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2020—Desi B., software engineer at Xbox

Why passion, curiosity, and community are the ingredients for meaningful career transition.

After an 11-year career as an electronics technician, then-Petty Officer Second Class Desi Blaney left the U.S. Coast Guard for a new plunge into big tech. Here’s how a growth mindset, powered by military experience, lit her path to Xbox.

Tell us about your job. What do you work on now?

I work in Xbox Services and Operations, a department that manages the back-end services that make the Xbox ecosystem run smoothly. Whether you are gaming on a console, PC, or in the cloud, my team ensures that you can log in, communicate, and share your gaming progress with others. My job is to manage and upgrade users’ activity feed, which allows you to post comments, screenshots, and videos of your gaming achievements. I’m constantly learning new ways to improve the service and deliver the best gaming experience to Xbox customers, and it’s amazing to see my work live in my own gaming. 

How are you inspired in your field?

I’m inspired by Xbox’s focus on nurturing the growth mindset. Of course we have deadlines we have to meet—but there’s a buffer built into our deadlines that gives us room to resolve any issues in the solution we’re building, and improve them.

The environment within Xbox gives us room to create features that our customers truly want, and to release products we’re invested in. When we hit a hard wall and need to sit around the whiteboard, our entire team pulls together to workshop the best solution.

From a job satisfaction standpoint, this means we’re not pumping out Band-Aid fixes. We’re deploying tools that we as individual contributors are proud of—because we were able to put our effort, our thoughts and our passions into it.

What are some of your proudest moments so far in your IT career?

A career highlight would have to be winning a company-wide hackathon with a new Xbox functionality my team created. It’s hard to imagine that our creations can have that kind of impact in a corporation as large as Microsoft, a global brand. Especially considering I had just hit my first-year mark with the corporation, it puts into perspective how much Microsoft values insight and problem-solving over tenure.  

Brag on your IT career for a moment. What’s the coolest part of your job?

My organization is extremely passionate about molding individuals to be better than what they think they are. It’s inspiring. Microsoft makes space to nurture the skills we bring to the table, developing those skills in a way that streamlines our learning progression and helps us execute our projects with real passion.  

Here’s a concrete example: even though I started my career with only basic coding knowledge, the training I received helped me advance to a Software Engineer 2. When I won that hackathon, my title was a Software Engineer 1.

When you’re driven by curiosity and eager to learn, a culture that values growth gives you room to show up authentically where you are, bringing your unique and actual best to the team. 

How did MSSA get your boot in the door for these opportunities?

C# coding fundamentals were a big component of the Cloud Computing curriculum at MSSA, which helped me learn how to look at practical-world problems. It’s the language I use most day-to-day. 

Besides technical skills, MSSA also gave me an environment to practice using the critical thinking skills we develop in our military careers to solve problems in an IT environment. 

The opportunity that MSSA gave me strengthened my resolve to leave the military, and gave me the community support to find my own traction. 

Do you have advice or key learnings to share with transitioning service members?

This career path is doable. It really is about growth mindset—being flexible, being willing to learn, allowing yourself to be vulnerable, and conquering imposter syndrome on a daily basis.

What are you inspired to do next?

I’m enthused about the challenges and opportunities of working with AI. In all likelihood it’s going to improve and kickstart new evolutions in gaming as a whole. It’s a whirlwind of the excitement of venturing out to the unknown—kind of like Starfield! I’m honored to be a part of the action.