How I utilized my G.I. Bill benefits to launch a career in coding.
By Cody Baermann
I served in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years as a section leader in the infantry. I supervised training for a team of 20, identified and worked on potential deficiencies in our unit, and was a direct adviser to senior management. I was stationed in Afghanistan, behind a machine gun. It was a very different world.
Before I got into coding, right after getting out of the Marine Corps, I was a full-time college student. I was going job to job and was having a hard time deciding exactly what I wanted to do. I changed my major three times – from chemistry to electrical engineering to biology. The only common denominator in all those majors was that they all required a basic coding class.
My wife and I sat down to discuss the aspects of school that I enjoyed the most. All things pointed toward coding. One of the biggest appeals to me is having the ability to create whatever I want – having that freedom to make visualizations come to life. Our daughter was very young, so there was the aspect of my family leaning on me.
From a financial perspective, many coding bootcamps are covered under GI Bill benefits, including Coding Dojo. It was an all-or-nothing situation – just believing in my abilities, and knowing as a family we would work out.
Coding Dojo had an introductory platform they strongly suggested learning: basic algorithms, getting used to the syntax of code. After that, we built programs, which was a whole different level of coding. I did the “follow-alongs” to get the programs to work.
The biggest obstacle I hit was understanding the syntax in the C# track. In those times, if the material doesn’t immediately make sense, you have to put in the work hours. Coding bootcamp is very condensed – you have to put in the time if you want to succeed. It involved a lot of repetition, reworking the same assignments, until the material cemented in my brain.
Coding Dojo had a “20/20 rule”: Stay with a problem for 20 minutes, then ask a partner to help you figure it out. If the two of you can’t do that after 20 minutes, then ask an instructor. The rule promotes teamwork. Once you get into software engineering and development, that’s an important skill to have. There was never a time we felt the coursework was too much, because there was always someone to lean on and solicit help from.
I was anxious as graduation approached. Obviously, with a family, I wanted to get employment right away, so I put the pressure on myself. I sent the same resume to every company – which isn’t the soundest strategy. The key is looking closely at the job description, noting the language they use, incorporating those words, and then tailoring some of your personal projects to that job. Having multiple projects that you can interchange on a resume is important. If you’re applying for a Python developer position, instead of just having one Python project on there, you should list two or three. It proves how well-versed you are in that language.
After a while in the job hunt, Amazon Web Services came out of the blue and they moved very quickly. The second they got in contact, everything just took off. I did a Chime interview, and then after three or four days, I got a phone call with the job offer. It was a big stress reliever to get that call.
When you’re in a military bootcamp, you don’t have a choice to be there. You wake up whenever they want to wake you up, doing whatever they want you to do. In coding bootcamp, you are in charge of your own success. You have to get up and make yourself do it. You have to be self-accountable to succeed; if you don’t, it’s going to be difficult.
The best approach is to be focused and put in the long hours. The more you learn, the easier getting a job will be. You’re going to coding bootcamp to better your life and your family’s future. There will always be self-doubt and challenges. It’s not easy jamming years of learning into just a few months. But once I got going, there was never a point when I thought I couldn’t do it. You just have to fight your way through and be mentally strong. That’s the nature of coding.