Charles: Hey everybody and welcome to Episode 279 of the Ruby Rogues podcast. This week on our panel we have Saron Yitbarek.
Saron: Hey everybody!
Charles: Jessica Kerr.
Jessica: Good Morning!
Charles: Coraline Ada Ehmke.
Coraline: I am new and improved.
Charles: David Brady.
David: Alexa, order me a new pair of headphones.
Charles: I’m Charles Max Wood from Devchat.tv and this week we have a special guest and that is Jerome Hardaway.
Jerome: Hey everybody! I don’t have anything quirky to say, sorry.
Saron: That works.
Charles: I’m always stunned by what David says. Do you want to give us a brief introduction?
Jerome: Yeah, roger that. Yes, sir. I can say it, Jerome Hardaway is my name. What I do is I help veterans learn how to program with no profit. I myself am in the military term what we like to call is OEF OIF which is Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, in combat veteran, served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Once I came out the military, I realized that there weren’t a lot of opportunities for me that had the same type of community as well as benefits as the military so I went and started to program. Once I learned how to program, I saw this is a really low cost, tangible way of helping other veterans transition successfully into the civilian workforce and so I started helping other veterans learn how to code and training them in software programming, specifically Ruby on Rails.
Charles: Very cool. Which branch of the military did you serve in? I’m curious.
Jerome: Sir, the United States Air Force. They have a special program, you can Google it. It’s called the Phoenix Raven program in which, actually now I think we’ve opened it up to all the services but basically what they do is they take you into security forces and they added more training onto it. I could fly all around the world and be fully deployable. I think I spent my entire time, I think I was in the Navy one, two years stateside. I think most of that was training.
Charles: Very cool. Do you want to give us a brief introduction to Vets Who Code?
Jerome: Roger that. Vets Who Code is a veteran founded and operated 501(c)(3) that focuses on teaching veterans how to program a software development with a focus on what we like to call our VWC, our Vets Who Code stack which is Angular-Bootstrap-Rails with a post-grade database and also with deployment in Heroku and Amazon web services or Elastic Search, whatever you’re more comfortable with. We do this over the course of 19 weeks and then after that what happens is we help our veterans get jobs in whatever sector, whatever state they’re in. So far we’ve done events and we’ve done this in 14 states, we actually have a cohort going on. Actually this is month two so we’ve started in Brailes literally yesterday. That’s a little bit about us, what we do.
David: That’s fantastic.
Charles: Yeah, that’s really exciting. I’m a little curious, how do you find instructors and how do you find veterans who need help learning to code?
Jerome: Actually, what has happened with the instructor’s side is we have two instructors but I also stepped in to make sure that everybody gets more than enough time when it comes to learning. We try to keep the classrooms small and as concentrated as possible so everyone gets their time.
When it comes to veterans, that’s literally that easiest part for us because 50% of the team is veterans and we’re in that space in both with technology and the veteran space so when people ask us questions we’re able to talk about it. Our current cohort, we had 113 applicants apply for it and it was insane because we usually do no more than 10 people, we try to keep it max 13 but that’s how many people came and wanted to be a part of our learning experience.
We accepted six. We’ve been just training those people. Basically, we’ve done actually a split course this time in which one course is focusing a lot stronger on front-end web development as well as Rails and one is focusing on a lot more in depth service side web development because that’s what they want to learn.
A couple of guys, they really wanted to focus really deep into service side software development site already have like really strong showing in front-end web development and design in particular so that’s what we’ve done. And then we’re going to switch the two so we could focus on a little more service side on one and front-end on the other. That’s what we’ve been doing. It’s been a really crazy experience.
Coraline: Jerome, is this a free experience for veterans or is there a fee associated with it or how exactly does that model work?
Jerome: We are 100% on donations, donations of people that support us by buying our tshirts or notebook, 100% free for veterans. We don’t charge veterans that qualify anything.
We’ve actually been asked to open it up to non-qualifying veterans and charge them but we just don’t feel, as a veteran I don’t feel right in that and one of the things is that if you can afford software development education, I’d rather you go to one of those really great for profit code schools like General Assembly because I just really want to focus on those that we can have impact as well as have aptitude for it.
A lot of veterans we focus on, what happens is the one year out to two to five years, one year about to get out to two to five years about already out in the sector. There it was called by the department of veteran affairs that vulnerable population which if things don’t start happening really fast and start clicking really early for them in regards to their transition, they can end up being homeless, or even worse commit suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction, things in that nature because of the methods that they have when they exit the military.
We know for a fact that last year in the military, first two years out of the military are literally the most volatile years for a military veteran. That’s a part of the population I tend to focus the most on, veterans that are exiting really early on in their military exit so that way we can get them early, train them up and get them into a stable work environment and then we can minimize that damage that happens when it comes to transitioning out of the military.
David: Jerome, what do you think is different about the experience that you provide the veterans that they would not get from a traditional boot camp. I’m asking because I’m kind of curious, I actually mentored an Iraq war veteran out of a bootcamp and I’m curious as to what the veteran’s needs are that are different relative to maybe the average person going through a coding school bootcamp. What kind of special needs do they have? What sort of combinations do you have to make? What sort of changes in learning style do you have to adapt to? What are the special considerations?
Jerome: Roger that. Well for us, we focus on what we like to call not only software education but also situational education because they’re transitioning into the civilian sector at the same time. You’re literally having to learn what we like to say two separate cultures. You gave to learn technology, the tech community and civilian culture.
For instance when it comes to the whole difference of applying or qualifying for a job in the military is complete a 180 as it is for the civilian sector. From the basics of doing resumes and networking. A lot of veterans don’t even know what networking is, much less how to do it when they exit.
One of our homework assignments is having to go to a meet up at least once a month in their local community as well as we do other various integration exercises forcing them to get into other slack channels or just get in other communities and speak as well as getting a civilian or a veteran mentors who’ve already made that transition to be a mentor for that veteran.
You have the culture for being the civilian culture, you have the issues of learning technology. For instance one of our veterans is currently going through the program, he had a really strong frontend background but because he was in the military, I don’t know if any of you guys ever had experience with the military environment, his idea of what the design was is a little not polished is what I’m going to say.
David: Ceremonial maybe?
Jerome: Yeah. It was really bland. It was like, “Okay, so we have to work on–alright, I understand this is what we’ve been pushed and trained on how to make it look here but here are some great examples, here’s some great tips, here’s NPR podcast I want you to listen to, here is a Smashing Magazine. Let’s go through this simple design thinking tutorial.”
Even one of our team members, Andrew Lebowitz, Smashing Magazine was the magazine I was speaking about. One of our team members, Andrew Lebowitz, he’s actually a brand strategist and art director. The guy is amazing, he used to do really well work for companies like FedEx, BMW, he’s amazing when it comes to design. He actually helped us when it came to revamping our site and as to the point now anything that goes onto a person’s hand or anything they have to see doesn’t even get released if he doesn’t give the okay for it.
These are all things, unique problems that we come across. Not only that, just dealing with for instance, one of the things that we come across regularly is how to learn how to program with PTSD as that is totally different segment of how to learn, basically learning with an anxiety disorder is one thing that we tend to work on.
I have experience as a peer support specialist. I took that experience of peer support specialist and working with psychologists and helping other veterans with post traumatic stress to a segue and turn it to how to help people with PTSD learn how to program. That’s one of the other methodologies that we look at when it comes to that such as learn how to code with the social aspects as well.
Saron: That’s what I find so interesting because it’s not just about technical education. When I was at Microsoft doing Tech Jobs Academy working with lower income, unemployed, underemployed New Yorkers, that’s what I learned too, is that the technical knowledge is part of it but a much bigger part of it is just the support system, the emotional support, the financial support, a lot of things that were not about learning to code.
When it comes to coding your program, how much time would you say you spend actually focusing on code itself and how much of it is the other stuff that’s needed to be a successful student?
Jerome: I think it’s the 80:20 ratio, 80% on code, 20% on just the social aspect.
Saron: That’s pretty good.
Jerome: We focus on just try to have that 80:20 rule in place for everything. One of the things we do, one of the things we’ve started to do, you guys are invited if you want to be a part of this, is we’re starting to do flex-site chats where we invite people who have been in the industry and just have the veterans talk and ask questions.
Last month, we had Zed Shaw come in and a lot of people don’t know that Zed is an army veteran which is pretty cool and it helped the veterans get a lot more comfortable because Zed’s been there, done that on both ends. He went from being in the army to riding mongrel. Things like that that we are doing to try to focus on–you know what, we understand that you want to learn the skill but there’s also a social aspect and you can’t be in your own little bubble.
We’re always doing HAWC checks or what we like to call Health and Wellness checks. I randomly just pick up the phone or hit them up in Slack and call up for a meeting just to see how they’re doing when it comes to their mental space like, “How are you doing? How’s the work? Is the work load too intense? Are you needing help with something that you may not be wanting to share in front of the other troops?” Things in that nature. You always try.
I think I get that from the military is like you’re always looking to do the buddy check to see who needs a little more help or who may feel like they’re being neglected or something like that and try to give them extra attention. In the military, I think the best saying that we had was that our number one resource is people because without the people, the planes don’t fly and the boats don’t float.
Saron: That’s really fascinating. I would love to see a blogpost on this HAWC check applied to development work.
Jerome: Because we use HAWC in AAR, After Action Review. I use the terms that we use in our Slack. I think you guys call it stand-ups when it comes to civilians, in web development, it’s usually called stand-up where you stand in a circle and you’re doing a H-A-W-C, HAWC, Health and Wellness check. Yes, sir.
Charles: I got you.
Jerome: You guys call it stand-ups where you’re asking about problems, if they need help. Because we are military, we do sit reps, pop checks, and AAR. AAR is After Action Review which is immediately after class we see what went really, what we could’ve done better, how did you feel, what do we need more work on and is there anything coming up in the next 24 to 72 hours that you may need that may deter you from learning at your optimal levels? We do HAWC checks, Health and Wellness check just to see how our veterans are doing.
Saron: How often do you do those?
Jerome: I do a HAWC check at least once or twice a week. AAR is every after class. We do AAR at least four times a week. HAWC checks is twice a week. Sit Reps, situational reports is just random. That’s what a sit rep is. You’re just doing a randomized request of how that person is.
We had one individual who his wife was pregnant. I think that’s the most rewarding part of this work is that at least one quarter we have people who are going through life changing experiences, having a baby. It’s so cool that I’m always a part of this at least one person is doing this and they’re putting their growing stones because they want a better life for someone else. That’s really humbling when you look at your work like that.
Specifically for him, we had to make sure that he had some wiggle room because I too have a wife and I could only imagine how my wife would be if she was pregnant on her last trimester. We would definitely, we are all walking on eggshells around her because I do not want to be the one who gets yelled at, I’m scared of everybody’s life as well.
There’s a running joke where usually I tell everybody who’s near is that we’re going to be spending so much time learning that eventually you’re going to get fussed at because your wife is going to say you’re playing on a computer, my wife she still says that now. But after they get mad at you, the second person they usually get mad at is me.
I always make sure that you have an ample enough time to spend with your family. You know what, you don’t want to get yelled at, I don’t want to get yelled at. Usually when she starts yelling at you, they come for me. Let’s not get yelled at together. That’s just a process.
I’m not one who believes that high stress situations help software engineers. I’ve gone through that and seen a bootcamp lifestyle like in military and NCAA and like a co-school bootcamp, I just felt like especially with a level of deep thought that you have to do in problem solving, the brain doesn’t react well when it comes to finer motor skills, or finer thinking strategies. We know that in the military so I try to keep it as stress-free as possible because it just doesn’t make sense. Growth motor skills, they work fine when you’re on high levels of stress but when it come to the finer minute details, you can just ask any person that’s worked in EOD that that’s a really draining process.
Charles: EOD is?
Jerome: Explosive Ordnance Disposal, basically guys that diffuse bombs. What I was saying is that you can ask those guys and they will let you know that is really not the optimum place, the position you want to be in when you’re problem solving. That’s one of the things that I focus on, it’s a more holistic approach to problem solving, doing projects and focusing on how to problem solve. They help build something.
We spent the first three months just building stuff before we get down to just solving problems with languages. I want them to have a lot of experience on how to build applications.
And then on the last month, all they’re doing is like what we like to say interview style problem solving, how to read this user story and then solve it. We use such great products like Interview Cake as well to help with that. We have so many compliments that come in and do mock interviews for us. We have people like [00:32:02] close sight that just volunteer people to come into our site channels via mock interviewers so that’s really cool.
That’s just things that I learned just on my own experiences is that you just have to have–I guess it’s what it’s called is a smarter not harder approach. I don’t believe in just killing yourself for what you believe in, you have to look at it from a more tactical approach and handle the problem that way.
Charles: I have a quick question and I’m going to back us up just a little bit. You’ve used a lot of terms. I mean, I know that the military has a lot of sort of internal language similar to what programmers have when we talk about the problems we’re trying to solve and the technologies we’re trying to solve them with. How important is that common language that you have as veterans to the process of teaching people how to code?
Jerome: It’s literally I think our main advantage is that everybody speaks the same lingo, everybody has the same training to fall back on. The only time we’ve seen a deer in the headlights moment is when we have coasts in the Slack channel during the class, that’s it. Navy guys, marines, air force, and army when it comes to some of the bigger or some of the more serious missions, because we all cross-train or cross-deploy with each other, we all have similar lingo. It’s only when we have coast guard guys in there because they never really… I think before this they’d go Alaska and they’re looking at us like, “Bro, what the heck did you just say?” And I’m like, “Alright, can someone else break it down for him. We’ll break for five minutes and let one of you guys.”
That comfort level. I don’t think you guys ever seen the meme of how veterans feel when they go to school or when they go to college after they get from service. Essentially, they have Adam Sandler from Billy Madison and I think he’s in the first grade class with all the little kids and he’s in a classroom and that’s how most veterans feel.
I even tell people my own personal story I had when I first got out of the military. My first time trying to go back to school, how like even though I was like 24, everybody else around me I was like, “Yo, these people are kids. I don’t even know what like–” I was like, everybody looks like they’re either trying to be Nicki Minaj or like Wiz Khalifa and I’m over here in jeans.
Saron: It’s not a good thing
Jerome: Jeans and a tshirt and like US Air Force hat. I stand out like a sort. They’re looking at me. Even my wife she’s like, “You’ve never really acted your age.” The military does that for you, you’re forced to grow up really, really fast especially during the era of the time I was there where it was really lot of high turnover, high deployments. I get that all the time.
The biggest leap I have is they just feel like they’re in a room with people who get them so they can just relax and not worry about them saying something like ARR, or sit rep, and like people are looking like, “What did this person say?” Or somebody’s looking, trying to figure out what having a one question. One person said it’s really good to be in an educational environment where somebody who’s not a veteran doesn’t ask you have you ever shot somebody.
Charles: Oh wow.
Jerome: He’s like every educational environment you’re in, someone always asks you were you ever in action or something like that. You’re trying to learn. This is the first environment we’ve been in where no one’s asking me that question. I was like, “Well, that’s not really what’s important here is to see what type of action you did overseas. We try to get you ready for the next stage of your life.”
It’s a very humbling, very awesome experience. I’m a part of so many people’s next stage planning for their life. We had guys from all over, even as far as Germany. We actually had one accident in which I got a Canadian army applied for our course and we we’re like, “You don’t qualify because you’re not American.” That was funny. I gave him some free stuff though so you shouldn’t be too mad. I didn’t know that he was like, “Wow, they hear about us in Canada. That’s pretty cool.”
But yeah, it really helps being a part of this one team, one fight military community and military family. Like these guys, they absolutely love it because they actually feel like they’re not competing with each other for jobs. They feel we’re all here to make each other better. I know Saron, she can definitely speak about this but there are some code schools that sometimes just get catty, people just feel like they’re in competition with each other to get jobs and they try to keep that down as much as possible.
Saron: Yeah and you mentioned earlier that you, I think you helped a lot of the students actually get jobs when they leave the Vets Who Code program. I’m wondering, do you see issues with that transition as well similar to them coming back to civilian life when they get actual developer jobs, they’re on dev teams. Have you seen issues with them being able to engage in that culture effectively?
Jerome: Some yes, some no. We try to find things at first. I hate this term, in a tech community it matters a lot more than other communities, culture fit. Some places are just better for some veterans that other places, some jobs are better for some veterans than other veterans.
One thing that we have learned is that organizations that have a really clunky workflows, if you have a bunch of third party tools that you’re using, we do everything from the command line to the terminal. Our guys, they’re using only Git when it comes to their workflows. Even their user stories or stuff like that, they’re doing everything through Git, they’re using markdown in Git.
When you go to workplaces that uses SourceTree and Confluence, basically the whole Atlassian family of apps, they’re like, “Alright. What is this?” They get frustrated because they’re like, “You didn’t train us on that.” Honestly, I didn’t know that many people were running towards these type of third party source apps and that’s one thing that we had to look at and start focusing on some. I’m not a fan of SourceTree and Confluence but–
Coraline: I’m not aware of any competition for GitHub personally. I was an employee at GitHub.
Jerome: I didn’t know that. GitHub is like what we just use because it was easy. For us, that’s what we just use all the time.
Coraline: It’s all because of me.
Jessica: Going into any development job, expecting to use the tools you already know, that’s not a thing.
Jerome: Yeah, that’s what we let them know, there is always going to be a learning curve. Just confidence, that’s another thing that we come to. It’s usually up in their first couple mock interviews they realize, “Holy crap, I actually know this stuff.” But what happens is because we keep the course, the teams small so that they can learn everything but if they’re only in that small environment, there’s no I guess healthy ways to gauge themselves because they’re gauging themselves with people they don’t feel like they’re competing with so they think that they are not, “Am I good in this? Am I good or am I not? I know you’re going to tell me I’m good because you’re the instructor and this is your program but how would I tell if I’m getting this or not?”
Well, that’s what meetups are for. Having conversations with other Rubyists will let you know if you’re understanding what we’re talking about. Same concept that I just learned, I tell them all the time, it’s the confidence thing. You never are going to know if you’re good at something until you go into the live action thrills. Once we’re doing it, and just like baby birds, kick them up in nests and let these guys go and see how good they are on their own. I’m always proud of them and it’s like, “Yo, you guys can do this. You just have to know that you have to trust yourself and trust your training.”
It’s funny because that goes back to what we learned in the military about trusting the training and trusting what you know. I’ve had it from Ruby Blocks to methods to the thought process of how to break down the user story and solve it. These are just some things that we have encountered over the past couple, not sessions, I guess cohorts would be the best word to say.
Coraline: You use the word guys a lot and I’m not going to yell at you for that but it does make me wonder about the gender breakdown of participants in the Vets Who Code program.
Jerome: We always try to go for women. Women and minorities are always priority in Vets Who Code. I say guys and troops because I say that, I’m working on it, I’m not perfect but that’s just something that I always say. I think so far 20% of the people that have come through are female. We’re trying to get those numbers up higher. I think one of the things that we have to work on is trying to make sure they know that it’s a safe space, we don’t really care about your gender. I know that sometimes the tech community can be really aggressive but I am—
Jerome: Yeah. Tech community and military community.
Jerome: A lot of people don’t know this about me but my second favorite subject after comic books is history and I’m very aware of what women had given to computer science industry. From Ada Lovelace to female programmers, game engineers that paved the way for the games my kids are playing now to even the work that women have done in NASA. I definitely know that women were the pioneers of software engineering. That’s one thing I always try to bring up.
We have troops who are female ask questions like, “I don’t feel like, of anything, you probably have a higher chance of succeeding more than the guys because you’re a woman, you’re smarter than us anyway.” We’ve all taken too many hits to the head.
In our interview process, what we always try to do is we look at the makeup of the military and we also look at the makeup of the tech community then we try to flip it when it comes to our class. The tech community I believe is less than 8% in women and in the military community we have about the same, 10% to 8%. We also look at when it comes to LGBT as well. We try to flip that to make sure that we have a healthy mix of those at least over the calendar year coming in and actually looks reverse.
I think what it is is we’re always asking, going and reaching to those communities to see for people to try to come into our course. The harsh reality is they feel like they may end up being judged or they feel like they may not be good enough or things like that. We are still trying, we’re trying really, really hard to work on that. You can ask any of my team.
That’s one of my biggest thing because being an African American male, I’m very big on tech inclusion because I know how hard personally it is to bring in tech. I took time, I left my family in Memphis to go to New York to show up my skills, to accelerate my skills just so make sure I can break into tech. I know for a fact that it’s difficult to break into tech as anything else. That’s why I’m always on the search for that talent that just doesn’t look like what people think a military veteran is.
Coraline: I was just going to say you’re absolutely right. Go ahead, Jessica.
Jessica: As people who are already in tech, what can we do at our companies and our meet ups, how can we make our places more welcoming to people like veterans?
Jerome: The first thing would be to go into these communities. What I’ve seen is that from my experience, the tech community isn’t reaching out as well as it could to communities, not just veterans but completely when it comes across the board with women, LGBT, and veterans. You’re not reaching out and being able to see that these people are different. The next Bill Gates, the next Steve Jobs can be in any of these groups. It’s probably a woman or maybe a transgender.
Just having that fearless thought process, I think that’s one of the things that puts us apart from the other guys, that I’m fearless. I go into communities all the time and people are like, “Why are you at this meet up if you’re not queer, if you don’t identify as queer.” I didn’t know that I had to be queer to be in a meet up. I like to just go out there and meet people and see because that’s where–I feel better in there. She didn’t even know about programmers like us and that’s because if we have never walked into that type of community, she wouldn’t have known, she will never know. That’s what we focus on.
We actually go into places like these podcasts and talking to people who may not even know that there’s option out there for them like us. These are things that we do all the time. We always ask that instead of you doing a meet up about ES6, go donate to your local crossfit or local young vets organizations who are going to do a Murph or even better, I know every tech company has this one dude who’s like hyper fit for no reason. You gave all the muscles, you won’t, stop going to the gym. Have that dude go out there with the veterans and complete the Murph with them and then take pictures of him vomiting and post it on the next Christmas card. Things like that, that’s part of the military community.
People don’t even know about Lieutenant Murphy, that there’s a cross fit exercise named after him, his valor when he was overseas and how he ended up losing his life in war. What we do every year is his favorite set of exercise is called The Murph and it’s brutal, that’s why I said pick the healthiest guys, the guys that won’t have your insurance detectable go all the way up and have them go out there and vomit on everybody while they’re doing it.
November 11 is coming up. There are so many opportunities for the tech community to actually come out and reach out into the veteran communities and see what they can do anywhere from going to the local student veteran center. Some colleges are starting to do that to hosting a veteran Hackathon on November 11.
Especially one of the things we want to do, but we’re still working on the case. We want to do Code In The Dark in New York and Nashville. That’s what we’re focusing on because it’s a nice frontend web development. Frontend web development is not intimidating for some people, for most of people like Ruby or Python who are doing that and just having these guys and girls have so much have fun, just make it like a party. I think we have to meet you guys halfway, we can’t just put it all in the tech community but we have to be alright, we like to just like how we would do in Iraq or Afghanistan, we have to immerse ourselves to the community because we know that it’s easier and safer for that transition when we do that type of immersion. That’s one thing that we actually preach in Vets Who Code.
The easiest way to make a smooth transition or make a smooth integration is to actually go out there and get to know the people, acknowledge their differences and respect them. That’s something that we learned in the military when it comes to going into other countries. It’s very funny where like why don’t they ever show that part of us actually having dinner with people in Iraq in villages and stuff, in their homes. They never show that part but they show all the crazy stuff that is literally 8% of our job.
Really 60% of our job is just sitting around and waiting for something bad to happen or preparing to make something good happen. I was like, “Why not just use that training you learn in the military for good? Read your documentation, integrate it into your communities,” that’s why we focus on the meet ups once a month. We focus on going to other Slack channels, getting on local Slack channel, getting on Twitter.
You’ll be amazed how many of our guys come through and they don’t have a Twitter or LinkedIn. I’m like, “How do you communicate with the outside world? How do people know you’re looking for a job? I’m confused.” These are all things that we work on. We have them set this stuff up. LinkedIn has a great program for veterans, Lynda for veterans. Basically, the free premium LinkedIn Lynda accounts for a year if you serve in the military. Any veteran that hears that or thinks about that, please go get this. It’s something that would cost $349 to a civilian and that’s free for a year. Don’t hesitate, just get it, start building your network, start sharing the stuff you’re doing and get the job you want.
Charles: One thing that struck me earlier on the show is you mentioned that you accepted six applications out of 113 I think you said?
Jerome: Yes, sir.
Charles: Are you looking to expand Vets Who Code and in what ways are you looking to do that if you were?
Jerome: Yes, sir. We are definitely looking to expand Vets Who Code. We’re looking at ways of adding more instructors. One thing I’d like to do is start having a cohort per timezone because it’s hard on me and it’s hard on some of the students that are in different timezones, me being in central, sometimes eastern.
What happens is some guys that are on the west coast, it’s really tough for them because they are in work when we do class. Or even when we’re trying to do it for the west coast it was like, “I’m ready to go to bed.” It’s seven with them it’s like nine or ten where I’m at. I’m like okay, we want to expand meetups in other cities and one of the things that we’re also looking at is possibly just a Vets Who Code fund to help veterans regardless, especially when it comes to the code schools.
Like I said in my experience, I went to a code school and I went from a town that did not have nearly the level of cost of living that Manhattan does. That’s a cost that a lot of code schools don’t really think about. It’s not just, giving someone a scholarship maybe three to four grand off of your cost but you’re also going to think about food and lodging and travel.
These are all things that luckily I was prepared for but not most veterans, especially coming out within the first two years of service, they’re not prepared to go to New York or DC, especially San Francisco. I don’t think half the people in San Francisco are prepared for the price of living in San Francisco. That’s one thing that we’re actually looking at is trying to figure how do we help veterans by not only giving them scholarships but creating programs that can offset these costs.
That way, we can help the for profit schools that veterans want to go to and help these guys as well because. In the end, that’s what we want to do. I want to help as many veterans as I can break into technology because I feel like the more different types of eyes, different types of people you have looking at a project, the better these projects are going to be. Even as now with Google trying to get into military tech, and it’s constantly getting pushed back because Google has a lot of developers but not a lot of them are veterans so they’re not building the tools we need based on our specifications, especially in regards to robotics.
I remember that robot doll they were building for the marines. Marines kicked that back in like three minutes they were like, “Yo, this is garbage. We can’t work with this because this will give away our position, this is clunky. What does it do? It looks scary.” That’s the thought process that we have.
David: Shock and awe.
Jerome: Yeah. It’s more effective to not be heard when you’re in some of those hotspots that we go to. That’s something that I’m really interested in. A lot of the veterans, they actually want to go do good as well so we’re looking at maybe expanding our coursework into languages that focus on a lot of scripting because several of our veterans actually want to work with using technology to help capture child predators. That was a very unique mission that some of them are motivated for, or poachers, things of that nature.
That’s one of the hardest things about our culture and our community and technology is that when it comes to helping with jobs, we’re getting our veterans who they want to learn technology but they also want to have purpose when they’re using technology. We’re talking with guys at Rubycon, WWP, see who has a relationships so that way we can help those veterans that not only want to learn software but they also want to work with a purpose.
A lot of these guys and girls, they still want to make their country a great place. Mission and service doesn’t stop once the uniform is off. I tell people, the only difference between me being in the military and now is that I get to choose my uniform and it’s so awesome. A lot of people are coming back like that and that’s what we want to focus on, helping them achieve their dreams after service.
David: Are there really common areas that veterans like to go into in the tech sector? Outside the tech sector, law enforcement is primarily made up of ex-military folks because they basically get to stay in the executive branch by doing that. Like you said going after child predators, do you see people going into Infosec or anything like that?
Jerome: Yes, they all want to go in the Infosec. They want to go in the open data. One of the problems with what you just said is that when you go to these veteran meetups, they are tired that the only thing that civilians think they’re good for is they know their first responder position or in the government position. They’re like, “Give us a chance to go out there to show the world that we can do something good in another field. Please don’t bottleneck us into this environment in which we can only work in government and that’s the only way we can make a decent living. If not, we’re starting at the bottom at whatever field all over again.”
David: Thank you. I had that misperception. Thank you for pointing that out. I can’t imagine these folks finding a lot of purpose generating coupon codes for people. Wait a minute, I’m going to back up and just call myself out for saying ‘these people.’ I apologize, Jerome. You deserve better from me. Let me ask you to elaborate a bit more. What kind of sectors–do you see grouping in there?
Jerome: Infosec, Cyber Security are two of the places we’ve seen a lot of interest in. Blockchain is another sector that a lot of veteran, they want to learn everything about Blockchain. We actually have a guy, Blake Miles, who we specifically went off a course when it comes to training Ruby on Rails and focused on Blockchain and Python and Java Script and specifics of Node and just focusing on helping him and training him with that.
Jerome: He’s our Blockchain guy. You know what, you want to talk about that, talk to him because I have nothing to do with Blockchain. There’s so much stuff to learn. I just turned 30, I’m still trying to figure out what to do in the next 10 years. Those are several industries that we see that veterans love.
They also want to do social entrepreneurship. They want to give back. They want to give back to their cultures or their communities or other places. There’s a lot of veterans that they, I was spending talks with the women who code in DC for the last recent weeks because we have veterans that come in and they want to help other women break into tech coming from unconventional past.
We’ve got a woman, she was Infantry, she was one of the first people that was able to get into Infantry and she’s currently on her last year. She cross trained out of her current job to get into Infantry and she wants to be able to learn how to program. She wants to help other women who want to learn how to program come into the service. I’m like, “This is awesome.” I think it is what is. It’s about veterans learning something and using it to give back, make a better space in the country, period.
Charles: We’re getting to the point where we need to start wrapping up. One thing that I have seen with doing podcasts like this and talking to people like you and by people like you I mean I worked for seven months as a missionary very closely with serving military in the Air Force who are stationed in Aviano Air Base in Italy.
Jerome: I love Aviano.
Charles: Yeah, it’s a beautiful place isn’t it?
Charles: But I also have a neighbor who is currently deployed to Iraq. I have a couple of cousins that have served in the Air Force. My brother-in-law is in the Air Force serving in Abilene, Texas right now. I kind of envision a program like this helping people that I care about, but I kind of like to be able to share the idea in a more concrete way with other people. I’m wondering, is there a story that you can tell us or an example you can give us of somebody who Vets Who Code has really helped changed their life or give them direction in their life?
Jerome: Roger that. We’ll go back to Blake Miles. He had been bouncing around trying to find the perfect tools, learn how to code. What had happened was we literally just met, we had a random introduction through someone at GA and we started training him in Python and Blockchain. Now, he deals with development at a company called Stable or something like that. I probably murdered that name, I apologize in advance.
They handle a lot of security. They actually handle security Infosec for the olympics in Rio. The funny story, Andrew Chang who’s in charge of Eastern Foundry is actually an investor of the company and we didn’t even know until about two weeks ago. One of our students had been working in a company that one of our partner companies founder had become an investor in for like months and we didn’t know until the Olympics rolled around.
Something that’s a little closer to home is you guys know today, ITT Tech is closed down for good. We have a young airman, his name is Tyrone Allen, who we’ve just finished up training. We’re going through training with him and we just finished up and now we’re going to a job interview process. Like some of us, hundreds of thousands of people are about to go through, he was going through a for profit college [01:03:44] learn design and development, was a really strong designer needed something to strengthen his skill sets a little bit so he can make an easier transition out the military and his for profit college closed up on him. Just poof, cease to exist, his degree was meaningless.
They didn’t teach him a lot of the skills that he needed in regards to software development. One of the things that he wanted to become was a front-end web developer. Every time he would go for an interview as a designer, first thing they ask him is, “Do you know how to code?” He was like, “This not knowing how to code is stopping me from feeding my family, giving my kids the type of life they need.”
Actually, we did another special mission with him and focused really strong on LAMP Stack as well with Rails for him so that way he could start focusing on transitioning to a front-end software developer. Things like that, we have stories like that that come through all the time with people who are good people, they serve their country, they’ve just been as you guys know, the for profit college situation has really been a black eye on education in the past five years.
They just fall into the wrong type of traps and we do what we can to help them. We make introductions, we train them for interviews, we train them how to code, we do everything. We ask them for these people outside, you do your best for you and your family. I think that’s what anyone would ask anyone to serve their country, right?
Charles: Yeah, I agree. If people want to support the effort that you’re putting out there to help Vets Who Code, especially to grow, to reach more people, to make a difference both as volunteers and monetarily, what are the best ways to do that?
Jerome: Alright, if you want to support Vets Who Code as a volunteer, please either contact us through our help desk at email@example.com or contact me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org and just put Volunteering or something in that nature and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.
As far to giving, go to our website, we have donate buttons. If you’re a company that likes to have fun, we partnered with this company called Give Lively and they have this technology called Swear Jar so you can literally set up in your Slack channel a Swear Jar or a Gift Jar if you will. Whenever someone sends stupid gif or something, it sends a donation to us.
Saron: That’s cool.
Jerome: Thank you. That’s actually New York based. I’ll send you an introduction to them. Those are our two main ways and just always, if you see a veteran, if you seen an early stage transitioning veteran, either send them our way or take the initiative and just help them. They don’t have to come through for you to help them. You can be that shining light in darkness as we like to say in the Slack channel.
Charles: Very cool. With that, I’m going to go ahead and push us into picks and then we’ll just remind people to go donate at the end of the show. Jessica, do you have some picks for us?
Jessica: I do have a pick today. I want to pick Scala Parser Combinators because I’ve been working in those and they’re actually amazing. I was like, “Oh my gosh, there’s like operators with symbols, and arrows.” It’s outstanding how like–I do not know Parser Combinators, but how quickly I picked it up so there must be something to them. I feel really smart when I’m working in them because I feel like I’m encoding my knowledge of the file format that I’m parsing until it doesn’t work and then it’s like, “Oh my god, what is it even doing? It is so hard to figure out.” But yeah, if you need to parse some serious files, like code files, Scala Parser Combinators are cool, the end.
Charles: Nice. Alright, Coraline what are your picks?
Coraline: Even though I’ve had seven weeks to think about it, I only have one pick today. It’s a toy. It’s called Boil the Frog. It is an experiment that Spotify came up with. I saw it at RailsConf demonstrated by Paul Amir who gave a quick closing keynote.
The idea is that you give Boil A Frog two artists and in my example I’m going to use, Beyonce to Bauhaus and it calculates a path using affinity data for how you could get someone who likes Beyonce to listen to a Bauhaus song. In the case of Beyonce to Bauhaus, it goes Beyonce to Nicole Scherzinger, Gwen Stefani, No Doubt, Garbage, Starling, Darling Violetta, Switchblade Symphony, London After Midnight, The Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus. It actually generates a playlist that you can send to someone saying, “Yeah, I know you like Beyonce, I bet you’re going to love this goth music that Coraline listens to.” Anyway, it’s a fun little toy. It’s a nice little example of like machining out rhythms used for fun instead of evil. I’ll put a link to it in the show notes.
David: I’m going to plug in Rob Zombie and Mormon choir and see what happens.
Charles: Saron what are your picks?
Saron: I have many picks. I have already won this game but one of my picks is apple picking. I went apple picking with my two cousins who don’t know, whose childhood is very disappointing. We went to a farm and we got on a tractor wagon and picked yellow apples and red apples, I don’t know apple names. It was just awesome. It was really, really cool. I’m mostly in the city all the time so being able to be in nature and see trees was awesome. While apple picking is still in season, I highly recommend people give it a try. It is really cool.
Number two is a set of notebooks that I really, really like. They’re called Markings Notebook and it is by a company called C.R. Gibson and it’s basically the best moleskine knockoff you’ll ever find. It’s like $9 but it’s beautiful and I swear by it, I use it for everything. It comes in all different fun colors and it’s just really, really freaking good. If you’re like me, try out the Markings notebook.
My third pick is, I don’t know if everyone’s seen the RubyConf trailer but they have a trailer and it’s really freaking good. I’ve never known a conference to put on like a promo for their conference but they based it off of last year’s RubyConf. It just got me really excited about RubyConf. Check it out, it’s on their website, it’s a two-minute trailer. It just gives you a sense of what it feels like, what the community is like. It’s awesome.
My final pick is our own interview that we did for Code Navy with Jerome Hardaway, it’s episode 87 for Vets Who Code so if you want to listen to more stuff that Jerome said and more awesome things, I highly encourage you to check it out. That’s all I got.
Charles: Alright. David what are your picks?
David: I actually don’t have any picks today but it’s been forever since I’ve done a hot sauce pick. Just very quickly, I don’t think I’ve done this one on the show. I think I have told one of our guests this in private, in the after call. There’s a sauce that I like to make. You can make this at home, it’s very easy to do. I call this sauce chastity because you will respect it in the morning because it’s a sauce that will trick you, it will encourage you to eat way more than you should have and this is–again, you can make this at home.
All you need is about a tablespoon of Cayenne pepper, a tablespoon of ranch dressing, and a tablespoon of sugar. You mix those three together and it makes a reddish creamy sauce and all of the capsaicin is wrapped up in ranch dressing and so it tastes sweet and tangy and it goes down really, really easy and you end up eating way too much of it. The most ridiculous food pairing of it ever is hot dogs. Just nuke a hotdog and chop it into bits and eat it. If you substitute the sugar with Splenda, you can have this if you’re low carbing. That’s how I discovered this hot sauce.
Saron: I like the idea of nuking a hotdog.
Charles: You need the launch codes for that right?
Alright. I’ve got a couple of picks here. I’m not picking what the video is about but the video itself was hilarious. There’s a group out there called Balanced Rebellion and basically they’re people that don’t like Hillary or Trump. They put this video out there.
Anyway, it’s got Abe Lincoln as the spokesperson and it’s really, really funny. I’m picking the video. You can think what you want about the actual movement but anyway, I laughed through the whole thing. That’s one pick.
Let’s see, my other pick is I don’t think it’s too late to pick Rails Remote Conf. If you’re interested to coming in Rails Remote Conf, if you’re looking for a conference experience that doesn’t involve travel, that’s what this is about. We’ll have a whole bunch of speakers on Rails. Jerome, do you have some picks for us?
Jerome: Yes, I actually have one pick I was just thinking. Well, maybe two.
First pick, Tech Inclusion Conference is in San Francisco. A great friend of mine, a great supporter of Vets Who Code, Wayne Sutton, he operates this. Basically helping share, open the roof for conversation for veterans and people of color, women in general so that they could be more visible in the tech community. I think it’s a really great conference. If you’re in San Francisco area, or if you’re planning on going to San Francisco any time soon, or you have to get it off your bucket list like I did when I was like, “Oh snap, I’m turning 30 and I need to hurry up and go to a tech conference before I get the age.” You can go there.
Second one, I think everyone knows that my favorite thing is fashion and shopping. I think I told Saron that. That’s the one thing that I stand out from like both my military brothers and like tech people they’re like, “You like to shop. You’re an express guy. That’s kind of weird.” My favorite when it comes to affordable cool stuff, another company that I really enjoy—because I’m lazy at the same time and they just mail the stuff to me once a month, a company called SprezzaBox, they send me these nice little accessories, these nice little ties and lapel flowers and stuff. Stuff like my wife says, “Oh, that’s really cute.” Yes, I still got it. Happy wife, happy life. Got to keep her happy.
That, and another one NootroBox, they have really great biohacking product, especially I really love their sprint. These guys, they’re the real deal when it comes to the whole biohacking phenomenon. I still owe their CEO 22 pushups, he called me out on Twitter for the 22 pushups a day.
Also, if you have veterans in your family and in your circle, stop calling them up for the 22 pushups challenge. I’ve been called out four times and this is like I do 22 pushups for 22 days every time I’m called out. I’m doing 22 pushups everyday this year, I’m like, “Just won and done it.” Outside of that, that’s it.
Charles: Alright, and as promised as we wrap up the show. First of all, if you want to support Vets Who Code, send an email to email@example.com if you want to volunteer. Jerome also gave out his email address. If you want to donate, go to vetswhocode.io and find the donate button.
With that, we’ll go ahead and wrap this up. Thank you for coming, Jerome.
Jerome: Thank you for having me. It’s really a fun show. We listen to this. It’s one of our recommended podcasts for our veterans. Those two are what I really recommend.
David: Thank you for you service.
Jerome: Thank you.
Saron: Take care.
Jerome: You guys have a great day.