From the Army to the Cloud

From army veteran to senior cloud solution architect, Jimmy Avila proves that curiosity is key to personal development and connecting with customers.

I recall sharing in my interview for solution architect that I had never solutioned or architected anything. There were around 40 other people interviewing for the role, but they chose me—not necessarily because I had the exact skills or experience for the role, but because they saw my willingness to learn. I prepared by networking and studying everything I could. Now, in my role, I mentor others to do the same.

Early on at Microsoft, I would dive deep into asking questions and then share that knowledge with my team. I’ve found that there’s always an opportunity to learn for both the person with the question and the one with the answer. I believe that if you’re always learning, you’re always evolving. And that learning should be fun and interactive, like a conversation, rather than something static. That’s why I created a system of interactive forms to provide my team with deeper insights into specific areas of expertise and various customer scenarios.

This passion for skill-building can be traced back to my mom’s encouragement to make the most of opportunities. She had big dreams for my brother and me and moved us to the United States from the Dominican Republic to make a better life when I was only six years old. So, when it came time to go to college, it wasn’t a question: we were going. But within a year of enrolling in college, I realized it wasn’t for me. I didn’t want to finish school only to later regret not pursuing my true passion. So, I decided to take some time to figure out what that was and began to explore other fields that piqued my interest.

I made the difficult decision to leave school and join the army. My mom was disappointed, but I saw the military as an opportunity to explore different industries and learn from people with diverse backgrounds. And that’s exactly what I did; over the course of my six years in the army, I took classes in every industry and got to know people from all walks of life. Those relationships ultimately helped me figure out my next move.

As I was leaving the military, I stumbled upon the Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA). Two years after the MSSA program, I joined Microsoft in a support role. I aspired right away to move up, so I leveraged every conversation and opportunity to learn and grow. I stayed positive, believing that if you tell yourself you’re not skilled enough for a role, you’re already setting yourself up for failure.

After joining Microsoft, I immediately joined the Military Employee Resource Group (ERG) and HOLA (for Hispanic and Latinx employees). The Military group gave me the opportunity to connect with others who, like me, were stationed in Texas or deployed to Iraq. Having that camaraderie and being able to talk about those 4:30 AM wake-up calls for trainings and the structured regimens we all had helped me process that time in my life.

As someone who values creating a sense of community, it’s important to me to have a family-like feeling in the workplace. On my team, for instance, six of us are Hispanic. I’ve found that being able to speak Spanish on calls not only puts our customers at ease but also allows me to connect with my team members on a deeper level. With customers, more often than not, being able to relate in our first language changes the conversation completely—and all the frustration they may have felt goes out the window.

This emphasis on creating a welcoming environment extends to my work as a solutions architect. While I may not have had prior experience for my role, I’m grateful to be part of a team that consistently encourages learning and personal development.

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