joined the Marines directly out of high school and served as a paralegal. After his enlistment he, like many others, took advantage of the GI Bill and attended the University of Washington, majoring in political science. Then, for his first job out of college, Cowman turned back to something he knew he’d love.
“I decided to pursue an officer program,” he says. “I wanted to do something different, and the military provided that opportunity.”
Cowman went through the rigorous Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Fort Benning, Georgia. Anyone who’s been through the Marine Corps boot camp might wonder how the programs compare, but Cowman says they’re actually not all that different.
“OCS is a very physical program that also requires a lot of leadership training, studying military processes and history,” he says. “It’s also basically a competition, because halfway through the program you select your job, and the selection order is based on your rank in the class.”
Cowman did well enough to land a coveted infantry position, remaining at Fort Benning for four months of officer school. Immediately after that, he completed the famous U.S. Army Ranger School, and then, for good measure, got his Airborne badge as well.
In all he spent 13 months training before becoming a platoon leader for a Stryker brigade based out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord in his home state of Washington. He was only there a couple of weeks before his unit was deployed on the other side of the globe.
“In Afghanistan I was responsible for planning two missions a day,” he says. “Essentially two patrols to the local villages around Kandahar.”
His unit handled local security and participated in nation-building activities with the Afghan people. He worked with the community to build roads, police stations and other needed infrastructure while also training the local militia and the Afghan National Army.
“We’d work in conjunction with the citizens to make the area safer and allow for better economic opportunities,” he says.
After four years in the Army, he decided to embark on a new life as a civilian. At that point, his list of accomplishments had become impressive: Marine boot camp, training and service; four-year college degree from a major university; OCS; Infantry, Ranger and Airborne school; and his subsequent experiences in the field.
There are many companies eager to obtain that kind of experience, but resigning his commission before having a plan for the future made Cowman understandably apprehensive. Fortunately, Cowman wound up making a valuable connection in Joe Wallis, a senior engagement manager for Military Affairs at Microsoft, who helped him navigate the process of applying, interviewing and ultimately landing a job at the company.
“I have a political science degree and came from the infantry, and today I’m managing major incidents that are highly technical,” Cowman says. “The military teaches you how to lead people and refine processes, and Microsoft values those qualities as much as pure technical knowledge.”
Cowman has also been selected as a mentor for participants in Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA), a course that targets people exiting the military to prepare them for careers in high-paying technology careers. Through weekly chats, resume advice and mock interviews, Cowman works to set up MSSA candidates for success, whether it’s at Microsoft or elsewhere. But ultimately, he says, Microsoft is an easy sell.
“I’ve had a great experience at Microsoft,” he says. “It’s a really cool place. They’re very accepting of people for who they are, and making sure everyone can work as productively as possible.”