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2021—Florabel I., software engineer at Microsoft

Mentorship was essential to her four years as an Army patriot missile operator. As she charts a new career in the tech industry, this Army veteran paves the way for others to follow.

Florabel I. leaned on mentors when she left her career as an Army patriot missiles operator and set her sights on IT. Now a cybersecurity software engineer, Florabel pays it forward to fellow military career switchers—offering guidance, feedback, and community as they settle into their new career path.

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

What is great about Microsoft is you have a choice to work on projects that you want to be a part of – you have a voice. You can request to work on different teams so you can learn what they’re doing and improve your own skills.

I’m a software engineer, but right now I’m doing a cybersecurity job. I’m learning so much about networking, analyzing traffic patterns, and analyzing DDoS (distributed denial of service attacks) and mitigating them.

The coolest thing I’ve been part of is getting to see and analyze all the web traffic that we have within Microsoft. It’s amazing to see how many people we are serving all around the globe.

What are you most proud of in your tech career so far?

Leadership, and being able to mentor others and form good relationships. I’m proud to support my peers by helping them get started with automation projects and CI/CD pipelines of their own. Learning new technologies to create automation projects for teams within the core marketing organization at Microsoft, as well as my own team.

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

The game-changing takeaway from MSSA was the professional development and mock interviews. My MSSA coach and Microsoft mentors worked with me to overcome my anxieties about military transition. I was also afraid about a language barrier, which can made it hard to communicate, particularly when I’m nervous.

Even with all the technical skills and knowledge of algorithms and coding, if you’re not good with behavioral questions or able to relate your authentic self, it’s hard to get through the interview process. Almost everyone can pick up the skills once you get to the job, but managers want a sense of who you are before they invite you into their team. Professional development training helped me come out of my shell and show my authentic character, and get selected for my job.

What impacts do you hope to make in the future?

I want to inspire military career switchers to take the leap and not be afraid. I’m extremely proud of the mentoring I’ve done with MSSA participants as an FTE mentor.

I’ve worked with the past several cohorts, and am grateful I’m able to pass on what I’ve learned and help new participants avoid hurdles I faced while transitioning from the military, using lessons from my own experience.

Do you have advice or key learnings to share with military career switchers?

I know it’s hard, because I had that fear. In the year leading up to my transition from the Army, I studied hard preparing for MSSA exam prerequisites and interviews. I even started learning HTML/CSS, and to find opportunities to experience coding I even started making websites in WordPress to familiarize with it and prepare myself. I wanted to get as much out of the time as I could.

The work was well worth it—When the course started, I was able to pick up new concepts quickly because I had studied the theory.

And because I was able to keep pace with instruction, I could focus evenings during my MSSA training on creating project portfolios. I didn’t have a degree or technical background, so I knew it would be important to showcase my skills.

There are so many of us out there wanting to help other veterans through the journey. All they need to do is ask.