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Systems Engineer at Microsoft Corporation
Army Ranger maintains integral systems for Microsoft.
by Warren Duffie

Josh Wilson understands the power of information. As a systems engineer at the Redmond, Wash., headquarters of Microsoft Corp., he provides “back-end” support for MSN.com, Messenger.com, and Live.com — three of the company’s key information Web sites.

What is back-end support? Essentially, Wilson and other engineers in Microsoft’s Global Foundations Services division oversee thousands of Windows 2003 servers, information servers, and massive databases. The Army reservist’s duties range from updating online shopping portals to repairing broken servers. In addition, much of his time is spent figuring how to automate and streamline project requests and predict when company servers will need to be expanded to accommodate more information.Fixing-Potholes-on-the-Information-Highway219x292

“I like to compare it to building a soldier from scratch,” says Wilson, 28. “You have to factor in health, endurance, strength, etc. The same applies to a server. Is it working well? Has it maxed out the amount of content it can hold? Does it need to be upgraded?

The Daily Grind
The staff sergeant begins each workday at 7 a.m., spending an hour or so catching up and responding to e-mails and voice messages. He then reviews the project request system to check the status of existing repair jobs and see if any new tasks have been assigned. He also monitors the intricate network of servers under his command via a large, color-coded screen (yellow is good; red is bad). From noon until leaving at 4 p.m., he responds to project requests and writes various troubleshooting guides.

“We’re very big on education and training here at Microsoft,” Wilson says. “These guides will set a foundation for dealing with a problem that any employee can use.”

It was Wilson’s training as an Army infantryman that helped make him a better Microsoft employee. Discipline, work ethic, and the ability to communicate are all key skills that come into play each day: “The Army also taught me the importance of accomplishing tasks and setting new goals.”

Seeking Vets for IT
Such commitment fits well with Microsoft Corp.’s mission. Synonymous with technology and the Information Superhighway, Microsoft is the world’s No. 1 software company — providing a variety of products and services, including its signature Windows operating systems and Microsoft Office suite.

Based in Redmond, Wash., the multibillion-dollar company has 76,500 employees worldwide and provides them with one of the best work environments in corporate America. Aside from competitive pay, healthcare and dental coverage, and stock and 401 (k) plans, Microsoft employees also benefit from the company’s WorkLife Balance program. Some of the initiative’s offerings include childcare assistance, maternity and paternity leave, long-term care for extended family members, employee development courses, tuition assistance, and assistance in quitting smoking or losing weight.

Microsoft also boasts “affinity groups” for employees who are military veterans and/or members of the Reserve. These groups provide career development, support, mentoring, and networking opportunities. In addition, to recruiting new veteran employees, Microsoft provides resources, skills development, and job placement services to those making the transition to the IT world. For example, veterans and active-duty personnel can use their G.I. Bill benefits to cover the examination fees to attain Microsoft Office Specialist certification.

To Microsoft and Back
Wilson’s hiring by Microsoft last year was a homecoming. After graduating from high school in 1996, the Redmond native — a huge fan of video games, computers, and the then-expanding Internet — went to work for Bill Gates & Microsoft in an entry-level position. As he climbed the ladder, Wilson enjoyed his job and growing responsibilities, but something was stirring inside of him.

“I always had this desire to serve in the military,” he says. “My grandfather had served, and I thought it would be something I’d enjoy.”

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, sparked Wilson’s decision to enlist and leave behind all that he knew. After completing boot camp and infantry training at Fort Benning, Ga., he soon completed the Army’s rigorous Ranger School. In 2005 he served in Iraq and Afghanistan before returning stateside early in 2006.

Not long afterward, Wilson decided it was time to leave active duty for the Reserves. He had a wife and two children and didn’t want to spend any more time away from them. Wilson soon re-established contact with his old supervisor at Microsoft, who said he was welcome to return to his previous position.

So which is better: civilian or military employment? Wilson says that while civilian pay is much more enticing, the cost of living is higher and rips a bigger chunk from your check. However, he stresses his pleasure at having more time to spend with his family and working with a “world-class company” like Microsoft.

“It really is great here,” Wilson says. “There are a lot of people with prior active-duty experience, as well as a good amount of reservists. Microsoft will take care of you and your family if you’re deployed. And if you come back hurt or disabled, they’ll provide tools such as wheelchairs to accommodate you. The company is truly veteran-friendly.”

Wilson’s Advice
• Assess what you want to do outside of the military.
• Take advantage of your G.I. Bill education benefits.


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