Microsoft Software and Systems Academy is an 18-week program in which students attend training from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“The morning portion is dedicated for Embry-Riddle with the technical instructor,” said Jennifer Hemm, Fort Campbell MSSA classroom manager. “The afternoon is [focused on] professional development where the participants/candidates will work on resumes, cover letters and LinkedIn profiles.”
Microsoft brings in partners throughout the professional development portion of the course, including Jobplex and Lee Hecht Harrison to help Soldiers prepare for interviews and plan for after their transition out of the Army.
“If there’s a certain destination in mind – like Arizona – Jobplex will help them target that area as well,” Hemm said. “Every step through the way, they have individuals dedicated to help them find not just the right job, but the right career.”
Students learn Microsoft Cloud, Server and Azure, three essential programs for information technology jobs ranging from network administrators, technical account managers and premier field engineers in a variety of fields.
“What they’re learning in a technical sense will help them with a foundation,” Hemm said. “It doesn’t give them the exact – what they’re going to learn through their career. They’ll get training as well, but it’s more of a foundation.”
Hemm said a background in IT is not required for Soldiers who want to sign up for the academy, but they do need to have a passion for it because the program is intense.
“Microsoft Software Systems Academy isn’t really for everyone, you really have to have that IT interest,” she said. “If you don’t, it’s going to be rough. We can’t train you to have that passion and devotion for it because it is a difficult program to get into.”
Hemm said Soldiers should know that the academy requires effort and they should come into it understanding that free time will be rare for the duration of the course.
“You have to put a lot of work into this program,” she said. “It’s not an easy program to go through. But toward the end, if you pick up all the resources and tools offered, they’ll find it’s a successful program.”
Specialist Jeff Schieck was an IT specialist during his time in the Army, so MSSA seemed like a perfect fit when he decided to transition back to the civilian world. “It was the next step in transitioning. I had a few certifications but I wanted to get more,” Schieck said. “It’s a different experience. The MSSA program is a bit more server-oriented. It’s server administration. It’s cloud administration. It’s basically higher level stuff than I’d previously been doing. So, it was the next logical step for where I wanted to take my career after that.”
Schieck said he learned everything from how to deploy the programs to maintaining day-to-day operations.
“It’s a lot more in-depth than that, but it was basically a crash course on something that normally takes people years to try to master,” he said.
Schieck said the course starts slowly with the basics, but each week builds on the previous weeks. So by the end the coursework was much more challenging.
“If you fall behind on any of it, you’re kind of way behind,” he said.
Schieck said he thought having an IT background definitely helped him, but it was not necessary. He saw other students from different backgrounds succeed just as well as the IT Soldiers.
“Some of the guys who do stuff differently … [Staff Sgt. Juan Lopez] ended up helping me in some of the labs because he’s looking at it from the perspective of someone who has no IT background,” he said. “It was one of those things where we fed off each other and we were able to help each other out quite a bit.”
Schieck said because he has a top secret clearance, he wanted to maintain it by continuing to work with the military. He already has a job waiting for him at Scott Air Force Base outside of St. Louis, Missouri.
“I was looking toward the Air Force bases because I’ve always heard the Air Force is so much nicer than Army,” he joked. “Obviously I’ve been in the Army so I know what that’s like. I wanted to try something a little different.”
Lopez entered the Army as a water treatment specialist, switched to combat arms after eight years and became a Cavalry scout. When he began thinking about his transition out of the Army, he began looking at all the different programs offered for transitioning Soldiers. He checked for which industries were stable, continuing to grow and have a far reach.
“I had an interest in the IT industry and when I was here transitioning I came across the Microsoft Software Systems Academy flier,” he said. “I made a plan. I was a year out from my ETS.”
Lopez finished all of his Soldier for Life – Transition Assistance Program classes while he studied for the Microsoft Networking Fundamentals certification. He passed the test in August and interviewed for the MSSA.
“Everything in the Army takes time,” he said. “With the training going on, you have to start early to get things complete. You don’t want to wait until the last minute and be in a rush because you might miss something.”
Lopez urged other transitioning Soldiers to start planning at least a year out, especially if they want to do a career skills program.
“Get all those requirements out that you need to transition. It makes the transition so much easier, so once you’re in class you don’t have to miss class,” he said. “You can focus on your studying and not have to worry about making appointments here or there and missing one, two or three days of class.”
Lopez said he would suggest anyone interested in the MSSA program, no matter their IT background, should go ahead and apply.
“They have the drive, the discipline, the motivation – they have all those soft skills already,” he said. “All they have to do is apply themselves and they can accomplish anything.”
Lopez said the most difficult part of the academy for him has been the time commitment outside of class.
“It does affect your Family because you spend a lot of time on your computer doing assignments or doing homework,” he said. “You’re trying to benefit your Family, so it’s a sacrifice you have to make. It’s 18 weeks – almost five months long, so you really have to talk to your Family. But I think the benefits will pay off.”
Lopez said he would recommend applying for the program to anyone comfortable with and interested in learning a new technology.
“Some Soldiers, they’ve grown up with technology,” he said. “Especially the new millennials, growing up they have computer skills that they may not believe [are skills]. They may not believe that typing or researching on the internet are [important]. If they have a passion for learning, do it. Don’t be afraid.”
Lopez is waiting to hear back about a job with Microsoft or one of their enterprise partners, including Amazon or Dell.
“With this Microsoft Software and Systems Academy, it has enterprise partners, so not only can you work with Microsoft, but you have the opportunity to interview with [other partners],” he said.
Lopez said being in the class has also given him valuable skills such as networking while he still has the security of a paycheck and benefits from the Army.
“It has saved me five months, six months, maybe even a year of struggle to where I’m learning now a new skill and then I can reach out to Microsoft, Amazon or other enterprise partners and show them what I have to offer,” he said. “Being a graduate of this program is something they can never take away from me.”
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