The Microsoft Leap Apprenticeship Program is focused on diversifying the tech pipeline by onboarding non-traditional tech talent (read: bootcamp alumni)! After graduating hundreds of apprentices over the years, the Microsoft Leap Apprenticeship Program continues to expand its global reach. We caught up with Yolanda Natal-Santos, Senior Business Program Manager at Microsoft Leap about the application process, the ideal candidates for this program, and how they’re helping the business world re-evaluate their hiring processes.
Tell us about the Microsoft Leap Apprenticeship Program!
At Microsoft, we believe digital skills are for everyone. We are interested in employability and how to upskill candidates for the technology industry as a whole. With the Microsoft Leap Apprenticeship Program, our mission is to recruit, develop, and upskill candidates in a conventional format. We based this apprenticeship on one of Microsoft’s core cultural values: growth mindset. Through Microsoft Leap, we have created an inclusive pathway into Microsoft and other broader technology industries to meet that demand for tech talent.
What is your role as a Senior Business Program Manager in the Microsoft Leap program?
My job is to expand Microsoft Leap’s global presence. I’m focused both on geographic expansion and expanding the pathways we offer. We started with the Software Engineering pathway because that’s where the greatest demand is. Since then, we’ve expanded the apprenticeship to include Technical Program Management, UX, Support Engineer. We are also expanding the apprenticeship to include non-technical roles such as Business Program Management. We’re looking to meet the talent needs of our engineering and business teams. We leverage Microsoft Leap to solve that talent issue.
Why has it been important for Microsoft to put the time and effort into the Microsoft Leap program?
If we want to truly live up to our Microsoft mission, which is to empower everyone on the planet to achieve more, our workforce must reflect those customers which we serve. The Microsoft Leap program becomes that bridge. Microsoft Leap taps into a broader segment of the labor market, increasing representation and engaging the best, most diverse candidates possible. We provide accelerated job readiness and employability for candidates, especially those who have historically not been represented in this industry.
How does your team view bootcamp graduates like Sabio alumni when evaluating applicants for Microsoft Leap?
We have the pleasure of being able to source from over 100 academies from across the US and it is certainly beneficial being able to work with academies like Sabio, being that they teach .NET. Although Microsoft Leap is agnostic to programming languages, we appreciate that Sabio grads start the apprenticeship with more than five months of learning. Sabio graduates typically have a .NET background with knowledge of some C#.
We’ve heard the Microsoft Leap Apprenticeship Program application process can be pretty rigorous! What is the application process like?
We will host several cohorts during the fiscal year, and we’ll post information about cohort dates on our social media. Applicants will apply directly on our website, and they will have to select one of seven different pathways. Microsoft Leap has globally expanded its locations, so in some cases, applicants will have to select their location of choice. We already have cohorts in Mexico, Nigeria, and Kenya, and in our next fiscal year, we’re expanding to new locations.
Within the Microsoft Leap application, we ask for a resume, which is meant to identify your experience. Your resume should answer the questions: What have you done? What projects have you engaged in? An applicant’s LinkedIn profile, resume, and for some pathways access to their repository, provides an insight into the applicant’s experience and projects.
There are also two essay questions on the application, which helps us gauge an applicant’s passion for technology and what they have done to advance their career. These essay responses show us what an applicant has done in the past in combination with what they want to do in the future and how they’re going to get there. I love reading the essay responses because it shows me how passionate individuals are to start this career!
What qualities or experiences is Microsoft Leap looking for in future apprentices?
Microsoft Leap takes non-traditional students from all walks of life. We source candidates from coding bootcamps like Sabio, but we also engage community colleges and encourage individuals who are self-taught to apply. Our apprentices bring such unique qualities to the apprenticeship. They offer new perspectives and play a vital role in advancing innovation. We’re looking for individuals who are passionate about technology, have grit and determination, and are lifelong learners.
Microsoft Leap requires that apprentices acquire training for their respective chosen field. This training can be from university, community college, coding bootcamp like Sabio, or self-taught. We also require that incoming apprentices have six months of experience either through a job or a project, even if that project was strictly for self-development. We’re looking for the applicant to demonstrate what they learned from that experience.
Is there an ideal applicant for this apprenticeship program?
If a bootcamp graduate is not accepted into Microsoft Leap, can they apply again?
Absolutely! Microsoft Leap is such a competitive program, so we have limited apprentice slots, and we have far more applicants than we have slots available. I would encourage them to apply again. My advice is to add new projects to your LinkedIn, so when you reapply, we can see your development and growth from the last application.
What can apprentices expect to learn during this apprenticeship?
The Microsoft Leap apprenticeship program is community-focused, and that includes our learning experience. The apprenticeship is curated by our own learning and development team at Microsoft, and then we partner with our engineering and business teams to make sure we’re delivering content that is valuable to them and the apprentices.
We offer apprenticeships in a few disciplines, but no matter what discipline, there are two components to the apprenticeship: role fundamentals and soft skills. If you’re in a cohort for software engineering, you may be learning about object-oriented programming, algorithms, design, and Power BI. The soft skills, which are the same across disciplines, are communication, leadership, teamwork, and dealing with imposter syndrome.
How long does an apprenticeship typically last?
Microsoft Leap is a 16-week apprenticeship. An apprenticeship is part classroom training and part on-the-job learning, so apprentices spend the first 4 weeks in a classroom environment. Apprentices then spend 12 weeks working with their team. That's where they get on-the-job learning with a project, a lead, and a mentor. The idea is for the teams to be able to see their body of work.
Is Microsoft Leap a paid apprenticeship?
Absolutely. Apprentices are part of an engineering team, they produce engineering work, and they should be paid accordingly.
How do apprentices transition from the program to become full-time Microsoft employees?
The Microsoft Leap Apprenticeship Program does not guarantee a full-time position at Microsoft. By giving the teams and candidates 12 weeks to work with each other, though, we can assess if an apprentice is a good, permanent fit. If someone is a good fit, we post the job externally and the candidate will apply to the job and go through the interview process.
We now offer an apprentice program for our enterprise customers so they’re hiring our apprentices in Nigeria and Kenya. In Nigeria, those companies are hiring apprentices as full-time employees from day one.
Do you have any advice for other employers who are considering hiring a bootcamp graduate?
As we’re looking to expand the Microsoft Leap Apprenticeship Program, we would like to be an example for our global partners on how to think differently about talent. It’s important to think about challenging the status quo to enhance employee ability, thinking about diverse talent, and being more inclusive in the technology industry. Our Microsoft Leap graduates bring a unique ability and a different perspective to our teams. Our apprentices are very impactful to the work that we do and their impact does not stop when the apprenticeship ends. They contribute to solutions and products that reach millions of customers and partners, and they’ve become leaders in our own organization. From our perspective, the model has worked for the last five and a half years and we hope it’s a model that can be easily expanded so other companies can do the same.
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