Veterans Education Blog

What Veterans Should Know About Education

What does “education” look like in a real sense for Veterans? From my perspective, this is often either assumed or glossed over in a way that doesn’t get down to some of the nitty-gritty issues Veterans face, so my goal here is to tackle this topic from precisely that angle.

Having been through a lot of this myself—and watched many others do the same—I hope to offer the following as a simple and easy-to-follow guide for transitioning Veterans. 

In other words, I’m going to be blunt, but I also intend to be helpful.

Officer or Enlisted

This is a more important distinction than most realize, and it plays a significant role within the Veteran community that some fail to recognize. Come to grips with the fact that the transitional progression is different for these two groups. Do not try to hide from this reality or act like it is unfair—it is what it is, so accept that and move forward with it.

Those who do not believe there is a significant difference, consider that many officers are actively recruited out of the military into civilian jobs. I have yet to meet an enlisted person who had this happen.

While I am sure there are exceptions, the vast majority of the time, this is the case. Why does this matter?

The point here is for both groups to appreciate where the other is and what they can and cannot do. Former officers will try to offer former enlisted advice on how to get jobs without recognizing that the process is very different, and former enlisted may become angry about the process, which doesn’t help anyone.

The important takeaways here are, 1) for officers to understand how much different the transition process is for former enlisted, and 2) for enlisted not to be bitter about this, but rather to utilize this knowledge for maximal benefit them in their pursuit. In other words, network like hell with any officer you know or knew because there is a strong chance they are going to end up in a much better job than you are. 

Do not look at that fact as unfair—just look at it as being what is.

All Veterans Are Not Created Equal

While the distinction between officers and enlisted in their job hunting should be understood, that is just the iceberg’s tip. Underneath that, several levels of inequality must be appreciated in the transition process. 

For example, let’s look at two military jobs in the same field: Special Operations Medic and Nurse. While the former may have a ton of really high-speed training that is the envy of many of us who know what they went through, who do you think will have an easier time finding work in the civilian world?

Whether this is “fair” or not is irrelevant—the SOF medic simply does not have the civilian qualifications that a nurse does, and as a result, will be looking at lower-paying jobs. What matters here is not the legitimacy of this reality, but rather its acceptance for what it is. Unfortunately, this is the case with many occupational specialties within the military. 

I was an Airborne Infantryman and a PSYOP Team Chief. Guess what? No one cares about that as much as they do about the soldier who was a cybersecurity expert.

I do not state this as a complaint—I am grateful for my experience—but as a fact of the current job market. Tech skills are in far greater demand than my particular background. Understanding this is important to your transitionary process. 

Do you have an employable MOS in the civilian sector? If so, how do you maximize it? If not, what do you need to do to make yourself more attractive to potential employers?

“I’m a Veteran” should never be a bullet point on a resume. Employers want to know what you can offer them, and military service, while admirable to some (more on this in a minute), is not in and of itself always valuable in the profits-and-losses model of running a business.

Military Service is Not the End-All, Be-All

We live in strange times, and one of the most significant reflections of our society’s oddities is the Veteran job-seeker. “Support the troops” stickers are everywhere; yellow ribbons regularly sit on the backs of cars; people are (generally) outraged by any offenses toward the Veteran community, etc. Yet despite all of this, most employers do not look at military experience as something that sets a candidate above others.

Anecdotes from hiring professionals reflect my own experience—that unless you are interested in a government job (or something directly tied to the defense industry), military service is not something that makes a hiring manager jump out of their desk and shout, “yes! This is what we need!”

As the distinction between officers and enlisted, the point here is not to quibble about whether this is fair; that can be left for another time. The goal here is to make you, the transitioning Veteran, aware of it and understand how to turn that into an advantage. 

Does your resume scream “COMBAT VET!” all over it? Is there a way you can minimize the military (specifically combat-related experience) aspect of your resume to reflect more of a benefit to the marketplace and make you appear less like a stone-cold killer? Many people who get out before retirement are proud of their service, as well they should be. But having a curriculum vitae that reads like a Marine Corps recruiting poster can do more harm than good.

Do what you can to ensure that your resume and overall persona points toward what you can offer the employer rather than your perceived value in an empirical sense.

Knowing is More Than Half the Battle

So if we know that officers and enlisted are looked at differently, that different MOS’s are not viewed the same, and that just being a Veteran is not enough, how does that help us, and what else do we need to know?

First, your network is everything. Start thinking in those terms, and it will help you immensely. An employer who does not know you from Adam will not care at all about how much weight you carried through the Korengal Valley, but guess what? Someone who knows you, personally, might. Extend yourself into more diverse networks of people to make that possible.

Second, know what type of education will help you and which type will not. You’ve got the GI Bill, so use it—but remember, just like MOS’s, all degrees are not equal. Research higher education (to include things like trade schools) that ties into both what you did in the military and what you want to do for a living.

Third, know your resources. Yes, you have the GI Bill, but what else? Are you tied in with any Veteran groups that help specifically with this purpose? Are you aware that there are recruiters out there who work towards getting people hired into specific industries? Seek these groups and people out and do what it takes to gain from their knowledge and expertise.

Fourth, and finally—this is probably the toughest one—there is nothing wrong with being confident about your ability. But be humble. The world does not owe you anything because you served. You do not deserve to finish as a squad leader and walk directly into a six-figure income at a Fortune 500 company.

Could it happen? Sure, but do not expect it and do not get pissed when you, more likely than not, have to start over at organization and prove yourself. This may be a tough pill to swallow; doing so will put you considerably further ahead in the long run.

If you want to get serious about gaining in-demand skills, it’s time to talk to us here at Code Platoon, and we can tell you all about that

Greg Drobny is a former Airborne Infantryman, PSYOP Team Chief, political consultant, professional mil blogger, and is Code Platoon’s Student Outreach Coordinator. He holds a BA in history, a Masters of Science in organizational psychology, and is currently pursuing an MA in history. He is married with four children who keep him more than slightly busy and is passionate about helping veterans find their paths in life and develop the skills needed to pursue their goals.

Coding Workshops

Hacktober 2020 Coding Workshops

As a part of our virtual hackathon: Hacktober 2020:Tech Helping Vets, Code Platoon is offering coding workshops. These workshops, taught by tech experts, provide a glimpse into the Code Platoon classroom as we incorporate this form of interactive instruction into each cohort. Workshops are available for all experience levels. Whether you have never written a single line of code before or are a well-seasoned programmer, we have an option for you! These workshops will take place during the weekend of October 16-18. Hacktober 2020:Tech Helping Vets will be an exciting weekend filled with teams of programmers building a technical solution for a fellow Veteran serving organization, Illinois Joining Forces

Beginners will enjoy the Intro to Coding workshop taught by our very own Code Platoon instructor Noa Heinrich. It will focus on the most fundamental computer programming concepts while simultaneously giving you a taste of the Code Platoon curriculum. The session is geared towards prospective students but can be taken up by anyone with an itch to start coding! 

Want to take your beginner skills to the next level? Look no further than Quinn Stephen’s Intro to React workshop. Quinn is a software developer for TableXI and has helped lead workshops for past cohorts. This workshop is an excellent option for those with a few notches of coding under their belt. Intro to React will consist of getting hands-on experience with React, showing why it has become so popular, and covering what problems it solves for developers. 

Those interested in taking on the mind of a defense hacker can sign up for the Web Security workshop. Ronnie Flathers, Principal Engineer for Marqeta will cover high-level web security concepts. This workshop includes understanding why specific web attacks work and different web vulnerabilities. You will also learn how you can defend against potential hackers and experience a hands-on lab in which you’ll use web security tools, such as BurpSuite, to hack into an application.  

If you are ready to impress your next potential employer, try the Tech Interview Prep workshop. Sophie Buell from Apple will be covering essential concepts to be familiar with before interviewing. You will learn some fundamental algorithms, such as sorting algorithms and dynamic programming. Sophie will address what interviewers are looking for in an interview and go through some practice exercises that best display a well-thought-out solution. You will even get the chance to go over sample interview problems that incorporate these concepts, learn how to approach them, and communicate your answers. 

Workshops are a fun interactive way to gain more in-depth insight into the expansive coding world and open up opportunities to grow your tech network and develop your reservoir of coding skills. Register today as spots are filling up fast! You can sign up for workshops here

Brenna Koss is Code Platoon’s Development and Operations Coordinator. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina Greensboro in Political Science and French. In her free time, Brenna loves to travel and spend time with friends and family. Follow Brenna on LinkedIn.

Challenge Coins

Inside Code Platoon – Challenge Coins

At Code Platoon, we think of our students as a team. To signify their membership, each graduate receives a challenge coin.  A challenge coin is a small coin or medallion, bearing an organization’s emblem and carried by its members. Traditionally, they might be used to prove membership or to boost morale. The coins have become an important symbol of recognition in our U.S. military and us at Code Platoon.

Challenge Coin Front

Code Platoon awards each graduate a commemorative challenge coin to signify the completion of their class. While these are a small token of their membership to Code Platoon, challenge coins have an important legacy that we are proud to continue.

While some people say that challenge coins date back to the Roman Empire, they have especially played a prominent part in U.S. military service recognition since the Vietnam War. Rumor has it that Army’s 10th infantry created the first coins from this era, but no one knows for sure. Those first coins were little more than common currency with the unit’s insignia stamped on one side. But the men in those units carried them with pride.

The use of challenge coins in the military served a greater purpose than mere recognition. The coins were a lot safer than the previous alternative—bullet clubs, whose members carried a single unused bullet at all times. These bullets were given as a reward for surviving a mission. Of course, having a bullet was little more than a show of masculinity, so what started as a handgun or M16 rounds soon escalated to .50 caliber bullets, anti-aircraft rounds, and even artillery shells to one-up each other.

Coin Backside

Unfortunately, when these bullet club members presented “The Challenge” to each other in bars, it meant they were slamming live ammunition down on their tables. Worried that a deadly accident might occur, commanders banned the artillery and replaced it with limited edition Special Forces coins instead. Soon enough, nearly every unit had its own coin, with some even minting commemorative versions for incredibly hard-fought battles. Only those who lived to tell the tale received these unique coins.

Challenge coin traditions have climbed to the highest ranks of the military. In 2011, Robert M. Gates, then the United States defense secretary, shook hands with United States troops in Afghanistan, passing a challenge coin to each of them as a token of gratitude.

While not all military coins are awarded with a handshake, it has become a strong tradition.

The Code Platoon challenge coin, pictured above, is presented with a handshake to each Bootcamp graduate, albeit a virtual handshake during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Code Platoon challenge coins have been awarded to each of our 12 platoons. 120  Veteran and military spouses proudly carry their challenge coins, a symbol of success in graduating from Code Platoon. Code Platoon has more coins to award to future graduates. Could you be one of them? Apply to Code Platoon today and start your programming career with the next available cohort.

Jim Hennessey is Code Platoon’s Director of Marketing. Jim brings a strong background in non-profit marketing and start-up enterprises to the mission of Code Platoon. Jim is a graduate of Clemson University and currently lives in Chicago. Follow Jim on LinkedIn.

Remote working

How to Learn in a Remote Environment

In the age of social distancing, remote learning and working may not be ideal for everyone. However, it is the current reality as many employers and schools are opting for prolonged periods of remote platforms. To gather best practices for working and learning remotely, we reached out to Code Platoon’s first Remote Coding Bootcamp graduate, Leanna Keene. An Air Force linguist Veteran, Leanna graduated with Echo Platoon in 2018 and has had experience working from a distance with her peers, military and civilian side. Here are five tips to thriving in remote working environments.

Communication is KeyFive Ways to Thrive Learning Remotely

“In the military, a lot of my co-workers were on the other side of the world,” says Leanna, “the only means of communication I had with them was via a chat tool.” She advises Code Platoon students to reach out to peers and instructors as much as possible. Through the video classrooms, chat features, and utilizing other resources such as screen sharing capabilities to more effectively demonstrate challenges or successes within the program. “You can still make those personal connections with your classmates, even from a distance, and I think that was important for me.”

Stay Engaged

“You just have to use your voice and still be engaged,” says Leanna, noting that while instruction through a video format feels akin watching a Youtube video, students should participate as though they were within an actual classroom. Ask questions, follow along when possible, or whatever regular habits that enforce focusing on the lesson on hand. “Do those little things so that you don’t disconnect. For example, note-taking was huge for me.”

Create a Workspace

Leanna recommends having an actual space dedicated to course work. Now this space will look different for each person depending on the living situation, but it is still possible to reserve a ‘work only’ spot. It could be an entire room, a desk, or even a specific corner of the dining room table. Whatever that space looks like, the only thing that should be occurring there is course work, and when the workday is over, or a break is needed, step away rather than decompressing in that assigned location. “You need to remove yourself from your workspace and go somewhere else,” says Leanna. “Because the second you start combining those two, you lose focus.”  Here are a few simple tips to follow with said space and two things to avoid.

Remove Distractions

Avoiding distractions is undoubtedly the hardest part of working from home, hence creating a designated work environment. Still, more dedication may be needed to ensure complete focus on the necessary tasks on hand. “Don’t have tabs open that aren’t Code Platoon related,” Leanna says for the computer or laptop, but it may be best to keep them out of sight when it comes to mobile devices or at least out of reach. “Even before all the craziness happened with COVID, I would catch myself all the time. If I don’t turn my phone on silent or don’t have it sitting farther than an arm’s reach all of a sudden, my hands aren’t on my keyboard anymore.” Smartphones and applications are designed to be addicting, so to save precious time, it may be best to keep your phone off or away while you are coding.

Maintain a Routine

“If you don’t carve out the time, it’s too easy to find other things to fill that time with,” says Leanna. Time is our most valuable and limited resource, so it is imperative to keep a regular schedule. Establishing a work schedule is a gateway to success, and a simple morning routine can help set the standard for a productive day. Code Platoon has a full plan built into the program, and it would be wise not to deviate from it. Our students can expect 10 to 14 hours of coding a day each week. The payoff is that after 14 weeks, Code Platoon graduates are well equipped to write code. With the workforce adapting to the changes brought on by the coronavirus, Code Platoon programmers can potentially work anywhere.

Amanda Michelle Gordon is one of Code Platoon’s summer interns, serving in the Content and Marketing department. She is a U.S. Air Force Veteran and a student of SUNY New Paltz for Journalism and Sociology. In her free time, Amanda enjoys reading, the outdoors, and turning coffee into copy. You can find Amanda on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Student Stories WIT

Code Platoon Scholarships: Women in Technology

Preparing for a new career field can be an exciting process, but finding the right training program can be daunting. One of the main factors in choosing the right fit is cost. It’s not easy managing a career change while balancing everyday expenses. As a mission-driven nonprofit, Code Platoon’s goal is to provide viable financial options to our Veterans and military spouses, creating one less barrier between our students and their next profession.

To help ease our programs’ costs, we are fortunate enough to be able to provide generous scholarships to our students. Historically, students enrolled in our Coding Bootcamp programs have not had to pay more than $3,000 for their education. Here in this series, we break down the different scholarship opportunities, what they represent for us, and, more importantly, what they mean to some of our recipients.

The first scholarship that Code Platoon could offer to students was the Women in Technology scholarship with the intended goal of introducing more women Veterans into the tech field. While women make up roughly half of the workforce, careers in technology see a much lower turnout from women. According to reports to some of the biggest names in technology such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook, less than a quarter of technical jobs are taken up by women. There are several reasons this could be the case, but it is an odd concept for women not to take up more space at the table when one considers that some of the most influential programmers have been women.

Ada Lovelace, the world’s first programmer, Katherine Johnson, who plotted some of NASA’s first flight paths, and Chicago born Mary Allen Wilkes, credited for working on (and owning) the very first personal computer are just a few to list. While Code Platoon commends the progress these women and others have brought to the field of programming, the Women in Technology scholarship is awarded to a fellow female Veteran in honor of Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, who was a pioneer in the tech field. Best known for her contributions to computer programming, software development, and the design and implementation of programming languages. Hopper developed the first compiler that translated mathematical code into machine-readable code, which was influential to creating the modern programming languages we know today.

One recipient of this scholarship is Christina Angeline, a Veteran of the Marine Corps who graduated from Code Platoon’s 9th cohort, India Platoon. After she was accepted to the program, Christina made the arrangements and moved to Chicago to be a part of the in-person Full-time program. From there, her life had changed radically.

“Getting the scholarship for Women in Tech really meant a lot,” says Christina. She had already exhausted her GI Bill benefits for an undergrad degree, and knowing that the program’s tuition was covered allowed her to better focus on learning how to code. “I’m grateful that they were there to help, and that Code Platoon has such a passion for helping people like myself, and Veterans and military spouses,” Christina says. She added that the Coding Bootcamp stands out from other programs because it’s tailored to the military-affiliated community.

Christina learned the programs Python and JavaScript, along with being certified for Agile, but the Code Platoon graduate also gained a new perspective on the soft skills of problem-solving. “The instructors point you in the right direction,” says Christina, noting that the environment Code Platoon provides students with the understanding that there are multiple ways to solve a problem.

It was only 25 days after Christina graduated with India Platoon that she landed a Full-time job with Lextegrity as an Associate Engineer. For anyone considering applying to Code Platoon or one of the scholarships available, she says, “Do it. One of the best decisions I’ve made in my life is going to Code Platoon. I’m doing what I love right now, and that’s coding.”

Amanda Michelle Gordon is one of Code Platoon’s summer interns, serving in the Content and Marketing department. She is a U.S. Air Force Veteran and a student of SUNY New Paltz for Journalism and Sociology. In her free time, Amanda enjoys reading, the outdoors, and turning coffee into the copy. You can find Amanda on LinkedIn and Twitter.

2020 Outcomes Report

CODE PLATOON GRADUATE OUTCOMES REPORT, AUGUST 2020

Since Code Platoon launched in 2016, our mission has been to prepare veterans and military spouses to become professional software developers. Our students have, over those years, completed ten 14-week sessions (cohorts).

A key component of our mission is to make our students ‘professional,’ which to us sets the bar of not only teaching students how to develop software but also preparing them for a new career in software development. We train our students on much more than necessary programming skills and emphasize the soft career skills and networking needed to get into the right jobs. Here are our results so far:

outcomes 2020

Code Platoon Outcomes 2020

  • Seventy-three (73) Veterans and military spouses graduated in our first ten cohorts.
  • Of those graduates, 59 (81%) found jobs in software development within six months.
  • The median salary of those graduates was $65,000.
  • Of the remaining 14 graduates, five went to work outside of software development, three looked for work but did not find it within six months, and four graduated but did not actively look for full-time jobs, and 2 were non-reporting.

Our graduates are more than simply employed; they have demonstrated great earning potential as well.

We attribute the excellent success rates of our graduates to several factors. First of all, our students come hungry to learn and dedicated to working long hours every day. Second of all, we have some great tech community partners who help our students with job placement. And, of course, there is the program itself.

We provide excellent technical training in software development.

First and foremost, we teach programming skills. We focus on two of the most in-demand languages Python and Javascript and powerful frameworks like React and Django. Our curriculum, designed and taught by our top instructors, is mostly hands-on, an hour or two of lectures a day, followed by lots of coding.

We recognize that technical skills are fundamental to getting a good job, but they are insufficient. These days, you need to know industry best practices, like debugging, pair-programming, and test-driven development. We teach that too.

We provide soft skills training and preparation for a career in software development.

We also prepare our students to find jobs and succeed in their interviews. We help write resumes and develop LinkedIn profiles. We teach our students’ interview skills and practice technical and behavioral interviews.

Because we work with the veteran community, we can tailor our interview prep to help our students tell their stories to civilian interviewers. We even try to prepare our students for the complexities of post-military life. We have seminars on personal finance, workplace sensitivity and inclusion, and growth mindset.

We provide internships and networking opportunities to help you get that first software developer job.

Getting your first job in a new field like programming and development is hard. Paid internships are available at the end of the In-Person program To bridge the gap from training to getting a job.

And we know that nothing helps in getting a job like knowing people in the business. Code Platoon students are paired with industry mentors and professional software developers who volunteer as teaching assistants. By the end of our program, each of our students should have met at least ten professional software developers.

None of these factors is the single determinant in the success of our students after graduation. Each part of our program and culture adds to the success that starts with the attitude and aptitude of the veterans who come to Code Platoon!

Rod Levy is the Founder and Executive Director of Code Platoon. He holds undergraduate and Master’s degrees in engineering from Cornell University and an MBA from The University of Chicago Booth School of Business, where he graduated with honors. Rod has also completed Dev Bootcamp’s web developer program.

What is a Hackathon

What the Hack is a Hackathon?

Code Platoon is hosting a hackathon in a few short weeks. It’ll be a first for the Veteran and military spouse Coding Bootcamp and while we are all very excited for the upcoming event we had to ask ourselves a very important question. What is a hackathon?

Well, imagine for a moment that there is a room filled with some of the sharpest minds imaginable working towards a common goal with a finite amount of time. Sounds like a cause for a good, right?

That’s the bare essential of a hackathon, so don’t let the name of the event throw you off. Hackathon’s take place in the form of a limited-time activity with the specific purpose of solving a problem or creating something for a community in the way of software. It’s a marathon among good-doers, not for the criminal breed of hackers who want to break into your bank or twitter account.

The word ‘Hackathon’ is the blending of the words “hack” and “marathon.” The design of these events is akin to Film 48 competitions, where teams or individuals strive to create the best product within a set time limit and whatever resources are available.

Depending on the host of the event, the challenge can last anywhere from a few hours to 48 hours. The challenge programmers take on also vary. It could be creating an app that helps target and communicate with a particular group of people, designing a web interface for a company, maybe even making a mobile game for smartphones. Whatever the theme or case is, hackathons test participants’ skills on the spot while bringing some good into the world.

While the ultimate goal of a hackathon is to find a solution, nobody said it has to create a complete solution. Granted, it would be great if one could go from an idea to a fully developed application in two days or less without any bugs. Some hackathon creations have gone on to score significant payouts, too, but the main point is to get participants to test their innovations. As well as have a little fun hopefully.

Aside from the sprint challenge of creating a solution from scratch, hackathons can also be a great way to network. Whether you are attending a hackathon as a student, in the early stages of working as a programmer, an employer in need of a few good hires, or a seasoned professional in the field, interacting with fellow coders can lead to new opportunities for all. Some of these events also offer a chance to learn programming skills through workshops led by pros, skill levels ranging from novice to advanced and can be attended by people of all ages.

Code Platoon is hosting its first hackathon event Oct. 16-18, and you can consider this your invitation to join! Not ready for the challenge? No problem as there will also be virtual workshops on Intro to Coding, Cyber Security, React, and Tech Job Prep. Are you a Veteran or a military spouse who is interested in a Coding Bootcamp?  If so, please reach out to our Student Outreach Coordinator, Greg Drobny, at greg@codeplatoon.org today!

Amanda Michelle Gordon is Code Platoon’s Content Marketing Coordinator. She is a U.S. Air Force Veteran and a student of SUNY New Paltz for Journalism and Sociology. In her free time, Amanda enjoys reading, the outdoors, and turning coffee into copy. You can find Amanda on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Naming our cohorts

Naming our Cohorts and the Military Alphabet

One of the most common questions we get asked at Code Platoon is how we name each of our 14-week cohorts. The answer is pretty simple. We call each group in sequence to match the military phonetic alphabet. Our first cohort was named Alpha Platoon, and our next session, beginning in October, will be Mike Platoon with November Platoon to follow in February 2020.

So the more significant question must be—how did the military alphabet come into existence?

The military phonetic alphabet uses 26 code words to represent each letter of the alphabet. The Military Phonetic Alphabet’s functionality is a communication tool for military and civilian people alike, most often used to detail error-free spelling.

British and American armed forces each developed and used their own, different phonetic alphabets. British troops adopted the Royal Air Force’s phonetic alphabet, similar to the phonetic alphabet used by the Royal Navy in World War I.

Initially, the U.S. had separate phonetic alphabets for the Army and Navy. The U.S. adopted the Joint Army/Navy Phonetic Alphabet from 1941 to standardize all branches of its armed forces. The U.S. alphabet became known as Able Baker after its words for A and B.

The U.S. and British forces then adopted the universal NATO phonetic alphabet in 1956. That phonetic alphabet remains in use today and is used worldwide by the military, air traffic controllers, and other industries.

So what will happen when Code Platoon completes 26 cohorts and exhausts the use of a single letter designation for each platoon? We will go to designations utilizing two letters from the military alphabet – Alpha Alpha, Alpha Beta, Alpha Charlie, etc.

NATO Phonetic Alphabet

Jim Hennessey is Code Platoon’s Director of Marketing. Jim brings a strong background in no-profit marketing and start-up enterprises to the mission of Code Platoon. Jim is a graduate of Clemson University and currently lives in Chicago. Follow Jim on LinkedIn.

A Brief and Fun History of Coding: Silicon Valley

A Brief and Fun History of Coding: Silicon Valley

Following that crazy time at the height of the Cold War known as the Space Race, many engineers and various people in the newborn stage of computer development began to recognize the value of computing technology and what that meant for the world as a whole.

These advancements had lifted man into the upper reaches of our atmosphere and even landed him on the moon—what else could they do?

But even prior to these events, the groundwork was being laid in another part of the country that would help set the stage for unprecedented growth in the field of technology. For reasons that are somewhat disputed—possibly because we like to argue a lot as humans—a great many of those who realized this potential gathered in a region of Central California known as Santa Clara Valley.

At one point responsible for producing 30% of the world’s plums, the bountiful farmland was a neighbor to Stanford University, which came into existence largely due to its namesake making a fortune with railroads bringing people and goods to and from these crops. Two alumni from the prestigious research institute became the original “garage startup” that still directly impacts how the computing world operates.

William Hewlett and David Packard began their business in 1939 by making electrical test equipment out of a one-car garage in Palo Alto at the behest of Frederick Terman, an electrical engineer with Stanford who not only helped turn the university’s program into one of the best, but also worked hard at convincing many of its graduates to stay in the area and also start their own businesses.

Both during and following the war, the Department of Defense began pouring money into the technological development groups in Stanford’s sphere of influence. Relevant to our concerns here is that, according to some sources, Stanford increased its Freshman class size in 1948 by over 1000, mostly due to the newly-formed GI Bill, which returning war veterans could use to go to college.

This led to a substantial increase in the fields of engineering specialists, and innovators in the field recognized that very thing. After some in-fighting that would take a soap opera to explain (or make you more confused, whichever), Nobel Prize winner William Shockley moved west and opened a semiconductor business in Mountain View, California and hired the best and the brightest Stanford had to offer.

These individuals were so good, in fact, that in a funny twist of fate they outsmarted their boss and recognized that the materials he was using for semiconductors was not as heat-resistant as other materials. After Shockley refused to change, the “traitorous eight” (as Shockley called them) left to form Fairchild Semiconductors in 1958 and produced the first integrated circuit on silicon—arguably the most important invention of the computer age.

To put this in perspective regarding the importance of timing of events and how it would impact the advancement of computing technology, it was 1957 that saw the first-ever human-created satellite orbiting the earth in space—the Soviet Union’s Sputnik-1. The immediate need for smaller, lighter, and more efficient computing technology was nowhere considered more important than the pun-intended launching of the Space Race, and the US government took note of what was happening in California.

With the Cold War becoming a greater and greater concern, many in the US saw the benefit of technology, even beyond the obvious uses in the Space Race. For example, it is a rather short line to draw from the US Department of Defense’s recognition of the need for advanced technologies to the creation of DARPA (Defense Advance Research Projects Agency) and subsequently ARPAnet—the precursor to the Internet.

The combination of private industry recognizing a need for integrated circuits that could house greater amounts of data in smaller spaces with Cold War concerns that compelled Defense Department agencies to subsidize these industry advancements (and demand more) led to an explosion of growth in the area we now know as Silicon Valley, with numerous top companies setting up shop there.

Two of the founders of Fairchild Semiconductors left that organization to found a company named Intel in 1968—one you may have heard of, given that they invented the first microprocessors and became one of the most successful and influential companies in the world. AT&T, Texas Instruments, and Energizer all debuted heavily influential products there. And Apple, whose innovations continue to reshape our world, seems to have arisen mostly from the desire to do something different than what everyone else was doing in the same area.

But there is a key moral to this story that goes beyond a simple history of how Silicon Valley shaped the computing world. While it is interesting to know how we got here, history is much better applied to the field of “lessons learned” than simply the novelty of the past, even in regards to the world of coding, and from the same lesson we can see both a cautionary note as well as an encouraging one.

The lesson here is that Silicon Valley is somewhat of a Black Swan, and flowing from that in true Nassim Taleb-like fashion are both warnings and inspiring admonitions. For example, the confluence of events leading to the innovations of Silicon Valley cannot be duplicated. World War II, the rise of the Soviet Union, the Space Race, and the invention of the integrated circuit were highly unique occurrences all in their own right, but the fact that these events took place in the lifespans of one generation—along with so many other factors—make this an impossible set of circumstances to recreate. Although other Black Swans will surely come along, be leery of those who race to duplicate the unpredictable.

The inspiration, however, is in the recognition that creativity often comes from not knowing any better and not having any rules constraining the creator simply by nature of the fact that they are not yet written. Those who developed the first microprocessor didn’t do so because it was written down that they had to do it—they needed something that worked more efficiently and were afforded the freedom to problem-solve the best way they saw fit.

Software engineering and development is, broadly speaking, about creating a solution to a problem that has never been solved by using the structures of languages while not being totally constrained by how it has been used in the past. Like writing a book, developing software may use the same language as numerous other books already published, but in a combination never before seen.

The history of Silicon Valley should show us that the goal is not to duplicate, but rather to learn the lessons of what really smart people have done and make it a little bit better. Come to Code Platoon to figure out how you can start doing exactly that in the world of computing and software development.

Greg Drobny is a former Airborne Infantryman, PSYOP Team Chief, political consultant, professional mil blogger, and is Code Platoon’s Student Outreach Coordinator. He holds a BA in history, a Masters of Science in organizational psychology, and is currently pursuing an MA in history. He is married with four children who keep him more than slightly busy and is passionate about helping veterans find their paths in life and develop the skills needed to pursue their goals.

Weathering the Program

Weathering the Program: Meteorologist Tackles Coding Bootcamp

There is a misconception that needs to be addressed when it comes to careers in technology. While millennials and zoomers are known for being tech-savvy, embracing technology is not solely reserved for the generations that grew up with the internet.

Steve Woll, 58, can attest to this fact. A Navy Veteran who served as a Meteorology and Oceanography Officer for 21 years. After separating in 2008, Steve maintained a career within the private sector’s weather industry, and while working the business side for a couple of companies he rediscovered another career from his past: coding.

“I was a computer science major undergrad and actually worked as a coder for a couple of years before I joined the Navy,” says Steve. He left the programming world behind but didn’t forget the basics and began to reintroduce the field into his life as a hobby initially. He recognized however that he was not taking full advantage of the craft, being unfamiliar with the recent advances made in the technology and programming languages. “I realized I wanted to get my skills updated so that I could do this stuff more efficiently. So I started looking around at various coding academies.”

Steve knew he wanted to take advantage of his G.I. Bill benefits and began to look for a coding program that would fit his needs and it was through Operation Code, another nonprofit committed to getting military Servicemembers into the tech field, that Steve found Code Platoon. “It being a Veteran-focused camp appealed to me right away,” says Steve. After doing his research he reached out to Rod Levy, Code Platoon’s founder and CEO, and applied to join the 12th Full-time cohort, Lima Platoon.

“It’s been challenging, and there was a significant amount of pre-work we had to do that was very good for me,” Steve says noting that he had a pretty steep learning curve to begin with and the work he did in the second phase of the application process helped prepare him for the program and the challenges he would experience. While he has had experience within the coding realm there have been significant changes in the 30 years since Steve has worked in the field. Technology, the best practices, and even the mindset of programmers have evolved in the 21st century but one thing that shouldn’t change, and Code Platoon proves, is the value of teamwork.

“I think that’s been the best part. It’s what I expected knowing that this was a Veteran oriented program, but nonetheless, it’s good to work with people who you know are used to teamwork and helping each other out and working towards common goals,” says Steve. “As a Veteran, you feel comfortable with other people who serve.” He also commends Code Platoon’s ability to integrate Veterans into civilian and technology culture, as well as Code Platoon’s dedication to making the program inclusive to military spouses.

The average age of a Code Platoon student is 33, and while Steve is on the older side of the spectrum, the advice he has for those considering a Coding Bootcamp is sound advice for people of all ages. Get to know the program you’re interested in and the instructors you would be learning from, and give yourself time to get comfortable with the programs you’ll be working on because in an accelerated program like Code Platoon once the class begins it doesn’t slow down. Upon completion of Code Platoon’s Full-time program, Steve will be back to work bringing science, data, and technology together, applying the lessons and skills from Code Platoon to help field improved technological solutions for real-world problems.

Amanda Michelle Gordon is one of Code Platoon’s summer interns, serving in the Content and Marketing department. She is a U.S. Air Force Veteran and a student of SUNY New Paltz for Journalism and Sociology. In her free time, Amanda enjoys reading, the outdoors, and turning coffee into copy. You can find Amanda on LinkedIn and Twitter.