i.c.stars Graduate Nick Torres Selected for the Microsoft Leap Apprenticeship Program. Microsoft Philanthropies shared the Microsoft LEAP opportunity with i.c.stars, which resulted in a life-changing opportunity for i.c.stars graduate Nick Torres.
I remember the day I was accepted to the Microsoft Leap Program. I was excited and happier than I can say. I knew it was a competitive program, and hard work, but it also meant a solid career and future for me and my family. I.c.stars offered me the opportunity to apply for the Microsoft Leap program, set up mock interviews, and helped me prepare. I’m ready for it, thanks to Larry Cowans, Arely Dorsey, and all the instructors at i.c.stars. But, it almost didn’t happen.
I THOUGHT I.C.STARS WAS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE My wife was looking for jobs on Craigslist and she saw the notice about i.c.stars: ‘train for a career in technology, no previous experience required, tuition-free, includes a stipend.’ We thought it was a scam at first. I’ve had a lot of setbacks in life, and this sounded too good to be true.
My dad died when I was 11. My sister and I took it hard. My mom worked a lot and was always gone. I was alone and upset most of the time. We lived in a small town in Massachusetts, with a small high school and no computers. I didn’t focus, and didn’t find a subject or teacher that I connected to, or a father to talk to. I spent a year and a half in college, studying criminal justice but dropped out. It wasn’t for me. I joined the military–a lonely place– and both my commander and I felt it was not a good fit.
Who was I? what could I do? did I have value as a person? There was something missing inside. When I left the military, I had no idea where to go or what I could do to make a living for myself and family. But I saw a notice about i.c.stars and made the call.
AT A CROSSROADS I interviewed for the i.c.stars program, and even though I didn’t have a technology background, the conversations brought out other things: how I approach problems and see patterns, how I communicate and find solutions. i.c.stars looks at the person, not the resume. Are you resilient and resourceful? Can you think things through and find a solution? I’m a logical thinker and I found that some of the tech concepts they discussed made sense to me right away. From the outset, i.c.stars was a good fit.
THE I.C.STARS APPROACH The program is very intense, with long hours and a lot of information. We learned tech skills during bootcamp, things like code languages and software. Then we applied this to building a web app for the company sponsoring the cycle. It’s a project-based, collaborative learning and each cycle or class has a different sponsor.
You are supported by instructors, tech professionals, and counselors 24/7. The class of 23 was divided into four teams. I was scrum master for my team, which is like being the leader, the guide, or team organizer. It was a great experience for me! It gave me confidence, reinforced lessons, and helped me be a better communicator.
THEY HELP YOU BRING YOUR BEST, MOST FULLY REALIZED SELF TO WORK When I started at i.c.stars, I kept my family in mind, my wife and daughter. I wanted a future for them. I was hungry and maybe I pushed too hard. I made mistakes. The instructors cautioned me, guided me, and always supported me. I learned to be careful without feeling defeated. College classes can teach you coding but they don’t teach you much about the real world: how to think and ask questions, how to contribute, work with others, and lead.
“i.c.stars teaches you how to bring your best self to the job. They teach the skills you need to thrive as a tech professional. Larry Cowans, Arely Dorsey, Sandee Kastrul, Cristian Romero, and Tandelaya Hill were always there for me and if my future now looks bright, it started with these smart, caring people” said Nick Torres.
INTERVIEWS FOR MICROSOFT LEAP Microsoft employees Nisani Rexach, Community Engagement Lead, and Kevin Gates, Principal Cloud Solution Architect (also an i.c.stars alumnus) held a prep session for i.c.stars applicants to support them throughout the process.
Thanks to i.c.stars, I was able to interview for the Microsoft Leap Apprenticeship. The program welcomes people from non-traditional backgrounds and invests in their success. The acceptance process is rigorous. You must pass two interviews, one technical and one behavioral. They look for people with good communication skills and problem-solving abilities. Thanks to the preparation I had received at i.c.stars, I was accepted and will begin in three weeks. It’s the start of a great career at Microsoft.
“The first time I met Nick, within the first couple minutes, I just knew that he was THE ONE. His passion, self-determination and presence instantly leaves an impression on you,” said Kevin Gates.
Like i.c.stars, the Leap program is an immersive apprenticeship with a combination of in classroom work, engineering apprenticeship projects (designed by Microsoft engineers) and working in teams on real products — such as Azur e, Xbox, Microsoft 365, Teams, and Mixed Reality. These are core products that reach millions of customers and partners around the world.
I will be in the Product Management track. All Microsoft products or upgrades get tested and fleshed out from start to finish, from the blueprint to product to users. My role will be to make define features and achieve product vision from definition and planning through development, release, and end of life. I’ll make sure any product is ready to go and user-friendly. Along with product testing, Microsoft teaches life skills like how to have a good relationship with your manager or how to deal with frustration and self-doubt a junior developer. Microsoft wants the creativity and strength that comes from diversity and inclusion. They invest in employees’ success.
“This program highlights that talent exists everywhere, but opportunity does not,” said Nisaini Rexach, Microsoft Community Engagement Lead. “I am thrilled to see how the partnership with i.c.stars resulted in Nicholas gaining exposure to the Microsoft LEAP apprenticeship and receiving an offer to join the cohort – a major win.”
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DETERMINATION, HARD WORK AND I.C.STARS My life looks a lot different now than it did just about a year ago. I am looking at a six-figure income, in a career that I love. I have pride and purpose. None of this would have happened if I had not taken that leap of faith and made the call to i.c.stars. To my i.c.stars family, who believed in my capacity and helped me get on the right path-thank you! I had a challenging life growing up, but my own child will experience something better. And to anyone reading this article, don’t let tough times keep you down. You can succeed; dig deep, find your strength, and give it your best.