Gary Coffey and Karin Matsuyama, Alumni of the Month, October 2019

Gary Coffey was an incredibly hard working veteran who is also one of the most genuine and easygoing veterans we have had to walk through our doors. Karin was an extremely talented developer whose personal project was so impressive, we thought it was a 3 person group project.

– Rod Levy, Executive Director

 

From Mattress Firm to Finance Firm

In the Air Force, Gary Coffey did amazing things.  He was responsible for the technology that trained pilots. He downloaded and analyzed B2 bomber data. He debugged software programs.

But when his service was over and he came home, the best job he could get was selling mattresses. It was hardly the high-tech work he was accustomed to.

“Sales didn’t suit me,” said Coffey.

According to Coffey, he craved the challenge of solving complex problems but didn’t know how to translate his worldly military experience to the civilian world of work.

Gary is not alone. While veteran unemployment has improved, underemployment remains an issue. 30% of veterans are underemployed, a rate 15.6 higher than non-veterans, according to analysis conducted by Ziprecruiter in 2017.

Searching Google for IT training programs, Gary’s wife learned about Code Platoon, and he was interested because it was a coding academy specifically for veterans. Once he looked he deeper, he found that he could even use the G.I. Bill to pay for the training. After graduating the Code Platoon program and landing an internship with one of Code Platoon’s sponsoring companies, Gary boosted his salary by $25,000 a year.

“I’m inspired again,” said Coffey, who works as a software engineer for finance firm Enova.

Read more about Gary’s own thoughts on his journey into coding by clicking here.

Couples Who Code Together, Stay Together

Military spouse unemployment is considered a national security issue among military leadership. According to brand new data from the Department of Defense, military spouses are unemployed at 24%, which is six times greater than the national average. To combat military spouse unemployment, Code Platoon recently opened up the program to military spouses.

After first telling her husband about the program, Karin Matsuyama is now also going through it. Gary says that watching his wife learn to code gives him insight into how she goes about solving challenges. Coding is a new language they share, one that is rare. The experience is deepening their bond and securing their financial future.

While Karin can’t apply G.I. Bill® funds to the program like Gary did, she did qualify for Code Platoon’s Women in Technology scholarship worth $10,000.

“The GI Bill and the Women in Technology Scholarship put the program within reach,” said Gary.

The story of Gary and Karin’s journey was also featured on CBS News.

Karin brought strong technical skills to India cohort. Her thoughtful approach to problem solving was a positive influence on her fellow students and helped push the whole class forward week after week. We are grateful to have both Karin and her husband, Gary, as Code Platoon alumni working in the Chicago tech community.

– Jon Young, Director of Education

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John Cibula, Alumni of the Month, September 2019

John Cibula served in the Marine Corps for five years in an intelligence role and as a Recon Marine. It was a fun adventure and character building experience, but not a career, so in 2011, John left the service.

Since John’s mom was a cattle options broker and his dad was a trader, John tried his hand at trading. He joined the family business, but despite his best efforts, he wasn’t making any money.

Traditional education versus coding boot camps

Without a clear path forward, John went back to college.

He wanted to study entrepreneurship and economics, but he never made it out of the general education before feeling like the process was too slow and not useful for him. In fact, John eventually tried his hand at a traditional university setting multiple times as an adult, and the format wasn’t really a good fit. 

It wasn’t fun and the instruction wasn’t getting to the point of what he was there to learn. He had solid grades, and was paying for his education using the GI Bill®, but he knew he didn’t want to go through the motions when there might be something better out there.

In 2015, John was back working at a trading firm making minimum wage as an intern. His boss, who wanted to see John thrive, pointed out an article in the Chicago Tribune about Code Platoon. John researched the coding boot camp and followed through on an application. He was accepted, worked hard, graduated, and was placed in a paying apprenticeship.

“Code Platoon is challenging, but that was part of the fun,” says John. “I could see my progress every single day, and it was way more engaging than traditional education.”

In a twist of fate, John went on to work for a trading company, just not as a trader; this time he’s an Associate Software Engineer at the Chicago Trading Company. According to John, he finally makes the money he wants and likes his job at the same time.

“The company I interned with actually hired me and gave me a chance just because I worked with Code Platoon. Code Platoon changed my life.”

John recommends that vets who find themselves stuck with an education gap to their goals consider taking some risks. “Don’t be afraid to start over, don’t be afraid to try something new. Code Platoon is that kind of leap, and it’s a great opportunity that really just requires your commitment.”

john cibula party

I’ve had the pleasure of teaching over a hundred veterans and military spouses over the years at Code Platoon and John Cibula from Bravo Platoon stands out. A gruff and straightforward recon Marine, it was apparent that he knew where he had come from and where he wanted to go with his career.

John worked tirelessly to master every concept, and when classroom instruction wasn’t enough, he sought out other resources to ensure his success. He was the first software engineering apprenticeship that Chicago Trading Company took on for a Code Platoon graduate, and through his trailblazing, we’ve sent over two additional veterans with two more joining them in December.

-Jonathan Young, Instructor

John Cibula in his own words

I went the route of Recon Marine, which is a specialized infantry unit, and then did two deployments in Djibouti and Afghanistan. When I got out of the Marine Corps, I kind of jumped around from job to job, tried to start a couple businesses. Those failed. So when I was an intern at some trading firm down in Chicago my boss knew I was going to end pretty soon. He threw me a… I think it was Chicago Tribune had an article about Code Platoon. So I read it. I figured I heard about these code boot camps before. I didn’t really have any prospects for a different job. I looked at the price. That’s kind of what got me there. It was awesome.

So then after I finished up my internship, I started after doing the 100 hours of pre work or whatever you had to do, I somehow got through that. And then the next month I started Code Platoon. First few weeks you do algorithms, so puzzles. That was actually my favorite part. It was pretty fun. You just got together, you did a lot of pair programming and you tried to solve a puzzle. Basically you beat your head against the wall and you didn’t think you’d ever get it. And then once you got it, you’d high five and go on to the next one.

I remember having huge headaches. It felt like I could feel my brain growing. It was kind of like the military again where you’re a whole group of people. We’re going through something hard together so you build that camaraderie. It was real fun. And so what I really learned and I like about Code Platoon is they know that you have to be able to adapt because especially software and the military, things are changing constantly and so if you don’t adapt you’re going to die. And they did that. It was great.

I hear now that they’re talking about they’re basically adapting to what the needs of the software community are and they’re not stuck in their old ways which I think is great. What I did learn from Code Platoon is basically you just learn how to learn. Once I learned kind of the base line, I wasn’t really afraid of learning a new language or learning a whole new field I guess basically.

I did participate in the intern program. I bagged a job at CTC. Woo. That’s the one I wanted to do. So now I’m a Java developer. I do front end development. I basically work on applications for our traders to look at price data and some other stuff and make decisions from that. It’s pretty great actually.

john cibula suit

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Katherine Restko, Alumni of the Month, August 2019

Katherine Restko served in the U.S. Army for five years as a crypto linguist. She has a graduate degree in studio art, but after leaving the military, she decided to go down a different professional path. Katherine started searching for coding bootcamps to help her become a developer. Katherine was initially skeptical because of the reputation some bootcamps have as being content mills rather than genuine training centers. “I chose Code Platoon because it was a full-time program,” Katherine says. “Plus, they accept the G.I. Bill, and the reviews were great.”

At the start of the program, Katherine didn’t have a strong tech background. “I was artistic growing up,” Katherine explains. “I wasn’t driven to self-sufficiency.” All students complete pre-work before starting the program. Before starting with Code Platoon, Katherine decided to do extra work to boost her sense of preparation.

Within a week, she felt like she was drowning in material, but she was impressed at the attentiveness of the instructors. “They seemed genuinely concerned about the progress of students,” Katherine says. Her sense of stubbornness and camaraderie also helped to overcome difficult moments. “It didn’t take long to vent about the stress of the program and realize that you aren’t the only one. Even though the program was sometimes dizzying, I enjoyed the process of building things.”

Katherine completed the program in December 2018 as a member of Golf Platoon. She started working for Code Platoon as an assistant part-time instructor while continuing to hone her skills and applying for full-time opportunities. In March 2019, Katherine received a job offer conducting business analysis and project management support. She accepted it and took her next step as a developer.

“I’m finally doing something I wanted to do professionally,” Katherine says. “I enjoy it and want to do it career-wise. I’ve studied subjects before that I’ve enjoyed, but when it comes to application, other things can be a little boring. But I don’t have that problem when it comes to code. It’s something I love to learn about and enjoy doing every day.”

“After graduation, Katherine joined Code Platoon as a teaching assistant, eager to give back to the next class of students. Katherine was an incredibly engaging teaching assistant for us. Her energy in the classroom helped create a warm and dynamic learning environment for our students. We are grateful to include her among Code Platoon’s alumni!”

-Rod Levy, Executive Director, Code Platoon

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Edward Wright, Alumni of the Month, July 2019

After serving in the US Navy for eight years as an aircraft mechanic, Edward decided that he wanted to switch careers to a more technology-oriented path. He attended college online for computer science, but didn’t get enough practical skills to actually bridge the gap to a full-time job as he intended. With a wife and children depending on him, Edward wanted to make sure that he had a clear path ahead of him that would lead to an education, income, and long-term potential.

Vocational Rehabilitation

While searching for a practical stepping stone, Edward heard about the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program through the Department of Veterans Affairs from someone he knew, and he applied.

To his surprise, Edward didn’t successfully make it into the program the first time, but he was encouraged by a contact at the VA to try again. During this same time, he relocated and was assigned a new point of contact for the program as well. Despite all the turmoil, Edward reapplied to the program.

Edward mentioned in his application for the Voc Rehab program that he wanted to attend a coding boot camp so that he could improve more on his programming ability than he was did while working on his bachelor’s degree. In fact, he had so much faith in the coding boot camp system that he was ready to pay for his training out of pocket. Fortunately, he didn’t have to make that financial commitment; with some patience, persistence, and a little bit of faith, he was able to make it into the VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation program to fund his training.

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Training that works for veterans

Code Platoon wasn’t the only coding boot camp Edward considered when looking at options, but it was the best one for his needs. Code Platoon’s compatibility with the VA’s Voc Rehab standards helped of course, but Code Platoon also offered flexibility on payment options with generous scholarships if Voc Rehab didn’t work out. And no matter how Edward funded his training, Code Platoon’s focus on veterans made it a great choice for a former sailor who wanted to feel comfortable with his peers while training.

Whether it’s taking a second shot at technology education or trying more than once at a VA application for tuition, Edward believes it’s all about continuing to try.

“There was a time when I was leaving the service and I wasn’t sure how much career potential or learning ability I had left. I look back on that now, working for an international company like Grainger, and I can’t believe the difference of where I’m at. I know it sounds cliche, but if I can keep hitting a wall and trying again until I succeeded, you probably can too.”

Congratulations to Edward Wright, Code Platoon Alumni of the Month for July 2019!

As the largest B2B e-commerce retailer with more than half of our sales coming through a digital channel, Grainger has a high demand for skilled software developers. Code Platoon offers an extensive and unique approach to developing technical experts, and we are thankful to them for introducing us to Ed Wright. As a Veteran of the Navy, Ed brings a strong sense of teamwork and service, along with technical skills that enabled him to contribute quickly at Grainger.

– Sean McCormack, VP of Solutions Engineering, Grainger

Transcript of Edward Wright’s Code Platoon video

I joined in ’99, my first duty station was in Virginia Beach. I worked on the F-14 war plane. Working on airplanes, I found that attention to detail was very critical and that was one of the, I guess, traits I would say that I took from that to where I am now.

I knew I wanted to get into something related to IT or software development while I was in the military, but since I had already started down that road the VA didn’t want to pay for it and so I didn’t have the opportunity to try to transitioning into that area while I was in the military. When I came across Code Platoon, it sounded interesting immediately and so I did a little bit more research and found that it will probably be the best option for me, considering the cost between it and some of the other ones and I will say the location I thought was good for me as well, being here in Chicago.

With Code Platoon the thing I got out of it the most was the way Rod prepared everything before we ever got there. Some of the events that we went to, all the visitors we had, just all those things all put together I just felt like was critical to my success and me just sticking through it. It was a great experience. I would do it all over again. I tell my family members, anybody I’ve come across I would do this all over again. If I could talk my spouse into coming, I would.

The place where I ended up at, I felt was perfect, just perfect for me, and that place is a company called Grainger. At Grainger I’m a front end web developer intern. They’re an industrial company and working in aviation I actually knew who they were before I ever got here. The guys at Grainger were pretty excited to hear that and I just thought it was good for that reason.

edward-wright-grainger

india platoon graduation

India Platoon Update Blog

India Platoon is Code Platoon’s 9th cohort of students, and this is where we’ll track their journey from start to finish, and for some alumni, even beyond!

India Platoon celebrates graduation – 8/16/2019

Code Platoon is excited to congratulate the graduates of India Platoon. We held our graduation on August 16, 2019 at 2:30 PM CST at the location of one of our sponsors, the Motorola Solutions Foundation. Eleven students graduated; five of those used GI Bill® benefits, and the remaining five received tuition scholarship in order to attend our program.

Executive Director Rod Levy had this to say about the graduating class: “Code Platoon is proud to graduate its 9th cohort, India Platoon. All 11 students showed great grit and determination over the last 14 weeks, with highlights including innovative personal projects and exceptional camaraderie among the groups as they prepared their final projects. New for India was the help of our summer interns. These rising sophomores worked alongside this class, helping to expand on daily lectures and instruction from our faculty. Congratulations India Platoon!”

India cohort graduates will continue in their journeys with paid software development internships exclusively offered for Code Platoon attendees to further their coding careers. The internships offered this cycle are offered at Chicago Trading Company, Echo Global Logistics, Trading Technologies, Motorola Solutions, Shipbob and DRW. Read more about DRW below.

Juan Martinez, had this to say about his experience with Code Platoon: “Coming out from the military I didn’t have all the tools and experience that was required for me to have a successful second career. Doors were open if I worked in the service industry but I felt that I was destined for something more. When I discovered Code Platoon I quickly realized that this program was the answer to all the questions I was asking. Code Platoon took me in and provided me with the tools and skill sets to become a more appetizing candidate for companies outside the service industry.”

NBC Chicago was present for the graduation of the India cohort, watch coverage of this event here. If you speak Spanish you may be interested to watch this coverage of the graduation broadcast on Telemundo.

India Platoon starts its coding boot camp journey – 5/6/2019

On May 6, 2019 Code Platoon proudly welcomed 11 new students to our India cohort. The new student reception event, hosted by Nerdery in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood, allowed incoming students to meet each other prior to kicking off class the following week. Students also got to talk with Code Platoon graduates, volunteers, board members, and staff. This networking opportunity was just the beginning of the unparalleled access to technology firms that Code Platoon students are afforded when they join the program.

India cohort’s 11 members represent some of the finest Marine Corps, Navy, Army, and Air Force veterans and military spouses. Rod Levy, Executive Director of Code Platoon, commented: “India platoon represents an exciting class for us. We are proud to have four of the five branches of service represented at once, and this is also one of our largest classes to date. Each students brings a tremendous amount of life experience with them as they join their new teammates in learning software development skills. I am excited to watch this group grow over the next 14 weeks.”

Over the course of the program, these students will spend 60-80 hours a week together, participating in lectures and events, completing coding challenges, and learning best practices in Python and AWS, among other skills. They will grow together and culminate their Code Platoon experience with a group project. Group projects are presented at graduation on August 16, 2019.

Join us in welcoming India platoon and wishing them well on their coding journey!