Microsoft Citizenship Blog

  • Microsoft expands tech training program for active duty service members

    By Chris Cortez, Microsoft Vice President of Military Affairs

    Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant (GySgt) Sarmiento-Louttit’s United States Marine Corps missions have taken her all over the world: from Okinawa, Japan, to the Red Sea to off the coast of Africa, where she was part of a crew involved in a high-profile operation: rescuing Captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates. But her latest mission brought her back to base to participate in a rigorous 16-week program learning software development at California’s Camp Pendleton.

    The program, the Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA), provides software development training to eligible U.S. active duty service members who are transitioning out of the service. On Monday, we announced that the program is operating at Camp Pendleton in California and Fort Hood in Texas. The program was first launched in 2013 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) in Washington state, where a third class is now benefitting from the program. With the expansion, nearly 90 service members are enrolled in or have already graduated from the MSSA.

    After completing the MSSA, service members are brought to Microsoft for job interviews at the company. Nearly 70 percent of those who have already completed the program have been hired into a technology-focused position by either Microsoft or a Microsoft partner company.

    “We have the necessary skills and discipline to work at any time, at any place and complete the mission with no regard to time, distance and environment,” explains GySgt Sarmiento-Louttit, a current member of the first MSSA cohort at Camp Pendleton. “It's been ingrained in us since training.

    It’s not hard to understand how the perseverance GySgt Sarmiento-Louttit speaks about applies to the technology industry. Companies such as Microsoft look for employees who, like GySgt Sarmiento-Louttit, apply creativity to solve big problems, often under time and other pressures.

    These are qualities that fit another current MSSA participant, Sergeant First Class (SFC) Luis Rivera, a petroleum supply specialist for the U.S. Army who is based at Fort Hood. SFC Rivera’s job includes taking a truck with a 2,500-gallon tank of fuel to the front lines in order to refuel tanks. While the pressure of overseeing a large flammable vehicle on a battle’s front line is intense, what goes into preparing for an engagement is also complicated. When his unit travels 300 miles, for example, he has to calculate, based on distance, weather conditions, terrain and other factors, how much fuel, oil and ammunition are needed to complete the mission. There is little margin for error, considering that the mission’s success or failure – and the safety of his unit – is on the line.

    Service members like GySgt Sarmiento-Louttit and SFC Rivera are why we started the MSSA program, which is part of Microsoft YouthSpark, the company’s global initiative to help young people gain the critical technology skills required for today’s jobs. Many service members already have leadership experience and an aptitude for complex problem-solving – qualities that appeal to technology companies. But most need an intensive program to update their computer programming skills.

    One of those students is Marine Sergeant (Sgt) Rick Finlay at Camp Pendleton. Sergeant Finlay is an aircraft mechanic who started out working on the fuel systems of F-18 Hornet aircraft – twin-engine, supersonic jets that take off from an aircraft carrier’s tiny airstrip. He eventually moved into a supervisory role in aircraft maintenance, leading a team of mechanics responsible for the safe operation of a dozen planes hopping on and off aircraft carriers in Japan, Iraq and elsewhere.

    “We work at a fast pace, over long hours,” Sgt. Finlay said. “If we miss something, someone can be hurt or killed.”

    While the responsibilities of his job weigh on him, so does his impending separation from the Marines. Because of our drawdown from two overseas operations, there are thousands of service members like Sergeant Finlay who worry about finding the right fit for their skills as they transition out of the military, and who have families who depend on their success.

    “The Microsoft Software & Systems Academy has afforded me a great opportunity to build new job skills for my transition from the military to an exciting and innovative industry,” Sgt. Finlay said.

    We encourage other innovation sector companies to learn about the directly applicable skills – which include teamwork, drive, determination and intelligence – that service members bring to the table. By each doing our part, together we can ensure that more U.S. veterans continue their service to the country by helping create technologies that improves lives.

    For more information, including general eligibility guidelines, please visit

  • Empowerment Through Technology: A Journey

    By Lori Forte Harnick, general manager, Citizenship & Public Affairs

     Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (center) and Lori Forte Harnick, General Manager of Microsoft Citizenship & Public Affairs (fourth from left), on stage during the commitment announcement

    At the age of 18, Thuy Pham found herself moving from low-end job to low-end job, living on her own and struggling to make ends meet while taking a few college courses to try to get ahead. This tale is all too familiar, unfortunately, and like many other young people facing similar challenges, Thuy had to drop her classes to focus simply on day-to-day survival.

    But, here’s where Thuy’s story takes a new turn…riding the bus home from work one evening, exhausted and discouraged about the life she had hoped to build for herself, Thuy spotted an ad for Year Up – a nonprofit that offers IT skills training and internships for youth at risk of falling through the cracks and into a downward spiral of poverty and hopelessness. In this ad, Thuy spotted an opportunity to take a new path on her journey, one that would help her not only to survive, but possibly…just thrive.

     Year Up student Thuy Pham is currently interning at Microsoft to build her IT and technical skills

    Today, Thuy is completing her “Year Up” – a 12-month course of study that includes an internship in Microsoft’s IT department, ready to take her new skills and job experience out into the thriving IT job marketplace, where chances are pretty good that she’ll be greeted eagerly by the growing number of companies seeking employees with IT skills.

    Thuy’s journey is one of millions that Microsoft is proud to support through our global YouthSpark initiative, which matches young people around the world with opportunities for education, employment, and entrepreneurship.

    Today, at the Clinton Global Initiative America event in Denver, Colorado, I had the honor of presenting a commitment to increase Microsoft’s actions to empower American youth to capture their opportunities for employment in the IT sector. Not only are we increasing our internship program with Year Up, we are also expanding our Job Shadow partnership program with Junior Achievement and expanding the availability of YouthSpark Summer Camps at Microsoft retail stores across the U.S.

     A Junior Achievement job shadow event at the University Village Microsoft Store in Seattle

     Together, these three programs provide a continuum of educational opportunities for youth throughout their development – from ages 8 through 18 and beyond -- so that they can imagine and experience the opportunities that await them in the IT field, and so that they can write their own stories about their journeys of empowerment…of survival…and of success.

    To learn more about resources and opportunities for youth, please visit the Microsoft YouthSpark Hub...and tell us your story, too.

    You can follow Clinton Global America at this Livestream link.

  • The Washington State Opportunity Scholarship: making a difference for young people and our economy

    By Jane Broom, Director of Community Affairs, Microsoft

    Today was a great day, as nearly 800 Washington state students learned that not only have they received the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship (WSOS) for the upcoming academic year, but the award has increased to a total possible award of $22,500 per student over five years (up from $17,000 in previous years).

    This program provides a financial incentive for middle-and low-income students who have earned Washington state high school diplomas or GEDS to pursue science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) and health care degrees at state universities and colleges.

    In 2011, Microsoft and Boeing each committed $25 million to WSOS. And this year, thanks to a $25 million investment in our young people by the Washington State Legislature, the state’s contribution has grown to a total of $30 million. It adds up to a total of $80 million in funding to make it easier for young people to pursue their dreams -- students like high school senior Maria Ines Maravilla.

    “Euphoria was my first reaction when I learned that I received the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship,” explains Maria. “This scholarship means a lot to me, not just financially, but also personally because this is my chance to start my first year of college on the right foot, with dreams and a smile on my face to know that I have taken a step closer to fulfilling my goals.”

     Maria Ines Maravilla

    The young woman from Yakima, the first in her family to go to college, hopes to study bio-engineering, become a scientist and work on life-saving vaccines. “I want to work in my own laboratory, surrounded by microscopes, pipettes, test tubes, gowns, gloves and of course, microorganisms. I want to be a scientist and working toward cures that save lives.”

    Another student who has benefitted from the WSOS program is Tae Denwongkun. Tae, who comes from a family in which neither parents were able to attend college, graduated from Shorecrest High School. A University of Washington senior, Tae is about to complete his degree in information technology with a concentration in human-computer interactions. He hopes to land a job as a technical project manager or an information architect. “This scholarship means a lot to me,” he says. “I was glad that I didn't have to find part-time jobs urgently. Instead, I was able to focus on my school work and look for a job related to my studies. It was the most joyful moment during the summer of my junior year when I learned that I had received a scholarship.”

    Tae Denwongkun

    Then there’s University of Washington senior Janelle Van Hofwegen. Even though her tuition was covered by the Husky Promise program, she still had to hold down a job in order to pay for her living expenses, including her dorm room. During her first years of college, she worked at sub sandwich shop, berry processing plants and later as a teaching assistant. Janelle took her first computer science class as a sophomore and was hooked right away, declaring a double major of computer science and human-centered design and engineering. “Computer science is a good blend of being challenging and creative at the same time,” she says. “One of the reasons it’s creative is that you learn that there is more than one way to solve a problem.”

    Working up to 20 hours a week while attempting a degree as challenging as computer science is tough. However, when she was awarded the WSOS scholarship, Janelle says, “I was able to focus on school and less on getting so many hours, which was a huge relief.” Janelle graduates this month and has landed a job as a software developer at the video-streaming company

     Janelle Van Hofwegen

    Janelle is a great example – and one of many – of young people who are getting jobs in high-demand fields. Our support for WSOS is an extension of our global effort to connect young people with opportunities for education, employment and entrepreneurship through our YouthSpark initiative. This is especially important as we work to fill 25,000 STEM job openings in our state -- a number that is expected to double in the next five years. Closing the gap between job openings and qualified candidates would generate, according to a Boston Consulting Group/Washington Roundtable study, a total of $720 million in annual state tax revenues and $80 million in local tax revenues by 2017.

    We encourage businesses of all sizes help make a difference in the lives of young people – and to help close that job skills gap – by contributing to the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship at

  • Youth Opportunity Top of Mind at Social Innovation Summit

    By Akhtar Badshah, Senior Director, Citizenship and Public Affairs

    “We’ll laugh, some of us may cry, we’ll be inspired and we’ll even dance.” These are the words that I used to kick off the “Opportunity: Youth” session at this year’s Social Innovation Summit. These are the same words that came to pass throughout our time at the Summit and specifically as my colleague, Yvonne Thomas, and I heard from young people who have discovered and created opportunities to better themselves and our world.

    We were honored to have two incredible young women who have successfully completed programs supported by Microsoft YouthSpark join us for a fireside chat during our session hosted at the United Nations. They shared how their lives have changed from the support of Microsoft YouthSpark partners, Year Up and Girls Who Code. Franklyna “Franky” Gabriel shared her challenges as a young woman in Computer Science and how Year Up gave her opportunities that helped her land a job at Facebook where she has been working for more than a year. Kafilah Muhammad shared her excitement for learning and applying Computer Science through her participation in the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program.  In only eight weeks and as a high school student who had never taken a computer science course in her life Muhammad built a fully functional website.

     Yvonne Thomas, Franklyna "Franky" Gabriel, Kafilah Muhammad

    Founder and Emmy-award winning filmmaker at Stillmotion Inc., Patrick Moreau, shared how he brings the stories of young people making change in the world front and center. As a storyteller he shared what makes a great story including the four pillars leading with People, then Place, Plot and Purpose. This is exactly what he did when sharing the story of Vivienne Harr, Chief Inspiration Officer of Make A Stand, in his company’s first feature-length, independent documentary #standwithme.  At nine years old, Vivienne discovered that millions of women and young girls just like her around the world are enslaved. Wanting to create more awareness of the issue and to help move forward her vision of a world where all 18 million enslaved children are free and safe she created a lemonade business.  Vivienne sold lemonade every day for 365 days to both raise money and awareness for her cause.

    Vivienne Harr, Chief Inspiration Officer, Make a StandVivienne Harr, Chief Inspiration Officer, Make a Stand

    Vivienne, her younger brother and her parents joined us at the Summit where she told all of us that "You don't have to be big or powerful to change the world. You can be just like me." She also announced that her next "project" is a new mobile crowdfunding technology that will allow anyone to make a stand—wherever they stand.

    Nely Galan, founder of The Adelante Movement, joined us to share how women and specifically young Latina women, as an emerging economic market in this country, are being inspired to take themselves to a higher place for the sake of their children. She urged young women to become entrepreneurial, raise more money, and know that their voices in their communities must be heard. She urged women to buy more buildings – not shoes!

    Nancy Lublin, CEO and chief old person of, and Jen Chiou, executive director of the Crisis Text Line, joined us and shared how their work is saving lives and giving young people a way to communicate in a time of crisis – and in a way that is familiar to them. Michael Smith, director of the Social Innovation Fund at the Corporation for National and Community Service, then joined us and gave examples of how each of us can turn social innovation into social impact. Marshall Davis Jones, internationally acclaimed World Bridger, brought many of our words together with the intersection of his spoken-word art in an inspiring performance. He artfully shared the experiences of young people from all walks of life – from their challenges, overcoming their challenges and bringing hope into their lives.

    While at the Summit, we also shared examples of how technology can be used as a tool for good. Wendy Norman from Skype for Good, a Microsoft YouthSpark program; Dyane Smokorowski, a teacher from Kansas; and Mike Soskil, a teacher from Pennsylvania, shared how Skype is connecting classrooms, teachers and students around the world to provide real-world learning opportunities. Smokorowski shared how she and a teacher in Africa are connecting their classrooms to learn more about each other’s cultures. Soskil shared how his students and those they are connecting with are getting see parts of the world they may never have the opportunity to travel to or experience.

    I was also happy to announce at the Summit that the next version of our HelpBridge app was released and I urged everyone to download the app to have a way to communicate with their loved ones in the unfortunate need to connect during times of disaster.

    As you can gather, we are grateful to participate in and sponsor the Social Innovation Summit and each year we leave more inspired, more hopeful for the future and even more motivated to deepen the impact of the work that we do every day. With this in mind, it was fitting that our session ended with impromptu dancing from the Harlem Shake. And just when I didn’t think that was possible to top off, I had the opportunity on behalf of Microsoft and alongside other Social Innovation Summit leaders to end our time in New York by ringing the closing bell on Wall Street!

     Akhtar Badshah celebrating with the Harlem Shake Dancers



  • An Extraordinary Lesson and Skype

    By Karen Bergin, Director, Citizenship and Public Affairs

    Those unique and wonderful moments when different groups of people, from different parts of the world, come together to speak with one another are perhaps some of the most magical Skype opportunities imaginable. Recently, a high school English class from Lake Stevens, Washington was selected to participate in a Skype in the Classroom event. This class of sophomores and juniors was united with Blake Mycoskie – the founder of TOMS – for an inspiring conversation on entrepreneurship, motivation, college life, and social-good businesses like his. You can watch their conversation unfold and read all about it via Cierra, one of the students who was “face to face” with Mycoskie.

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