Code Platoon Week Two – Teamwork and test driven development

As Code Platoon students continue to develop fluency in both Javascript and Python, we’ll introduce an approach to testing that catches bugs before they make their way into production code. We’ll also explore a critical success factor in the journey of any software developer which is the ability to collaborate. Students learn how to access free-to-use, or ‘open source’ libraries of code written by other developers before diving into the first of several group projects.

Proactive versus reactive code testing

An often overlooked, but extremely valuable skill when writing code is testing that code. The larger and more complex a developer’s codebase, the more likely it is that things will go wrong or break down. To ensure a small bug doesn’t have a ripple effect that takes down a whole system, good software developers learn to test their code early and often.

Writing effective tests is a skill in its own right. At Code Platoon we teach students to practice Test Driven Development (TDD). TDD is a methodology that anticipates and reduces the likelihood of bugs by proactively coding tests around a desired function before designing and implementing that function.

The tests tell the software developer what the function should not do so that their initial attempt at writing the code which supports that function is clean and less prone to rework. It is a common practice throughout the tech world, but it cannot be taken for granted!

Seeing code through the eyes of others

Developers write lots of code, for sure, but they also spend an enormous amount of time working with code written by someone else.

Before diving into a new codebase from another coder, a developer must first understand how its components interact to achieve the desired result. The ability to do so requires a level of patience, knowledge of predefined constructs, and pattern recognition that does not factor into autonomous code writing.

Getting comfortable using third party libraries enables developers to build really cool stuff at a much faster pace! At Code Platoon, students learn how to search for, install, and use these libraries in both Javascript and Python. We spend time digging through documentation, and discuss the best practices for troubleshooting code that isn’t your own.

Previous Week

 

Code Platoon Week One – Getting the right tools and building a foundation

At Code Platoon, students do more than just learn about coding; we set them up from the very first week with practical steps for real workplace success. Sometimes this means going through real-life processes like tool preparation or developing work ethic and teamwork.

Preparing to start coding

Like a chef getting their first set of knives or a carpenter gathering their tools, web developers need to set up their machines to aid them in creating software. Code Platoon students start off by learning how to turn their computers into fully functioning development machines. We work on getting comfortable navigating through the computer’s file structure in the command line and setting up an IDE (interactive development environment) where we’ll write and test our code.

Students also learn how to control the versioning of their software with Git and Github and we really hammer in the fundamentals of programming and ensure that students have fluency with multiple languages.

Problem solving and multiple languages

We stress the importance of developing strong problem solving skills early on. Our first week is dedicated to algorithmic thinking. Students practice using their new tools while they work to solve 6-10 algorithms a day. These algorithms are small problems that push students into the mindset of an engineer pretty quickly. Students will learn how to bring a solution from concept to implementation, practicing professional workflow and sharpening their bug fixing skills along the way.

Because successful developers are polyglots, meaning that they know many languages, Code Platoon teaches Python and Javascript simultaneously from day one. Learning the differences and similarities between these two popular languages also helps solidify common programming concepts, which make learning a third or fourth language that much easier.

Teamwork is key to coding

Learning to program is challenging. Students can expect a lot of long nights and not a lot of sleep, but they can also expect to develop a deep camaraderie with their fellow veterans and military spouses.

Learning to work on a team is essential to success in the technology industry. That’s why Code Platoon students practice pair programming. Two students work together on a problem at a single workstation. This forces students to communicate their solutions to problems clearly and allows them to accelerate their learning by exposing them to ideas and ways of approaching challenges they may not have thought of on their own.

By the end of the first week our students are more confident working with their computers and have a deeper understanding of the basic programming building blocks they’ll need to craft high quality, fully functioning applications in the coming weeks.

Follow our journey to Week Two, when students learn about the importance of code reuse, collaboration, and proactive testing.

From Service to STEM – Why Veterans are Perfect for Today’s Tech Industry

Think about the first time you completed a training exercise with your unit — what did you experience? Most likely you had to work through a timed challenge or event; something difficult requiring teamwork, discipline, adaptability, and attention to detail. These are the key traits that define many veterans today and consequently, these are the same qualities shared by many professionals in the STEM field. In fact, much of the effort around the newly expanded GI Bill benefits focuses on incentivizing and encouraging veterans and military spouses to apply to STEM programs.

If you’re a recently separated veteran or a veteran looking to kickstart their education or a military spouse, here are some good reasons why you should think about using your G.I. Bill to get a head start in the STEM industry.

  • The Stunning Salary

As more and more industries rely on tech, many professionals in the STEM field are earning salaries that surpass those of their peers. In fact, from what we hear from our graduates — along with recent studies — the average software developer makes more than $100K annually. From coding bootcamps to specialized tech programs, veterans who are using their G.I. Bill to gain an education in the tech industry can expect to earn more than their counterparts.

  • Teamwork is Everything

If you’re a veteran, you likely miss working with your battle buddies to achieve difficult and complex objectives. Like ‘Hannibal’ Smith said in the A-Team, ‘I love it when a plan comes together.’ If you’re looking to replicate the satisfaction of achievement, particularly with a small but effective team, then you can’t go wrong with the STEM field. Many startups and even large organizations have embraced agile software development today — where teamwork and communication are key to success and if you’re a veteran, then you’re already ahead of the game here.

  • On Demand

There are many industries out there where there’s more talent than the opportunity; fortunately, STEM is not one of them. In fact, STEM careers are currently growing in demand. For qualified veterans and military spouses, there is a likelihood of being hired for a six-figure position after one or two career fairs. Employers in this space are always looking for good hires and, at the moment, there are plenty of opportunities to join this growing — and thriving — industry.

  • First Pick

Google, Amazon, Boeing, Microsoft — these are all major tech companies that already have veterans and military spouses initiatives in place. And that’s just to name a few; today, there are many organizations out there in the STEM industry that are looking to employ veterans or military spouses with a background in coding, science, math, or another tech-related background. It proves that the opportunities are nearly limitless for veterans and military spouses with tech skills and experience.

These are just a few reasons why the STEM industry is a great fit for veterans and military spouses and vice versa. If you’re a veteran or a military spouse who hasn’t decided on a career path or where to use their G.I. Bill benefits just yet, think about entering the STEM field. Whether you’re going to school for a degree in STEM or completing a STEM-related program, there’s plenty of advantages today to being a veteran who can navigate the tech space.

To learn more about how your G.I. Bill benefits can help you begin a career in coding, click here.

Boot Camp Diaries: The Start of a New Code Platoon Cohort

On April 30, Code Platoon welcomed 11 new students to our Foxtrot cohort. Our first day of class resembles any first day of school, with the requisite school supplies laid out neatly on the desk and bundles of nervous energy among our students. Polite conversation takes place over coffee, where our students learn more about each other and what brought them to downtown Chicago to learn software development skills.

Foxtrot, like most of our cohorts, is comprised of officers and enlisted service members, representing four of the five branches of the armed forces. We are still waiting for our first Coast Guard student! Rod Levy, executive director and founder of Code Platoon, reminds the class that, “Each of you, as a veteran, brings a wealth of real-life experience that can only be learned in the military. This experience is critical to your success with Code Platoon.”

Some of our students served three years in the service, some fourteen. Some have completed college degrees since separating from the military, while others opted to enlist before high school graduation. Their domestic lives run the gamut from being married with children to living with parents, relatives, or friends. Despite their varying circumstances and experience, they are now comrades and team members who are embarking on a 14-week journey together that they will never forget.

“During the first week of classes, there are 12-hour days, dozens of challenges, and a seemingly relentless barrage of new concepts being taught,” said Jon Young, Code Platoon’s lead instructor. Our students rely on their collective experiences in military bootcamp to endure this intensive training. During the first week, Foxtrot students learned Javascript and Ruby basics side-by-side to turn them into polyglots, jumped into the command line, and controlled the progress of their projects using Git and Github.

As with learning any new concept, Foxtrot students will continue to grow in their understanding of software development throughout the course. The next few months will blur into each other — a mix of content, concepts, and programs once foreign (to most of them), but slowly becoming a new normal. Students will forge deeper bonds as they solve increasingly more complex problems, culminating in a well-earned demo day and graduation celebration in August.

Code Platoon requires grit, tenacity and a willingness to learn a new skill. We know veterans have these attributes, which will help them succeed in starting a new career in software development. Check back as we give a glimpse into life as a Code Platoon student via this summer’s Foxtrot cohort.

https://www.mcg.com/blog/2018/05/10/transforming-veterans-into-software-developers

Snapper Ploen is a Digital Marketing Manager at MCG who served on the design, content and advertising teams at Code Platoon.  The following is a reproduction of his original blog post which is posted here:

https://www.mcg.com/blog/2018/05/10/transforming-veterans-into-software-developers

As an employee of MCG, you are part of an important mission which includes moving people toward health and improving the patient journey. However, it also grants you the opportunity to impact the community and help those in need. Last year, MCG began offering its employees the option to use 16 hours of paid company time per year to volunteer with an approved non-profit of our choice. With a large number of organizations in need of help, choosing whom to serve can be overwhelming. My fellow MCG team members supported local food banks in both San Diego and Seattle, and after hearing their stories, I did some research into groups who were looking for assistance.

 

WHERE TO VOLUNTEER?

As I browsed VolunteerMatch.org for requests, I asked myself a few questions:

  • Who has a mission that is changing lives with a long-term impact?
  • Could my efforts somehow address multiple issues affecting our society right now?
  • What unique skills do I have that could best help them?

As I considered the options, I took some guidance from current events in my life: My nephew had just enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and joined a long line of family members who had already served in the military. I was very proud of him and attending his graduation was a milestone of 2017. In addition, MCG has been in discussion with legislators in Washington D.C. to improve healthcare delivery for military personnel at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Between these events, my mind was already focused on the veteran community. Around the same time, my friends working in software engineering mentioned that recruiting qualified candidates was growing increasingly difficult. It’s no secret that automation is replacing much of the manufacturing job base in our country, and writing the software that provides much of this automation is where job growth appears to be headed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a 24% growth in software developer demand by 2026 with median pay for this field hovering around $103,500 in 2017.1 Finally, I knew I wanted to offer my creative abilities because I felt they were the most valuable thing I had to contribute.

 

CODE PLATOON: A CODE CAMP FOR VETERANS

Through my search criteria, I found a Chicago-based coding boot camp exclusively for U.S. veterans called Code Platoon. This non-profit outfit provides a unique learning environment where vets can learn alongside other vets to become full stack developers. It offers in-person and remote learning pathways as well as generous scholarships that pay virtually 100% of the tuition. With 14 weeks of intensive training, Code Platoon veterans can learn:

  • Programming Languages: Ruby, JavaScript, HTML and CSS
  • SQL Database
  • Frameworks: Ruby-on-Rails and React.js
  • Version Control using Git
  • APIs
  • Object Oriented Design

Code Platoon also supports veterans transitioning from military life to a civilian career by offering three- to six-month internships during which the hiring organization can “vet the vet” to see if they align with the company culture. Many veterans seem to do well in the software field as it is a natural fit considering the structure-oriented work and mental discipline required – particularly in cybersecurity and software architecture roles. Veterans also tend to perform better in stressful situations, and in today’s rapidly changing IT environment, this can be a highly valuable quality in a software developer.

Although most veterans are eligible for G.I. Bill benefits and can pursue a four-year college degree, many do not have a transitional environment that includes learning alongside other veterans. And while a four-year degree may be the appropriate option for some, others are seeking an expedited route to an in-demand career that offers rewarding challenges and a competitive salary. Code Platoon can help them achieve those goals at an accelerated pace, and students who chose the in-person learning path still have the option to apply their G.I. Bill benefits towards the program’s tuition.

 

HOW I HELPED

After submitting my application to become a Code Platoon volunteer, I attended a few conference calls with the organization’s leadership. Rodrigo Levy, the founder and CEO of Code Platoon, always puts the veteran first, and he wanted the organization’s branding to reflect that focus. He was keenly aware that trust is vital to U.S. military vets, and it is something they’ve held in the highest regard since their days at basic training. He also emphasized how much they deserve transparent information. Trust and transparency are sacred values at MCG, so I already felt like I was on familiar ground with Code Platoon.

My role was to help update Code Platoon’s branding and develop some recruitment collateral that could support efforts in raising awareness of the program. We started by redesigning their logo which includes a variation of the military chevron symbol with the stripes pointing right to denote progression and forward movement. After that, we developed a brand style guide which included some bold color choices to make us stand out in the overcrowded coding camp community. After that, we developed print collateral for career fairs and corporate partnership outreach. We then moved on to their website, and I collaborated with a very talented web dev pro named Bob to align the look with the new branding. Recently, I have taken on their paid search campaign management (AdWords), and I am working their content team to optimize their email marketing so we can keep potential veteran students interested and engaged.

What have I learned from all of this? Well, first of all, it’s not always common that your employer will let you use work time to help a community in need. For that, I am extremely grateful to MCG, and our parent company Hearst, for being so supportive of this endeavor. Even though I rapidly used up my allotment of company time, I chose to stay committed to Code Platoon. I continue working weekends and after regular work hours to provide support when needed. Secondly, I have to say I’ve never experienced a more productive volunteer collaboration than I have with the people at Code Platoon. These are dedicated people who are genuine about helping our veterans achieve productive and successful careers in software development. This opportunity – along with the work I do every day at MCG – serves as a reminder to myself that even though I am just a single individual, my contributions can help deliver something positive to the world and give back to people who have sacrificed so much for all of us. In the bigger picture, my role is small, but it gives me a great deal of fulfillment to help vets join the rising tide of technology professionals.

Snapper’s contributions to Code Platoon have been indispensable to our continued growth. Snapper re-designed our branding (which outperformed two other designs by wide margin), and helps us – strategically and tactically – with messaging and advertising. Special thanks to MCG for allowing him to use company time to help us support veterans pursuing a career in software development. We are very grateful to them for their generous volunteerism policy.

In closing, I want to add something that isn’t particularly profound but always worth repeating: Education is one of the most transformative tools that we have in life. Learning new skills doesn’t just improve your career; it allows people to elevate their socio-economic status, it benefits interpersonal relationships, and it can put you in a position where you can help others rise to their full potential. When pursuing an education, it certainly helps to have lots of time and financial assistance, but the first step is having the courage to believe in your ability to learn and adapt. Even if you’re not a veteran with a dedicated group of people supporting you, self-motivation and access to a public library or the Internet can yield wonders for your skillset. And if you ever doubt what you can achieve just think of all the honorable individuals who answered the call of duty for our country. They did it so that we can all enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Don’t waste the opportunities they’ve afforded you – always strive to learn, grow, and adapt.

And never fear the future.

– Snapper S. Ploen, Digital Marketing Manager, MCG

Code Platoon Wins $50K in NBC’ s Project Innovation Grant Challenge

Code Platoon is proud to be one of five Chicago-area non-profits recognized in the first annual Project Innovation grant challenge, sponsored by NBC 5, Telemundo Chicago, and the NBC Universal Foundation. Code Platoon will receive a $50,000 grant as part of the win after going up against more than 100 organizations in a rigorous process led by a select group of judges.

Code Platoon was selected by NBC 5 due to its focus on helping veterans and military spouses get technology training and jobs via its 14-week coding boot camp.

“We’re proud to help five deserving organizations continue their benevolent work in the community by awarding much-needed grant assistance to their individual missions,” said David Doebler, president and general manager of NBC 5 and Telemundo Chicago.

The $50,000 grant award will go directly towards Code Platoon’s outreach and marketing efforts to veterans, military spouses, and instructional staff.

“This grant award represents an important new funding partnership for Code Platoon. We are grateful to the NBCUniversal Foundation, along with our local NBC 5 station and Telemundo, for helping us grow our program, which will allow more veterans in Chicago to become software developers,” said Rodrigo Levy, executive director of Code Platoon.

Here’s a link to the program, as well as a look at the presentation of the grant, which aired on NBC 5 Chicago:

Code Platoon receives $25,000 grant from Illinois’ Vets Cash program

Code Platoon is proud to announce a $25,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Veteran Affairs Vets Cash program. Vets Cash, launched in 2006, was the first lottery game in the United States to designate 100 percent of its net proceeds to veterans. To date, Vets Cash has awarded more than $13.3 million in grants statewide to veterans’ organizations that provide vital services, including job training, housing assistance, and post-traumatic stress treatment.

Code Platoon will use this generous grant to provide daily instruction to our students during our three cohorts in 2018.

“Grants play a critical role in helping our program serve more veterans,” said Alicia Boddy, director of development for Code Platoon. “A funding partnership with The Illinois Department of Veteran Affairs is a meaningful investment in our students and will allow us to continue to grow.”

Vets Cash lottery tickets are available every year in November anywhere lottery tickets are sold. Illinois residents can contribute to the Vets Cash grant fund year round by donating here. To donate directly to Code Platoon, you can visit our website at codeplatoon.org/donate.

Student Story: Code Platoon experience gives Computer Science grad more confidence in tech skills

The following is from Leanne Keene, a student in the Echo cohort

When I finished grad school last year, I still felt like I was missing some critical piece of knowledge. I knew I would be qualified for jobs in the software industry because of my computer science degree, and maybe I would even squeak through the interview process, but what would happen when I showed up for my first day at work and didn’t know how to do anything? Sure, I understood software engineering conceptually, but I had no confidence and none of the practical knowledge needed.

Code Platoon was the perfect solution. It was affordable, taught the hands-on skills I was lacking, and was specifically designed for veterans. As I browsed the website, I saw that Code Platoon graduates had the same military background as I did, down to the same specific job! I knew then that I didn’t have to be intimidated because my fellow classmates would not be people who have been coding for years, but veterans like me who are trying to find their footing in the civilian job market.

I made some sacrifices to attend, both financial and social, and I would do it all over again. The dedication required to complete this intensive program is absolutely worth it. I learned so much over the course of the program. The experience and confidence that comes from coding and building software every day is empowering. Seeing your progress with the very tangible example of daily exercises affirms that tackling new languages and frameworks is a skill that you will be able to carry with you into the workforce. While interviews may always be intimidating, knowing that Code Platoon has prepared you for the challenges in the interview and beyond is a great feeling.

The greatest benefit I gained from my time at Code Platoon, even more than the knowledge, is the supportive network of which I have become apart. I know I can reach out to anyone in the organization, as well as the growing number of alumni, for help or advice and they are all there to support me. I’m excited to join this strong group of veterans as I start my first job. Maybe I’ll volunteer to be a mentor or a tutor for the program. Either way, future Code Platoon cohorts, I’m rooting for you.

Keene accepted a job as a software engineer at Novetta, an advanced-analytics firm, shortly before finishing Code Platoon.

Code Platoon joins industry group geared at reporting honest student outcomes

Code Platoon is committed to providing the highest quality education for veterans and military spouses in Illinois. We are proud of our program and alumni but needed a way to quantify and standardize our outcomes. The Council on Integrity in Results Reporting (CIRR) provides us and many other coding schools an opportunity to record, report, and compare our data.

CIRR is a nonprofit organization with a mission to provide prospective coding school students an opportunity to know a school’s outcomes before deciding whether to enroll. The CIRR standards prevent deceptive graduation and job placement marketing practices and ensure a student can trust what a school advertises. The measurement standards are straightforward for schools to implement; and the reporting standards are both simple for students to understand and be counted in because they account for 100 percent of the enrolled student body.

In our latest report, Code Platoon reported a 91.7% on-time graduation rate. Within 180 days of graduating from Code Platoon, 81.8% of our students were employed full-time. You can read more about our outcomes on the CIRR website.

Code Platoon is among the first participating coding schools to report data to CIRR.

“We are positioned to not only lead the way in software development education for veterans, but also be instrumental in establishing coding schools as a viable educational opportunity for the future. We want our students, and anyone else interested in a career in coding, to have as much information as possible to make an informed decision,” says Code Platoon Executive Director Rodrigo Levy.

If you are a veteran or military spouse and interested in a career as a software developer, you can find more information on our website.

Now Hear This: Code Platoon Approved for the GI Bill!

If you’re a veteran or military spouse who has yet to use their benefits or if you’re transitioning out of the service, think about using your GI Bill to start your career in tech. We’ve heard time and again from startups, major corporations, and other employers in the tech industry; veterans make the best employees. That’s likely because there are just so many skills that transfer from the military to the coding community – skills like discipline, critical thinking, attention to detail, and teamwork – are all highly sought after by software companies across the nation. So, if you’re a veteran or military spouse looking for a great career, know that we have your six and that our coding program, designed specifically for the veteran community, will help you land a coveted position in the tech industry.

We’re proud to announce that Code Platoon has just been approved by the Department of Veterans Affairs for GI Bill eligibility. That means that veterans, military spouses, and servicemembers can now use their GI Bill to cover the cost of Code Platoon’s 14-week web development program. The approval will see that veterans attending Code Platoon will have their tuition, housing, and other associated costs covered by the GI Bill – which mirrors the benefits of the celebrated Chapter 33 Post 9/11 GI Bill.

As the first coding bootcamp to receive GI Bill eligibility in Illinois, we’re excited to help even more veterans and military spouses enter the tech industry, especially since two-thirds of the highest-paying and fastest-growing jobs value computer science skills. What’s more, a recent study by CompTIA shows that the majority of current job postings specifically target software and web developers – which shouldn’t come as a surprise since a number of tech giants, including Amazon, Hewlett Packard, SpaceX, and Dell, have all pledged to actively seek and hire veterans

Ready to Charlie Mike on your career in tech? If so, head over to our application page

Can’t make it to our headquarters in Chicago? Not to worry — our Remote Attendance Program will come to you.