Chicago-based Coding Organization Graduates First Class of Veterans

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September 9, 2016; Chicago Tribune

For many U.S. veterans, the transition from military service to the civilian workforce can be a challenge. One nonprofit organization created to address these challenges, the Chicago-based Code Platoon, which puts veterans through coding “boot camp,” recently graduated its first class.

Veterans are drawn to coding boot camps since there are an abundance of technology jobs and they happen to pay well. Also, many veterans are anxious to begin working and often do not want to wait the four years it takes to complete a traditional university degree. Code Platoon’s 16-week program was developed as a Chicago-area response to the unpreparedness that many veterans feel as they reenter civilian life.

Each Code Platoon student receives a $10,500 scholarship to complete the training that will qualify him or her as a junior stack developer. Students are then responsible for the remaining $2,500 in tuition. While the organization receives some private donations and gifts from foundations, sponsor companies largely fund Code Platoon scholarships. The sponsor companies also offer internships to Code Platoon students. Companies benefit from their partnership with Code Platoon by being able to recruit from a larger and more diverse pool of talent that has the added bonus of experience working as part of a team.

Founded by Rod Levy, who has a 20-year background in finance and entrepreneurship, Code Platoon offers veterans an affordable way to learn skills that are in demand and that will provide a livable wage. In Chicago, a majority of post-9/11 veterans earn below the city’s median income level of $62,000. Many aren’t sure how to reintegrate into the civilian workforce. One challenge is figuring out which of the veteran service organizations is the best fit, especially after being accustomed to the structure of the military. Some veterans also feel that civilians who haven’t had military service do not understand their issues. Code Platoon’s executive and advisory board includes individuals who have military experience as well as the business and technical acumen for the boot camp program.

One of the biggest barriers to enrollment in other coding boot camps for veterans across the country is that the GI Bill often does not cover the tuition for these programs. Only a handful of schools across the country are approved for GI Bill: Galvanize, Skill Distillery and RefactorU in Denver are approved for GI Bill coverage, as is the Los Angeles-based Sabio. According to the Seattle Times, Code Fellows, a Seattle-based coding boot camp, received clearance last month for veterans to use the Bill to cover all four levels of coursework.—Kelley Malcolm