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MSSA revives service member’s dream for career in IT

Ricardo Lunk had his sights set on a career in IT, but after high school he followed his grandfather’s footsteps and joined the Marines. By age 20 he was the maintenance management chief for the 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance (LAR) Battalion at Camp Pendleton, responsible for the combat readiness of more than $350 million worth of military equipment.

Doing the job effectively required that Lunk learn from the experts — the mechanics who repaired the vehicles and equipment. He also worked alongside the battalion maintenance officer, who reported to the Department of Defense on the battalion’s state of readiness.

“As a Marine, you’re forced into roles where you really have no choice but to adapt, mature and take those responsibilities upon your shoulders,” says Lunk. “That’s probably one of the biggest things that I learned in the Marines.”

Roughly four years later, Lunk was a sergeant in command of eight to 10 service members, half of whom were older than him, and all of whom focused on keeping the 4th LAR in fighting shape.

About that time, Lunk’s career planner asked about his plans for the future, since his term of service was almost up. Lunk recalls that time as being a “roller coaster of emotions” that snuck up on him. He was considering the Commissioned Officer program, but knew that extending his term of service would likely result in an overseas tour of duty, something that didn’t sit well with his career plans or starting a family.

About the same time, Lunk saw an advertisement on the Camp Pendleton website for Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA), an 18-week course that helps service members develop the skills necessary for a successful and meaningful career in the IT industry. That was all it took to revive his dreams of working in technology.

After gaining approval from his commanding officer and passing the Microsoft Technology Associate exam, Lunk was admitted into the fifth cohort of MSSA at Camp Pendleton. It was a dream come true.

“I always wanted to pursue the technical side of IT, so getting the chance to code and use different languages was exciting – not only learning from the curriculum, but also having the time to experiment and explore the many opportunities available.”

As part of MSSA, Lunk had access to numerous resources, and when not in class he started teaching himself the basics of game development.

Ultimately, though, it was the time spent with Brent Huntington and Elizabeth Foreman — his MSSA mentors from Microsoft — that was most impactful. In addition to being a gunnery sergeant in the Marine Reserves, Huntington works in project management at Microsoft, which gave him a unique perspective to help Lunk translate the skills he learned in the Marines into terms that a hiring manager could understand. They also coached him on improving his resume, translating his military experience into the civilian world and discussing his tech skills during interviews.

Today, Lunk is seven months into his new career as an engineering program manager, supporting Microsoft’s data and cloud infrastructure, and ensuring that the IT Systems finance sector runs in every single Microsoft datacenter around the world. On a day-to-day basis, he’s leading meetings and working with business and IT stakeholders to ensure that Microsoft’s standards are met.

Microsoft is a big company and I get to learn the bigger picture of how it runs as a business. As part of my job, our team covers everything from a single line of code and how it’s being implemented, all the way up to the overall effect of the expansion of data and cloud migration across the globe.”

Meanwhile, he’s also earning a four-year degree in computer science, and has set the goal of working with products and services like Microsoft HoloLens and Xbox.

Says Lunk: “It’s almost a night-and-day difference coming from the military, so there has to be a transition phase. For me, MSSA was the perfect opportunity to streamline the transition and help set me up for success.”

Getting outdoors and exploring the Pacific Northwest scenery helps Lunk find peace outside his stressful job.
Getting outdoors and exploring the Pacific Northwest scenery helps Lunk find peace outside his stressful job.