Rod Levy is the Founder and CEO of Code Platoon. The following podcast features a segment he completed with host American Veteran Podcast, and is posted here:
Rod’s segment runs from runs from 13:15 to 27:30.
Rod Levy is the Founder and CEO of Code Platoon. The following podcast features a segment he completed with host American Veteran Podcast, and is posted here:
Rod’s segment runs from runs from 13:15 to 27:30.
Rod Levy is the Founder and CEO of Code Platoon. The following is a reproduction of a podcast he completed with host EdTech Times, which is posted here:
Over the past decade or so, coding bootcamps have risen in popularity, seen as the ideal route to gain new skills for an in-demand career.
Rod Levy founded Code Platoon to bring those skills to one group in particular: Veterans and military spouses. According to Rod, it felt right to create a skill-building technology bootcamp for people who have already been through literal bootcamps.
“We asked them to work 12-hour days, six days a week, sometimes more. And we’ve had terrific success,” Levy says. “They thrive in this environment. When you think about the characteristics that the veterans brings to the table, you think about teamwork, you think about grit, you think about determination. And that’s exactly what we screen for.”
While a formal education can pave the path to a good career, sometimes higher ed focuses more on theory than practice. After graduation, students might still have to learn skills on the job. Rod says Code Platoon focuses on career services, to help place veterans and military spouses in the workforce with skills they can use right away.
“We spend a fair amount of time talking about how you prepare your LinkedIn profile, how do you prepare your resume preparation, Levy says. “We do technical interviewing, we do non-technical interviewing, and we do personality interviewing. So, we have a full career preparation component as our curriculum.”
Listen in to our full interview with Rod Levy to learn more about coding bootcamps and how they can provide resources for veterans or military spouses and others looking to change their career paths.
Hester Tinti-Kane: This is Hester Tinti-Kane with EdTech Times. Today we’re speaking with Rod Levy, founder and executive director of Code Platoon. Rod, can you start by introducing yourself and telling us a little bit about Code Platoon?
Rod Levy: I am an industry career changer. I was in finance for about 20 years and I went through what was then one of the very first coding bootcamps. And I decided that it was a wonderful, transformative event for me and something that I wanted to bring to a population that I cared about, which was veterans. So, I formed Code Platoon a couple years ago to bring this type of education and job training to people that have served our country.
Hester Tinti-Kane: So, tell us a little bit more about that inspiration for starting Code Platoon?
Rod Levy: I had been in finance for a long time, and I was done with that part of my life for a while for a variety of reasons. I wanted to be able to build things and I decided that if I was going to build things and build companies, I needed to know how to build software. And I spent a long time trying to figure out how to become a software developer. And ultimately I came across a coding bootcamp, Dev Bootcamp was what it was called, it was the very first kind of bootcamp out there. Their premise was, “If you come to our program, if you are admitted and you go through our nine week training program, it’s very immersive, you’ll be working—doing nothing but working on this for nine weeks, figure 12 hours a day, six days a week. But when you’re done you’ll be ready to be a junior developer, you’ll be ready to write code, and ready to work on a software team as a junior software developer.” And so that was an opportunity for me to make a complete pivot, and I was just amazed by the opportunities afforded to me and to my fellow students when I was done.
Rod Levy: The only problem with that bootcamp, well not really a problem, it’s the reality, that it is a for-profit institution. And I’m all for for-profit institutions, but they charge the tuition of about 13 or 14 thousand dollars, which is still a really good deal for many, many people, because you got to change careers into a really energized, well-compensated career. But still out of reach for many people. So, I wanted to bring that type of education to a population that sometimes can’t afford it, many times, and make it affordable for them. So, I decided to start a coding bootcamp for veterans as a nonprofit to signal to them that we’re here to serve the veterans. And something that was affordable and tailored to their background and experiences.
Hester Tinti-Kane: It is really interesting, I think, what boot camps provide for people in such a short amount of time, usually reasonable tuition. But when you were thinking about a career shift away from finance did you consider getting an associate’s degree or going back for college, some sort of, you know, bachelor’s science, computer science? Did you consider that at all?
Rod Levy: Absolutely.
Hester Tinti-Kane: That was early on right? For coding boot camps? And that was sort of—you were taking a risk there maybe.
Rod Levy: Yeah. I mean, I have an undergraduate degree in engineering and I have a couple master’s degrees in business and in engineering, so I’m very comfortable with the path that a formal education can lead you to. And I spent a decent amount of time trying to explore online options, massive online classes, different types of online programs that were free or paid. And I definitely considered going back to get a master’s degree in computer science. The two reasons that I decided not to go that path, one was that typically those tracks are two years, they can be as short as one. And typically they focus much more on theory rather than practice. I wanted to go out and build code. I didn’t want to come out and then have to still learn how to build code.
Rod Levy: Dev bootcamp promised to teach you the tools, like how to be– the analogy we use is, “You can choose to go learn how to be an architect or how to be a carpenter, they teach you how to be a carpenter, you can build stuff when you’re done.” And so that’s what motivated me to go through that Dev Bootcamp even though it certainly was a risk. But they were very thoughtful about the curriculum they put together and it certainly seemed like they had had some good success already even though it was very early.
Hester Tinti-Kane: Let’s talk a little bit about the audience for a Code Platoon, about veterans. Why do you think this type of a learning experience is good for that population, good for veterans?
Rod Levy: The term “coding bootcamp” originated before anyone thought about targeting veterans, so clearly there’s something about the naming that Dev Bootcamp and other coding bootcamps were trying to message, which is that to be successful through their program it was going to take a tremendous amount of work. It was going to be very rigorous. It seemed to me that if I was going to start a bootcamp, all things being equal, it would be easier if I just tried to target individuals that had already been through a real bootcamp. Our program is exceptionally rigorous. We asked them to work, again, 12 hour days, six days a week, sometimes more. And we’ve had terrific success. They thrive in this environment. You know that when you think about the characteristics that veterans brings to the table, you think about teamwork, you think about grit, you think about determination and that’s exactly what we screen for. And that’s exactly what we see in our classrooms. I think that certainly those characteristics you see in veterans much more readily than you would out of just a civilian in the general population.
Hester Tinti-Kane: Do you have maybe a specific story that you could tell about one of the students that came through your program? Sort of, what was their previous experience, what was their learning experience, and then how did they move on after that?
Rod Levy: First of all, we get all kinds of backgrounds, all kinds of ages, but most of our students reflect the military population as a whole, which means that about 80 or 90 percent of them were enlisted. They were not officers. And about 80 percent of those don’t necessarily have college degrees. Most of them have high school degrees. The gentleman that I like to think about in terms of someone who was the kind of individual we were targeting was somebody who three years ago was doing blue collar work. I think he was stacking boxes at UPS. And he applied to our program, he got in, didn’t even finish high school. And it was very clear from when you saw the way he wrote, the way he talked that, this is a very intelligent, articulate young man for whom life circumstances haven’t naturally played out as well as they did for others. And he went through our program. He just finished it successfully. He got an internship through one of our sponsor companies, and not just one of sponsor companies, but one of the companies that is truly one of the technology beacons in Chicago. This is a company that they hire and compete against Facebook and Google in terms of talent, in terms of what they pay. And so when he was placed in an internship there, it was clear that they wanted to support him, but they didn’t necessarily expect that he was going to be a long-term fit. And yet, here we are today, a little over a year later, and he is a full-time employee there doing extremely well and he has opportunities available to him now that he wouldn’t have had ever before.
Hester Tinti-Kane: That’s great. Tell us a little bit more about how you connect your students to jobs.
Rod Levy: We have multiple components to our curriculum that help prepare students for the next phase professionally. The most direct one is that we have sponsor companies who commit to provide internships for our students. We don’t have enough internships for all of our students, but for those that get placed at companies, once you make it into an internship, the likelihood that you end up working successfully in the field is very high. It’s usually that first year after coding bootcamp that is the biggest hurdle to long-term success. Companies are desperate to hire software engineers. But they’re also desperate to hire ones that can do the work reasonably early. And that isn’t usually the ones to come out after one year, or just after the coding bootcamp.
Rod Levy: Now, the other components of our program involve a fairly rich career services curriculum. So we spend a fair amount of time talking about how you prepare your LinkedIn profile, how do you prepare your resume preparation. We do technical interviewing, we do non-technical interviewing, and we do personality interviewing. So we have a full career preparation component as our curriculum. And then we also have a soft skills component to our curriculum, which is not directly career services but it’s about, “how do you succeed in the workplace beyond the technical skills?” And then lastly, we also are working on having a career coach, technical recruiting component after you finish our program to help make sure that if you didn’t get an internship, now we have someone helping you through, put a plan together and execute so that you can find your job.
Hester Tinti-Kane: So tell us a little bit about your corporate sponsors and what’s in it for them?
Rod Levy: Most of these companies are Chicago-based, although we are definitely looking to partner with companies outside of Chicago as well. And the common characteristic is that they are tech-enabled, but not necessarily tech companies, but they have a tech team. They’ve identified the need to grow their talent internally and organically. And what’s in it for these companies? It really depends on the company. Some companies are mission driven. They want to support veterans and they see that our program is an opportunity to solve not just unemployment but underemployment. There’s a lot of programs trying to help veterans and many of them are absolutely wonderful. We try to take it one step higher because we’re training our veterans to become the real cream of the technology crop.
Rod Levy: But for these companies, the commitment they make financially and to hire an internship, at the end of the day, if they try to compare that relative to the recruiting budget, it comes out to be about the same from a cost perspective, only they get to support a nonprofit that is helping veterans. And they get to have a talent pipeline of well-trained junior software engineers who bring to the table the characteristics that they’re already screening for. Any CTO in Chicago’s going to tell you, “we’re looking for individuals that can work in a team. We’re looking for individuals that can step into a leadership role, that we’re looking for individuals that are cool under pressure.” Now, it’s hard to screen for those characteristics, but I can tell you most of our students go through and check every box because of their service. So, we’ve done a lot of hard work for the company. All they have to do is work with us and make sure that we’re all aligned in terms of how to get these men and women into their career.
Hester Tinti-Kane: So, tell us a little bit about the costs to the students, and how the costs are defrayed by some of the corporate sponsors we were just talking about.
Rod Levy: Absolutely. So, our tuition is $13,000—very much in line, or a little bit less, than the best coding bootcamps that you’ll find. And we compare ourselves to the best. We offer the same type of instructions, same length of program, same immersion. Our curriculum, I think, is second to none. But all of our veterans coming in for 2017, and I think for much of 2018, are assured of ten thousand $500 scholarships. So, out of pocket to them: $2,500. We also have a Women in Technology Scholarship, which is a full ride for one woman in this class, and hopefully we’ll be able to repeat that. And we have other scholarships as well. We have a full-ride transgender scholarship. And this funding comes from a couple different sources, but the companies that support us make a financial contribution and that goes to our pool to defray our operating expenses, and which is why we’re able to offer these generous scholarships for our veterans.
Hester Tinti-Kane: That’s great. Do they use any level of financial aid, like do they tap into those funds as well?
Rod Levy: Yeah. So, right now the primary form of financial aid that a veteran might look for would be to access the G.I. Bill. And the G.I. Bill is a very generous program that covers educational costs and living and housing stipend as well. We will be eligible to apply in January to receive G.I. Bill funds. If we are approved, then that would open up the door for veterans to be able to use your G.I. Bill benefits with our program and give, you know, obviously give them even a greater form of financial assistance than what we can offer today.
Hester Tinti-Kane: Now I guess one final piece, as we’re talking about it, we mentioned Chicago a number of times but we haven’t talked too much about the location of where Code Platoon is and what sort of modalities of learning you’re using there. Is it face-to-face only? Is there something that’s partially online?
Rod Levy: Our program is designed to be an in-person program, and we feel that education is best delivered in-person. It’s hands-on learning, so we spent a couple hours a day doing a lecture style presentation, and the rest of the day is hands-on project learning. However, we recognize that there are veterans for whom traveling here is prohibitively difficult, whether because they can’t afford to travel or because they’re disabled. And so we’re trying to accommodate more of those veterans by offering a concurrent remote option where they attend the class remotely. They still participate in the program. They’re just not physically here. We also have entire first weeks of our curriculum available online. Anybody can access it. Anybody can go through it. And if you’re a veteran and you make it those first three weeks, and you want to see the next nine weeks we’ll make that available to you and it’s all for free. We really just want to expand this form of education.
Hester Tinti-Kane: Great. So, how many students have gone through the program so far?
Rod Levy: We graduated our first class last year. That was eight students. Earlier this year we graduated our second class. First class was Alpha Platoon. We graduated Bravo Platoon with 11 students, and we currently have Charlie Platoon with six. And we’re soon closing applications for Delta Platoon. That will be September through December cohort.
Hester Tinti-Kane: So, in terms of your student population how many women are involved in Code Platoon?
Rod Levy: So, we have tried to engage women veterans into our program. I think we’re doing a good job relative to the tech industry, but not nearly as good a job as we want to. We’ve had one woman per cohort so far, that’s about 15 percent of our population has been women. We did launch this full Women in Technology Scholarship recently and we’re getting a very good response. So I’m optimistic that we will be able to increase those numbers going forward. We do have pretty good minority and underrepresented groups engagement into our program. And it’s something that we will continue to try to improve.
Hester Tinti-Kane: What are your plans for the future? What do you see happening next?
Rod Levy: I think that we will continue to slowly and thoughtfully increase the amount of veterans we serve in Chicago. Probably expand a little bit our remote options. And we’re looking obviously to flesh out parts of the program that we think need help, and we might even build an apprenticeship program sometime down the line. But our goal is to make sure that the few veterans that we do serve, we serve extremely well. And we make sure that they are launched into a career. And then we ask them to come back and help out our new veterans.
Hester Tinti-Kane: So, if people want to learn more about Code Platoon, where should they go?
Rod Levy: It’s all on the website, codeplatoon.org. But if there’s anything that they would like to know I can always be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hester Tinti-Kane: Where can someone find Code Platoon in Chicago?
Rod Levy: So, if you want to come visit our offices, or grab a cup of coffee with me, we’re at 73 West Monroe right on the corner of Clark and Monroe. We’re there five days a week.
Hester Tinti-Kane: Well, thanks so much for spending time with us today. Good luck with your program.
Rod Levy: Thank you very much, I appreciate all of your questions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For many veterans and military spouses, finding the right career path can be a tremendous struggle. While a growing number of industries are becoming more open to the idea of hiring veterans or military spouses, there are a few career fields that actively seek to hire vets and are also a great fit for any former servicemember. These career fields often require the same skill sets and capabilities that are taught in the military – such as teamwork, attention to detail, and discipline. If you’re a veteran or military spouse looking for your next career move, consider these three industries that love to hire veterans.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise as many law enforcement positions offer an easy transfer for today’s veterans. Due the nature of police work and similar organizational structure, law enforcement will likely feel more familiar for servicemembers who have been deployed overseas. Additionally, law enforcement roles often mirror their military counterparts – from dog handlers to detectives, many veterans already have much of the specialized training necessary to work on a police force. What’s more, there are already many veterans in the law enforcement community so it’s hardly difficult to find individuals, or even entire groups of people, with shared experiences.
Government roles are a good fit for veterans as they essentially adhere to a similar organizational structure as the military. Additionally, government positions span many different agencies and departments – including civilian roles in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or the Coast Guard. In fact, the government also offers positions for those interested in the aforementioned industries of law enforcement and technology. Veterans will also find that their military experience can translate into promotional points for a particular career field and, perhaps best of all, veterans and military spouses receive preference for all government job openings. This offers a tremendous advantage, and incentive, for today’s veterans and military spouses to apply. If you’re interested in working for the government, head over to USAJobs to find your next career field.
While veterans are a great fit for many different industries, it’s clear that many can truly excel in law enforcement, tech, or working for the government. And since all these fields are actively recruiting veterans, it’s worth considering a career in any of these three professions.
Taking on a principal role for Purple Gator roughly four years ago was a leap of faith. Even though I loved the idea of our flagship product, a trivia platform that offers businesses a new way to engage customers, I was signing on with a brand-new company that could offer no guarantees. Fortunately, my six years as a maintenance analyst in the Air National Guard were perfect preparation for the highs, lows, hard work and just plain uncertainty that come with the startup terrain.
This is one of the reasons that I help mentor fellow veterans who are enrolled at Chicago’s Code Platoon, a nonprofit web-development school known informally as a “coding bootcamp.” That nomenclature is by no means an overstatement. This relatively new type of intense, immersive education plays to the strengths these men and women gained in the military.
Here are the top reasons that a combination of military experience and a bootcamp education produces developers who are perfectly suited to join anyone’s startup.
1) We are comfortable wearing multiple hats. The boss: “You’re a software engineer? Don’t care, today you are a customer support representative! Tomorrow you will be on a sales call at 2 p.m. but definitely finish planning our customer-appreciation party by noon.”
If you’ve been in the military, this is second nature: My old boss: “You’re a diesel engine mechanic? Don’t care, today you are the squad’s physical training leader!” Although my specialty was logging maintenance data, more important, I was an airman ready to serve wherever I was needed.
2) Long hours don’t faze us. While work-life balance is a reasonable long-term goal, that is not always a feasible reality in the early days of a company like Purple Gator. Any company might require a 12-hour day here and there. But at a startup you could work those hours for 20 days straight. And the average veteran reading this is probably thinking, “Yeah? Is that supposed to be abnormal? What about the other 10 days in the month?”
3) Teamwork is second nature. For better or for worse, sacrifice is required in both environments. At Purple Gator, we don’t face life-or-death situations, but people’s livelihoods and careers are at stake. In place of “battle buddies,” we might find support and camaraderie as part of a tech incubator on the 9th floor of the Merchandise Mart. And just like the days when I was deployed to Guam in support of the 509 Bomb Wing’s 52 Bomber Squadron, such shared experience forges bonds that transcend background, politics, what have you. I expect the relationships made in both places to last forever. I’ve already seen that happening at Code Platoon, where my first mentee, Javier Revuelta, was part of the inaugural cohort. He is now a software engineer at PowerReviews, but returns often to mentor the current cohort.
4) Coping with stress is first nature. My stress level right now is very high. We have several big-name customers already for GStack, our trivia platform. But every sale counts so much at a startup, and losing out on one means three wasted weeks. You never know where that next paycheck is coming from. And I’m away from my family for days at a time. During a deployment, too, you must deal with not knowing the dangers behind the next hill while worrying about that family back home. For me, personally, while on active duty, I remember a particular time when a lot was riding on whether I could figure out why one of our planes was having mechanical issues. To be more specific, it kind of caught on fire, and combing through the data in order to ensure that this didn’t happen again was a long, arduous process. Because it was very important that the plane not catch on fire again!
5) Even the rewards are similar. When you establish a startup, you are filling a void with your idea, creating something that didn’t exist. So seeing our MVP in a customer’s hands that first time, watching them actually use our product to make money — and finding that their customers did indeed enjoy the trivia games — was an incredible moment. It reminded me of coming back, exhausted, from Operation Enduring Freedom, and the first time that a civilian looked me in the eyes and thanked me for my service. Both times, suddenly, my vision felt clear and crystallized.
By James Bell
Chief technology officer | Purple Gator
Before becoming immersed in the startup world, James was a successful options trader and electrical engineer. He has a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Illinois and studied electrical engineering at St. Louis’ Washington University, where he also played football. He served in the Air National Guard and was deployed to Asia during Operation Enduring Freedom.
As the tech community continues to grow, careers in the programming and software development space are quickly becoming more and more prominent.
That’s why a growing number of universities are partnering with coding bootcamps and giving their students a leg up in a rewarding and stable career field. We are pleased to announce an addition to that number as we’ve just launched a partnership with the National American University.
This new partnership, which will allow Code Platoon graduates to earn college credit for completing our program, is a step that will provide students of both curriculums with a more technical education.
This collaboration symbolizes our pledge to the continuous improvement and education of our students and also highlights NAU’s commitment to serving the veteran community and the continued success of our student veterans and military spouses.
Despite the fact that the tech community is growing faster than ever, there are still two demographics that are often overlooked – women and veterans. However, the dearth of representation from both communities is quickly changing, especially when you have individuals like Deja Baker spearheading the effort. Baker, who enlisted in the Navy as an Analyst, eventually pursued her interest in technology as a Computer Science major at the Naval Academy.
Seeking to further her education in the coding industry, Baker applied for and received Code Platoon’s Women In Technology Scholarship, which fully covers her tuition, and is scheduled to attend the all-veteran coding bootcamp this fall. While there were a number of other bootcamps to choose from, Code Platoon was always the first choice for Baker.
“One reason why I chose to apply for Code Platoon is because its exclusively for veterans,” Baker said. “I feel that being around people from a similar background, who are working towards the same goals, will prove more beneficial to the process.”
In addition to providing a sense of community, Baker believes that an all-veteran bootcamp will likely be composed of the most highly motivated and disciplined students in the coding industry.
“Veterans have worked in a variety of different roles all over the world, and because of that, veterans have a wide array of experiences that allow them to adapt quickly when engaging in new projects,” Baker said. “I feel that a lot of veterans have the drive and the aptitude to work towards a role in tech.”
Although many of today’s veterans often have skillsets that translate well to coding and programming few choose to pursue a career path in the tech industry. Baker says that veterans who have given thought to a career in coding should, at the very least, give it a try.
“I know a lot of people that are interested in coding who are too worried to see what it’s all about, but there are abundant resources online to just dabble in it and see if coding is for you.”
It’s a sentiment that’s shared by leading tech giants such as Google, IBM, and Intel, all of whom have taken measures to help veterans gain a footing in the tech sector. And because there are plenty of opportunities waiting for veterans with strong programming skills, Baker says she’s eager to begin her first day at Code Platoon.
“I’m excited to have this opportunity to study and work towards becoming a developer; I’m looking forward to working in teams in a highly collaborative environment and to be challenged while solving difficult problems.”
For people interested in becoming software developers, it may seem as if there are infinite ways to embark on that path. Which is great, because having so many options means anyone can learn to code, but this is also bad, because you can get seriously bogged down trying to figure out how to get there.
To simplify the choices, let’s take a look at the three major forks you can take, and how to navigate them. They vary in investment (think time AND money), expediency and outcome. (The goal here is to narrow your focus, not provide an overwhelming list of possibilities, so this is hardly an exhaustive list of options.)
Path #1: Traditional: Get a degree in Computer Science
This is the most traditional way to enter the world of software development, but it is also expensive and takes the most time. Bachelor’s degrees take four years, a master’s degree typically takes two. Fortunately, many veterans and military spouses have GI Bill funds that they can use at universities. If you go this route you may as well use the top ten programs as a starting point. This is most tried-and-true way to enter software development, and no hiring manager will thumb his or her nose at your background (although there is by no means a guarantee of a job). Moreover, if you do attend a prestigious program, you will also enjoy the benefits of having access to the alumni network, not to mention a thorough knowledge of, well, computer science that can take you in a lot of directions.
Despite its advantages, a CS degree can be a daunting and expensive undertaking. For people who are changing careers or with families to support, being out of the workforce for several years might not be practical. And these days companies often fault CS graduates for not having much practical experience.
Bonus tip — possibly the best deal on a CS degree is offered online by Georgia Tech, which happens to be a Top10 program, for $7,000.
Path #2: Nontraditional: Coding Bootcamp
The premise of ‘coding bootcamps’ is to take a deeply interested beginner and, in a matter of months, teach all of the practical skills to qualify as a junior software developer. These schools are named bootcamps, because many follow an ‘immersive’ philosophy, which requires students to work 60- to 100-hour weeks. The cost, too, is usually under $20,000, and pales in comparison to the cost of traditional higher education, The bootcamp model is reasonably new, but has exploded in popularity as a way for career changers to learn the skills to fill the growing need for software developers. Today dozens (hundreds?) of coding bootcamps, in all shapes and sizes, dot the country, with some of the schools offered wholly online.
Some factors to consider while comparing these schools: technology stack, location, length, cost, reported outcomes and curriculum. Course Report is a good starting point for this research. One simple guidepost: Look for coding boot camps that offer at least 1,000 hours of instruction/coding/project time.
For veterans and military spouses, there are a few additional points to consider. Some coding bootcamps are eligible to accept the GI Bill. Operation Code, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help the military community learn software development and break into the tech industry, keeps a list of these coding bootcamps. Code Platoon (disclaimer, I’m the executive director), is a Chicago-based non-profit coding bootcamp exclusively for veterans and military spouses that offers its students $10,500 scholarships.
Other reasons to go to a coding bootcamp instead of college? The slide in this article says it all. Much less time spent out of the workforce, and, for the better bootcamps, pretty good employment outcomes. You’ll see a greater emphasis on building products, rather than theory (not unlike learning to be a carpenter versus studying to be an architect). The fast pace can’t accommodate the rigorous study of algorithms and problem solving that a CS program can, of course, and some employers are still skeptical about hiring bootcamp grads.
Bonus tip — probably the best deal in coding bootcamps is online Free Code Camp. It’s rigorous. It’s long. It’s well designed. It’s FREE! Get through that and perhaps supplement with this algorithms class.
Path #3: Self-paced online learning
If you want to explore your options, to try as many different things as possible, and have the time, you can try to learn on your own. There are many, many ways to do this.
If you want to pursue this path, please:
Of course, to just get a feel for the business or explore its many facets, you’ll find a boggling array of resources. Codewars.com, Hacker Rank and Codingbat have lots of free programming challenges, as well as some guidance on how to go through them. Alternatively, you could pick a project that you are interested in, either something you want to build (a website, app, etc.) or that someone else has suggested. And then go build it!
Javier Revuelta: How a challenging experience became rewarding, and led to a dream job
Javier joined our very first cohort back in January 2016 and graduated in May 2016! We asked him to share a few answers with us over email about his experience with Code Platoon.
Former title: Korean Cryptologic Linguist, United States Air Force
Current title: Ruby Developer Intern at PowerReviews
How did it feel when you transitioned out of the military? What would you say to others who are going through/will go through the same transition?
Transitioning out of the military was an interesting experience, because despite my eagerness to start a new phase, there was a long period of adjustment back to life beyond the uniform. I went straight back to school to finish a Bachelor’s degree and, while certainly useful, at the end of the process I felt like I had just gone through the motions, somewhat. Get out, go to school, get a degree, go find a job—that sort of thing. Code platoon was frankly the turning point that made me feel like I was on a real career path, rather than simply having a decent job.
To anyone who is transitioning out of the military, I would simply suggest giving yourself the time to really consider where you want to be in a few years. Ultimately, we are all looking to be happy and fulfilled in our lives, but that can take many forms and half the battle is being honest with yourself about what that means to YOU. Whether your choice places you near or far from the skillset you developed in the military isn’t all that important. Don’t be afraid of going way out of your element.
What do you do on a typical day now in your civilian career? Is it different from your time in the military?
I am currently a software engineering intern at PowerReviews. I support two Rails applications, and have had the opportunity to collaborate developing new features and seeing the entire process of bringing a new application to life.
A typical day starts around 8:00 or 9:00 am with arriving to work and checking for pull requests that have been submitted by the team. I familiarize myself with the work that went on the previous day and ask any questions that might come up while I do code review before we merge the newest batch of changes. I will then take a few minutes to prioritize the day in terms of outstanding tickets I might have, and will try to do some coding before our standup meeting at 10:30.
Once standup time arrives, the team gathers and explains the work each person has done since the previous day. We are encouraged to bring up anything that could be blocking our progress so we can address that quickly. I will generally give some idea of where I am with projected completion times for outstanding tickets, and mention whether any of my work is relevant or could impact any of the work that the others are doing. Standup meetings tend to be fairly short, so I am usually back at my desk within 15 minutes.
Once standup is complete, I can get a good coding session in before lunch. Work tends to have a wide range of flavors, but taking today as an example, I spent the morning writing some tests for Active Record models. Lunch was going for a quick run to clear my mind, and then it was back to tackling a few bugs in the code for one of our apps, as well as re-visiting an API I had written to expand its features, since requirements for it had changed.
The work that I did in the military involved foreign languages, so there are certainly some parallels to be drawn. The process of learning vocabulary and phrasing in Korean ties closely with working out the syntax of- and well as writing idiomatic Ruby, for example.
Why did you join the military? What does the military instill in you?
I was unsure about what I wanted to do with my life, so I walked into a recruiter’s office almost as an afterthought. As soon as I got the option to become a cryptologic linguist, I knew that I would be in for a very special experience and the rest was history. The military will teach you many things, but the most important ones are leadership and teamwork, which go hand-in-hand. Nobody is above the team, nobody is dead weight, and nobody gets left behind—lessons are taught quickly and effectively if you struggle with any of those concepts. What comes from that is a strong sense of self and core values, along with a level of camaraderie with your peers that will, in all likelihood, never be matched in your civilian life.
Why did you decide to join Code Platoon?
Code Platoon opened a door that I had long ago considered to be closed. Going back to the reasons I joined the military, one of the things that the recruiter asked me after I had completed all of my assessments was whether I had an interest in languages or programming. Back then I said languages, but I spent the next ten years wondering what would have happened if I had answered differently. Code Platoon gave me a chance to answer that question again and choose a new path.
One of the most important things that led to my decision to join Code Platoon was an early conversation I had with Rod while I was finishing up my application. It was clear to me that the best intentions were in place with this program: non-profit, veteran focused, etc., but I knew that if the right person wasn’t at the helm this would be short-lived. Rod instilled an immense amount of confidence in me, and his absolute frankness about the program, the challenges ahead, and his plans to really build something great made this an easy decision.
Take all of that and add a generous tuition-assistance program coupled with companies willing to grant internship slots to new graduates, and you have a package that is unmatched by any other boot camp.
What was your favorite and/or most memorable part of it?
I will always remember the camaraderie and dedication that everyone showed day in and day out. Most of us have been out of the military for a while and were complete strangers when we first started the program, but I know that I have lifelong friendships here and that I could trust these guys with my life.
Memorable? Many things stand out: hackathon night pairing with the guys at Enova, the surprise of getting our graduation coins after presenting our final projects, walks around the block to try to clear our minds and discuss a given project, or even the cheesy ‘Welcome Back’ CSS animations for the e-greeting card we built for Rod when he got back from a trip. I’ll never forget having our instructor take on multiple accents/personas to play ‘client’ or ‘consultant extraordinaire’ when we were tackling our projects. It’s the small things that made this whole experience amazing.
How did you feel at the beginning of CP?
I was excited to take on this new challenge, proud of myself for making the leap of transitioning out of one career to pursue my real passion, and also slightly nervous about my ability to get through it all and succeed. Would I be able to handle the curriculum? Could I really build a new career as a software developer?
I would eventually learn that the answer to both was a resounding yes, but those first days definitely put us all to the test.
What did you think of Code Platoon overall?
Code platoon was an interesting experience; it was certainly rewarding but immensely challenging at the same time. We were provided an incredibly capable instructor (rewarding!), but the teaching style – in having to compress so much information into such a small timeframe – was not for everyone (challenging!). I don’t think I could have achieved what I did anywhere else, and in that I give full credit to Rod, Josh, and Brent for doing an outstanding job as we navigated this new process together.
Ultimately, I think what brought Code Platoon to life was the camaraderie. For all the happy years all of us have spent as civilians, there is something to be said for being in a group of people who have also served in the military. There is no leaving anyone behind, or losing sight of the goal – and that is something that was proven time and time again as we struggled, came together, and overcame many of the challenges that we faced in those sixteen weeks.
What advice would you give to people who want to get the most out of Code Platoon?
The most important piece to getting the most out of Code Platoon actually needs to occur before ever stepping into the classroom: gaining a full understanding of what programs like these demand of you and arriving at the right mindset. I can’t say that any of us can fully appreciate that until we are in the middle of it, but reflecting on and accepting the demands and stresses that this would place on my life certainly helped me when the pressure was on and everyone was starting to crack a bit. This will be difficult. This will demand more of you than any academic endeavor you’ve engaged in previously, and it will beat you into the ground if you’re not in 100%.
How has joining Code Platoon affected your life?
It changed my perspective on learning and completely redefined what I now consider difficult or challenging. From a confidence standpoint, I am fairly certain that – given enough time – I could learn just about anything, programming-related or not.
I am currently finishing the second month of a six-month internship, and that is thanks to Rod’s efforts to get enough sponsor companies lined up for us. So far, the support here has been outstanding, and I find myself at a company where people really seem to enjoy their work. You wouldn’t believe what a difference that makes every morning when I walk in!
What do you want out of your career today?
I want the fulfillment of knowing that I am tackling and solving difficult and very different problems while working with a great group of people. I know that my happiness is tied intrinsically to satisfying a high level of intellectual curiosity—so far the work that I am doing has delivered in spades.