Transitioning from military to civilian life can be an agonizing process for many veterans. While the overall unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans is 7.2% (1% higher than that of civilians), what’s truly alarming is that for male veterans ages 18–24, the unemployment rate is a staggering 17.3%.
According to David Molina, founder of Operation Code, something has to be done. “Our veterans have served their country, and they deserve a path to a career, not just a job.”
The Difference Between a Job and a Career
According to transitioning U.S. Air Force Officer turned web developer Chris Kibble, “lots of veterans leave the armed forces each year. Many feel compelled to follow the traditional post-military career paths — defense contracting, airlines, security firms — because they assume these are the only options open to them.”
Few veterans take advantage of the military’s career transition resources because the vets don’t know what’s available or they fail to navigate the bureaucratic benefits system.
Johnathan Smith was an administrative specialist in the Marine Corps from 2005–2009. According to him, “we had jobs that didn’t translate to careers in the civilian world. When I got out, no one was hiring someone with no degree and 4 years of experience doing admin work for the military.” Smith ended up working at a hotel for $13 per hour, supporting himself and his new wife, while going to school.
Robert Cox, a member of the Marine Corps Reserves, described his friends coming off active duty: “The majority are doing manual labor jobs after they leave the military because it’s the closest to what they know.”
The GI Bill Doesn’t Solve the Problem
Even though some vets are eligible for paid tuition under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, many choose not to go to college. “They see kids being bankrolled by their parents. They just can’t relate to these college kids,” said Cox.
Cox had taken a few computer science courses at the University of Alabama, but dropped out due to some family struggles. The exposure stuck with him and he dabbled in low-touch online coding resources like Treehouse. It introduced him to coding concepts and piqued his interest in web development as a career path. When he wanted to get serious, he enrolled in Bloc, an online, mentor-led coding bootcamp for people pursuing careers in web development. He combined a veteran’s scholarship from Bloc with a loan from Navy Federal to pay for the course.
“College computer science programs are outdated. You have to go with what’s hot, what’s being used now, and what’s scalable.”
Smith says, “College computer science programs are outdated. You might learn something in school but then the company you want to work for isn’t using that particular language. You have to go with what’s hot, what’s being used now, and what’s scalable.”
How Silicon Valley can Help
There are two major changes Silicon Valley needs to make to support our veterans. First, we must challenge leading tech firms to publish a more holistic diversity scorecard that includes underrepresented groups such as veterans. Second, leading tech firms need to build diverse pipelines to source technical talent. While startups often need experienced engineers who can hit the ground running, more established companies, who already have robust internship and college recruiting programs, must source some of their candidates from other sources.
Members of the military spend years building hyper-specialized skills and networks that do not easily translate to opportunities in the civilian job market. According to Cox, “many of them don’t even know this startup scene I’m working in now even exists. But the people I know would thrive in the tech industry. They can work under extreme pressure.”
Of getting into tech, Kibble says “I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to transition into the tech world. But I lacked the fundamental skills to make me competitive in the marketplace. I went for a year or two trying to “teach myself” how to code on nights and weekends while on active duty. The results were not inspiring.”
According to Kibble, “That’s where bootcamps like Bloc come in. They present new career possibilities for veterans, especially for those that didn’t serve in a technical career field. And for those still on active duty, there is a part-time, online option. My instructor was a fantastic teacher. He gave me feedback that sped-up my learning immeasurably. Those skills led directly to my first job offer as a junior Rails developer.”
Those skills led directly to my first job offer as a junior Rails developer.
Kibble continues, saying “if you’re a veteran, and you’re committed to transitioning into tech, I’d definitely consider a bootcamp. It’s not a 100% guarantee of a job — don’t believe anyone who tells you that. And the process of learning to code is frustrating at times. But vets have the discipline needed to succeed as programmers. And if you put in the effort, you’ll open up a new world of career choices.”
What We’re Doing This Veteran’s Day
Veterans have already served their country. To honor their sacrifice, Bloc and Operation Code are offering all veterans a $1,000 tuition credit toward Bloc’s Web Developer Track. The remainder of the tuition can be financed.Learn more here.
About Operation Code
Operation Code is on a mission to trailblaze a new career path for military veterans in software development and coding by providing access to efficient and practical coding education, mentorship and employment services.
How You Can Help
We are looking for corporate sponsors to help defray more of the tuition cost for veterans attending the program. More importantly, we are looking for corporate partners who want to offer paid internships to graduating vets. If your company is interested in sponsoring or hiring a vet, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.