When Redmond resident Desi Blaney left the Coast Guard in 2019, she wasn’t sure what was next for her career. For the preceding decade, she’d worked for as an electronic systems engineer, but was ready for a change — despite knowing that for many in her position, the transition from military service to civilian career could be rough.
Fortunately, Blaney came across the Microsoft Software and Systems Academy, a corporate program that recruits and trains veterans for emerging tech careers (in Microsoft’s parlance, “reskilling”). She dove into the training program, which proved to be just what she needed. MSSA, she discovered, not only provided new skills to transition to civilian work, but also an unexpected side-benefit: Forming a robust support network of veterans looking for better jobs.
It’s where she met Johnny Jones, a Bothell-based network operations manager who’d just left the Marines and had come to MSSA for training cloud computing applications. Now, a year on from their “reskilling,” Blaney and Jones have embarked on a new project that combines their military experience with Microsoft training to create job opportunities for veterans following in their footsteps.
“We felt that as [MSSA] graduates, we could do more for the community,” Jones says. Their new endeavor is a professional development network for veterans in tech jobs called Tech4All.
“I came up with the idea of taking our Discord that we use for the MSSA program and expanding that to have all of the alumni and MSSA students in there,” Blaney says, “so we can mentor them as they go through the program.”
Veterans have always faced particular difficulties in moving to civilian careers. A 2011 study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the unemployment rate for veterans was 12.1 percent, compared to 8.7 percent for civilians. A constellation of factors contribute to that imbalance, including a lack of training, unrealistic expectations for post-military careers due to over-ambitious recruiters, culture clashes, and the mental and physical disabilities that often follow military service. Both MSSA and Tech4All seek to address those challenges, but in different ways.
Operationally, Tech4All is completely separate from Microsoft’s training program, and exists to fill in the social support gap that MSSA doesn’t provide — a mix of online study help, resumé workshops, one-on-one mentorship, and more. (One representative offering: A series of seminars this month on “The Five Pillars of IT.”)
The group, which formally incorporated in August of this year, is tailored to meet what Blaney and Jones have observed to be the unique needs of veterans, including aspects like specialized jargon: “I can say what they’re comfortable hearing,” Jones says. “That was a difficulty when I got out of the service, the vernacular.”
But there are also psychological obstacles to address, like overcoming imposter syndrome — a challenge that many veterans find particularly persistent. “We want people to see the imposter syndrome as something very minor,” Blaney says. “That’s something most people have a hard time doing … You have to remember that you have done a lot already in your life, so this is nothing.”
For his part, Jones has found particular success in one-on-one coaching. He recently reached out to a former student on LinkedIn who was having difficulty finding work; after a few weeks of mentorship and resumé-workshopping, the student landed a job at a company that he’d previously assumed was out of his league.
Future Tech4All plans include a podcast where various veterans-turned-tech-workers discuss their day-to-day work, with an accompanying video series. And when it’s safe to do so, Jones has his sights set on an in-person expo with networking opportunities and workshops. Blaney hopes to establish a pool of volunteers who can be called on to answer whatever questions new students might have.
The vision behind the work, she says, is simple: To break down the barriers that keep veterans out of the workforce, and to expose them to career possibilities that they might not even be aware of.
“We want to create a space for people to expand their curiosity,” she says.