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*Vets in Tech* Vets Who Code
Presented by Jacob Evans, Jerome Hardaway
Originally aired on
January 28 @ 8:00 PM - 8:30 PM EDT
Vets in Tech
So we're live. My name is Jacob Evans. You can see it right here. This is going to be a Vets Who Code interview with Jerome Hardaway.
I'm going to let Jerome take it away with introductions.
Roger that. Thank you for having me. My name is Jerome Hardaway.
I am a former Air Force veteran and just like Jacob, I'm also Security Forces.
Well, we try not to get in trouble by sharing our Security Forces story on here because he still needs his job.
I still need my job, so we don't want to get fired.
You can't keep a straight face. I transitioned from the military from Security Forces into software engineer around 2009, 2010, and I've never looked back.
Come around 2013, I was trying to help veterans transition smoothly into the civilian sector, and what I learned, what I saw was that it was really technology that was helping people, especially from my generation that was right after the recession, that was helping people get back on their feet and move forward with the type of lifestyle that they've earned from the military.
So I was like, let's create an organization called Veterans Coding and teach them how to do this.
And that was all the way back in 2014 when there was only one iPhone on the market, or at least, I mean, what was it, iPhone 3 or something?
I don't know. We still had iPods, iPod Minis.
If you're young, if you're too young to remember that, don't tell us.
But now we've done almost $300 million in salaries on a shoestring budget, and doing it evenings and weekends where we're not coding for companies.
And it's just, it's been a joy, right?
We've had almost 300 people roll through Vets Who Code, come in and get jobs that are at least $65,000 to $70,000 in salaries, which that $300 million comes from.
That's where the number's coming from. And it's just been a real joy.
I did not, they called me Captain America of Code, but I had no idea I was going to do this.
So I was just trying to transition into the civilian sector and help other people do the same.
Yeah. So let's talk a little bit about Vets Who Code, what kind of led you there.
So when you came out of the military and you were like, I'm interested in tech, what were some resources that were available and guidance that, I know you're laughing, so that's really why I'm asking this question.
First, I did not come out in the military like, I'm interested in tech.
What happened was I came out of the military with my magic ticket, AKA the DD-214, and thinking, oh, I'm going to get a good job, I'm going to have a good life.
And then on one side of the gate in the military, everything was very Willy Wonka and Chocolate Factory, very happy.
On the other side, this is kind of crazy out here.
There was a session going outside the base and no one told us that.
So I get to this employment office and they're saying, you know, we have good news and bad news.
You're qualified for security guard, police officer, air marshal.
However, most of those are government jobs, and because of recession, there's a furlough and a hiring pause on government jobs, so no one's going to hire you.
So I was like, what do I do now? So I'm sitting here just, you know, going through resumes and interviews and everything to get thank you for your service, but we don't have anything for you.
And I'm all like slightly depressed, sad, everything, and I come across this commercial about learning how to code and going to some for-profit college that now doesn't exist and going through the program.
And I'm like, you know, let me see what this is about. I go to you know, I go to Barnes and Nobles.
I remember them talking about SQL. I pick up an SQL book and I get one of those.
And six months later, ironically, I get a job working in government because of SQL with a TWIC certified agency, which is hilarious because they didn't have the asterisk of not all jobs are not hiring in government.
Those tech jobs were still there.
So after that, I've really never looked back. I've always tried to do something tech adjacent in the digital arena.
And when I was like that book, like going to Barnes and Noble in the book, if you weren't already in the tech space, like that was it.
Like there were no resources. So, you know, 20, circa like 2014, 2015, like I will say this, like the book camps really in general, you know, Jacob, folks like Jacob, folks like me that went through these type of, you know, hard, like crucibles of getting into tech really what made documentation so much better and so much accessible.
Because when I was coming up in the game, it was essentially like being kicked out of a C130 with no parachute.
And you had to build it from like, I don't know, your hair as a shoestring and hope you don't fall.
So I'm very grateful. I think right now we're seeing in the community when it comes to resources, I'm calling it the Avenger protocol, right?
So everybody, so, you know, and we remember the first Thor, you know, Loki and Thor, they almost level a city block.
And then because of that, they, you know, start messing with Tesseract.
So that's kind of what we're seeing in tech now because the documentation, it's so good.
The level to get in tech has risen. And, you know, that's why people like Jacob and myself, we're still in the fight to be able to like, you know, help those behind us, you know, get back, get into tech, regardless of where tech is.
Right. So that's, I guess that's also a short where tech where the documentation is and what we're hoping for documentation to go.
Yeah. So I kind of want to zero in on Vets Who Code now, because that's, that's, it's a huge, this is a huge deal to me as well.
And why I got involved. You know, you reached out on me on Twitter, and I was like, Whoa, this is serious.
I remember the tweet. Yeah. I have to tell y'all, the tweet was like, you're in tech, you're security forces, that we just be best friends and make.
And then there was like the stepbrother who's like, yep, like, oh, my goodness.
And that's how the relationship started. I remember that tweet, like the back of my head.
So, so this is the thing is like, like you mentioned, I went through a coding boot camp.
And they were great. Don't get me wrong.
They were great. They taught me stuff, they put me through the crucible.
I really appreciated that. But it was not like a 501c. It was not a nonprofit, it was for profit.
And they had they used up the rest of my military education benefits.
And so Vets Who Code is really close to home for me in the sense that like this is something for veterans.
And there's not like a like, hey, we're gonna, we're gonna be using up your education benefits, right?
This is more along the lines, along the lines of like, like, how can we we get you into tech.
And so I want to want to talk a little bit about how many people you see come through and like how you do the training, like how the cohorts go.
So like you said, we don't accept the GI Bill, because I didn't get in this game to get wealthy, I got in this game to, you know, not have anybody else feel that pain that I felt.
And especially if you were focused on if you were not if you had talent, or, or if you want to do the work, I'm going to admit I'm not I wasn't the best programmer.
But, you know, I put four hours a day, seven days a week into becoming a good programmer.
And that's what happened. So the way we we go our process from introduction right now, we have a saying of learn how you work, which is the exact same as like train how you fight.
We got there from the military. So here we learn how you work, which is, you know, to get in built into vesicle, you have three interviews, you have your first contact is me.
Second contact is a technical because you have to do pre work to get an interview.
And then your third is culture.
So those are the three interviews that are true paths to go through.
Then our new you guys are gonna hear in a lot of the new stuff first, because we're still doing demo day, but you know, first edition, no, no spoiler alerts.
Then when you get on your team, your unit, we have some very important rules that we've installed.
First thing is collaboration first, as you all know, when you get to bigger companies, the whole idea of you wasting your time spinning your wheels trying to solve problems and being lost, you know, that's not something that we have, because we already know you're smart.
So we need to focus on, you know, making sure that we get this product out for our users, right now, you know, your programming comes from proving that you're a smart person room to proving, you know, let's be customer focused the entire time.
And so that's what we think of. That's how we focus on it you know, come in, assign you a mentor, we'll, we make sure that you're always collaborating first, like you have every projects, a group project that you then take on to your own projects, and what's your ability to see, like, what did I learn here that I could take from there.
And we just focus on ensuring that you are always have someone around that you can talk to.
Now, coming from that, like we call it crawl, walk, run, we spent, we start whole handing, handholding a lot with you early on, but we gradually, you know, you know, for every first two weeks, we meet up less.
So that way, you focus more on the work.
So it goes from Monday through Thursday, every two weeks to, you know, once or twice a week, we're going to meet up to make sure that, you know, you need help, but we have asynchronous communication, and you know what you're supposed to be doing, then we are new phase three that we are dropping, I'm letting everybody know about today is all cloud services, which would be cool to talk to people at Cloudflare about that, where we're focusing on Docker, GitHub Actions, AWS for the troops.
So because we initially had computer science, but if you're being, you know, incredibly honest with yourself, but junior entry level dev rarely gets involved with problems that require, like, very, like, old school computer science, right?
So but your chances of touching the AWS Lambda is significantly higher than someone asking you the big old notation of an algorithm, right, as a junior.
So that's what we decided we were going to focus on, we're going to focus on the cloud technologies, the DevOps of the work Terraform to ensure containerization with Docker, to ensure that you had the right skills to pay the bills versus just, you know, any old skill out there, right?
And that was to try to compete with people going to college, things of that nature.
We're very big on our Slack side chats, too.
We have people like Jacob come in and like, and you know, he owes me a podcast.
But we had y'all come in and you know, talk to veterans that haven't program having any jobs yet to, you know, motivate them and tell them, you know what, this is what you need to do.
This is what we're about. And you are here to like, be the best show the world how you know, show the world how veterans roll.
And that's what you know, that's, you know, that's just, I guess, the 10,000 foot view of what VWC does.
Yeah, that's great. So one of the things I would also like to follow up with Betsy code is just kind of kind of like the, the path from, like the training, the cohort to hiring, because I know that you've worked really hard on making those partnerships and those relationships as well.
Oh, man, we have a we're debuting a whole partnerships leg today, we actually have one of our first partners, dot dash, one of our alumni is heading that up.
He actually comes from an army with HR experience.
And he, you know, Jacob Oakley, he came, he was the first veteran at VWC to skip becoming a junior developer.
So he went straight to mid level developer after, you know, going through our cohort, he used to head up our code pen team.
Well, now he's in charge of partnerships. And our but our way of doing things is pretty simple.
We focus on the skills, we focus on securing those, I focus on building those long term relationships.
And you know, that I pass them on to the veteran, I'm very like, you know, I'm not one of those gatekeeper type people, I'm Oh, you need an introduction.
I got you. I just a funny story. A great way to explain is I just introduced a junior dev to the Vice President of Curriculums at Code Academy because she was a Navy veteran.
And he was interested in white curriculum.
So I was like, Hey, you two should meet. And he was like, Did you just introduce me to an executive?
I didn't even register to me. I like just titles, bro, just types.
But that's, you know, that's how we do it. We I build relationships, I give them to people that need them more than me.
Because that's, you know, what this game is about being selfless and ensuring that we are flattening the curve to become a programmer, right?
If it took me seven years to get in big tech, gotta take you three, right?
Took me five years getting big tech, that's take you two and a half.
See, that's just how we do things at BWC. So and also, you asked last about our alumni.
So our alumni is very weird, how our alumni program works, because every BWC is open source.
So every veteran is a contributor is how we look at it.
So you have to come in, be willing to, you know, push code on the project.
I feel like my philosophy is, I want to treat like a boxing gym.
So I want you to mess up here first, like take Betsy code down before you take somebody who's like a bunch of monies like have that like I could deal with you taking like I do not want you out here in these streets, like take someone else's app down because anyway, oh, those troops are wild.
I'm like, no, come over here, like take, take our stuff down first.
Don't take anyone else's stuff down.
And that's just that's the philosophy. I, I just felt like that with our alumni with our troops, the thing that especially a lot of code schools, they miss is true trust, like no, I trust you to go out there with the name and do good with it.
I trust you with code or the product, the product I've been doing since 2014 to, you know, fix a bug, add a ticket to it, knowing that the president of former like Barack Obama knows about his website.
And I trust you to not tear this website down.
Like don't F this up, like, please don't F this up. And, or, you know, business insiders checking in or, you know, whoever is out here on the Internet.
So I'm very, like, I'm very proud of that.
I'm very proud that I've created an environment where you can fail first to, you know, learn your skills before you get, you know, out there, you know, at Cloudflare and you accidentally take down a prod somewhere.
So do y'all have a prod? Y'all all CDN stuff, right? So. We got a lot of stuff.
We got a lot of stuff. Definitely, definitely don't want to take down any of the prod.
So this is the other thing that I was going to kind of dig into a little bit was, you know, how, because you mentioned, you mentioned, you know, getting veterans into, into tech and into big tech.
And like, I want to talk about how many that, that is so far from the Vets Who Code, you know, community.
And then how does that impact, like, your ability to actually get more veterans into tech?
I know if I'm, I wish I had to say answer some questions. Yeah. I know that there's at least 25 troops in BWC that are big tech, and we just brought two, three more people in our big tech as well.
And I have a director of user experience who's waiting in the wing for me to invite him as well.
And how that impacts it is, you know, it goes back to that, you know, flattening of the curve when it comes to career trajectory and education, right?
So the process is now that I'm at Microsoft, from, you know, Microsoft is the goal for you, I should be doing the work and educating you to make sure that from your day of coming into Vets Who Code to getting at Microsoft shouldn't be any more than two, three years, because you know enough, or, you know, even if you went to a smaller tech company is about, you know, it's about like, my old, one of my favorite old jobs, CBS, comic book, right?
It should take you about a year, year and a half.
You should actually, if you're going to Vets Who Code with our resources and our network, you should be able to come in on, you know, comicbook.com as a entry-level dev, because you will be strong enough to learn that you've been strong enough to be able to work around a system because you've learned so much with us and you've experienced so much of us, right?
So that is, like, that is the goal, right? That's the goal. That's the, like, that's the dream.
And that's what I see happen every day. I'm on the hunt. If anybody's looking to volunteer for mentorship, I am on the hunt for somebody who is staff level or principal level.
One of my alumni, that's his next goal. Andrew James, he's, you know him, certified rockstar.
The dude is an animal and he's wanting to get to the next level of programming.
He's looking for a mentor that's staff level or principal level.
So if you're looking to, if you're looking to volunteer and, you know, volunteer with somebody, it's not going to disappoint.
Like, take, I met him when he was contracting as a coach in, like, Finland.
And he's, you know, he's blown away all the competition.
He's a good person that you want to mentor.
So if you're looking to mentor, looking to volunteer and you're a staff or principal level, like, go to BWC, go to mentors, the mentor link, hit us up and I'll reach out to you personally if you put in at your principal level and you're looking to mentor Andrew James.
So. Yeah, that's outstanding. I could also vouch for that as well.
That's a great, great suggestion on here. So what a good, a good thing about Vets Who Code and something I kind of touched on before was difference between the for-profit coding boot camps and the VWC.
And I kind of, I want to talk about that a little bit more without naming names.
There's other veteran boot camps out there.
There's other veteran boot camps out there. There's also ones that are not related to the veterans at all.
How does Vets Who Code differentiate from those?
And also, like, like what's, what's the community look like for Vets Who Code when it comes to, you know, veterans and non-veterans?
So what makes us different when it comes to non-profit to for-profits is particularly our model was for a long time focused on more of a non-profit foundation, which like, you know, very like all the money had to be provided to us via like, the only way you get money is through donations, right?
So basically, usually what happens in that type of format is a foundation gets all this money directly from a company.
Like if there's Cloudflare, the company, we have like the CF foundation and Cloudflare puts money in foundation.
Well, we started as a foundation.
So only the money that we use and we get is donated to us. We can't get corporate sponsorships.
We couldn't get any of that stuff. Like we only switched that model because so many people were like, I literally have a request from Google and a request from like another company on my docket right now that I have to fill out by five today, because that's what they're asking me questions for.
Like, can we get this so we can be a part of this?
So we had to switch our model last year, but our primary focus is literally what we do is that we, because we only accept donations.
If we only get really, we only get money if we're like helping people, if we get results, right?
So that's because only gets money if we're, we have veterans to showcase for it.
And that's why you know us because you met veterans that, no, that's all we, when I said Andrew James, you're like shaking your head like, yeah, that dude's an animal.
Like, I don't know. Like we can hire him.
Let's go get that guy. But that's, that's the biggest difference. And we don't charge anything to our vets, right?
It's zero dollars. I don't ask a GI bill or anything because I never, particularly if you're a talented veteran who comes from a different culture in the military, like Jacob and myself, there's nothing in our backgrounds that says that we would have, we'd have the potential to be the level of programmers that we are.
We both come from 3POX1 and both security forces, you know, we have, we trade in our import carbines for macro crows.
And, but if you're looking at just the data, the hard data, a person like me is never going to get a look at your, from your company.
A person like Jacob was never going to get a look from your company.
And those are the type of people that Vets Who Call was made for.
Those, you know, men, women, and military spouses that have, you know, they want to do the work and not, and not have to worry and not have to push, like about the problems of like, Hey, yo, you're not, no, you don't come off as technical enough.
Right. I have a funny story about that. I, there was a cold school, I'm not gonna say any names, that reached out to me about when, around 2014 about, you know, going to them about their scholarship, just for GI Bill.
And they were like, Hey, you need to answer this riddle about how if you gotta, you know, have a snake, a bunny and a dog, like who, how do you get them all across the street, across the river without the snake eating the bunny, the bunny running away, and the dog, like biting a snake.
I was like, pass, nothing to do in my real life. I don't know that.
So, and they, I didn't make it. Two weeks later, I did create a Betsy code, helped a family by raising $10 ,000, 27 hours.
Monday morning, they're in my email, like, Oh, we just found enough money for a scholarship for you.
You should come through.
I was like, ain't that about something like Google trends, man.
So like, I never wanted that to happen to another better. Right. Like I never went, Oh, you have to prove yourself, you know, by going that big at are you willing to do the work?
Are you willing to be a part of our culture? Are you willing to, you know, Betsy code is very, you know, transition focus, which means you have to be willing to work alongside with diverse civilians and veterans.
I want to be inclusive. You know, I'm, I mean, if you're looking at this, you tell African American male, you have, it has to be a safe place for me first as leadership versus, you know, just being a place for veterans.
Right. So, and, you know, we have women veterans, LGBTQIA, if we can make it a safe place for those veterans, then we're not helping anyone.
We're just doing the same status quo over and over and over again.
And I refuse to be the person that's a part of the problem.
So that's a very big focus on our culture is, you know, this is about being, you know, not going full veteran.
This is about less who are less, right. This is about, you know, you should be able to, at some point, you know, deal, hang out with a civilian.
Like I would like it to be able to, like the goal of transitioning is to, you know, eventually one day not be able to get picked out of the crowd as a veteran.
Right. When you first get out, you know, first get out, people can tell that you're a veteran a mile away.
You still don't have like a cyber.
And so now, you know, you have to show your card at Bob Evans because they don't believe you.
Right. And then, or some, you know, weirdo at like Home Depot is trying to pull your veteran card because you voted.
I mean, you parked at the veteran parking spot and like, well, at least I don't look the part anymore.
So it's kind of cool.
But like that's, that's the goal. That's the mission. Like, I feel like that's a success.
When people can't tell that I'm a veteran, I feel like I'm winning.
Right. They got to Google that. I mean, it is, I feel like I'm winning. Right.
Like it's a W because that means I am like transition. I'm sick. I'm a success.
Right. Because that's the whole success market. Right. You have successfully transitioned back into civilian culture.
Congratulations. These people, you're one of the people now.
Right. So I, I saved the best for last year because I feel like we might end up both talking about this quite a bit.
It's something that's really important to me as well.
And that's kind of more along the lines of like, aside from the technical stuff that, that, you know, so vets who coach train, like they're ramping up veterans on technical knowledge and skills.
But besides technical skills what are like some hard skills and soft skills, wherever you want to call them that veterans bring to organizations, as well as the tech industry in general.
All right. So first let's go ahead and, you know, knock the discipline and hardworking ones off the table.
Cause everyone says those like, okay, that's the same thing.
The biggest thing we bring is that a lot of the things that you've already been doing in tech and you think it's cool.
We've been doing, and you guys have a different name over it.
Let's take InnerSource for instance.
Right. The idea of process of a unit of a company building shareable assets for within the company is like, and making it easily accessible to people like within your company.
That's InnerSource. Military has been doing that forever.
We already know that way. We already, we're already comfortable with that.
We already understand the procedures and protocols for that. So it's literally just a change of names.
Oh, you guys are doing InnerSource. We just call that, you know, attachments and detachments and training, right?
Oh, this person is going to be on a detachment with this unit.
He's going to train with this unit. He's going to go back and take us up to his unit.
There we go. Done. Right. Documentation. No one survives documentation better than a US veteran.
Death Valley PowerPoint was invented by us.
So if you, I think that's what helped me like make my career. It's like, oh, this documentation on PHP is the worst stuff I've seen in my life, but no one's shooting at me.
So I let me go ahead. There is, let me pour some coffee, make it black.
Because you can't have good coffee when you're going through bad documentation.
One of my favorite, favorite things too, is just like, you know, how many 18 year olds were told to, you know, hey, you need to go write this like 20 page report about this incident that occurred.
Yes. That we want to talk about documentation because that like, you gotta, you gotta get that right.
Oh man. I never forget the day that you and I were talking about that.
And I was like, I, I hate like writing because of our security forces days.
And you were like, yeah, like we, we used to, for y'all that don't know like insecurity forces, there is a lot of writing on the law enforcement side.
And if an incident happens, you can be there for hours, like gathering evidence, getting the times right.
And, you know, because all this stuff goes to the blotter, the blotter goes to commander.
And if this looks like crap and, you know, all the negative, all the negative consequences are going to roll downhill.
And by the time it's good to you, it gets to you, it's a career killer.
So I like, yeah, the writing, I, I have a, I have a tongue and quill, I think on my, yeah, I do.
So I have the, I literally have the book, having to write your own EPRs, right?
Like that was horrible. Those are back in the day, reminiscing about all of the, you know, I wish, you know what, my career would went a lot better if my tech supervisors let me write my EPRs performance reports, like my military supervisors did.
That's the one thing that I do miss, how lazy supervisors were in the military.
Like, look, if I write it, you're going to get a four.
If you write it and it's right, you're going to get a five.
And I'm just going to sign it off. Say no more, sir. I don't know how many times I was told you need to write your own award and medal recommendations.
If you write it, I'll get you your, your, your volunteer award. It's like, all right, fine.
I don't know. The time you're in, you got to have templates. Some great examples, some great examples of things that I see right now in the tech industry in general, that I love seeing because that's, it's very, it's coming from like the veteran world, the military world, and that culture is like seeping into the tech industry from other directions as well, not just from like your engineer side.
And that's like, if you've heard of the, Turn the Ship Around, it's a book.
And that's, that's like getting really popular in the tech industry in general, as well as business and stuff.
And then like, in Netflix, they had this concept of chaos engineering.
And I was like, oh, excuse me, you mean like, like throwing a wrench in the middle of a live exercise?
And like, every day, every day scenarios, you're like, all right, I'm doing a patrol and, or I'm doing my normal job.
And somebody comes running in, like, like metaphorically on fire to just like completely have your day to day activities.
But I just wanted to thank you for showing up.
This has been super awesome. And it was good enough that we both lost track of time.
So that's usually a good sign. That's a good sign.