Marine pursues tech training to land his dream job

Oct 7, 2016

At age 17 Duane Kord knew what he wanted to do: join the Marine Corps. Motivated by the events of 9/11, Kord enlisted under the Delayed Entry Program while still in high school and went to boot camp upon graduating in 2003.

From then until age 30 — his entire adult life to that point — Kord served as a Marine, rising to staff sergeant. “That’s all I knew,” he says, “My sense of purpose was there. It made me the person I am.”

He loved the service. It suited him. Then something changed.

Duane Kord spent his entire adult life as a Marine before transitioning into his “dream job” at Microsoft.

“I was originally joining to do four years,” he says. “I got married, and every time re-enlistment came up, we weighed the pros and cons. I was deploying every six months, which was hard on us, but that was the reason I joined. But this last year the pros and cons list swung a different way.”

He and his wife now had three kids and wanted a stable school environment and to own a home. Still, Kord’s plan to re-enter civilian life was only “sort of a plan,” he laughs, recalling his nerves about what might come next. He was weighing his options when a Marine under his command requested leave to attend Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA). MSSA is an intensive 18-week course at multiple bases across the country that provides active duty U.S. service members with the career skills necessary to meet the IT industry’s high demand for talent. Kord agreed to the request. He grew intrigued as he supported his fellow serviceman during the program. The more Kord learned about the program, the more he wanted it for himself, so he decided to apply, too.

To Kord, “MSSA was the perfect opportunity. I grew up on Windows. I had done programming. I loved everything to do with IT, and that’s why I did it while I was in the Marines.” Beyond the chance to dive deeper into IT, the program offered a renewed sense of purpose: “It focuses on our potential and what we can give back.”

Once in the program, he found it “a natural choice.” He took the software development track and learned to use C# and Microsoft Azure. “The MSSA program is No. 1,” he says. “There’s nothing like it. They even give you a subscription to Azure where you can go build virtual machines and networks, and Microsoft pays the bill. What other place will do that for you?

“I would challenge anyone coming out of college with a four-year degree to match someone coming out of MSSA with four years in the Marines.”

Kord graduated from MSSA in February of 2016, and today is a mentor for the current cohort at Camp Pendleton.

Choosing a Microsoft career over college was “not a hard choice,” Kord says. “You go to college to get that dream job, and I’d just been offered that. Being able to provide for my wife and family was more important.” Now, as a service engineer in the Microsoft IT department for Finance and Professional Services, he applies his Azure, developer and programmer skills as he runs a fast-paced production environment.

One adjustment to the civilian workforce is to not call people by their rank or last name. Kord catches himself using Marine jargon such as “good to go” when a project is under control, and he still calls lunch “chow.” Easing his transition are members of his MSSA cohort who also work at Microsoft, including Andrew Richardson, who shares his office. Plus his manager, John Holk, is ex-Navy. Kord notes, “We can keep the camaraderie up.”

Indeed, the deep team loyalty instilled in former service members serves them well at Microsoft. “One of my managers lost his wife to cancer two weeks ago,” Kord says. “They had already purchased a house and were ready to move. My whole team pitched in on a Saturday to help. It’s great to see the things I’d been taught in the Marines about always being there for each other carried over into the Microsoft world.”

Having landed his dream job, Kord found it wasn’t a career-versus-college choice after all: He’ll keep working while enrolled at Bellevue College for a degree in business administration.

Kord is more than a fan of MSSA; he’s also a mentor for the current cohort. “It’s awesome to give back. I wouldn’t be here now, having the job I have now, owning my own home, without MSSA,” he says. “I think I’m in a unique position to speak to these Marines going through the course and share my experience.”

Kord, seen here with his wife and kids, wanted to make sure his return to civilian life was smooth. That’s when he discovered MSSA and a path forward.