Last summer, LaVanda Harrison started planning her next move after six years in the Army. A captain doing military intelligence work, including a year in Afghanistan, Harrison liked the idea of learning web development. So she talked to advisors at the education center at Fort Lewis, the base near Seattle where she was stationed. They told her about the Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA), an intensive 16-week IT training program for soldiers leaving active duty.
Harrison applied, and graduated last December.
“The courses give you a solid grounding in tech skills like web development, writing code, and database management. But beyond that, Microsoft assigns you a mentor who helps you get ready for civilian job interviews,” says Harrison. “That gave me the confidence to go after an IT career.”
She is now a project manager at Accenture in Atlanta.
Since Microsoft started MSSA two years ago, about 300 other people from all four branches of the military have graduated and gone on to IT careers at Dell, Apple, Accenture, Amazon, and 76 other companies. Microsoft itself hires about a quarter of MSSA grads, and retains a search firm to help the rest find jobs. Over 80% of graduates get hired, according to the company. Their average salary, at more than $70,000, often doubles or even triples their military pay.
As Sean Kelley sees it, training veterans for tech careers is a way to solve several different problems. Now director of military affairs at Microsoft, Kelley, an Annapolis grad, put in six years as a submarine officer. As Microsoft’s head of cloud recruiting a few years ago, “I couldn’t find nearly enough people who had the skills we needed,” he says.
At the same time, people coming out of the military faced a tough transition to the civilian job market, and higher-than-average unemployment.
“So we thought, why not put the two together? We could create our own talent pool,” Kelley says.
Over the next 12 months, the pool will get a lot bigger. Microsoft just announced plans to expand MSSA from its current three locations to nine, adding Quantico in Virginia and Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, among others. People preparing to leave the military who want to apply can learn how on the MSSA web site. For more information on hiring MSSA grads, employers can contact Microsoft at firstname.lastname@example.org.