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Jon King had over two decades of military experience under his belt in both the Air Force and the Army when he realized it was the right time for him to retire from service. The problem was deciding what to do next. All servicemembers transitioning out of the military face a similar dilemma. It can be daunting facing endless choices ahead while simultaneously adjusting to civilian life, civilian hiring and workplace culture. The modern workforce changes rapidly, adding an additional challenge in selecting a career path that’s personally satisfying, and that remains relevant for years to come. 

For these reasons and more, the tech industry is an attractive career path for service members. Many veterans have built their enlisted careers around valuable crossover skills, and have developed savvy technical skills along the way. Even so, beginning a career in tech can seem like an insurmountable challenge. However, as Jon King found out, the MSSA program was built for servicemembers in precisely that situation. 

Microsoft developed Microsoft Software and Systems Academy, otherwise known as MSSA, in 2014 to prepare veterans for the demands of careers in the tech industry. It’s a career transition program that, in their words, “provides transitioning servicemembers, Guard, Reserves and veterans, including those with clearance, with critical career skills required for today’s growing technology industry.” Servicemembers bring an extraordinary level of professionalism, dedication, and focus to their work — all skills that tech companies deeply value in their employees. Luckily, Microsoft’s strategy for MSSA mapped perfectly with the DoD’s Skillbridge program, which provides training to veterans seeking new career paths. 

MSSA courses and all student training are funded by Microsoft and provide each class an in-depth 17-week training program focused on preparing students for high-demand careers in Cloud Application Development or Server and Cloud Administration. Today, MSSA is more accessible than ever. Due to the emergence of Covid-19, the program has transitioned to a fully virtual classroom, allowing students anywhere to join the training course. After graduating, students have the opportunity to interview for a full-time position at Microsoft or one of MSSA’s 750+ hiring partners. The opportunity for direct hire into Microsoft is what spurred Jon King to turn in the keys to his Black Hawk, take the leap into civilian life, and join MSSA, which ultimately led to his career as a Customer Success Account Manager at Microsoft. 

Jon grew up in a small town in Arkansas, spending his time playing around in his grandparents’ restaurant and in the stables alongside his family horses. As Jon puts it, “I grew up in your classic old country town.” Following high school, Jon had to decide what to do next, ultimately choosing the military and enlisting in the Air Force. 

Ten years into his service career, Jon was given the opportunity to transition to the Army to pursue a new career path as a helicopter pilot. It took six months to build up a warrant packet and, though he was declined the first time, on the second attempt he was accepted, putting him well on his way to his new goal much faster than he’d thought possible. “One day I was in the Air Force – the next day I showed up to Fort Rucker. No Army uniforms, no experience, nothing.”

Three deployments later, Jon was ready to pursue his retirement plan – attend Instructor Pilot (IP) school, then get an Army civilian job instructing flight school at Fort Rucker. However, Jon’s best laid plans took an unexpected turn, putting his life on a completely new trajectory. 

Only a week into IP school, Jon was notified that. due to paperwork issues beyond his control, he would be unable to finish his program. Instead of staying at Fort Rucker to finish IP training, the Army would now be sending him to Fort Drum for a completely new assignment. “I had always been told that I’ll know when it’s my time to walk away from the military, whether it was five minutes or fifty years into service. So I decided to get out.” Jon had just had his whole future mapped out – and would now be retiring from the military in less than six months, with absolutely no idea what to do next. 

Fortunately, by attending retirement briefs, Jon discovered the solution he was looking for – the MSSA program. “For me it was the total package. Server and Cloud Administration, learning to network outside the military, resume development, job-hunting skills, and practicing communicating with others in a professional environment.” Jon knew he had found his new path.  

As a new MSSA student, Jon was able to quickly flesh out his strongest tech skills while simultaneously building a network that would strengthen his career for years to come. “During mock interviews, I would ask people ‘Hey, what’s your role? What do you do? How do you do that?’ The world was open to me, and I wanted to figure out what I wanted to do.” MSSA training provided Jon the opportunity to explore several roles and settle on the one that made the most sense for him and his family, who were just beginning to settle down into civilian life.

Networking opportunities within MSSA proved immediately helpful. Jon and other senior enlisted officers decided to work together, taking it upon themselves to create study groups to collaborate and prepare for exams as a unit. He also began asking his MSSA mentors about their jobs, which helped him arrive at Customer Success Account Manager (or CSAM) as the route he would pursue. The flexibility of his job pursuit and the control he could exert over his own career path was a breath of fresh air. No longer constrained by the firm military rank structure, Jon was able to connect and build relationships with very senior people in the industry, a feat nearly impossible within the military’s chain of command. 

Now an MSSA graduate, Jon is happy in-role as a CSAM at Microsoft — but as he’s always done, Jon is setting his sights even higher. His objective is to rise to a leadership role on the military affairs side of Microsoft, and eventually become Vice President of Military Affairs, a goal that may not have been conceivable to him without MSSA. 

His advice for future MSSA students is to view the program as an overall package. “You can’t just think ‘I’m going to go in and learn a bunch of IT stuff.’” Jon stresses the networking and resume-building components of the program as critical to his job transition. No less critical to his success was the mentality that MSSA helped him embrace upon exiting the military. “When it’s your time to get out you’ve got to shift your focus to you and yours, and what’s best for you and your family moving forward.” For Jon and hundreds of service members like him, MSSA bridged that gap, offering opportunities for him and his family to not just move on from the military, but build up from his career as a servicemember and position himself for continued growth in a meaningful career. 

If you’re interested in entering the tech industry or would like to learn more about Microsoft Software and Systems Academy, click here for more information or seek out an MSSA representative through your local transition center.

This article is sponsored by Microsoft Military Affairs.

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