For Tom Furnier, the path to a technology career has been as unpredictable as it has been rewarding. After all, his brother was always “the computer science guy” of the family. And everyone else, it seemed, was destined for military service.
With grandparents who served in the Army during World War II and parents who served in the Air Force, it was no surprise they hoped Tom would follow suit. But for a long time, serving in the military wasn’t the path Tom envisioned or wanted for himself.
Instead, he pursued an education in criminal justice. Picturing himself as a special agent with the FBI or U.S. Marshals, Tom enrolled in college and loaded up on law courses. Unfortunately, the academic demand just wasn’t the right fit.
So Tom switched gears, earned an associate’s degree in general studies, secured a well-paying job in a call center, and for a few years felt secure in his decision. Before too long, though, his outlook on life began to change.
“I was in my early 20’s and I realized I didn’t have a career—I wasn’t learning a marketable skill,” Tom says. “I felt like I was stagnating.”
He suddenly found himself reconsidering the military. His younger sister was speaking with recruiters about joining the Air Force, and Tom became intrigued by what she shared with him.
“I realized there were a lot of benefits, especially the ability to set a career path,” he says. “I thought it could be a nice reset.”
So in a twist of fate, Tom enlisted in the Air Force—the same day as his sister. And after scoring 96 out of 99 on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, the military’s placement test, Tom began his Air Force career as a Maintenance Data Systems Analyst.
The role involved a mix of database management and data analysis to track and chart key performance indicators, in order to keep equipment and operations running efficiently. Tom quickly took to the analytical, hands-on training.
“It sounds super techy, but it turns out I’m a very math-oriented person and I have a super analytical mind,” Tom says. “I didn’t know that until I got that job.”
Looking back, he’s glad he explored his options and ultimately found his own path into the military. He spent nearly 10 years in the Air Force before preparing to face yet another fresh start: the return to civilian life.
He’d already met and married his wife—a military nurse from Nebraska who had just finished school when he transferred to Omaha—with whom he had transferred bases several times and started a family. So when he learned about Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA) while stationed at what would be their last base, Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) in Washington state, it seemed like a great opportunity to take advantage of the skills he’d acquired over the last decade and set himself up for even more marketable success.
Since its launch in 2013, MSSA has given service members and veterans of all backgrounds the skills and tools for successful transitions to careers in technology. Participants can receive tailored training in database and business intelligence administration, cloud application development, cybersecurity administration, and more. Currently offered at 14 locations across the U.S., the program is able to graduate about 1,000 participants per year, with plans for continued expansion.
Tom was accepted into the January 2017 MSSA cohort at JBLM. One of just three participants who were still in active duty, he was struck by the diverse backgrounds of his peers.
“I just happened to be a database person who was in the database cohort, but many of my classmates were in roles that weren’t related to technology in general,” he says. For a program that trains service members for careers in technology, that came as a pleasant surprise.
But, although the classes were rigorous, Tom says learning the foundation was the whole point.
“There are so many functions that exist within these major global companies,” Tom says.
It’s not all about certifications. It’s more about learning the foundation that you can then apply, about continuing to teach yourself the next thing.Tom Furnier
The promise of landing an interview with Microsoft was another major appeal of MSSA, he says. And many graduates go on to find opportunities at Microsoft or one of the program’s 280 hiring partners, earning average starting salaries of $70,000 or more.
But, in another twist of fate, a partner from Oracle came to speak to the class about job opportunities in Colorado. Everyone in the room turned to look at Tom. Originally from Colorado, they knew he had an agreement with his wife to move back there once he left the Air Force.
He interviewed for the job—a Support Renewal Representative—and got it. The job was a great fit for his skills, background, and goals.
“Oracle recognizes the unique and highly valued skillsets that veterans bring to the workforce. The MSSA program offers veterans specialized training that adds even more value to their competitiveness across multiple lines of businesses at Oracle,” said Albert Armijo, USN (ret), and Veteran Recruiting Program Manager, Oracle Talent Advisory.
Now, as Tom approaches his 1-year anniversary at Oracle, he is as grateful as ever for all his experiences—including the fresh starts—and particularly for what he calls a “flawless transition.”
“It was all very positive,” he says. “And it just goes to show you get out of it what you put in. Now I get to work with people around the world every day—in a single day, I can speak to people in five different countries. MSSA gave me that opportunity, and it’s hands down what I’m most grateful for.”