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Special Forces veteran finds Microsoft needs more than coders

Tom Snead had just marked 20 years of service as a U.S. Army Special Forces officer when a friend and fellow veteran asked what he would do after leaving the Army. Snead hadn’t thought seriously about retiring, but his friend had a bright idea: Join him at Microsoft. A visit to Seattle persuaded Snead that Microsoft would be a great place for a military veteran to build a civilian career and a family life.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” Snead says. “This isn’t 10 guys living in a basement somewhere working at a startup and working 20 hours a day, burned out and hating life; these people actually like what they do, they like the people they work around.”

Today Snead works in Microsoft’s Cyber Defense Operations Center, helping to protect the company’s network against a wide range of threats. He’s one of a growing number of Microsoft employees who come from the military. Some, like him, came to the company through personal networking and referrals; others have been recruited through military job fairs or are graduates of Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA), a technology training and mentorship program for service members who are transitioning to civilian life.

But Microsoft recruits veterans for more than specialized technical positions. As Snead learned when he visited Microsoft, the tech industry needs candidates for a wide variety of roles, from logistics to human resources to legal. And even technical teams benefit from a mix of specific skills and professional experience. Snead points out that just as service members need to realize there are a range of possible roles for them in the tech industry, tech employers need to remember that there’s more than one type of candidate who might be the ideal new hire.

“If you look at who Microsoft traditionally hires, their resumes don’t look like a transitioning military guy’s resume,” Snead says. “They’re not a guy who graduated with a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in computer science; they haven’t worked at Google — the traditional things that they bring in at Microsoft. We want to help them understand that when they hire a veteran, they’re hiring a guy who’s smart, confident, works hard and has skills.”

Snead himself is a good example. He earned a bachelor’s degree in international studies while attending Virginia Tech on a ROTC scholarship, and completed a master’s in international business management during his two decades of military service. He considered himself a tech hobbyist, but “not an IT guy,” before his visit to Seattle. But because he had a chance to meet Microsoft employees and learn about the company’s culture and needs, he understood his options more clearly and was better prepared to apply when the right position opened up. It’s those face-to-face meetings, he says, that help both candidates and hiring managers look beyond their existing expectations and see a wide range of possibilities for the future.

“We can get better at explaining to the broader Microsoft community, and to the industry in general, that service members are strong candidates,” Snead says. “I don’t want them to end up being niched — hey, we’re hiring a military guy. No, you’re hiring a guy who’s going to provide value to the organization.”

Snead is a mentor for Microsoft’s new employee orientation sessions, helping new hires find their footing in an environment that can be challenging for both civilians and service members to adapt to. He wants applicants to know that the career opportunities are worth the effort of making that transition.

“I’m in an organization that’s very dynamic and growing and taking on more and more responsibilities as the whole network security landscape changes within the industry,” Snead says. “One of the things I like about Microsoft is the fact that the opportunities are — I don’t want to use the term limitless, but I can end up anywhere in this company doing anything.”