Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell, once said, “If a leader doesn’t convey passion and intensity, there will be no passion and intensity within the organization.” Here at Code Platoon, the heart and soul of that sentiment is found with our instructors, who give the necessary passion and intensity to guide our Veteran students through the 14-week course, getting them ready for the next steps in their careers.
Several of our instructors, Tom Prete, Ankur Shah, and Chad Mowbray, took the time to answer a few questions about what brought them to Code Platoon and how they view their roles in helping Veterans gain a foothold in the world of software engineering. For Tom and Chad, both Veterans themselves, they also see a great value in helping fellow Veterans succeed.
What drew you to coding? How did you end up here at Code Platoon?
Tom Prete: I first was interested in programming while I was getting my Finance degree, I realized I was more interested in building things in addition to being super curious in technology. So I told myself, “I will try this banking thing for a few years and if I really don’t like it I can always attend a Coding Bootcamp.” After working three years as a Treasury Analyst and determining that corporate banking was not for me, I attended Fullstack Academy (Coding Bootcamp) in the summer of 2017. I first learned about Code Platoon while preparing to go to Fullstack Academy and always followed Code Platoon’s growth. A position opened up at Code Platoon and as a Marine Corps Veteran myself I jumped at the opportunity to contribute to Code Platoon’s mission.
Ankur Shah: “I took my first programming class in 11th grade and really took a liking to it, but never really considered it to be my calling. However, I felt I had somewhat of a knack for it and decided to pursue a computer science degree when I got to college, in lieu of not knowing what else I wanted to pursue. I was looking for a new experience and teaching software seemed like a good mix of channeling my past skills and experience with software, while also pushing myself to learn how to teach the subject matter, which is how I landed at Code Platoon.
Chad Mowbray: “Right now I’m a PhD student studying Arabic poetry and I initially got into software engineering because I started getting interested in statistical analysis of poetry and digital humanities research methods, where you take a large Corpus and you look for patterns, and in order to do that effectively, you really need coding or an understanding of it. I started getting drawn into the more technical things, but I didn’t have the skillset and I never thought I would be able to do coding. It was very intimidating, I thought you had to be a genius at something like math and all those other stereotypes about coding. What actually pushed me into software development was having a kid and needing to find a career change. I found Code Platoon and things have gone pretty well since then.
What about Code Platoon sets it apart from other coding schools?
Tom: Code Platoon sets itself apart in that it truly provides a plethora of resources to best help our Veterans and Veteran family members land jobs in tech, beyond just teaching them to program. From our Beyond Tech series, after hour volunteer TA’s from professional developers, mentors, resume coaches, designated career prep time, and internships that lead to full-time roles most of the time from our apprenticeship partners. The amount of resources that our students receive is a magnitude more than any other coding bootcamp out there that I’ve heard of.
Ankur: I don’t have any experience with coding bootcamps, so I can’t offer a good answer as to what sets Code Platoon apart. But from feedback from students, a lot of them say the career preparation included in our program is a nice plus. Aside from the instructional staff at Code Platoon who offer some behavioral and technical interview guidance, we also set students up with mentors and resume coaches, and mock interview sessions towards the end of the program, to prepare students for job interviews after graduating.
Chad: I actually didn’t even look into other coding schools, I heard about Code Platoon because a friend mentioned it to me. What I will say is that the main thing that sets Code Platoon apart from other programs is the support network. There is a real coherent and integrated experience, they don’t just sit you down and say, “ok this is how you code.” There is an emphasis on building a network that will help you in the future.
Are there any challenges to teaching Veterans? What are the benefits that counter any challenges you might have faced?
Chad: To be honest, I really enjoy teaching adults, people who have some life experiences and who are accustomed to being disciplined and hardworking and are motivated to tackle the challenges of coding and software development. In something like a high school setting you can always count on someone or even a few students who don’t want to be there, but with Code Platoon, everyone has that drive and it is a very supportive environment.
Tom: To be candid, the biggest challenge in teaching Veterans isn’t directly related to them being Veterans. Most have family responsibilities outside the classroom that require time and Code Platoon is an intensive full-time program, having to work 10-12 hours a day, 5-6 days a week. But that’s a challenge any mature working professional with a family will encounter. What’s great about teaching Veterans specifically is that they’re no stranger to hard work and working on a team.
Ankur: While there might be some overlap between military training and learning how to become a software developer, software development offers many situations where there may be many ways to get to the desired solution instead of just following one path. There is a lot of decision-making involved, and as with learning anything new, it can be a challenge at first, but the high level of determination to succeed that our students come in with is key to their collective success.
Beginning, middle, or end. Which part of the training schedule do you enjoy the most and why?
Tom: The part of the training schedule I enjoy the most is when they’re working on their personal projects and their final group project. Seeing the culmination of learnings executed by creating these amazing projects in a matter of weeks just reinforces how far they’ve come and learned in 15 weeks. It really brings me joy.
Ankur: I definitely enjoy the end of our training program the most, where students get to use all of their newly learned skills and technologies to create real world applications. I think the beginning of the curriculum is definitely the most challenging and most important part of our program, as we teach a lot of basics and theory to our students, which is vital. The middle portion of the curriculum offers students a chance to start, “connecting the lego blocks,” and learning more about full-stack development, but the end is really where we get to see our students excel professionally.
Chad: I prefer the beginning, just because it’s a little more general, focusing on programming, teaching basic patterns and how to think like a programmer and not to just go along with the program. Things like how to think about an algorithm, and what data structures you can use. Just more general patterns that would be applicable to any language or task.
The instructors at Code Platoon are just one part of the greater team that helps the Veteran students, and the family members who attend our program, succeed. If you would like to know more info about building your future as a student at Code Platoon, please visit our website at www.codeplatoon.org and look more into our application process here.
Chip Lauterbach is Code Platoon’s Summer Social Media and Marketing Intern. He served in the United States Marine Corps and just recently graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a major in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in Political Science. In his free time he spends time with his daughter and enjoys being outdoors.