For Jacob Wrigley, working with technology has always been a passion. It started with designing and building with Legos as a kid. Later, that passion took the form of writing code and building his own computer programs. But tech was never a full-time job. Instead, Wrigley served for six-and-a-half years in the Army infantry where he rose quickly through the ranks to a supervisory role. Before that, he’d spent five years in retail, three of them in management.
All that time, technology remained Wrigley’s “tinkerer hobby.” That is, until he found the Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA) program and his way to a job as an Azure Cloud Engineer on the Customer Experience team serving top Microsoft Azure and Azure Government customers.
MSSA provides transitioning service members and veterans with critical technology skills for the digital economy. Available at 14 locations on and near military bases coast-to-coast, the 18-week program trains participants for high-demand careers in server and cloud administration, cloud application development, cybersecurity administration, and database and business intelligence administration. Upon completion of the program, graduates are guaranteed an interview with Microsoft or one of more than 360 companies who have hired MSSA graduates.
Demand is high for new technology workers — the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the economy will need as many as 100,000 per year over the next decade. Service members transitioning out of the military and veterans possess strong leadership, soft skills, and diverse military skill sets, which when combined with learning agility and technical training, positions them with the opportunity to take advantage of the robust IT economy.
With a young family at home and the long deployments increasingly difficult, Wrigley was exploring options for changing careers. MSSA sounded like a perfect fit. But the prospect didn’t come without significant consideration. “Transitioning was challenging because the military is secure. You know you’re going to get paid on the 1st and 15th of every month and you’re not competing for a job,” he says. And while a first-round interview is guaranteed upon graduating the MSSA program, a full-time job is not.
“Once I made the decision, MSSA makes it really easy and I just fell right in. Everybody was welcoming and the MSSA program helps a lot because it transitions you slowly from military life,” he says.
Along with technical training, the MSSA program supports students with mentoring and practical skills, such as interview prep to ready them for a career in the technology industry. Wrigley took things even further on his own. In addition to his coursework, he bought two used servers so he could teach himself how to set up virtual machines as well as continue boosting his programming skills outside of class. A month after graduation he had multiple job offers, ultimately choosing to work with Microsoft Azure and Azure Government.
Through MSSA, Wrigley parlayed his interest in technology, his leadership and teamwork skills gained in the military, and his retail management and customer service experience into a career supporting Azure customers. As an Azure Cloud Engineer on the Customer Experience team, Wrigley works on solving complex problems and improving the overall Azure customer experience for the top Azure customers.
Wrigley credits his diverse skill set with preparing him for the broad scope of Azure work. One day he might be improving efficiencies for enterprise customers and advancing "mission critical" government initiatives the next. With over 100 services in the public Azure cloud and a growing list of Azure Government services as well as a variety of specialized security and compliance requirements, Wrigley has to be familiar with the entire scope. But this broad view of both the available Azure and Azure Government services and the way his customers use them also gives him a unique perspective on the cloud. “As a tool Azure is very, very powerful,” he says. “The more I learn, the more I see that I need to learn more. I’m just starting to uncover the capabilities.”
As for the problems he works on, Wrigley says they’re not problems but learning curves and solutions waiting to be found. He credits his military and retail backgrounds for preparing him to handle them. “So much of it is in how to manage customers, how to be empathetic and relate at some level so they know that you’re there to support them.”
Of his experience with Microsoft, Wrigley says, “Sometimes I have to make sure I’m awake and ask myself, ‘Do I really work for Microsoft?‘ It’s surreal." I haven’t had a bad day since I started. I’ve had busy days, but every day I learn at least two new things. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun. I like to be able to help a customer and at the end know I solved a problem for somebody. That’s pretty rewarding.”