In observance of the United States Veterans Day holiday, we sat down with a few of the US Veterans and Zensai heroes on our team to learn more about their transition from military service to learning management service with the help of the Microsoft Software and Systems Academy (MSSA).

Honoring the Spirit of Service: Veterans Day Observance

Every year since 1919—the first anniversary marking the end of World War 1—the United States has observed Veterans Day on November 11th: a day dedicated to honoring military veterans who have served in the United States Armed Forces. Though Veterans Day is primarily observed in the US, it coincides with Armistice Day and Remembrance Day, which are celebrated in France and the Commonwealth states respectively.

Today we would like to recognize all veterans, especially their commitment and sacrifice to serve something bigger than themselves, to dedicate their lives to a larger cause. We also celebrate their potential and desire to serve in the future as they transition to new careers, new opportunities, and new ways to build upon the teamwork, dedication and technical skills developed while wearing their uniform.

At Zensai we chose to observe this holiday by sharing the stories of three veterans who have transitioned from military service members to valuable members of our learning, engagement, and performance solution with the help of Microsoft’s Software and Systems Academy or MSSA.

Microsoft Software and Systems Academy (MSSA)

For many of the over 200,000 veterans who transition from military service to the civilian workspace, finding a good job can be an overwhelming and challenging task. To optimize this process and actually address the often big leap from a military culture to a digital and increasingly virtual commercial world, Microsoft invested in a solution to better support transitioning veterans; this solution is the Microsoft Software and Systems Academy.

Microsoft believes its role as an industry leader is to enable veterans to see computer science and STEM careers as a viable path when transitioning to civilian life in the public or private sector

Chris Cortez, Vice President of Military Affairs, Microsoft

The MSSA program is a 17-week, Department of Defense (DoD) approved technical program that offers service members a foundational understanding of IT with a range of available learning paths. The program prepares transitioning veterans for careers in the growing technology industry, providing opportunities for full-time work within Microsoft or one of their hiring partners following graduation.

Zensai is honored to have three incredible graduates from the MSSA on our team. We sat down with them to learn more about their experience in the service, their transition out of the military, and their journey towards becoming valued members of the Zensai team.

Read more about the Microsoft Software and Systems Academy

US Veterans & Zensai Teammates Spotlight

Within the past two years, the Zensai team welcomed three MSSA graduates onto our team: Jessika Toscano, Clayton Sapp, and Brandon Sundell. Jessika and Brandon served in the US Marine Corps—Jessika as an Administrative Specialist and Brandon as a Satellite Communications Manager—and Clayton was a part of the US Army, serving as an Artillery Crewmember and Operations Manager.

Our veterans had various reasons for raising their right hands and entering the force; Jessika to carry on a family legacy of service, Clayton to find adventure while supporting the safety of his country, and Brandon to live out a childhood aspiration:

I grew up on all the war movies like Black Hawk Down, Platoon, the Pacific series on HBO, I grew up watching all that. And I went up to my mom when I was nine years old. And I was like, ‘I’m going to be a Marine when I get older.

Brandon Sundell, Zensai Support Engineer & US Marine Corps Veteran

Though their motivations varied to become US service members, Jessika, Clayton, and Brandon all carried a similar internal drive: to learn, grow and serve during their time in the military.

Learning through Service

No service members will have the exact same experience in the military, though schedules and tasks may seem identical to others. What sets each person’s experience apart from the next is what learnings and skills they acquire and the specific experiences that stay with them long after their deployment ends.

All three of our Zensai US veterans spoke of learning moments that made long-lasting impacts on their lives, requiring them to stay vigilant, flexible, and open to all that can come from service to your country.

Clayton recalled the initial disappointment of being pulled from his “boots on the ground” artillery crew position into an administrative position, where he quickly learned his aptitude for troubleshooting, communicative computer systems, and being a valued jack-of-all-trades for his unit.

Brandon found a new breadth of his talents working with the deployment of field-expedient antennas that gave him a wealth of expertise and responsibility securing the ground communications for his infantry battalion.

Jessika recalled the moment she learned the importance of team support and the extent to which her military community became the necessary family she needed to succeed in the most trying of times:

During our challenging physical training is where I fully understood the meaning embrace the suck. When we were going for long hikes in the rain with the heaviest packs that were two times my size, and the tears were rolling down my face, I felt the subtle lift of my pack and a whisper in my ear that ‘I got it.’ I really recognized the strangers that were now my family, all wanting each other to succeed.

Jessika Toscano, Zensai Support Engineer & US Marine Corps Veteran

Transitioning from Service Member to Team Member

The transition from active-duty member to a professional team member can be rocky for most and is rarely a linear journey. However, with the Microsoft Software and Systems Academy, each of the three veterans was able to find a clear path to a new future in the world of IT, and their instilled drive to serve carried them confidently through the program.

Both Jessika and Brandon agreed that the professional development opportunities drew them to the MSSA program and gave them the confidence to dive into the new adventure that was the civilian workplace. All three veterans expressed their gratitude for the resume assistance, interview sparring, and professional presentation assistance that were a part of the Microsoft Software and Systems Academy. It was these transitory tools and resources that aided the new veterans in beginning the journey towards the civilian workplace.

Microsoft Software and Systems Academy: Learnings and Applications

In addition to the professional development skills acquired during the MSSA program, Jessika, Clayton, and Brandon all found unique learnings in the academy that they were grateful to apply to their next steps into the IT industry.

As a fan of video games, Brandon was inspired by the wealth of programming and computer system knowledge that he acquired during his time in the MSSA.

The biggest takeaway for me was that one small piece can ruin the whole thing. Just like how in the service we’re taught the strongest chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The same thing goes for a programmer.

Brandon Sundell, Zensai Support Engineer & US Marine Corps Veteran

For Jessika, her background in coding was only heightened with the Microsoft program’s deep dive into HTML, C-sharp, and other coding languages and how they all communicate with one another.

Above all, Clayton felt that MSSA expanded his understanding of brainstorming and the importance of sharing ideas, even without a guarantee they will be applied or used in a certain situation.

I think adopting a growth mindset was the biggest learning I got from the MSSA. Not being afraid to try new things, step out of your comfort zone, and bring your ideas to your team, regardless if they are triple-tested or previously disproved.

Clayton Sapp, Zensai Support Engineer & US Army Veteran

Zensai Team Members: Inspiring the Learners and Veterans of the Future

After graduating from the Microsoft Software and Systems Academy, Clayton, Jessika, and Brandon all found their way into the Zensai family in one way or another.

Clayton was the first of the three to join the Zensai team, stating that he saw incredible opportunities for growth and expansion in the learning management market. Since joining he has witnessed the company grow exponentially and has many ideas for where it could expand next.

I think for me, personally, coming from the background of the military, I see a need for Zensai specifically in the government space. I feel we have so much more room to grow and so many more places that we can branch out into, like with Government Cloud and other DOD agencies.

Clayton Sapp, Zensai Support Engineer & US Army Veteran

When looking to bring on new team members, Clayton saw that Jessika had worked on a learning management project during her time in the MSSA. And along with being found by a fellow veteran, Jessika felt that a support engineer role with Zensai was a great match for her interest and skills.

I really loved that the team was international and working from all around the world. It felt like a great next step into the world of remote working and the IT industry.

Jessika Toscano, Zensai Support Engineer & US Marine Corps Veteran

Brandon was also comforted by seeing that Zensai employed other veterans and felt it would make for a smooth transition with like-minded individuals.

Clayton had found my resume in the Microsoft portal from MSSA. I was like, ‘okay, it paid off.’ And as soon as I met Joe, another Marine Corps veteran, that’s really what sold me. I felt like I wasn’t going to getA thrown to the wolves and to have some of my people with me made me more confident in making the slow transition into the civilian world.

Brandon Sundell, Zensai Support Engineer & US Marine Corps Veteran

Through three very unique yet shared military pathways, Jessika, Clayton, and Brandon found their way into the Zensai family, and their transition from service members to team members was made easier—and more technically dynamic—through the Microsoft Software and Systems Academy.

Thank You for Your (SaaS)ervice

It was an honor to sit down with a few of our US veterans and Zensai team members to hear more about their journeys from active service members to Software as a Service (SaaS) providers. The MSSA program proved to serve our veterans just as they had served their country and continue to serve our Zensai team today.

One of the biggest things I’ve learned from my transition out of the service and into the IT workplace is to be flexible; to learn what all is out there, and to be able to adapt to anything and everything. It’s the same growth mindset Microsoft instilled in us, and it applies to my work every day.

Clayton Sapp, Zensai Support Engineer & US Army Veteran

You can find more information about the Microsoft Software and Systems Academy through their main page or watch a Virtual Brief of the MSSA program on the Microsoft Military Affairs YouTube channel.

As our Zensai team expands, we look forward to welcoming new talent from the MSSA program and other veterans finding their place in the technology and digital learning industries.

To all active service members and veterans, we thank you for your service. We are inspired by what you have accomplished while serving your nation. We are also excited by what you will do when you bring that experience, teamwork, and dedication to serve in your next career or profession.