Vet Returns To Boot Camp ... For Coding

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Using the GI Bill, veterans with tech industry ambitions can head to coding schools.

As an officer in the Coast Guard, Evan Rice traversed the globe from the North Pole to Antarctica, but after nine years of service he returned to boot camp to take on a new mission: learning how to code.

Rice became one of the first veterans to use GI Bill funding to enroll in Coding Dojo, a Seattle-based coding boot camp. Now more than halfway through the 14-week program, he’s learned Python and Java, and looks forward to entering the industry to do the kind of work he “could be passionate about for the long term.”

A mechanical engineer by training, Rice began to dabble in programming during his last six months in the service. He had friends working in software development and thought he’d enjoy the nature of the work. Though he frequently ran into stumbling blocks early on, Rice enjoyed the constant opportunity to overcome new challenges, and ultimately decided to pursue a career in programming after he left the Coast Guard.

He’d heard about Coding Dojo through friends in the field and saw the boot camp program as a way to quickly grow the skills he needed to get a job in the tech industry. The company’s Seattle location began accepting the GI Bill two months before Rice entered the program, which he’s taken advantage of to cover tuition, housing and living expenses.

Coding Dojo is one of a number of boot camp programs across the country where veterans can enroll under the GI Bill. Most boot camps don’t require students to have previous coding experience, and they offer vets a way to rapidly develop programming skills that are becoming increasingly valuable in today’s job market.

"We want to give everyone a chance to break into the technology industry, including those who may not have the resources to retrain themselves or the time to go back to school for four years,” said Michael Choi, Coding Dojo’s chief executive officer. “We've had strong interest from veterans in our program, and … it was a natural fit to pursue GI Bill approval to make it even easier for veterans to retrain themselves for their next career."

While he has enjoyed the culture and people in the program, Rice warns vets that coding boot camps may not be the right path for everyone leaving the military. The programs are no walk in the park—he said he dedicates 12 to 14 hours every weekday and six hours a day on weekends to coding—and it’s important to know you’re passionate enough about the work to take the plunge.

“I would encourage you to do some checks on yourself before you go … try to teach yourself using the free platforms that are available,” he said. “You don’t want to come to one of these boot camps just for money. If you spend four months going through it and don’t actually want to get a job afterward then that’s kind of a waste.”

But if you enjoy adapting to new challenges and don’t mind “hitting your head against the wall for a couple hours trying to figure something out,” the GI Bill offers some great opportunities to break into the market. Rice isn’t sure whether he’ll pursue a career at a startup or an established tech company, but he does know he wants to make a large, positive impact on the world.

He believes the tech industry gives him the best shot at accomplishing that goal and thinks his fellow vets stand to gain a lot from programs like Coding Dojo if they’re interested in entering that field.

“Even for people who don’t have a degree, they’re still marketable for web development and other types of programming” after completing a boot camp, he said. “The supply is nowhere near the demand.”

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