Hire a Vet!

On February 11, Voices for Innovation was proud to host a great webinar with U.S. Marine Corps Major General Chris Cortez (Ret.), vice president of Microsoft Military Affairs, “Hire a Vet! How MSSA Can Help You Find Top IT Talent.”

General Cortez walked participants through the achievements of a great IT training program—Microsoft Software and Systems Academy (MSSA)—that benefits Microsoft partners, transitioning U.S. service members and veterans, and the broader tech sector.

Map showing MSSA locations.

MSSA operates on military bases across the nation, providing intensive training to vets and service members for careers in technology. MSSA also goes a step further: it connects Microsoft partners, recruiters, and other technology companies with MSSA graduates who are prepared to contribute to the IT sector.

Please consider signing up today as an MSSA hiring partner and hiring vets!

During the webinar, we also heard from Mike Powers of TEKsystems, who talked about the strength of new hires coming out of the MSSA program. Mike described MSSA grads as “driven” and “proactive.” He noted too that they have working knowledge, not just theoretical knowledge. Another plus, program participants’ “ability to work in diverse environments is exceptional.”

The webinar also included a demo of the Hiring Portal, where hiring managers can search for students and graduates of the MSSA program. Hiring companies can also visit MSSA sites to meet students and observe classes.

In addition to having many Microsoft partners participate in the webinar, we were joined by representatives of Hiring Our Heroes, a program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and staffing agency Robert Half.

You can watch the complete webinar below:

Washington Lawmakers Introduce Digital Privacy Legislation

Washington State Capitol BuildingAt the outset of the 2020 Washington state legislative session, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the Washington Privacy Act (SB 6281).

If enacted, this critical legislation would be the most comprehensive data privacy law in the nation. The law would help address growing concerns about privacy protection in the digital age and strengthen trust in technology.

“It has never been more important for state governments to take bold and meaningful action in the arena of consumer-data privacy,” said State Senator Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle), lead sponsor of the bill.

“[I]t is important to enact strong data privacy protections to demonstrate our state’s leadership on what we believe will be one of the defining issues of our generation,” writes Julie Brill. Microsoft Corporate Vice President for Global Privacy and Regulatory Affairs and Chief Privacy Officer.

“The Washington Privacy Act is the most comprehensive state privacy legislation proposed to date,” said Future of Privacy Forum CEO Jules Polonetsky.

Washington Privacy Act: News and Analysis

Below are links to coverage and analysis that shed light on this legislation and why it’s important to Washington consumers and businesses:

We encourage you to support this bill by emailing your state lawmakers today.


Book Review: “Tools and Weapons” Thinks Big

Brad Smith and Titu Sarder pictured together
Brad Smith (l) with Titu Sarder at 2019 Inspire Conference

Brad Smith is Microsoft’s President and Chief Legal Officer—and, as it turns out, he is also a powerful storyteller.

Though Smith has written widely in the past on a range of tech topics, this fall he and co-author Carol Ann Browne (a Microsoft communications executive) published their first book, Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age. This book couldn’t’ve come out at a better time—given the growing role and scrutiny of technology across the world.

Tackling the Biggest Tech Issues

Smith ranges widely across the fundamental tech issues of the day—many that we see discussed in the halls of government with increasing urgency. He dives into surveillance, digital privacy, cybersecurity, AI, facial recognition, and more.

While Smith highlights Microsoft’s positions and policy initiatives, he frequently underscores that Microsoft does not have all of the answers, nor should it. Smith justly argues that in democratic countries, elected officials representing the citizenry should be setting policies, not unelected company officials.

Still, tech businesses have special expertise and need to be part of informed discussions about public policies. Microsoft itself has developed cybersecurity principles, for example, that could serve as a model for legislation in the U.S. and globally.

On other issues, as Smith explains, the company combines marketplace engagement with policy advocacy to help spread the benefits of technology. For instance, as Voices for Innovation advocates know, Microsoft is investing in rural broadband through its Airband Initiative while supporting critically needed policy changes that will provide regulatory certainty.

Anchoring Policy Positions with Human Stories

Too often, discussions of public policy can quickly become abstract, technical, and even dull. Smith avoids this trap by telling stories about people who are impacted by tech policies—and people who are shaking up the tech policy arena.

When discussing broadband access, for example, he takes readers to the Knotty Pine Restaurant and Lodge in rural Ferry County, Washington, to hear from locals. The town’s mayor—a former logger—threatens to show up in sweatpants. He tells Smith that, “‘Almost no one around here has broadband… Promises have been make for years, but nothing’s been done.’”

Smith also shares stories of tech policy crusaders such as Max Schrems, who almost single-handedly effected policy changes to strengthen privacy protections for data transfers between the U.S. and the European Union. Today’s EU-U.S. Privacy Shield, which replaced the International Safe Harbor Principles, is the result of Schrems’ advocacy.

Smith also has a flair for scene setting. He opens the book with a dramatic description of Microsoft’s data center in Quincy, Washington. We enter the center’s highly electrified inner sanctum through bulletproof doors, fireproof walls, and metal detectors. Server racks “extend beyond your line of sight. This massive library of steel and circuits… is the digital world’s filing cabinet.”

Big Ideas for Change

Smith offers insights, raises questions, and makes policy proposals as he proceeds through his key tech topics. In addition to offering concrete approaches to specific issues, Smith also calls for broader changes in how tech companies and policymakers approach regulation. He argues that because data and tech services reach across borders, national governments must work together to find shared solutions and harmonize policies.

Smith also draws on tech operations to raise a provocative idea to help break policy gridlock in Washington, DC. He notes that tech often operates by launching a “minimum viable product.” You launch one version of a product with the expectation that fixes and upgrades will follow. Similarly, he proposes that government move more quickly to keep up with tech but take more limited regulatory steps. Once a base-level policy is established, it can be updated and refined. “[B]y bringing some of the cultural norms developed in the tech sector into the regulation of technology itself, governments can do more to catch up with the pace of technological change.”

This may be wishful thinking, but Smith makes a strong case that government needs to innovate too to make a more positive and practical impact on our lives.


Titu Sarder is an American entrepreneur, inventor, investor, and philanthropist who is President and CEO of LLTV, a creative tech media company and leading provider of online tech education content for consumers, businesses, and government.  He is a board member of several state and education associations, including the Coalition of New York State Career Schools, Trusted Learning Network, and Florida Association of Veterans Education Specialists (FAVES). Titu is a member of VFI’s Advisory Task Force and president of the New York City Chapter of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP).

Talking with VFI Leader Frank Valdivieso about Franklin Apprenticeships

Frank ValdiviesoVFI Advisory Task Force member Frank Valdivieso is busy on several fronts. In addition to being a leading VFI advocate and advisor, he is President of the IAMCP Washington, DC, Chapter and the chair of IAMCP Americas’ Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Committee.

On top of all the work Frank does for the larger tech community, he is also President and CEO of Gryphon Consulting, a DC-area IT services company that specializes in helping small and medium-sized businesses effectively deploy and leverage technology in their organizations.

Frank recently shared his thoughts about diversity and inclusion in an IAMCP post. To support inclusion in his own business—and to help close the skills gap—Frank signed up Gryphon Consulting as a client of the Franklin Apprenticeships program. We wanted to follow up with him to learn more about this program and the role of apprenticeships in the IT sector.

VFI:      How did you get involved with Franklin Apprenticeships?

Frank:  The starting point was actually through Voices for Innovation. VFI has given me a chance to come together with like-minded Microsoft partners, learn about issues, and take steps to bring about needed policies. One of the challenges we face is a shortage of IT talent. At a VFI briefing, I learned about how IT apprenticeship programs in the UK had enabled thousands of people to get on-the-job training and fill positions with partners.

VFI:      So, what happened next?

Frank:  I got connected to the team in the UK and learned more. I then started to advocate for apprenticeship programs and workforce development. I met with my U.S. Rep., Anthony Brown, to highlight the value of apprenticeship programs. Eventually, working with apprenticeship experts from the UK, an organization called Franklin Apprenticeships launched in the U.S., starting with Maryland, my home state. Franklin’s goal is to replicate the successful UK apprenticeship model.

VFI:      And now you’re an early client of the Franklin Apprenticeship program?

Frank:  That’s right. My company’s first apprentice will be starting soon, working on our help desk. Franklin Apprenticeships is collaborating with the Maryland Department of Labor to connect Maryland job-seekers with state businesses. My company receives a tax break, and our apprentice’s salary increases as they move through the program. At the end of the one year apprenticeship our goal is to transition the apprentice into a permanent, full-time job.

VFI:      What are the benefits of apprenticeship programs? How is it different from learning in college?

Frank:  In today’s economy and with the cost of college, not everyone can pursue a four-year college degree. Apprenticeship programs are a great model for providing specialized education and training as well as job support. In addition to working, apprentices take classes and earn certifications. Apprentices are paid while they’re learning. When I was in high school, kids had a chance to learn trades like HVAC or auto repair through classroom work and on-the-job training. Franklin Apprenticeships is similar, but it prepares apprentices for careers in IT.

VFI:      How do apprenticeship programs support diversity and inclusion in the tech sector?

Frank:  Apprenticeship programs provide opportunities for people from all walks of life. You might be a young person without the financial resources to pay for college. Or you might be older and looking for a career change. In the past, IT businesses missed this community because we were focused on candidates with a college education. This shut out many people, but apprenticeships provide another path to enter the IT workforce.

VFI:      What’s your advice to Microsoft partners who want to leverage apprenticeship programs in their home states?

Frank:  If your state has an apprenticeship program, get your business involved. Franklin Apprenticeships is in Maryland and Missouri, and is expecting to expand. But there are many other apprenticeship programs around the country. You may need to advocate with state officials to create an apprenticeship program for IT careers. VFI helps you develop advocacy skills that you can put into practice. If you’re an IAMCP member, team up with your local IACMP chapter as well to support IT apprenticeships in your area.

Connecting the Dots Between K-12 Education and Tech Careers

Editor’s Note: VFI leader Bill Hole recently organized a delegation of STEM-focused educators on a visit to the Microsoft campus. Bill provides highlights below.

On August 8, with the help of Voices for Innovation, I had the opportunity to bring a group of educators from California and Washington to Microsoft’s campus in Redmond for a day of tours and briefings. It was a fun, eye-opening experience for all of us.

My aim was to give educators a chance to hear from top-notch tech professionals, learn more about tech careers, and see where the technology sector is headed. By the end of the day, I wanted teachers to have new perspectives to help them guide students on their paths to learning computer science and pursuing careers in technology.

Educators’ Delegation from CA and WA with Jane Broom, Sr. Director of Microsoft Philanthropies (in white blazer)

The day kicked off visiting facilities where Microsoft manages its global cloud computing infrastructure and fights cybercrime. These experiences offered the educators a look at emerging technology careers that required skills beyond traditional computer science. We felt like we were seeing the very cutting edge of computer science in action.

Next up, the group got a chance to go behind-the-scenes with a tour of Microsoft Research. During the visit, educators learned about the different science disciplines that go into product creation. We also heard about the importance of teamwork and collaboration in the design process. After an action-packed morning, the educators were briefed by a number of Microsoft specialists.

Diving into Microsoft Educational Programs

Over lunch, we heard from Miri Rodriguez, a dynamic Microsoft veteran who now heads up the company’s internship programs. We learned that there are especially strong opportunities for high school students in western Washington. Microsoft runs a 10-week summer internship program for high school students, as well as a boot camp.

Microsoft’s Miri Rodriquez (r) with language educator Angelica Cornejo (l) from Simi Valley, CA, and her daughter, recent UCLA grad Samantha Cornejo

For first and second-year college students from across the country, Microsoft offers intensive 12-week internships through the Explore Microsoft program. Our group learned how students can position themselves for this opportunity, beginning with K-12 education.

Miri is also a marketing and storytelling guru, and she shared some great ideas for how educators can become stronger advocates and communicate more effectively with students, parents, colleagues, and the broader public.

Next up, Ed Britan, head of global privacy policy and counsel at Microsoft, delivered an insightful briefing on the challenges of defining a Global Privacy Policy. Microsoft is playing a leading role in developing artificial intelligence (AI) and facial recognition technology, and the company recognizes that these areas of innovation need a robust legal and regulatory framework. For teachers, these technologies can help advance education and school safety, but student privacy must be protected as well.

We ended the day hearing about Microsoft’s TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) program, which pairs up teachers with tech sector volunteers to teach high school computer science courses. This is a fantastic program—and I encourage computer science professionals to volunteer.

Overall, the day was a great success. Holly Urness, Instructional Coach for Secondary Science in the Lake Stevens School District, said, “The feedback from the teachers was excellent. They had many shifts in their understanding of what the tech industry in general, and Microsoft in particular, is all about. In the end, doors will be opened for students as they hear about a wider world with more possibilities than they have previously imagined.”

How Microsoft Partners Can Help

Microsoft partners have many opportunities to get involved in connecting the dots between our world and K-12 education. We also have to go out there and create opportunities.

In my case, I’ve gone to countless meetings to speak up for computer science education, and now I serve on my local school district’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) committee. I also collaborated with local tech educators to organize a Regional STEM Summit last summer. I know that many other Voices for Innovation members have worked in their communities to advance STEM and computer science education as well.

We also need to be vocal advocates for dedicated funding and public policies that support computer science education. All students should have an opportunity to learn computer science during their K-12 years. By helping the schools and local officials better understand the direction technology is going, Voices for Innovation members can help build stronger communities to empower the careers and workers of tomorrow.


Bill Hole is a member of VFI’s Advisory Task Force and a long-time advocate for computer science and STEM education. He is president of US Licensing Group, which specializes in volume licensing of Microsoft products and services.

What I Learned at Microsoft Inspire 2019

This summer, I traveled to Las Vegas to attend my first Microsoft Inspire conference. It was a great opportunity for me to introduce partners to VFI, as well as to strengthen my ties with our partner leaders. I also got a chance to connect with many Microsoft executives and managers who help make the partner program a great success.

Highlights of VFI Activities at Inspire

VFI kept me busy around the clock during Inspire. We manned a booth in the Community Zone, visited with partners in the U.S. Lounge and throughout the Hub, and attended lots of great sessions and panels.  Highlights of our activities included:

  • Microsoft President Brad Smith with IAMCP leaders
    Microsoft President Brad Smith (blue shirt) with IAMCP leaders (l to r) Jeff Goldstein, Deb Pfundstein, and Titu Sarder

    Sponsoring and participating in IAMCP‘s Executive Roundtable program. This program brought partners together with Microsoft executives such as Gretchen O’Hara, Gavriella Schuster, Brad Smith, and David Willis.

  • Introducing several hundred Microsoft partners and employees to VFI.
  • Educating partners about the power of advocacy and enlisting partners to support improving federal broadband mapping. (We expect upcoming opportunities to highlight the importance of broadband to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the coming months!)
  • Hosting an “Advocacy Meetup” at our booth, led by VFI leader and LawToolBox.com VP of Marketing Carol Lynn Grow.

We’re also grateful for the support we received on social media, including…

Tweet from Microsoft President Brad Smith

IAMCP Thank You Tweet

Listening to Partners

I recognize that not every Microsoft partner will be interested in what VFI does, but I was heartened to hear from many partners who were excited to learn about VFI and eager to get involved.

VFI is a unique partner program in the technology sector that helps tech professionals support not just our industry, but also their communities and our nation as a whole. Given the fact that technology touches virtually all aspects of our lives and has an outsized impact on our economy, many Microsoft partners want to bring their expertise to policy discussions and play a role in shaping positive tech policies. This is great news—and I look forward to helping partners on their advocacy journey.


David Pryor is the director of Voices for Innovation. He has been a member of Microsoft’s U.S. Government Affairs team for more than a decade.