MSSA Grads Give Back: Why our Graduates are our Superpower

Sep 28, 2021

For the Microsoft Military Affairs team, advocating for veteran hiring is our top focus. Since 2013, our mission has been the continuing support of servicemembers transitioning from Active or Reserve duty and unemployed or underemployed veterans to new careers in technology. We do this by providing technical training for in-demand information technology skills through Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA)  MSSA is our 17-week training program which helps us to invest in our participants’ professional development with active mentorship, interview opportunities, and professional development training – and since January 2021, by fully funding MSSA for our participants.

As we near a milestone 3,000 graduates, we have learned as much from our graduates as we have taught. We have seen how even after transitioning from the military, our participants have a continuing spirit of service to their teammates and fellow veterans, exemplifying the problem-solving skills, teambuilding orientation, and calm-under-pressure training that characterize a practiced veteran, and spotlight the talent veterans bring to IT and the private sector.

Continuing Spirit of Service 

From building networks, to investing in community, to putting continuous learning front and center to build the tools to complete their mission – we have been amazed at the many ways the veteran talent at MSSA have come up with to show up for their community, not counting their mission complete until the last teammate is over the line.

Inside the classroom and out, the values instilled by military service shine brightly in veterans transitioning to tech with MSSA – and make clear why we’re so sure that veterans are the ideal talent pool for IT jobs of the future.

We wanted to highlight a few examples of continuing service that our graduates have developed on their own time, to support their fellow MSSA participants, cohorts coming up behind them, and the broader community of Veterans and transitioning servicemembers.

The unofficial MSSA Discord: how one MSSA grad built a community with technical problem-solving

When supplies are limited, veterans get creative – and that’s exactly what Xbox software engineer Desi Blaney did as a participant of MSSA’s Cloud Application Development (CAD) program.

When faced with a firehose of new information, Desi refused to get frustrated, and instead got to work designing the tool she needed – and then got the whole team on board. “I made a Discord and started cataloguing different coding tricks, cheat-sheets, and resources to master skills. When the whole cohort got involved, the resource library and collaboration just took off,” she told us.

Her cohort used it throughout the duration of their program – and when they decided to expand it to the broader network of MSSA alums, something unexpected happened. Alum kept coming back, sharing their expertise, networking opportunities in their companies, tips for code issues, and to support current participants as they transition into tech.

Today the unofficial MSSA discord is a resource for problem solving, networking, learning new tech languages, and support from a group of veterans who have a unique understanding of each others’ journeys. According to Desi, “It can be a hard and lonely time when you transition from duty. Here we’ve built a network of veterans who have similar experiences and truly want to help each other succeed.”

“What you want to know while transitioning into tech” – network-building for fun

This past August, MSSA Alum put together a symposium on Microsoft Teams, which gave new participants access to talk with and learn from graduates who have been successful in tech.

Motivated by mentorship from MSSA Career Development Manager Rudy Gonzalez, graduate Johnny Jones Jr., now a Service Engineer II with Microsoft, wanted to create a forum where the past participants could share “lessons learned” with current students and other alumni. The guiding question: What should you know as you start navigating a civilian career in tech?

Five graduates were invited to serve as guest speakers and share experiences and major learnings from their own transitions into the civilian sector.  Microsoft Teams breakout rooms were opened after the formal presentations, offering new admits and old friends from prior cohorts the chance to network more freely.

Breakout rooms covered topics like hiring opportunities, coding languages, and imposter syndrome. “The thought was to listen together to a few featured speakers, then break out for people to network and collaborate,” Johnny told us. “What we got was so much more.”

Tech4All Foundation

Inspired by their prior career experiences, military service, and training with MSSA, three MSSA alum wanted to expand mentorship more broadly to veterans wanting to get into tech. Using 1-on-1 mentorship, accessible workshops in IT topics, and social media evangelism to combat imposter syndrome and barriers-to-entry, the Tech4All Foundation aspires to change the mindset of vets transitioning to technical careers in the private sector, and show people who might not see themselves in tech that it’s an attainable career path.

For now Tech4All Foundation is focusing on the veteran community, with aims to extend its programming to empower people of color, low economic opportunity, and youth in their journey to tech.

 

When we talk about the value veterans bring to the workplace, it’s because our students and graduates show us every day what they bring to an organization. From after-hours mentorship to the creation of new tools like the unofficial MSSA Discord forum, helping to empower peers in getting connected and building new ways to share ideas – Veterans go above and beyond to complete the mission, in the private sector as well as service.

In the case of the MSSA participants and projects profiled here, it is worth noting that each one was a volunteer effort, a labor of love created on their own time driven by their passion to help others succeed.

Veterans strengthen an organization from the inside, building group cohesion and making sure that every member of the team has what one needs to get the job done. Participants, graduates, and mentors like these exemplify what we do at MSSA, but more importantly, they exemplify why we are so passionate about veteran talent and empowering servicemembers in all chapters of their career.

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Are you interested in transitioning to civilian life in an upcoming MSSA cohort? Learn more by attending a Virtual Brief the first Tuesday of each month at 0900 PST/1200 EST, and again at 1200 PST/1500 EST. Register for an upcoming Virtual Brief on by contacting MSSAops@microsoft.com, or watch a recent upload anytime on the Microsoft Military Affairs YouTube.

Are you a Microsoft customer who is interested in adding our MSSA grads to your team? To learn more about opportunities to become a MSSA Hiring Partner and accessing our graduate talent, reach out to the MSSA Corporate Engagement team.