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How Vets Who Code Helps Veterans Start Their Developer Journey

Vets Who Code logo

In honor of Veterans Day, we’re launching Veterans Who Code. This series of interviews shares the stories of 4 veteran developers. Each one has served our country and navigated the ups and downs of reintegrating into the civilian workforce.  Today, these veterans lead projects at Dropbox, Operation Code, Yelo and Vets Who Code.

In addition to speaking with the veterans in Veterans Who Code, HackerRank also had the privilege of interviewing 3 more veteran developers from Vets Who Code. Founded in 2014 by Jerome Hardaway, Vets Who Code teaches veterans computer science courses and prepares them for the civilian workforce. Since their start, Vets Who Code has helped 250 veterans land developer jobs.

All of the veteran developers we interviewed below are Vets Who Code Alumni. Each one shares the obstacles they faced while transitioning to civilian roles in tech, what changes companies can make to better support veterans, what resources veterans should use to start their career, and how Vets Who Code has supported them in their professional growth.

vets who code alumni Carla

Carla Kroll, Front-End Developer, Former Aerospace Ground Equipment Mechanic 

Carla Kroll spent 6 years in the U.S. Air force as an Aerospace Ground Equipment Mechanic. It was an accident during her service that placed Carla on the road to becoming a developer. After breaking her ankle on the job, Carla spent her time exploring Paintbrush, an image editing program. Her new found love for Paintbrush inspired her to get an Associate's degree in graphic design and then a bachelor’s degree in computer science. After racking up 10 years of web design experience, Carla joined a Vets Who Code cohort in 2017. Here’s what Carla has to say to veterans who want to start coding:

What is one of the hardest challenges you’ve had to overcome specifically as a veteran developer?

I got a late start in this field. The devs around me have been coding since high school, and that wasn’t even an option when I was in school. Trying to play catch up to a group that is much younger and has lived in the developer mindset has been a challenge.

What coding skills do veterans need to secure developer jobs?

HTML, CSS, and Vanilla JavaScript are going to be fundamental. Patience is pivotal, along with good communication skills. I find that a lot of people in this industry try to talk over other’s heads to make themselves feel smarter than the group, but as I grow with code, I realize that not to be true.

What’s the most exciting thing you accomplished through Vets Who Code?

Being part of this community feels like a great accomplishment. Growing in the field and in the organization has been a source of pride for me. I often question my own abilities but VWC is always there to prop me up.

Have you or do you know of any veterans who have used HackerRank as a tool to help them prepare for the civilian workforce?

I believe a few of the members of Vets Who Code have used HackerRank.

If you had one piece of advice for veteran developers looking for their first civilian developer job, what would it be?

Don’t give up. It can be a tough road but keep applying and you’ll find someone to take a chance on you. Also, study! Learning how to interview cannot be underestimated. Its like basic training. The interview is harder than the job most of the time.

Schauster from Vets Who Code

Schuster Braun, Web Dev Boot Camp Instructor, Former Linguist and Missions Manager

Like Carla, Schuster Braun’s started his developer journey while serving. As a Missions Manager in the U.S. Navy, Schuster led the training and tasking efforts for more than 35 sailors. He was also in charge of resolving 3 high priority intelligence system issues. After spending 6 years in the Navy, Schuster walked away with 2 new languages and a slew of technical skills under his belt. A couple of months after returning to the civilian world, Schuster joined Vets Who code. Here’s what Schuster has to say veterans who are trying to break into tech:

What is one of the hardest challenges you’ve had to overcome specifically as a veteran developer?

As a veteran developer, my biggest hurdle was finding a community that I could talk to and feel safe expressing myself around. Being a veteran can feel isolating sometimes.

If a veteran wants to become a developer but doesn’t have coding experience, where should they start?

It depends on what they want to build and do with code. There needs to be a goal that they are trying to get to. If they have that I would say try to teach yourself the tools and keep trying to overcome challenges by yourself. If you need help, find communities to reach out to and ask questions and stay engaged. 

What’s the most exciting thing you accomplished through Vets Who Code? 

Vets Who Code gave me a road map for how to access the tech community at large and gave me the tools to be able to organize Southern Dev Conference, a regional conference in my city, Augusta Georgia.

Have you or do you know of any veterans who have used HackerRank as a tool to help them prepare for the civilian workforce?

I use HackerRank Youtube videos to help teach me data structures and algorithms.

What advice would you give to companies who have their own military hiring programs?

I recommend that they connect with the Department of Defense (DoD) Transition Assistance Programs and veteran training programs to help give veterans perspective to their goals while they’re going through their education.

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Eddie Prislac, Vets Who Code Mentor, Senior Software Engineer, and Former Small Arms Repair Technician

Eddie Prislac served as a small arms repair technician. He spent a total of 10 years in the military, 4 years in the marines and later 6 years in the Army National Guard. In between his serving gap, Eddie took IT project management and programming courses online. Once he finished his time serving, he started to apply for jobs in the civilian market. During his job search, his interviewees were impressed with his technical skills but didn’t see how his military skills applied to civilian jobs. This inspired Eddie to become a mentor at Vets Who Code and help other veterans learn technical skills that civilian employers are looking for. Today, Eddie runs Vets Who Code’s applicant process. Here’s some advice Eddie has for veterans who are applying for developer roles:

What coding skills do veterans need to secure developer jobs? 

In my experience, languages come and go in terms of popularity, so having a good grasp on planning and problem-solving, as well as an understanding of how to apply algorithms and patterns is more important than memorizing code syntax. That being said, JavaScript and React are in high demand right now for web developers, as well as Python and Scala for those looking to go into machine learning

As an organization that prepares and equips veterans to become a developer in the market, have you come across any reasons why companies choose not to hire developers? 

You have to know not only the developer market, but your company’s target market. I used to do a lot of work for political candidates, which is seasonal, so there may not be as much work available outside of the election season. When I did work for the energy sector, development jobs were tightly coupled to how well the oil and gas market was doing. On a more general level, when demand for devs is high, companies tend to focus not only on how skilled a candidate is, but how well they’ll mesh with a team. You can be a coding wunderkind, but if you’re not going to get on well with your senior team members, nobody’s going to want you around.

What’s the most exciting thing you accomplished through Vets Who Code? 

Getting put in charge of our applicant progress, and getting to see how quickly our devs progress from start to finish. These folks come in with a varying level of skill and knowledge, but generally lacking in direction. Our focused, mentored approach kicks their learning process and creativity into overdrive. Occasionally, I see people exit the program putting out work that I’m jealous of (as a 10+ year vet in the industry). It’s awesome to me to see that level of skill and professionalism from our students.

If you had one piece of advice for veteran developers looking for their first civilian developer job, what would it be?

 Emphasize your discipline and teamwork skills, and display a willingness to learn from criticism. Peer review is something all good devs have to do and go through.

Anything else you’d like to share with veterans who are considering becoming developers? 

Keep your military bearing, but remember you’re not in the military anymore. Despite the applicability of your military skills in the civilian workforce, it’s a whole different animal. Try to keep swearing in check and guard your tongue, and be tactful, as your co-workers will not be as thick-skinned as when you were in, and may take offense even if none was intended. Lastly, learn how your military training can be applied to working as a developer… you’d be surprised just how many seemingly unrelated skills will actually benefit your work as a dev.

If you’re interested in learning more about Vets Who Code and how you can get involved and help veterans start their developer journey, visit their website here.

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