Each May we observe National Military Appreciation Month in the United States, and for Microsoft this is a time to connect with, learn from and celebrate our military community all around the globe. On May 31, we observe Memorial Day in the United States, honoring the memories of those who fell in service of the nation. On a human level, I’m always interested to learn about the history and founding of holidays along with traditions in practice, both past and present. Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day, referring to the decoration of graves with flowers, and became a federal holiday in 1971. My own Memorial Day ritual centers on supporting charities that organize wreath laying at military cemeteries, quiet reflection and conversations with friends and family about those who came before us. For the living, Memorial Day is a time to exercise our gratitude and appreciation.
Speaking of how we honor selfless service, I started at Microsoft almost six years ago and was pleasantly surprised soon after when an invitation came through to an on-campus observance of Veterans Day, which in the United States is when we celebrate living veterans. On the same day, Nov. 11, the Commonwealth observes Remembrance Day to honor members of the armed forces who died in the line of duty. The origin of both traditions is Armistice Day when World War I hostilities ended on Nov. 11, 1918, and of course remembrance is something that predates that conflict in cultures worldwide. At that first event I attended at Microsoft, I met retired Maj. Gen. Chris Cortez, Vice President of Military Affairs at Microsoft, and learned about our vibrant veterans community. This drew me toward additional opportunities to get to know as many veterans as possible and gave me the chance to understand the amazing career opportunities at the company and the opportunities for us to invest further.
This year, I’m particularly grateful for and proud of Microsoft’s commitment to those who have served. It is my distinct privilege to now serve as one of the executive sponsors of the global Military at Microsoft employee resource group (ERG), which connects me with a truly exceptional group of service-minded people.
This Military Appreciation Month, our theme within the Microsoft community is “With Honor, In Gratitude,” and I’m cognizant of that sense of gratitude when I think about what this community means to and at Microsoft. I have been fortunate to work closely with many veterans at the company. I have found that beyond their expected business skills, they so often possess an entrepreneurial spirit with the soft skills of coalition building, a can-do mindset, and a focus on team and mission that not only is valuable across all industries but is particularly well-aligned with Microsoft’s core values.
Veterans make Microsoft better, and the Military at Microsoft ERG does much to help us attract and retain veterans by creating the best possible employee experience. Our active ERG holds weekly coffee chats (virtual since COVID-19) where veterans network and share service stories and jokes about what happens when a Marine, a Navy captain, an Army officer, and a pilot walk into a bar. In addition to the coffee chats, the ERG organizes a speaker series on a wide range of topics and facilitates the Military Mentorship Program, which pairs new veteran hires with a different member of the community each month for career conversations.
The ERG also brings people together to observe and honor. We commemorated last year’s Remembrance Day, commonly referred to as Poppy Day, and Veterans Day with a virtual 5k and a 22-push-up challenge that called attention to the heartbreaking statistic that on average, 22 veterans die by suicide each day. Veterans in the U.K. commemorated the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain with an 80-mile relay. Events like these sustain our sense of community and have an ancillary benefit of creating a learning opportunity open to all employees.
One of the best aspects of the observation of cultural and heritage months at Microsoft is the space they create for communities to connect and share. I’ve had some great conversations about what Military Appreciation Month and our employee community mean to members. I had the opportunity to connect with the co-chairs of our ERG on this topic and was moved by their experiences and perspectives.
Michael Warren, strategic account executive, Enterprise Commercial, joined the Army after his second year of college when he recognized that student loan debt was going to become a lifetime burden for him. Though he initially planned to stay in long enough to get the benefits and then get out, he fell in love with military life, he told me, and couldn’t quit.
“Every time re-enlistment papers came by, I swore the oath and did more. A chance encounter with a technology industry executive right after Desert Storm brought me out of active service and into the reserves. For me, it was the opportunity of a lifetime. I maintained two careers for almost 20 years after joining corporate America, one as a civilian negotiating multi-billion-dollar deals and the other as a military policeman in the Army.”
After multiple deployments, activations and special duty assignments over 25 years of service, Michael retired from the military to focus on family and his role at Microsoft. Military at Microsoft has given him the chance to re-engage with the military community, continue his passion for cultivating leadership and empowered him to help other prior and current service members adapt to corporate life.
I asked him what he wants people to learn or know about the community.
“The military community at Microsoft is not what many think it is. It is comprised of individuals who have served, individuals who are currently serving (i.e., National Guard and reserves), military spouses, and supporters of the military,” he said. “The common bond between all is a passion for service to others and a commitment to be the most inclusive community possible.”
Gina Kirby, senior Azure specialist, Microsoft Azure Retail, is one of those spouse and supporter members. She is married to a veteran and both her and her husband’s families have a history of service. She shared with me that Military Appreciation Month is an opportunity to acknowledge the commitments our military, their spouses, and families make in service to their country, whether they are veterans or still active in the guard or reserves. “It’s a chance to thank them for their sacrifices and, as we’ve seen this past year with the pandemic, the sacrifices they continue to make by providing frontline COVID-19 support,” she said.
“I also see the community reflect and recommit to paying it forward. I talk with colleagues about what the ERG can do to support,” she said. “But what really stands out is the passion to give back. They ask, ‘How can I get involved? What can I do?’ and, ‘How do I help others get here when they retire?’ I am inspired by this selfless drive to continue the mission and serve one another.”
The ERG also brings its spirit of service to philanthropic opportunities. Last year ERG members made a huge impact in the Microsoft annual October Giving Campaign — a company tradition since 1983 — toward veterans charities and other important causes. I know our Military at Microsoft ERG will rise to the occasion again this fall to bring our community together in fun and creative ways to volunteer and fundraise on behalf of military and veteran communities.
The ERG also plays a key role in helping us hire veterans. Pursuing this diverse talent pool for a variety of disciplines and locations benefits the company by bringing in skilled, experienced individuals to innovate at Microsoft and helps veterans transition and develop their skills. Some examples of our initiatives and opportunities:
Cleared Hiring: Microsoft is looking for people with an active security clearance to join our global mission and help shape the future of the world. Cleared talent jobs | Microsoft Careers
Microsoft Software and Systems Academy (MSSA): A 17-week training program for veterans and current service members for high-demand careers in cloud development or cloud administration. Program graduates have an opportunity to interview for a full-time job at Microsoft or one of our more than 750 hiring partners. MSSA is now fully funded by Microsoft. Microsoft Software and Systems Academy – Microsoft Military Affairs
LaunchCode: In an effort to further create opportunity for veterans who are passionate about technology to find success at Microsoft, and after an overwhelmingly successful pilot in 2020, Microsoft is once again partnering with LaunchCode, a Missouri-based nonprofit specializing in delivering tech education for people with non-traditional backgrounds, to bring dozens of highly cleared, transitioning military through a 16-week, Azure-curated curriculum which will prepare them for successful entry into Microsoft and to make immediate impact on some of our most critical cloud and customer challenges.
I’m proud to celebrate this Military Appreciation Month — with honor, in gratitude — and to recognize the Military at Microsoft ERG and its enormous work supporting and strengthening our veteran community.
Douglas Phillips is Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Azure Edge + Platform (E+P), responsible for leading a globally distributed team of engineers who build Microsoft’s operating systems, engineering systems, and edge products that span cloud-to-edge and edge-to-cloud.