10 years of impact—Vice President of Military Affairs reflects on MSSA’s 10-year milestone


From Chris Cortez, Vice President of Military Affairs

10 years ago we created the Microsoft Software and Systems Academy (MSSA) program to connect the dots between the shortage of technical talent and the abundance of under-employed military talent.  

I and a core team of Veterans working at Microsoft recognized the immense impact our military experience imparted in our approach to technical sales, engineering, and enablement. We understood that every professional starts from basic skills and builds from there, and we knew from our own military careers the work ethic and insurmountable grit that military professionals possess.

We set out to design fundamental training that could get a service member’s boot in the door to an entry-level career in IT—a field concerned about finding enough IT professionals to fill demand. With support from Frank Shaw, Corporate Vice President for Communications at Microsoft, we pitched our solution to Microsoft’s talent shortage to Microsoft leadership.

Months later, and after exploring feasibility with the Department of Defense and garrison commanders at military installations, Microsoft launched MSSA’s first cohorts at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.  After course completion, we celebrated this milestone moment alongside Microsoft President Brad Smith and U.S. Senator Patty Murray (WA). Based on the enthusiastic reception from veterans and the Department of Defense’s SkillBridge Program, we expanded to classrooms supporting military members at bases and installations in California, Colorado, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Georgia. By 2019 MSSA established classrooms on 12 military bases spanning 7 states, including Schofield Barracks on Oahu.

But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.

We’ve adapted to many curveballs over the decade, transforming to stay true to our mission. Just when we seemed to get it right and master the formula, COVID happened.

Transformative changes in IT demanded revamping of our technical curriculum, which we develop and evolve to meet hiring demands. We’ve regularly refreshed and created learning paths that reflect hiring trends and business needs, and ensure they equip MSSA participants with the right knowledge and skills to perform a successful job search.

When a global pandemic made in-person teaching impossible, we pivoted our classrooms from in-person instruction delivered by academic institutions to live virtual classrooms led by subject matter experts from Microsoft certified learning partners. This flexibility enabled us to remain open as a SkillBridge program throughout the coronavirus emergency.

As global markets rebalance in the wake of a tepid recession, we focused on developing a comprehensive professional development curriculum—including job search tactics, interview skills, and professional goal-setting—enabling veterans to be more competitive and empowered in their job search.

At the same time, Microsoft and the MSSA Hiring Partner network continue to recruit MSSA talent to start their tech careers with them.

MSSA graduates guide our program with their resilience and continue to exceed our expectations in the impact they have had in hundreds of companies and products in the IT space.

After 10 years of impact in the military and IT communities, the results are in.

After 10 years, 3,603 military veterans and transitioning service members have successfully completed our grueling 17-week training. We have worked with active-duty members and reservists from all branches of the armed forces and military veterans from all 50 states.

Hundreds of Microsoft employees were hired directly from MSSA, with countless more rejoining the company later in their careers. We’ve identified >1,000 companies we’ve worked with to place veteran talent in their organization, and nearly 200 types of IT jobs.

We’ve worked with graduates like Phuong Baguyos—an Army veteran who, after 10 years out of the workforce while raising her family, followed her husband’s footsteps and joined one of MSSA’s cybersecurity cohorts in 2018. With encouragement from her cohort and Microsoft mentors, Phuong fought for a competitive role as a support engineer and has been thriving in that organization for nearly six years. Phuong and her husband—an Army veteran and 2016 MSSA graduate who today works as a customer engineer—have earned at least one promotion apiece over their tenures and look forward to their 6- and 7- year anniversaries with the company in 2024.  

We also worked with 2017 graduate Dave Porter, a veteran of the Army’s elite 75th Ranger Regiment, who leveraged his time at MSSA discerning his interests as a technologist in the defense space. Dave landed a role at Microsoft as an account executive on Microsoft’s U.S. Army account team, where he helped secure HoloLens business with the Army, travelling to Afghanistan several times to develop the technology and improve its utility and wearability for the soldiers who’d use them. He’s now a senior director supporting the U.S. Air Force and Space Force.

These are only a handful of the thousands of talented professionals who got their start in IT, in part, through MSSA. Read more about the impact MSSA graduates are having in IT in our series ‘10 heroes for 10 years’, where we profile an MSSA graduate from each year of our program.

The MSSA community has enduring impacts in IT, beyond the technology they build and influence.

Here at Microsoft, MSSA participants and alumni led the way to enhance our Veteran-ready practices:

Since 2017, 687 Microsoft employees have volunteered to mentor MSSA participants—tracking nearly 40,000 mentor hours. Mentor hours helped fund the construction of a new home for the Gary Sinise Foundation RISE recipient Ian Prescott, a 2022 MSSA graduate. A vast majority of MSSA mentors continue to volunteer for additional cohorts, and some even consider it a highlight of their job.

MSSA alumni helped to originate the Military@Microsoft Employee Resource Group and advocate for company sponsorship for community-building events and programming—making Microsoft a more Veteran-ready place to work.

Our alumni successfully advocated for Microsoft to include military community representation in self-reporting initiatives that support military inclusion in our annual Diversity & Inclusion report. Advocating for military community representation as a demographic helps Microsoft to understand its community makeup and lead the industry in benefits like job security during extended military deployments for military reservists.

Our graduates also served as a proof point in our advocacy for Microsoft to consider equivalent experience as equal to education requirements in job adverts and recruiter screenings, removing barriers for veterans entering the workforce.

And in the IT space at large:

MSSA’s innovative curriculum and hiring models have been recognized as a ‘best practice’ in the veteran skilling sphere, extending beyond the Microsoft and MSSA Hiring Partner community to have a positive impact on veterans’ career transitions. We work closely with Microsoft’s Worldwide Learning group to define and offer to MSSA participants specific learning paths, courseware, and credentialing opportunities focused on IT roles that are in demand across a diverse set of industries.  Our training and hiring model have also been leveraged by the city of Los Angeles, which launched a first-in-the-nation Los Angeles Veteran Technology and Training Academy in 2021—followed by the city of Chicago and Cook County, Illinois with Chicago Cook Technology Academy in 2022. 

We’ve also cultivated a Hiring Partner network of over 1,000 individual companies that interview and hire MSSA participants directly from their cohorts—a network that channels MSSA talent to Microsoft partners and customer organizations.

We’re not only successful—we’re infusing our success throughout the IT industry.

When we set out on this journey in 2013, we made a bet that military talent was more than equipped to skill up and fill the IT skills gap then rattling the IT industry.  What we didn’t foresee is the committed and inspired network of advocates for military talent we’ve developed in this decade.

We’re grateful to the over 1,000 Microsoft partners that infuse military talent throughout our industry by bringing MSSA graduates onto their team to start their civilian careers. Companies like Southwest Airlines, a Microsoft partner who developed their Warrior Hire program to onboard MSSA graduates to their engineering systems, continue to invest in veteran talent alongside Microsoft.

Looking forward

Approximately 200,000 service members leave the U.S. military each year. Each of them embarks on a profound personal and career transformation filled with exciting adjustments, choices, and opportunity.

As we look back on a decade of the Microsoft Software and Systems Academy, we’re honored—and so proud—to have served each of the 3,604 military veterans we’ve been able to work with as they embark on the next phase of their career journey. We’re thrilled to deepen ties with our 3.6k-strong network of MSSA Alumni through the MSSA Alumni Network. We’re enthusiastic to continue to meet the challenge and responsibility of working with this incredible population to achieve meaningful careers in IT—and open the doors to new cohorts of veterans when our next cohorts begin in January.


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