REDMOND, Wash. — Twenty-nine-year-old Isaiah Martinson is toiling away in a quiet office in Redmond he once likely couldn't have imagined being in. Until just a few months ago, Martinson was a military intelligence officer for special operations, a linguist who traveled to the world's hot spots.
"Iraq, Afghanistan and the Philippines," said Martinson. "I did our trifecta of deployments."
But after wearing an Army uniform for 9 1/2 years, he said, "Honestly, I just felt like I was ready to pursue a different challenge. And something in the private tech sector kind of spoke to me."
The private tech sector spoke, too, to Travis Myers, a Green Beret with 20 years of service, including tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I knew it was what I wanted to do when I got out of the military," said Myers. "I wanted to be a software engineer."
But the biggest challenge they faced was how to transition from the military to the civilian workforce. What they didn't know was that military training was a perfect fit for Microsoft and other high-tech companies.
"If you talk to hiring managers," said Carol Hedly, a 15-year Microsoft employee, "they'll say over half of the reason why they hire someone, doesn't necessarily have to do with those hard skills, coding or what have you. It's those soft skills."
Those are skills the military teaches every day.
"Known leadership skills, ability to deal with ambiguity," said Hedly. "Like their soft skills and their learning agility are off the charts. And there's a huge talent gap in the IT industry."
How big a gap? A recent national survey revealed nearly 60 percent of information technology leaders face a shortage of skilled workers.
So 2 1/2 years ago, the Microsoft Software and Systems Academy was born. It is an 18-week pilot program at Joint Base Lewis McChord to train the next generation of IT workers.
Hedly runs the program and is the veterans' biggest champion.
"They're just get it done, disciplined kind of people," she said.
"The class was full of great people," he said. "Everybody had a great attitudes. Everybody really believed in what we were doing. We appreciated the opportunity. We were in the moment."
In the moment with Myers was Younjin Cho, a former Army intelligence linguist, dreaming of working at Microsoft. It was a dream she needed help to realize.
"Actually, I had a degree in computer science," said Cho. "I had a background in software engineering but still it doesn't mean I have background in how to get a job. So we had a great mentor. It was awesome. They always encouraged us to um to have pride at being in the military. And they taught us how to reinforce our soft skill."
One of those mentors is Rick Weil, a Marine who came to Microsoft after years in the civilian IT world. But he cautions others looking to make the same career move.
"Folks have to be careful to not look at this as a meal ticket, that you're guaranteed a job," advised Weil. "They're going into it with the mindset, and they have to go in with the mindset to kick butt and take names and make the most out of it that they can."
More than 90 companies, including Microsoft, have hired the graduates. Now the program is expanding to other military bases across the country, offering them the same soft landing to civilian life.
"You have an opportunity to make something of yourself and make a successful transition," said Martinson.
The program's graduates have been so successful, some, including Martinson, got multiple job offers.
Every member of Martinson's graduating class got a job.
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