Military to Unemployed to Software Engineer

I had trouble finding what I wanted to do when I was younger. I went to college and tried a couple of majors. None of the majors called to me, except for the Computer Science major. However, I didn’t believe in my intelligence to acquire the knowledge or skills to be successful. I didn’t want to go into debt and wanted to serve my country. This train of thought led me to my decision to join the U.S. Navy.

I joined the Navy and served close to 7 years. Near the end, I was still frustrated because I gained little marketable hard skills from my time in the Navy. Many of the hard skills that I had were DoD focused, and I had no interest in staying in the same industry. A couple of years before separation, I looked for different learning tracks to gain hard skills. I came across FreeCodeCamp, and I thought, “What do I have to lose.” I was surprised by the course’s accessibility and how easy it was for me to learn and pick up JavaScript. I continued with the practice and found the confidence to believe I could be in the space. That I, Richard Comeau, could be a developer. I changed majors to Management in Information Systems at Columbia College. I used my Tuition Assistance from the Navy and took Visual Basic, Java, and Web Development courses that were part of the major. I did well in these courses, and I fell in love with programming.

It came to separation, and I found a non-programming job. I was content with this because I had a family to provide for after separation. I could still complete my degree and search for opportunities for developer positions down the road. Then COVID-19 happened, and that position fell through. These events left my head spinning, and I didn’t know what I would do. I applied for jobs and looked for opportunities. No one in my area was hiring, and my options seemed slim to none. I looked into my GI Bill benefits, and I found out about Vet Tec. It is a Veteran’s Affairs program that is focused on putting veterans into technical roles. The program pays for the training and gives a small housing stipend. On the Vet Tec list of providers, I found a coding boot camp called Sabio run by Gregorio Rojas and Liliana Monge. After an info session, I decided that I would put all my chips into this career path.

Sabio

I discussed the decision with my family. My wife and mother said they would support me through this process. I joined the Sabio’s three months Full Stack program using Vet Tec and doing 12 hours each day, while my family took care of my four-year-old child, prepared dinner for me, and took care of any issues that came up. I finished the program on Aug 14, and I had a job on Aug 25.

Some much of my success at this current moment is because of the support of others. I wouldn’t have been able to get through the Sabio without my family, I wouldn’t have fallen in love with programming if it wasn’t for the courses I took in college, and I wouldn’t have believed in myself and this career path if it wasn’t for FreeCodeCamp. That core belief that I was capable of being a developer has put my life in a completely different direction. A path that I couldn’t be happier to be going down.

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Thanks for sharing your story in such detail, @RDComeau.

Congratulations on successfully making the transition. Also, the fact that you landed a job within 11 days of completing your bootcamp – wow – you really made good use of time during your job search.

Also, it’s great to have you back here on the forum. Once you have settled into your new job and have a bit more time, we would love to have you share some of the on-the-job day-to-day wisdom you’re now soaking up.

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I’m an Airman about to get out. I am really scared to go into programming because I worked as a maintainer, and don’t have any good skills. I’m also terrified of having to get healthcare and life insurance, get a flu shot, ect. The civilian world doesn’t have checklists. Any advice? Also, how does the culture compare?

If you’re scared because you believe you don’t have any useful skills, then that is ok! I was in the same boat.

I got out of aviation and had no proper hard skills outside of that field. That is why I did the coding Bootcamp. I gained the hard skills to be marketable. You can start your training now on freecodecamp and multiple other sources. If you’re going to be an honorably separated veteran, then you have numerous resources to use. I’ll make you a shortlist.

  • SkillStorm

Look into this organization. I found it interesting because it is focused on veterans getting into code. They take the vets as a cohort, train them in a specific stack, and then send them as a package to a company. Essentially, it is close to guaranteed training and work. The catch is you’ll go to where ever the outside company who is “buying” the cohort is located. You’ll know at the beginning of the program where the company is located that you’ll be sent too. Reach out to https://www.linkedin.com/company/skillstorm/.

  • Vet TEc

Vet Tec is an incredible resource for veterans. It may not be refunded yet because it was a pilot program. However, you don’t have to use Post 9/11 benefits, the pre-approved program is paid for, and you receive the same housing stipend as the Post 9/11. More information here at https://www.va.gov/education/about-gi-bill-benefits/how-to-use-benefits/vettec-high-tech-program/.

  • Sabio

I love Sabio. They are the reason I was able to get into my current role. They teach their students a Full Stack, and you’ll have developed a product for an entrepreneur. Gregorio, the CTO, and Liliana, the CEO, are exceptional individuals. They do info sessions consistently, and the next one is here https://www.eventbrite.com/e/sabio-online-info-session-tickets-115423563987.

  • Skill Bridge

You want to get out early and still get paid by the military while you get training? That is what I did. Skill Bridge is a program where the DoD allows service members to leave their command six months early to receive training. It is advantageous because you’ll maintain your current pay, housing/food stipend, and medical while going through the program. Here is the website https://dodskillbridge.usalearning.gov/organizations.htm. There are coding Bootcamps like Sabio that are present as the pre-approved programs.

I can put more, but that should be a good start. If you want or need more, then let me know.

How is the programming culture compared to DoD aviation? It is amazing. No comparison.

If you want a more objective perspective, then I won’t be your best person for this. I despised Aviation. I believe how the maintenance desk ran maintenance and how they treated the people was atrocious. The higher-ups were willing to crucify junior service members for senior service members. The training was sub-par, the potential growth was stagnant, and you can’t leave if you are unhappy due to the military contract.

My experience, as short as it is, has been entirely different. People here treat each other with respect and dignity. My coworkers are fun, quirky, and curious. The pay is excellent, and I like my benefits. Yes, life doesn’t have a checklist, but you can do it. My view is that everyone gets out. Might as well get out earlier then later. You’ll start at the bottom of whatever industry you start—even civilian Aviation. The sooner you start in the new industry, the more you can maximize your lifetime earnings.

Please let me know if you need more guidance. Happy to help.

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Thank you. Not only for the great resources, but for the “you can do it”. I am currently in the skill bridge program, which has taught me that I don not want to work in finance. Thanks for the heads up on everything.

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