Editor’s Note: The following story highlights a veteran who works at Microsoft. Committed to filling its ranks with talented members of the military community, Microsoft is a Hirepurpose client. Learn more here.

In 2016, more than 182,000 new tech jobs were created, representing 10% of all new jobs last year, and the information technology field is only going to keep expanding in 2017. And as more and more service members separate from the military, they’ll be looking for jobs in the ever-growing tech sector. To help them reach that goal, three years ago Microsoft created the Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA) to help service members and veterans get the skills they need to land jobs within the industry.

Already, the program has helped dozens of veterans start their IT careers, landing them jobs with more than 200 top companies, including at Microsoft. Every graduate is guaranteed an interview with Microsoft or one of its affiliates, and nearly 85% of those employed are working in the IT industry now.

One of those graduates is Ryan Burns, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran. Ryan completed his 18-week MSSA course in 2015, and upon separation from the Corps, he took a job as a software engineer at Microsoft. But Burns didn’t always work on computers — though he admits that it’s something he’d always wanted to do.

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“Early on in life I wanted to be a programmer,” Burns said. “I always knew that I wanted to be in technology — I wanted to build the software that the rest of the world is clamoring for.”

As a Marine, Burns worked as a turboshaft engine test cell operator, working on helicopter engines. Though as a child he’d dreamed of working on computers, his time as a Marine made him think maybe there was something else out there for him.

“I was extremely qualified in my MOS. I was able to do everything from the beginning of the process to the end of the process, and I thought, ‘Man, I’ll find a job doing this and I’ll have it made,’ and it just, it wasn’t there,” Burns said.

Visit the website, if you’d like more information about Microsoft Software & Systems Academy »

Luckily, Burns had a backup plan.

Though his background had little to do with computers — nothing, in fact — Burns was willing to take a chance on a new path if it meant following his dream. As he considered his options for how to move forward on this new track, he learned about the MSSA program, and he knew he had to go for it.

Part of the appeal of MSSA, Burns said, was not just the promise of a new career, but the challenge it would provide.

“There are a lot of programs out there that are designed to help veterans. We need to help veterans get jobs. We need to help veterans get training. And I think that’s dangerous language to use. Veterans don’t want to be helped. They want to be challenged,” Burns said. “I think that’s a fundamental mindset we need to change. Most veterans have lived a life of challenge. Whether they were a Marine or Army Special Forces, whatever it was they did, they did something excellent. … Most veterans don’t want to get out of the military and go backward in their careers.”

For Burns, the challenge was figuring out how to go from fixing helicopter engines to programming computer software. “You may think those two jobs have very little in common, but the two disciplines are more closely related than you would initially think,” Burns explained. “A helicopter engine is not that much different than a piece of software.”

While it wasn’t easy to learn a new field, Burns knew it was the right decision — and Microsoft’s executives know it’s the right move to help veterans like Burns make decisions like Burns did.

“The unique thing about the people that go into a program like ours is that they’re trying to transform themselves. They’re trying to make for themselves a better life,” said Chris Cortez, Microsoft’s vice president of military affairs and a 33-year veteran and retired major general of the Marine Corps. “And if we can just layer on top of that a little bit of training, we can have a pool of talented young men and women that can come into the IT industry and really make a difference.”

Microsoft Ryan Burns

“The MSSA program is a great opportunity for transitioning service members to get a head start on their careers with Dell,” said Lou Candiello, who is responsible for the military recruiting programs at Dell and a U.S. Marine Veteran. “We’re proud to hire MSSA graduates as their skill sets are directly aligned to Dell opportunities, such as our ProSupport positions and the Global Services Associate Program.”

Veterans looking to move into the IT field have four courses of study to choose from with Microsoft: Networking fundamentals training to learn about server and cloud administration; database fundamentals training to study database and business intelligence administration; software development fundamentals training to learn cloud application development; or cybersecurity administration.

Burns used his military experience to his advantage in the MSSA program as he studied software. “I’m really starting to see the correlation between what I’ve done my whole life and what I do here at Microsoft,” Burns said. “Microsoft is setting you up for success by giving you the tools you need for the baseline, and from there it’s kind of up to you to decide.”

After completing his course, Burns was granted an interview with Microsoft — which he aced — and was hired as a software engineer. Others who’ve completed the MSSA program have landed jobs at Amazon, Expedia, and Skype, to name a few. Microsoft also partners with groups like VetsinTech, MBA Veterans, and Hiring Our Heroes to help graduates of the MSSA find jobs outside of Microsoft.

Now, Burns has a job he’s proud of and one that gives him meaning. “The MSSA program challenges veterans to actually do something big — possibly bigger than what they did in the military,” he said. “That is one thing that most people will never find in their life again, and I didn’t know if I would ever find it. Now I wake up every morning and I know that I’m doing something that’s just as challenging and just as rewarding as being a Marine.”

Visit the website, if you’d like more information about Microsoft Software & Systems Academy »