MSSA Grads Give Back: the spirit of service that defines veterans’ impact

Nov 11, 2021

Honoring our veterans is not just a Veterans Day remembrance for many Microsoft employees, but rather a year-round commitment to demonstrating appreciation and thanks by giving back to our military servicemembers. We have talked before about why mentors are pillars of Microsoft Software and Systems Academy (MSSA), and essential to helping students succeed. This Veterans Day we wanted to look at tangible ways that Microsoft FTEs show their gratitude – and how the spirit of service that veterans embody strengthens our entire organization.

Microsoft mentors honor Veteran service

Inspired by an unconventional side project supporting a nonprofit mission to return fallen soldiers to the US mainland, Commerce Financial Services Chief of Staff Christie Fisher was looking for ways to put actions behind her gratitude.  “My motivation was – how can I go beyond the bumper sticker on my car thanking them for their service, and actually DO something that will be of real value to veterans?”

I believe that it is incumbent on me to serve the veteran mentees I support, just as they served our country. Mentoring makes me feel like I am giving back to them for the years of personal sacrifice they gave to keep us safe. Incidentally, I sign my emails with “Yours in Service” – because we truly are serving them.
– Henry Webb, professional and technical skills mentor

Volunteering as a professional skills mentor starts with listening with empathy and understanding. MSSA’s FTE mentorship program gave Christie an avenue to offer tangible thanks to veterans – by sharing her professional skillset and supporting their transition to the tech industry.

Students often express concerns that their years of duty won’t be viewed as relevant or applicable to the business community. “They have extensive training and expertise, but because it’s so specific to military activities they don’t see its value in the civilian workforce,” explained MSSA Career Development Manager and Marine veteran Rudy Gonzalez. “They have the mentality of ‘I just did my job’, and can underrepresent the relevance of their skillset. Learning to correlate it for civilians makes an incredible difference as they move through a career change.”

When I hear them say ‘I was just a diesel mechanic, and that doesn’t translate to the tech industry’ my role is to help them see the business value of their experience – that through their actions and leading their team, they were able to effectively problem-solve, improve time to repair (timelines), and propose new processes, which were adopted across multiple teams. With that increase in efficiency, they reduced down-time – contributing key resources that drove the success of their mission.
– Christie Fisher, professional skills mentor

That’s where mentors step in – to support the transitioning veteran by applying their unique skillset. Mentors help servicemembers practice translating their military experience into a civilian context using techniques like mock interviews and resume workshops. “Once they start learning how to translate their expertise into ‘civilian speak’ and draw out the importance of their role, they gain more confidence in their place in the private sector. Without this support, too many veterans become underemployed, or in jobs below their skillset – because they weren’t able to articulate what they want, and what they bring to the table,” Rudy explained.

Seeing the incredible untapped talent of folks from such varied demographics has really motivated me to fight to ensure everyone is brought in and included in the culture, through hiring events, internal mentoring, and customer teamwork.
– Casey Stabler, U.S. Air Force veteran, technical skills mentor

The spirit of service, and its ripple effect in our business

The empathy and experience developed in iterations of translating, teaching, and guiding veteran mentees has a lasting effect on the mentors – who report that this service through mentorship improves their own job performance.

Teambuilding and people development skills are the most-cited areas of improvement in MSSA mentors’ ]self-assessed job performance. Professional skills mentor Lia Keston reports that “mentoring in the MSSA program inspired me to focus more intentionally on helping my colleagues do their best work. I’ve found that helping to bring out the best in my teammates brings out the best in my own performance.”

The teambuilding curriculum developed by this mentor network emphasizes the leadership skills each veteran arrives with when they walk in the door. Christie intentionally applies this approach to her own mentees, helping them refine their own teambuilding skills – including skills like providing feedback to peers. By leaning in on military values – like succeeding as a team – mentees are equipped to pass the baton, and empower the next veteran to own their potential in any industry. As you can imagine, this sets off a massive ripple effect of teammate talent-refiners who know how to bring out the best in their peers, arming that next wave of people for success.

If you want to be a part of a program that will make you feel – to the core of your being –
like you have made a difference, this is it.

– Henry Webb, professional and technical skills mentor

As Military Affairs Vice President Chris Cortez talked about in his article Honoring Veteran Service, throughout their careers military servicemembers have the core skills for success in any industry – especially tech. MSSA mentor Henry Webb explains “At the end of the day, it’s not important that you have all the answers. What’s important is that you know how to find an answer you need.” In tech, knowledge turns over fast – transition and evolution is the name of the game. Veterans know how to make the most of and achieve their mission with whatever tools are available. The guidance Microsoft mentors offer to veterans helps them to not just navigate, but thrive, in their career transition. In this ecosystem of service, veteran talent flourishes – in fact, is supercharged.

With this mentorship, veterans are empowered to develop the solutions they need – bridging the core skillset military service develops with the novel challenges of a new industry. Rather than buckle under pressure or frustration, Rudy teaches his mentees to develop the solutions they need, using the tools at hand. And in the veteran spirit of service, these resources continue to give back to the veteran and Microsoft community: Rudy’s students were empowered to turn their problem into a network of veteran problem-solvers, all navigating the civilian tech workforce as a team.

Connecting with these incredible and eager veterans is part of the fulfillment I feel in my job that I don’t usually get elsewhere. If you’re feeling like you’re missing the passion at work you once had, working with these folks will give it back to you.
– Casey Stabler, U.S. Air Force veteran, technical skills mentor

The Spirit of Service ecosystem

The spirit of service that veterans embody warrants our appreciation 365 days a year – not just on Veterans Day. In honoring veterans, our mentors – and in turn our entire organization – are rewarded many times over. The spirit of service never was a one-way street: these mentors all feel strongly that by investing in veterans, they developed themselves at the same time. It’s a testament to created by working with veterans – the ecosystem of service and giving empowers not only veterans and transitioning servicemembers – but mentors, their groups and organizations, and ultimately ripples throughout our entire organization.

Mentoring MSSA participants has become the most fulfilling aspect of my role at Microsoft. At the end of every cohort, the mentors always reflect that we’ve learned just as much from the participants as they’ve learned from us. It’s really a partnership, not just a mentor-student relationship.
– Lia Keston, professional skills mentor

 

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Microsoft Software and Systems Academy (MSSA) is a 17-week technical training program that equips veterans and transitioning servicemembers for competitive and exciting careers in tech. To learn more about transitioning to civilian life in an upcoming MSSA cohort, watch a Virtual Brief on the Microsoft Military Affairs YouTube channel or register for a live session by contacting MSSAops@microsoft.com.

Not quite sure what steps to take? We’ve developed a Tech Transition Toolkit to support veterans as they plan their next career steps.

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