MSSA fueled the determination of this Army soldier to land a rewarding yet flexible tech career

May 4, 2021

Finding a role that’s both fulfilling and flexible to your family’s needs isn’t easy – especially when you’re starting a new career. It’s a struggle that the 200,000 service members transitioning out of the military each year know all too well.

A thriving success story can be found in Florabel Ituralde. When she was exploring a career change in preparation for her transition out of the Army, she discovered Microsoft Software and Systems Academy. MSSA is a virtual, fully funded, 17-week program aimed at providing transitioning service members and veterans with the soft and hard skills they need to become competitive in the growing field of technology.

Florabel connected with the idea immediately.

The U.S. Army veteran knew the same resolve that brought her success in service could also help her achieve the next goal she’d begun shaping in her mind: to attain a fully remote job as a software engineer, equipping her to support her family while also pursuing a bachelor’s degree that would keep her tech career goals growing well into the future.

Finding a new path forward

After Florabel immigrated to the Bay Area from the Philippines at the age of 16, she immediately started working two jobs — Subway on weekdays and Kohl’s every weekend — to help with rent. When an Army recruiter customer suggested that she’d be a good fit for the military, Florabel took him seriously. It seemed like a path toward something better.

And with that, on her next day off Florabel signed up. Three weeks later, she was in boot camp at Fort Bragg. It was there that, in due time, she met and married a fellow soldier, had a son, and was able to bring her mother from the Philippines to live with her new family. Army life was working out well for her.

Working her way up through the ranks, Florabel was eventually promoted to unit leadership and assigned to manage Patriot missile defense systems. It was there that she got her first real taste of how rewarding a tech career might be.

“That’s where I learned how to operate Linux systems and do some basic commands in programming. It’s where I realized that being in the tech field is what I want to do, because I could have fun while learning.”

She began to see how continually building her technology savvy could feed her natural inclination to always be acquiring new skills — and fulfill her family’s needs along the way.

But then, two years after her promotion in the Army, Florabel reached another crossroads: She was slated to deploy to Korea for a year, but her son would be just six months old at the time. She then made the hard decision to transition out of the Army. “My infant son was the reason I decided to change my path again,” she says. “I wanted to be at home for him.”

She knew that once again she needed to put her skills, determination and ingenuity to work to forge the next happy stage of her family’s future.

Pursuing a technology career

Florabel had always been interested in computers, and while in the military she’d taught herself basic HTML and CSS to optimize a series of WordPress e-commerce site side hustles. It was that basic tech training, augmented by her Army experience, that inspired her to plan for a longer career in tech.

Florabel sitting on a scenic cliffside with a dog. That’s when she came upon MSSA. “I was the one who brought it up to my chain of command. I gave them the program details and advocated for myself to move through the transition process in time to get into the next cohort, which was coming up fast.”

Through grit and perseverance Florabel succeeded, again. Not only was she able to transfer straight into her MSSA cohort upon her exit from the military, but she managed to achieve all the certifications required to apply for MSSA before the application deadline — no small feat considering the time crunch.

She joined the July 2020 MSSA cohort — after the program shifted fully online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “It was a huge change for me to learn virtually, but it was also very convenient because I was able to be at home,” she says. “With my mom with us now, I was able to take care of her and my son while I completed the coursework.”

Perhaps the biggest benefit Florabel found in remote learning was the focus on soft skills development, including mock interviewing — a favorite program element that further improved her conversational English facility, while equipping her to overcome long-seeded nerves around any perceived language barriers.

She also valued how generous her mentor and cohort peers were in making time to help her prepare for the mock interviews, which she knew were key to equipping her to land a competitive, fully remote, technology job.

“Completing MSSA online turned out to be a blessing in disguise,” she said. “If all those mock interviews had occurred in person, I feel like the others would’ve been able to see me shaking.” Instead, Florabel seized the opportunity to improve her self-confidence, prepare herself professionally for civilian employment, and learn to convince hiring managers how effectively she could work in a remote environment.

Ultimately, it was that MSSA focus on professional skills training — the mock interviews, the support with resume prep, the hands-on mentorship — that boosted her confidence in her ability to excel in the civilian working world.

Achieving her dream, thanks to MSSA

Landing a fully remote role was the key to providing the flexibility her family needed, and Florabel worked tirelessly to find the right fit. With her husband working with the military police at Fort Bragg and her family settled, she sought a local job that would allow her to continue learning and growing in a tech career. In a job market made increasingly competitive by the economic realities of the pandemic era, having the respected reputation of Microsoft and MSSA on her side made a big difference as well.

After landing many interviews, she selected a role at AvidXchange as a fully remote software engineer. Beyond teaching her the soft skills to succeed professionally in the civilian world, MSSA had also taught her the technical skills that got her in the door at AvidXchange. “All the software, all the tech tools we use here, I learned from MSSA.”

Crucially, her new employer was also supportive of her decision to pursue a bachelor’s degree in computer science. “It’s actually part of my development plan at my job,” Florabel says.

With so much of her career ahead of her, there’s no limit to where Florabel’s determination to grow can take her. When she sets her sights on something, she says, “I will do everything, whatever it takes” to make it happen. “There are so many resources out there. They are unlimited, you just have to find them. For me, it’s out there, I just have to look for it. That’s my mindset.”

For Florabel, MSSA was the missing piece that helped her fill the gaps and propel her forward to achieve her vision of a flexible, rewarding and meaningful career in technology.