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MSSA provides a path forward for U.S. military service members

Originally published on The Fire Hose on September 26, 2016.

In the Army, Ryen Macababbad was an excellent systems troubleshooter for military intelligence in Iraq and Afghanistan. But after losing a friend in Afghanistan, she wanted to leave active duty when she came home. She just didn’t know how.

“The thought of transitioning from the military — it terrified me. I didn’t know how to translate my skills. I thought without a bachelor’s degree, what can I do?” Macababbad says.

Then she enrolled in the Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA), where she learned programming languages, statistics and cloud computing, along with soft skills from mentors such as resume writing and interview preparation. It helped her get a job at Microsoft and become a program manager with Azure Active Directory, a job she cherishes for its chance to learn and help others.

“You don’t just stop growing, as long as you allow yourself to [grow],” she says.

Macababbad and former Army Sergeant Bernard Bergan are participating this week at the Microsoft Ignite conference, where they’re highlighting MSSA’s role in IT transformation. An 18-week intensive training course, the program helps active-duty U.S. service members develop the career skills necessary to become IT pros, creating a path for the roughly 200,000 service members who leave active duty each year.

“The IT industry overall has so many unfilled jobs. Why not bring those two together?” says Chris Cortez, vice president of Military Affairs for Microsoft. “MSSA is providing education to young military men and women so they can leave the military and get into a new career.”

Nearly 140 companies have hired graduates like Macababbad and Bergan, who both lost friends during intense deployments overseas. The deaths hit them hard, and like many other transitioning service members, they needed a bridge to civilian life.

“These are guys you trained with, you got to know their families, you did barbecues together. And now you’re back and at their funeral,” says Bergan. The academy gave him that bridge, which led to Microsoft, where he started as a software engineer. He has since grown in his career to become a technical account manager who loves helping others.

“If there’s any way I can help serve, nurture and mentor, I want to be in a position to be there,” he says. Testifying before the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, Bergan advocated for changes in federal policy that support increased participation from industry, government and nonprofit organizations as a path to IT employment for transitioning service members.