John Jackson: from submarines to the Cloud


‘Softie in Question: John Jackson

Job title: Principle Lead Program Manager – Azure COGS

(Cost of Goods Sold)

Welcome to Microsoft. How long have you been here now?

Just about three weeks.

And you’re working on Azure and Cloud computing?

My goal is to develop a new program for the Business Platform Division in the Azure COGS group. That basically means that we’re the service delivery side of several Azure products.

We’re just 28 people now, but my understanding is that we’ll be growing to about 70 in the next 18 months. The model we’re creating in this group has great traction and is being rolled across other groups and bringing in new services.

Do you think your military background will assist you with your work at Microsoft?

I have to build teams, influence others and guide coalitions. The rigorous organizational and leaderships skills that I learned in the military are definitely good experience.

Tell me about your military service.

My father was in the Army, so I was an Army brat and moved around a lot as a kid. I graduated from the New Mexico Military Institute and was lucky enough to get nominated by John McCain to attend the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis.

The Academy was intense but filled with some of my greatest memories of my life. I had the opportunity to work with the best and the brightest.  We had a seven-week boot camp that was pretty much just like it is in the movies. As a Midshipman, I played Marine, served on surface ships, flew in a P-3 Squadron and deployed on a submarine for a summer. I flew a T-34 turbo prop trainer, flew and landed a CH-57 Bell helicopter and did extreme obstacle courses.

The Naval Academy obviously had a big impact on you.

Definitely. I still root for Navy every December for the Army-Navy Game. Navy is trying to make it nine straight wins this year. Go Navy!  Beat Army!

And did you know that you wanted to work in technology?

As a child of ’80s, I’d seen Top Gun over twenty times and I was convinced that I was going to be a pilot. That didn’t work out due to a combination of grades, vision and nausea – I had problems with heavy motion. So, I ended up taking a different track and chose Aerospace Engineering with Submarine Nuclear Power as my primary selection.

I’d imagine that Submarine Nuclear Power is no cake walk either.

It was actually the hardest academic thing I’ve done, and that includes both my MS and BS degrees.  I had to go to DC and do a character interview with a Four-Star Admiral before being accepted into the program.

The Nuclear Power school was 70 hours per week: 40 in the classroom and a mandatory 30 hours of in-class study. Some weeks it were even longer. We learned heat transfer, fluid-flow, thermodynamics, nuclear physics, advanced chemistry, things like that.

Per the training program, I was next stationed at INEL, Idaho Falls, Idaho, for six additional months of training.  It’s located 40 miles from nowhere and is a series of test facilities for government nuclear research. After successful graduation, I proceeded to Submarine School in Groton, Connecticut, to learn to be a submarine officer and do crazy things like train in underwater emergency scenarios.

And from there you went to work on a submarine?

There are two routes that you can take: 1) the ballistic missile fleet, called boomers, or 2) attack submarines. Attack subs can spend up to 75% of their time out at sea, on patrol.

I chose attack submarines and went to sea on the USS Memphis SSN691 on the East Coast. I started in the engine room as an electrical officer, then graduated up to Reactor Controls Officer and then became the Communications Officer using cryptology-type equipment, communications etc. Towards the end of my first tour, I transferred to the USS New York City SSN696 in order to decommission her.

Working on attack submarines is a hard life and you are away from your family a lot. I moved on to the Naval Space Command located near Washington DC as a program manager/analyst for a space operations role. After entering civilian life at Dell, I joined the Naval Active Reserves and eventually, the Inactive Ready Reserves

Did you have a technology-oriented role in the Reserves?

Primarily, I worked with Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) out of San Diego, they do research, prototyping, installation, and IT-type support for the US Navy worldwide.

How did you transition into Microsoft?

I went to a Service Academy Career Conference (SACC) in San Diego, where I met a Microsoft recruiter. We had a good conversation. I had been the IT director for SPAWAR as a reservist, a hardware developer at Dell and the Director of Operations in charge of Service delivery at a legal services company. Those experiences were great background for Microsoft.

The recruiter put me in touch with the We Still Serve program to let them know that there was a service veteran applying to Microsoft.

At first I thought it was a standard support group, but they really reached out and helped to explain things and welcome me to the company.

I’m looking forward to meeting a lot more of Microsoft’s veterans on Veterans Day.


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