Mary McCready always knew she had the inner strength to face a challenge. Growing up she had a drive to achieve her goals despite poor odds or opposition. That toughness led her to enlist in the Marines when she graduated from high school, even though her father was concerned about how far the demands would push her.
McCready figured her natural leadership traits would serve her well in boot camp. She quickly learned from her drill instructor, however, that individual success hinged on the ability to coalesce as a single, disciplined, unit—one that worked together to do what needed to be done, regardless of personal preference or consequence.
With those foundational lessons solidly in place, McCready’s leadership skills soon began playing a more important role, as she was transferred to Camp Pendleton, California, and then deployed to Afghanistan as an analyst in 2012, and again in 2014. Those command strengths helped propel her to the role of platoon sergeant by the time of her second tour.
Back stateside, her battalion was reorganized, opening the window for her to plan the next phase of life. But McCready wasn’t done serving in the military. Even as she began transitioning to civilian life, she also contacted a Marine Corps Reserve unit a full year in advance to be certain of having a place to serve when she moved to Washington, D.C., with her husband
As she considered the choice of what career to pursue upon the end of her active military duty, she did so through the lens of another lesson her service had ingrained in her: the importance of situational awareness in decision-making. In the case of charting a career path, this meant carefully weighing all of her options.
While attending the Marine Transition Readiness Seminar, she heard about Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA), an intensive, 18-week course that helps active duty U.S. service members gain the technical skills needed to work in the tech industry.
This instantly jumped out to McCready among her various career opportunities. “My family’s background in computers is pretty extensive. Everyone is self-taught, and my dad and all of my uncles work in IT, so I guess you could say it’s part of my DNA. But for whatever reason I never thought I’d pursue it, that I would be a journalist or something else instead.”
Aside from the military, there’s nothing else that prepares you for a career in tech the way that MSSA can prepare you.
But, considering all the technical training she’d already received as an analyst, McCready decided her strongest career path began with MSSA.
Her situational awareness served her well.
She found a tremendous amount of overlap between MSSA and the technical areas in which she had already worked or received training, giving her a leg up. The program prepared her quickly to launch her current career as a premier field engineer on Microsoft’s Modern Apps domain, working with clients in the public sector.
McCready recommends MSSA even to service members who are not technically inclined but are interested in technology, calling it the “best transition program out there.”
What really stood out for McCready is how thorough MSSA is in evaluating each person — both their skills and their personality — and in making recommendations for areas to improve. McCready also points out how much she and her fellow cohort members benefited from access to the extensive network of Microsoft mentors with firsthand experience in transitioning from the military. These mentors generously offered expert advice on resume writing, networking, interviewing and learning how to make personal connections — the soft skills that are so critical to an effective job search, but which so many people have to learn on the fly during the application process.
Looking back, McCready takes pride in the skills imbued by her military service that led her to the civilian career success she continues to build on today.
She’s still serving with the Marine Corps Reserve, lives in D.C. with her husband, and works with government customers. Her role brings with it a sense of familiarity and gratification that she’s still serving through her work, as well as a reservist. And she hardly ever passes up an opportunity to volunteer at military recruiting events.
When asked what advice she gives to others preparing to leave the military, her response has the value of service at its core. “Ask yourself what YOU want to do, what you have to offer others, rather than what others can offer you.”
To that, she adds: “Even if I wasn’t hired by Microsoft, I would still take MSSA again because the things I learned were invaluable. Aside from the military, there’s nothing else that prepares you for a career in tech the way that MSSA can prepare you.”