Microsoft’s Software and Systems Academy is making sure that veterans land on their feet after leaving military service by training exiting service members in IT. According to the veterans that have gone through the program, the mentorship it provides gives them an advantage in finding successful civilian jobs.

“They help you better convey your experience in the military,” said Solaire Sanderson, former Marine and MSSA graduate, currently working as a security analyst in Microsoft’s Cyber Defense Operations Center. “A lot of people have a hard time understanding where they belong in the workforce after they get out of the military.”

“Each year more than 200,000 service members assimilate back into civilian life, and with over 500,000 open technology jobs annually, Microsoft believes it’s our duty to inspire the veteran community to transform their lives through meaningful opportunities in Computer Science and STEM when transitioning from a military to civilian career,” said Chris Cortez, vice president of military affairs at Microsoft.

The program operates by putting members of the military, preferably while they’re still in service, through a four month training program. At the end of the program, students are guaranteed an interview with Microsoft.

“The course consists of a full workday during business hours, Monday – Friday, and are very intense with classroom work, studying, and homework in the evenings and even sometimes on the weekends,” said Edgar Sanchez, former Army Sargent and MSSA graduate and currently technical account manager for state and local government at Microsoft.

Though not all attendees get a job at Microsoft, the program has 240 partner companies that also hire graduates.

“Microsoft partners create a well-rounded community and support network for veterans. Our efforts to support veterans along their journey, from military to civilian careers, is built upon inclusive partnerships whereby the success of the program extends beyond Microsoft’s commitments and includes the dedicated work of our training, hiring and recruiting partners as well as our network of Microsoft mentors,” said Cortez.

Some of those partners also help to provide the course curriculum, according to Cortez.

“They’re actually college-accredited courses,” said Sanderson. “That means that the content itself had some backing behind it.”

But according to Sanderson and Sanchez, the most successful part of the program are the Microsoft mentors provided to participants.

“That I think was the most valuable asset to me going through the course,” said Sanderson, who has given advice to students at Camp Pendleton and became a mentor herself in July 2017. “As soon as the call ends they all hit me up and ask me questions and things like that.”

The program also prevents many service members from the lost period between leaving service and finding a permanent civilian job. According to Sanderson, she has friends that struggled after service, either getting mixed in with the wrong people back home or blowing through their GI bill money because they don’t know what they want to do.

“They’re so used to being told what to do, where to be, what you’re going to be called,” said Sanderson. “They kind of flailed figuring out what they want to do.”

“From my experience, it was much easier to do prior to resuming life outside of the military,” said Sanchez. “I’ve found that veterans interested in the program have a harder time attending courses while also managing the other life changes involved in transitioning out of the military. Dealing with multiple changes still in flight and adjusting to recent changes, like buying or moving in to a new home, or a spouse starting a new career, makes it more difficult to train for a new career, which is why I recommend veterans attend transition courses like MSSA prior to separating from the military.”

According to Sanderson, the program also gives veterans a chance to really think about their careers and what they want outside the military. She said that some participating in the program decide that they like learning and decide to go to college.

By contrast, Sanderson said that the one week transition seminar offered by the military “opens their eyes to the realities of the world,” but doesn’t provide enough time for people to decide what they want.

“If there’s one piece of advice that I could share with my brothers and sisters in the Military is that they do away with any hesitation or fears they may be harboring and take full advantage of the opportunity of being a part of the MSSA Program,” said Sanchez. “I personally don’t have a technical background, but enrolled in the program and I received multiple offers from leading tech-companies as I exited the military. It will be the best possible investment you can make – it definitely was for me.”

The MSSA program was launched in 2013 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. By next year the program plans to be at 14 military bases and graduate 1,000 students per year.