Coast Guard Reservist finds the right work-life balance at Microsoft
Lt. Cmdr. Rich Kocher, an intelligence officer in the Coast Guard Reserve, took an unusual path to the military: He’d already completed college, had a degree and was working as a mutual fund analyst before he decided to enlist. “I wanted to do something more fulfilling,” Kocher says. “I had a few friends in the Coast Guard who always talked about how much they loved it, and the Coast Guard appealed to me because it was more about saving lives and helping people.”
Kocher joined the Coast Guard shortly after 9/11 and spent about four years on active duty before transitioning to the Reserve and back into the corporate world. As an intelligence officer in the Reserve, Kocher is currently on loan to the Navy, where he collects and reports information that is relevant to the mission. He’s responsible for information management, both up through the chain of command and down to the sailors who need that information.
“Before I joined the military, my views about stress and pressure were very different,” Kocher says. “After having been in very high-tempo situations, where there is a life-or-death component, I have the confidence to deal with high-pressure situations, so things that bother some people at work don’t really bother me.”
Besides learning to perform calmly under stress, Kocher says the military gave him valuable training in how to lead, training that he uses often when managing people as a senior security program manager at Microsoft.
“I never really considered myself a natural leader, and being in the military has forced me to learn how to manage people,” Kocher says. “In the corporate world, there’s no real formalized training that teaches you how to manage people; you do your job well and you move up the ladder, but you don’t necessarily learn how to lead. The military environment is very much a laboratory on how to manage people and lead a team. I gained so much experience in how to develop people under me and how to deal with issues they have, whether personal or work-related.”
Kocher never planned on a military career; he knew he would eventually want to transition back into the civilian world. Once he decided to leave active duty and join the Reserve, Kocher knew he wanted to find a job in the private sector. “When I decided to go into the reserves and get a corporate job, I didn’t want to go into intelligence — I could have easily gotten a job at the State Department or one of the many agencies that handle intelligence, but I wanted to go back to the corporate environment,” Kocher says. “However, I wanted to make sure that all the skills I’d gained in the Coast Guard were put to good use.”
After several years at Amazon, Kocher was approached about a job at Microsoft. At the time, he and his husband were expecting their first child, and the work-life balance of a career with Microsoft appealed to him. He also knew that his Reserve duties would be welcomed.
“Because Microsoft has such a strong history of hiring veterans, and is so focused through its efforts with the Military Affairs team, I knew it wouldn’t be an issue when I’m activated and have to leave for an extended amount of time,” Kocher says. “My boss is also a veteran, so he understands, and I knew everyone would be supportive of it.”
Kocher says serving in the Reserve has helped him bridge the gap between the military and the corporate world — because everyone in the Reserve also has a day job, many in the corporate world, the culture is different than in active duty.
“One of the big reasons I left active duty and joined the reserves is that, at the time, I’d just met my now-husband,” Kocher says. “I never had an issue or faced any discrimination directly, but there’s always that sort of looming cloud that you could get kicked out, or your military career could be jeopardized. The reserves was much more accepting than active duty because reservists have normal, civilian, sometimes corporate jobs that have already dealt with issues surrounding discrimination. Since ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was rescinded, I feel more open about mentioning that my family is made up of two dads, but because I already felt more comfortable in the reserves, nothing much has changed.”
Because of his corporate background, Kocher’s transition back to civilian life was easier than most, but he still loves to advise and mentor folks who are preparing for their own transitions. “Military service is a huge bonus, and a great resume addition, but at the same time, you’re competing with people who likely have a lot more experience in the particular position,” Kocher says. “You need to know how to write a resume, how to be articulate in an interview, how to talk about competition — things I wish transitioning service members were better trained on. That’s why Microsoft Software & Systems Academy is such a great program — it captures those skills you gain in the military and turns them into something more tangible that companies can understand and see the value of immediately.”
Microsoft Software & Systems Academy provides intensive tech training, mentorship and career counseling to active duty service members who are nearing their transition date. For those service members looking to transition into a civilian career, Kocher advises they consider how their experiences can transfer to the corporate world. “In the Coast Guard I was briefing admirals, and now I’m briefing vice presidents and senior executives, so that scale is definitely something that you want to get across in the interview,” he says. “It’s not just what you did in the military; all the sort of collateral duties you perform should be reflected on your resume. It’s what you did, and what the impact was.”