Microsoft Software and Systems Academy: Cloud Application Development

Hey folks! So after a few days of sitting back and thinking about what my first two blog posts were and what I envision this blog to be, I think I need to shift focus a bit. I will continue to share my own journey from Combat Engineer to Software Developer as it happens, but for now, I am going to highlight specific parts and provide a bit more insight into what they are, and my experience in using them.

The topic for today is going to be the Department of Defense Skillbridge program “Microsoft Software and Systems Academy”. More specifically, I am going to discuss the program I will be part of starting January 11, 2021: Cloud Application Development. First off, how did I find out about the program? Well, a buddy of mine mentioned skillbridge to me in mid-September so I decided I would check out what Google had to say…a quick google search led me to the main DoD Skillbridge site. Disclaimer: I am not a big fan of the site for numerous reasons, but the main reason is because the map feature for finding programs is maddeningly flawed. If you don’t believe me, head over and try using it…I lasted about 5 minutes before I gave up, but not before I found the Microsoft Software and Systems Academy located near the Camp Lejeune, NC area. I also took note of the “Onward to Opportunity” skillbridge, but that’s for a separate post!

Microsoft provides a great website for information on the MSSA program that is easy to follow, provides insights into potential careers, and information on how to get started in either of the 2 available pathways. The beauty of skillbridge is that the programs typically don’t have to be near you geographically to apply and be accepted…BUT, for the ones that are in real classrooms, or are actual internships, you will have to be able to relocate to wherever the opportunity is while you are still on active duty. This is why I went with the Camp Lejeune, NC location. Due to COVID-19 which is still going on as I type this, all of the MSSA cohorts are virtual which opens them up to a wider audience, but to be honest, there are quite a few locations around the country so even when classrooms open back up, chances are you will be able to find a location close to you.

After navigating around the MSSA website for a while, I found the part “satisfy prerequisites”…This is where I hit my first potential snag. For the Camp Lejeune cohort, I read that the learning path was for Cloud Application Development (which is the one I wanted to do either way), and the main prerequisite for that course is to have a current Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) certification. I made note of this and moved on down the site to picking a location. I came close to hitting the “Enroll Now” button for Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, but I decided to email the point of contact listed under the Camp Lejeune site. I am so glad I did, because I found out one major bonus that was not previously advertised: after enrolling into Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, they provide you with an exam voucher for the MTA 98-361 exam! I make this my first point because I assumed I would have to come out of pocket to take the exam…granted, you do have to pay the $50 application fee for ERAU, but that’s cheaper than the exam cost.

I highly encourage you to email the point of contact first at whichever location you are interested in, because they provide so much more insight into the MSSA program. In the initial email, I recommend expressing interest in the program, requesting more information in the MSSA for that specific location, and also giving a brief summary of why you are interested in the program…you will end up doing that last part either way, so why no go ahead and get started laying the groundwork right away?! Each location does a type of “in-brief” for the program that you have to attend prior to enrolling and times differ from site to site, but your ERAU representative will provide that information to you when you reach out to them.

The emails that come from the MSSA program representative from ERAU are also filled with tons of information on the program beyond what the MSSA site has, recommended resources for preparing for the MTA exam, and also other requirements to being accepted. I will briefly touch on one main requirement outside of the MTA exam: the command authorization. This can be a major stumbling block, but one that I highly recommend you do first…I say this because it would be awful to spend time preparing for the MTA exam, enrolling in ERAU, and getting psyched up for the program just to find out that your command is not going to authorize you to attend! My location transition office provided me a command authorization form to take back to my command and fill out, but you can also get one from the MSSA program rep. What it comes down to is will your command allow you to be absent from work for 19 weeks…?

Back to the other major requirement: the Microsoft Technology Associate: Software Development Fundamentals 98-361 exam. This exam on the surface seemed to be quite scary for me…As I stated in my previous blog posts, I don’t have too much coding experience. All of the resources provided in the MSSA email are great tools of learning, but I want to add in a few that I found:

  1. USO skillsoft – This resource has about 18 hours of video classes and associated labs to help you learn the development concepts with practical application. Once you get access to the website, in the search bar type “Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) : Developer”
  2. EDUSUM – This is a good source of practice exams that you can use to gauge your preparedness level for the actual MTA exam. It helps identify areas that you need to study more on. You get access to the practice exams for 2 months, so plenty of time to get ready for the big exam day!

Personally, I took a little bit of extra time and focused on learning some basics in C# beyond the provided resources just because the MSSA program teaches C#…With about 3 weeks of studying for 3-4 hours a night, I was able to pass my MTA exam with a 92! The test was not as intense as I feared, and as long as you have a solid grasp of the core concepts outlined on the MTA certification site, you will do just fine.

I will end with one last piece of advice: Start the process early! The MSSA program is highly competitive and sought after, and space is limited! If you procrastinate too long, you may miss out on a great opportunity! If I can help out in any way, please reach out to me here or shoot me a message or connection request on LinkedIn.

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