Episode 012: Vets Who Code with Jerome Hardaway


Coraline Ada Ehmke | Jessica Kerr | Astrid Countee

Guest Starring: Jerome Hardaway
Vets Who Code

Show Notes:

00:16 – Welcome to “It’s Made of People!” …we mean, “Greater Than Code!”

02:17 – Jerome’s Background and Origin Story

General Assembly

09:30Vets Who Code: Funding, Technology Stack, Curriculum, and Students

John Washam: Googley As Heck

18:19 – Vets Who Code Student Experience

20:00 – Obstacles Veterans Face Getting Into Tech

  1. Location
  2. Network

Jacob Oakley: Learning Code with Kids

29:04 – Making the Tech Community More Welcoming to Veterans

33:37 – What should people in the tech community NOT do?

  1. Don’t Assume
  2. Recognize Women Veterans

36:55 – Getting Involved with Vets Who Code

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38:09 – Evaluating Opportunities

“The AAR” aka Takeaways:

Astrid: Addressing emotional intelligence and increasing 1% each day.

Jessica: Using Ruby on Rails is a valuable resource for teaching people how to code.

Coraline: Time is life and life is also time. Don’t be married to the tool, be married to the problem.

Jerome: Be “Greater Than Code” and ask questions about people.

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JESSICA:  Good morning and welcome to our favorite podcast, ‘It’s Made of People!’

ASTRID:  Jessica, that is not the name of the podcast. You know it’s Greater Than Code.

JESSICA:  Greater Than Code with me, Jessica Kerr, and the even greater Astrid Countee.

ASTRID:  Thank you, Jessica and also with the lovely Coraline Ada Ehmke.

CORALINE:  Hey, everybody. We have a very special guest today, Jerome Hardaway. Jerome is a Memphis native, currently residing in Nashville. He’s the executive director of Vets Who Code, a 501c3 that trains early stage transitioning veterans in web development and helps them find gainful employment in the software industry. His work has been featured in Huffington Post and he’s been invited to the White House, DreamForce and Facebook for his work with veterans.

Jerome, how are you today?

JEROME:  Hey, Coraline. I’m doing insanely well. Two days from now, I’ll be back in San Francisco for a Christmas present for my wife. That’s really what I’m looking forward to.

CORALINE:  You’re supposed to say you’re looking forward to the podcast today.

JEROME:  I’m looking forward to the podcast today but I’ve never been to a football game in my life. I’m a big nerd. I’m not one of those dudes. I’m in the south but everybody in the south does football.

ASTRID:  Which is why it’s hard to believe you haven’t been to a football game.

JEROME:  Yes, it’s really is. People are looking —

JESSICA:  You mean like a professional football game or any football game?

JEROME:  Any football games. I didn’t do the whole little league thing when I was a kid. I didn’t go to any high school or middle school games. I didn’t go to any games also in college because I was deployed while I was going through college. I’d never done anything like a game. I think my first basketball game that I actually went to was, I think three years ago. I kind of avoided those things. I never had an interest in them so I just focus on things that I did enjoy. I like combat sports. I always went to boxing events and things like that. But basketball and football, I kind of dodged.

CORALINE:  Jerome, we’d like to start off by understanding your origin story. Where did you develop your superpowers? When did they first come about? What are your superpowers?

JEROME:  I think my superpowers are hard work and discipline. I think that’s what really makes me me. I don’t think I’m uber talented on any one level but just I think I’m able to set a goal and put my nose to the grindstone until I reach it. I developed a lot of that I think from childhood, coming from a family that has a lot of veterans, both sides of family has veterans and that was kind of instilled in me, then double down when I joined the military. I guess that’s my superpower.

I’m capable of waking up at 0430 in the morning, every day and I won’t change that. I think that’s my major superpower. If you ask my wife, she hates early mornings so the fact I wake up and I’m extra happy makes her think I’m a freak of nature.

CORALINE:  Yeah, I’m really good at waking up at 0-10 and taking about an hour and a half to drink my coffee then figuring out what to do with my hair and then I’ll get into work.


CORALINE:  That’s my superpower.

ASTRID:  Jerome, did you always know you would be a veteran?

JEROME:  Negative. It was a last minute decision. I actually had a scholarship to go to Pacific University because I was in piano, performing arts, and I just changed my mind at the last minute because I was like, “You know, everybody pretty much has created all this classical music there is, so let me do something else that would be just as meaningful.”

I never wanted to not have meaningful work so rehashing the same people’s work didn’t seem like a great life goal for me. So after that, I decided to also take that right after the ACT and SAT and I ended up scoring high enough to actually get into the Air Force and I was one of the first Air Force veterans in my family. Now, I am. I’m the first Air Force vet in my family.

Funny story of how I ended up going into my job code which is security forces in Phoenix Raven is I initially was able – I was initially supposed to do it for finance and I decided when I turned 18 that I was to go to a recruiter and tell him I wanted the coolest job, the most hardcore job you guys have that I could get into immediately. Then he set me up for security forces.

My mom, she didn’t know about any of this until I was on the plane and the recruiter was telling her that she was taking everything really well. She was like, “Well, he’s just going to sit behind a desk and crunch numbers, right?” And he was like, “No. That’s not going to happen at all. He joined for security forces. We were sending him to a base where he can go to a Phoenix Raven program after that.” And she was like, “What does it all mean?” He explained it to her and I had the most terrifying voicemail on my cellphone after I graduated from basic to the point where I didn’t go home for like a full year. I was like, “Now, she’s going to kill me. I’m not going until I go anywhere near –“

JESSICA:  “If I don’t kill you, you’ll die of work.”

JEROME:  Yeah, that basically was. And I was like talking her and trying my best to avoid going home. I was stationed in Korea and to make me come home, she literally called the command post. She jumped the chain of command all the way up in another country and called the command post and they called my commander. My commander called my leadership all the way down to my first line supervisor and they’re like, “Yo, your mom said you need to go home,” because she hasn’t seen me. “After your R&R, you’re going home. That’s an order. You got to go home.”

I was like, “Dang! I was just going to chill in South Korea for a month.” That was very funny.

ASTRID:  Your mom was awesome.

JEROME:  Yeah, she’s the original gangster, as I like to tell people.

CORALINE:  When did coding come into picture, Jerome?

JEROME:  Coding came into the picture, actually when I look back and the coding get into the picture some time ago before I get in to military because I was really interested in advertising and digital marketing while I was in high school. I saw a movie of Mel Gibson’s What Women Want and it’s just funny that he got struck by lightning and also, he can hear the thoughts of women but he worked in an ad agency. I was like, “You know, ad agency seems a pretty cool place, where you get to just think of ideas to make people buy stuff. Well, what are all the jobs that aren’t in the advertising world?” One of them was web developer.

I thought about that and I didn’t think about it again until 2009, 2010 when I get out of the military. I realized that all the jobs they wanted to offer me during the great recession were either really sucky or really dangerous. Those were like my two options, were either security guard or go back overseas to private military. I was like, “I don’t want to do either one of those so what are my other options?” It’s something that I can take my discipline and my ability to think and just put my nose on the grindstone to learn.

Web development turned out to be a great one. My first job was an analyst for the department home security for their [inaudible] program and I took a year off of that, just to take care of my auntie while she was sick. Then I moved into a digital marketing position at a nonprofit and then everything just kind of one type of crazy incident in which there was a young veteran who ended up dying and I used my software engineering skills [inaudible] to help his family, to bury him, and started an educational fund for his daughter.

From there, I have been in a scholarship to General Assembly and the General Assembly ended up like seeing the work I was doing and I ended up introducing me to other great companies. I ended up getting my first job out of General Assembly. Going from one job to another job, six weeks into the program so I spent the second half of General Assembly just networking and things of that nature.

Ever since then, I did a year of that job and then shopping myself at other jobs, seeing what other jobs I wanted to build in my nonprofit and teaching veterans, helping veterans get jobs to a point where I was like, “It’s time for me to go full time, instead of part time,” and that’s where I am. If I’m not building or teaching, I’m learning and talking to amazing people like you guys. I think that’s my whole code journey.

CORALINE:  How did you hear about General Assembly? How do you get started with that?

JEROME:  General Assembly is a software code school, headquartered in New York. I saw their opportunity for veterans program and because I was in digital marketing and also in the veteran space while doing that, I had a very big veteran following. I always shared resources and one of the resources was General Assembly.

I knew that being in the south, being in an area where transportation and healthcare, a lot of people don’t even think about software engineering as a way to transition successfully into the civilian workforce. What happened was for us, I decided that I’ll take that chance on myself to be an example and that’s how everything happened.

I heard the work I was doing, what I wanted to do, what I wanted to create Vets Who Code, they were like, “You’re like a great individual,” and they were like, “We can’t wait to have you here,” so that’s what happened.

ASTRID:  How did the idea come to you to start the nonprofit?

JEROME:  For me, it was like common sense thing. No one was doing it but I saw that jobs when it comes to tech, we’re going on field, they were getting more and more jobs. I saw veterans were coming back home, that is 2% of the population coming back home that were constantly and consistently being told they didn’t have the skills. I put two and two together, what if we could train people that are coming home because they are not having the skills that were like discipline focused, also a lot of thinking because a lot of people don’t think the veterans have that skill set, which is the biggest thing from [inaudible] and take all that information and put them in jobs that actually mattered.

They actually could use these skill sets and that way, we can solve both industries problems. Military has a problem with transitioning veterans, not being able to get jobs, takes out the other problem where there’s not enough talent, not enough people who can do the work so let’s find these people, let’s train them up and let’s create a perfect marriage of two problems and solve it.

CORALINE:  Did you initially find good funding sources or is that a key set you had to kind of make to people and kind of work hard to get them to get behind?

JEROME:  A very funny story. East Coast and West Coast has always been very friendly to Vets Who Code. What we do in regards to funding, actually until this year, we never even really had to focus on going to get grants or things of that nature. But as we’re growing, in 2017, we’re doing that.

The south hasn’t been so much because, like I said, even though I’ve won numerous awards and things here, their sector doesn’t really understand it. Most of their tech is really, really old. If you’re really not talking Java or .Net, their eyes are glazing over because a lot of the tech sector isn’t controlling the tech sector in the south. What was controlling tech sector in the south is healthcare and transportation which is really weird. When you go to New York or go to San Francisco, the people in the technology sector are setting the pace of what the companies are using, as opposed to, like I said, down here, where it’s healthcare industry. And a lot of their technologies haven’t been updated in the past 10, 15 years. They don’t see any reason to change or update in the same way with transportation. They don’t see any reason or any way to get smarter or to change what they’re doing.

It just varies regionally. We started and went from focusing about teaching veterans everywhere to as time going on focusing on areas that were smart or friendly to us. It kind of helped doing that because we’re able to train out and give us more veterans, they could have the impact that we wanted.

CORALINE:  What language and frameworks do you teach at Vet Who Code?

JEROME:  We call it a VWC stack. But what it is, is a Ruby on Rails with integrations of JavaScript framework. Basically, the process goes on with Ruby, then you learn the Rack where we have to build a Ruby gem using Rack. You learn Sinatra, then from Sinatra, you learn Rails. Then we start going to the frontend JavaScript, Python and things of that nature. Then we start using npm and Angular, then they use React, then Electron, then Ember. That’s the process of going through.

You’ll learn how to use these frameworks in conjunction with Ruby on Rails because it helps them fortify the skills they’ve already learned, that’s why we call it ‘crawl, walk, run’. It also helps them gain confidence because as long as they know they’re able to do something right, where messing up on a level that they didn’t really understand, they’re not as going as insane.

With my experience, I talk to [inaudible] codes schoolers that they’ll get one stack, then they move to another stack and they just start feeling like they’re not a good engineer or good developer. One of our biggest things that we decided we were going to solve was let’s make sure that their confidence is high during the entire time, if they don’t feel like they’re not going to succeed or be good enough.

Ruby tools and Ruby instructional things and Ruby resources that we can point them to, if they want more help and things of that nature, I guess easier to access than other languages. I think that was my first reason for going into Ruby and then moving on to JavaScript. Ruby is so much more forgiving and the resources out there, you can’t really compete with it on the instructional side.

There’s a lot of talk about how JavaScript is more prominent in the community and how every job wants and how the data lines up, well, you can’t really just apply data in terms of big data just to people. You have to understand that there are emotions, there is a level of emotional intelligence that needs to be addressed. That’s why we focused on Ruby and Ruby on Rails, the integrating of those frameworks with Ruby on Rails.

CORALINE:  How did you develop your curriculum?

JEROME:  Our idea was go straight to the hiring managers and see what they wanted, how we can build Vets Who Code was that I decided that I was going to interview at least once a month with a different hiring manager. If I got the yay, I pitch Vets Who Code. If I got a nay, then I would explore after action review and see where I did wrong, where I did it right, things of those nature to make sure they see what are our weaknesses are or our strengths are and that’s how we created our curriculum.

One of the first things that we realized that was going on and this is like over a year and a half ago was that, code school were not really strong CS-wise — computer science fundamentals. We looked at the IEEE.org and we’re looking at what people in computer science was learning else out of code school. Now, aside of 14 credit hour courses that goes into a computer science degree, a lot of it was math.

We focused a lot on those 14 core courses and integrating those into our curriculum, things of that nature, seeing how TDD and BDD be used in the workforce. Being able to jump into the code, making our guys and girls read a lot of code. Those are all the things like I said, just focusing on knocking out project after project and build after build and be able to interpret, understand, and problem solve and actually solving coding challenges regularly. That is what we focused on when it came to our curriculum.

ASTRID:  What’s the average student that came to you? What point where they at? Were they just coming back home or had they been home for a while looking and then decided that they wanted to learn how to program? At what stage are you usually finding people coming to you?

JEROME:  The average stage that we’re finding is A, the troop is already motivated and B, they are at stuck point. They’ve gone through a lot of free courses that they were okay with it. They didn’t feel like they weren’t getting what they wanted or they just finding that next level. I would say, though, 70% of our people that come to us, they’re coming from either another code focus NPO for veterans or sort of coming from Codeacademy or they’re coming from a free code camp. They’re coming from these organizations and they’re wanting something more.

They know from other shows or from reading about me that I’m a really no nonsense, skills-pay-to-bills face guy and that’s how we focus on our curriculum. Focus on community is really nice and it’s great and it’s definitely needed. But we’re in that coding interview alone, you need to be able to bring it by yourself. It’s almost like a boxing match. Your team is very important but in the end, it all comes down to your performance that night.

JESSICA:  The coding interview is boxing match, that’s a very interesting metaphor. It’s so true. It really is about can you tough it out under pressure and yet, once you get in, hopefully it’s more about working with the team.

JEROME:  Yes, it is. Can you name one job outside of software engineering where people train exclusively for the interview? I can’t lie and I’m from the military. You know, going through basic training, if you think basic training in the military is the practical interview and now you’re already in, you just have to pass basic training, get into a core, get the base level skills. But the code interview, people right now, my favorite read is Googley As Heck by John Washam.

He spent eight months training just for the Google interview. There is no other career field where people are just training for the interview, knowing and thinking about the job. They are just thinking about —

JESSICA:  I know that just the most- They train for this verification exams, right?

JEROME:  Yeah. That was always the best of bar. I know I do it back to [inaudible] because I’m not that smart. I have lawyers in family but no doctors so I don’t know about that.

CORALINE:  Jerome, what’s the experience like for someone who just gets started with your program?

JEROME:  It is a mixture of immersive online experience, where I could say. We’re using Slack, we’re using Skype, we’re using Google Hangouts. They’re meeting up with me regularly. They have homework and of course, code of conduct, rules and things of that nature. We’re one of the few nonprofits where you get so many tools to also help you in your journey that in our veterans on average, they get about four out of $500 dollars’ worth of free resources just for being in our program, which is totally different from other orgs.

Another organization, they do a lot of in regards of having scholarships for different code schools, which is cool if you can find a veteran with that regard. They can actually pay the rest of that money. For veterans that don’t have that money, we have to make sure. Not everybody has a chance than a veteran not just those that are good enough to have a 10k on hand or you can make that micro-loan from so many upstart loan places. That’s where we focused on is making sure they have a really great experience. In our Slack side chats, every veteran knows our Slack side chats. That’s one thing that we also bring to the table.

We had veterans in our last Slack chat was a DHH and next month, we’re going to try to do what was Sandy [inaudible] having her in the docket for some time sending [inaudible]. It’s just been hectic due to November was Veteran’s Day week then holidays came around so hopefully, in January where everybody is refocus, we’ll be able to have her in for a chat.

JESSICA:  You spoke about money as an obstacle to learning and the coding interview is an obstacle, what particular obstacle do veterans have that other people don’t?

JEROME:  Network was one of the biggest ones. Due to the fact that while you’re overseas serving. First and foremost, in our satellite, San Francisco and I guess, in San Diego and there’s a base in New York and there’s one here in DC, outside of those, most military installations are like the crappiest land in America. They’re nowhere near big cities, things of that nature so the type of code boot camps that are really popular are nowhere near these facilities. These places are going to those facilities because there’s no money to make outside of military. That’s the problem number one, where we think that the average human being moves no more than 50 miles from their mother or their last duty station in the military. That’s issue number one.

Second is network. They don’t have a network to even know where is the right way to go. When I speak to veterans, they don’t even know any of the free resources out there to learn to how to code or what’s a Meetup. As you know, we’re literally having to teach them from the ground up, how to learn about the community first and then the resources and then how to code. We have to teach them all of that: how to find the meetups in our community, how to ask the right question in order to find your answer, that way you’re researching on your own. Those are two really big obstacles, that being location and network.

JESSICA:  So learning the code isn’t the first step. First, you have to learn how to learn to code and before that, you have to learn where you might learn to learn to code. Before that, somebody is going to tell you why you would even try.

JEROME:  Yes. Luckily for us, we usually the why have already answered. One thing that we find ourselves very lucky and grateful for is that are outreach is pretty much minimal. We don’t have to worry about veterans trying to find us. They just do. It’s been one of the things that thought was like the craziest things that we don’t have to really like a lot of our work goes toward when it comes outreach is focusing on the civilian sector and the tech sector. But not so much for the veterans.

The veterans, they want this skill. They want to be a part of this. They want to learn how to do the stuff and do the stuff professionally because it’s skill based. Just like once again, going back to that box analogy, it’s something that if they put the work in, they’ll receive the reward. As a military veteran, there’s nothing more rewarding than being able to measure your skill day to day and see how well you’ve gotten, just by putting in a good day’s work and wake up the next morning, doing it over and over and over again and you realize just how much easier things have become for you or how you’re able to accept newer and bigger challenges that originally you were terrified of. Also, the veterans really wanting to learn how to code again in the tech community.

JESSICA:  So a veteran’s superpower is knowing that work translates into skill.

JEROME:  Yeah, I guess, you can say that. Every veteran I met, they like the idea of putting their mind to work and pushing day in and day out to become better. One of things that we say in our Slack channel is your goal is to only get 1% better every day. The funny thing about 1% is that your 1% changes every day. One day, your 1% is ‘Hello, World’, the next day your 1% is doing a full single page application. Before you know it, your 1% is bringing back an app that has failed and making it run in a production. It’s so amazing to see people that they change.

Even to see the growth in our students, we have one Jacob who wanted to learn a lot. He was coming in for a lot of fun and heavy-focus education and we were looking at him what was going to through the finance section. When it came to getting the code correctly, he used [inaudible]. Everything out, with regards [inaudible], our style guys who’s doing correctly.

But when it came to his design eye and his idea of design psychology, that was his main problem and we were able to tell him, “This is a little antiquated. A little too army,” as we call it, and he laughs and things like, “Okay, I got you.”

We gave him some resources. We did some more education with him. Within a week, he was up to par with all the other students. He has a very fun story because he’s one of the regular people actually. They either get married or in a cohort or they have a kid during the cohort. He actually had a kid. He wrote a post about how to learn how to code while having kids because he has three kids and I’m like, “Oh, my goodness. Why don’t you stop at one?”

I have one and he’s a fricking handful and I don’t know how you could do that two more times this. That’s insane.


JEROME:  Once you go past one, you know how that happens so do everything you can to avoid doing it again. That one kid is a handful. So he wrote this article and it was so insightful and I pick his brain all the times because he finds the time to be dedicating. When I speak to other educators, it’s very funny because even when it comes to colleges, things of that nature, they say the students that perform the most or the best are usually the ones with kids because they don’t have time so they’re really good with that time management. It was just I learn things from our troops, just as much as I’m teaching them things.

JESSICA:  That’s a good point. There’s a saying that if you want something done, give it to the busiest person because he’ll crunch it out. I’ve had jobs where there wasn’t really enough work and I was kind like hoard my tickets and will have them very slowly so that I wouldn’t run out and actually be bored. If you’re having trouble getting your work done or being motivated, try having a kid.


JEROME:  Yeah, they are —

JESSICA:  Your time will become so much more precious.

CORALINE:  I did find that after we had my daughter, my life changed a lot and I didn’t have time to do all the things that I’d done before. But that made me prioritize the things that I had time to do and really focus on things that are important to me.


JESSICA:  Right. When there’s always more time where you can always do it later, why do it now? Also, what you mentioned about football back at the very beginning of all the things that you prioritized and learned, football just fell off the list and there’s always going to be something like that. The people are like, “What? You’ve never done this.” You know, I haven’t seen any TV shows. Something’s got to go when you have a mission.

JEROME:  Yes. One of things that we always tell our troops is that this is going to be really time consuming. Even if we try to make less as concise as possible. But the homework is going to get because this is time in great skill. You get in what would be put out. The more your coding, the better coder you’ll be. The more you’re working about data structures and algorithms, the better you will be at this.

You know, when we’re talking about things that you think you’ll never use like big o notation and things of that nature, that will make you better for the code interview. It is very funny because I always tell them that the first person your spouse or significant other is going to get mad at is you. The second person is always going to be me so our goal is hurry up and get as much stuff done before your spouse got mad at me because [inaudible] going to be upset to you. I’ve had at every cohort, there’s always taken so much time. One of our students is like, “My boyfriend says that I’m playing on the computer.”

And I’m like, “You know what? I’m married. My wife still says something [inaudible].” So it’s like you’ll never go out of that. The longer you’re in this, they don’t see it as hard work. They see it as fun because you don’t come home complaining at the same level that they do. Like my wife, she’s in a medical field and she always comes on complaining and I’ll never complain. I actually enjoy the people I deal with. I’m like, “I’ll go and deal with friends all day.”

And she says, “Well, you know? Not all of us can go and play on the computer all day and deal with our friends and deal with people that we actually enjoy.”

And I was like, “Sorry for being happy?”

CORALINE:  That’s actually one of the privileges of our career.

JESSICA:  That is such a privilege.


JESSICA:  Then once you got an experience, then you probably have some choice of job opportunity so if you don’t like people you work with, you have a choice. After you passed that interview.

JEROME:  Yes. You know, there are so many opportunities going from justifying that right environment for you or the most accepted environment for you. that’s one thing that we’re also work, especially in 2017, is we’re starting to build our relationship with women who code and things of that nature, to ensure that when it comes to building a community, our idea is to build the community, send them out into the wild with the civilians and build the community with them because it’s all about social integration and find the right environment and community for you is really important.

JESSICA:  As a civilian — this is the important question — how can we make the community more welcoming to veterans?

JEROME:  There are several things. First things first is pay attention to us and the talent pipeline. One of the things that us, veterans, in all industries is that after the Vietnam War, joining the military is pretty much, they’ll drastically down like one thing to becoming a veteran or serving in those Armed Forces. A lot of people who are hired in HR, the last person who joined the military was usually World War Two, which is you think is 50s, 60s, 70s. If you think of World War One, the last person from World War One is over 100 years ago.

The only thing they know about the military is what they saw on TV, which is all fantasy, the farthest thing from being true. We’re very happy that there are organization like Got Your 6. They’re now going to Hollywood and tell them, “Write the real stuff. Write how the military really is. Don’t make our guys even look like they’re psychopaths or they’re broken,” which we’re neither, “and show the real impact of veterans and do how they really learn and what they really are.”

I think that’s the first thing that in the civilian side that we can do is start actually having these community liaisons that can actually go into the veteran community or aren’t afraid to go into veteran community and actually see how they can help that take time and pipeline. Second is find useful and different things to integrate both the cultures together. Memorial Day is like five months from now but Memorial Day, Veterans Day, those are great holidays for the community to really encompass and being able to [inaudible] and help like with veteran opportunities of veteran problems.

The number one problem in veterans are actually isn’t PTSD. It’s sleep because that’s what the doctors of the VA are consider an epidemic among veterans. Our community, mostly has sleep disorders than the average community. My wife says, I’m starting to like not being able to sleep throughout the night. I don’t know what she says, it’s some doctor term which sounds like I need one of those we’re breathing mask that I’m never going to buy. I’ll die in my sleep before I get one of those things.

But as one of things that maybe helping and create apps or products that help get your sleep rhythm better or even doing crazy things like going on Memorial Day and during cross-fit [inaudible], I always recommend it going to do that, getting you’re most fit person on your team to do. Don’t go out there if you’re not in shape and ended up throwing all over the place and stuff like that. Because I don’t want to be a person that gets in trouble for it, like somebody has a heart attack out there.

Things like that or having a military focus, those are really fun. Things about solving problems like veterans loves solving problems. That’s number one tool and resource veterans bring to the tables, about how to get stuff done without all of the resources in an expedient manner. Because with us, time isn’t money. Time is life. That’s how we are trained. You need to hurry up and you need to get this mission done, you get this right and you get it done as fast as possible. Or somebody may not make it home for Christmas.

With that thought process in mind, that’s how we’re trained. That what we focus on. What’s the best way to solve this problem, as fast as possible and we don’t marry ourselves to tools. We marry ourselves to solving the problem, which is you see sometimes in the community, people married themselves to their tools, they married themselves to the language and that’s not what veterans do. They marry themselves to whatever that problem to solve.

There are some things that are just people won’t pass like for instance, I don’t know if you guys ever heard of General Mattis. Basically, there are things that people are talking about [inaudible] to let go back to a very taboo subject of torture. He was like, “Torture doesn’t work,” and we call him ‘mad dog’ for a reason. But he was like, “You can actually solve the problem better just using cigarettes and beer,” because that’s an actual thing. Being able to talk and actually level with people that are considered prisoners or captives has proven more effective and there’s less consequences on our end. That’s one way of solving a problem. We just said, “No, we’re not going to do that because it’s smarter to do it this way.

JESSICA:  Can we turn the question around? What can people in the tech community not do that sometimes we do and makes veterans feel uncomfortable in ways that couldn’t understand?

JEROME:  Assume that we are stupid. I think that’s the biggest thing that happens a lot or assume that there’s no leadership in enlisted troop. For some strange reason, there’s another stigma out there where veterans who are enlisted corps don’t get treated the same way than veterans who become officers.

Officers are automatically being this, “Oh, they actually give orders,” and stuff of that nature but that the first thing from troop. Every person that serves in the military is in some form of way, given leadership roles — from the youngest troop to the part that has been in 20 years. When you see an enlisted or first term, someone who served four years or six years, you automatically want to put them [inaudible] as you assume is this person just follow orders and the first thing is everybody follows orders in the military.

Second thing is once you past three years, they’re usually in some form of first year leadership. They’re either in charge of teaching the younger troops or for instance, I was six years and I was the squadron flight [inaudible] controller, which basically meant that outside of our flight commander and our flights sergeant, I was third. I see third person in charge when we were on duty, on shipped. I was a person who was telling people where to go, how to do things, what type of security for [inaudible], what type of security or type of issues they’re dealing with everything. I was doing that with 40 people so when you turn around and they go, “I was handling 40 people and make sure we had 5.2 billion dollars’ worth of resources to secure at any given time.” Now, people think I’m just a follower and is good at following orders and I don’t have any skills, it’s really weird. Especially, when you think from my point of view, when I was in the military I was doing the dual-screen action thing just like you do in software industry. That’s the natural world for me. I think that’s the first thing. Don’t assume that we don’t know anything just because they’re enlisted versus officer corps because we get that problem a lot.

Actually, recognizing women veteran. It’s a really huge epidemic that’s been going on, not just in the tech industry but just in [inaudible] culture [inaudible] woman dressed in a navy suit, navy shirt or air force or even marine had some of that like, “Oh, the boyfriend joined. The husband joined,” or somewhere something like that. They don’t assume that the woman actually serve her country. We’re finding a bit prompt scene that we actually had a couple of months ago when our veterans who happened to be using her military discount at a store was stopped as the personnel is like, “Oh, it’s not for spouses.” Wow, they just totally disregarded you. That’s two big things that I can think of that take [inaudible] culture as a total [inaudible].

JESSICA:  Thanks.

CORALINE:  Jerome, how can people with established careers in the software industry, not just help veterans but specifically help with Vets Who Code.

JEROME:  We have a mentorship email and a mentorship form. If you want to volunteer, we’re always looking for volunteers and people who come to our pro-veteran are actually, because in 2017, we’re ramping up more of our processes and building more of the platform and not just an internal face to face, a hundred percent product. We need more and more mentors to help our veterans in other areas, where they might not feel comfortable with. We’ve already gotten mentors from Apple and Facebook. We’re very happy and grateful for those organizations for stepping up and helping us. That’s one thing and always just tweet us @VetsWhoCode and reach out it and definitely speak to you.

ASTRID:  We’d like to take this time out to think one of our listeners, Wayne Robinson. Thank you so much for your contribution, Wayne. We are a listener supported podcast so if you would like to contribute, please go to Patreon.com/GreaterThanCode. When you become a contributor, you get access to our Slack community where you are able to network with other people, ask guest questions, and get access to some of our special little freebies that we only give out there.

JESSICA:  Thanks. I’m served to that in your career progression, in your origin story. You went to various schools and jobs. I think there is another thing scattered in there. Each thing you did, each job you accepted was not just the work. It was all about where it let you, through who you met, or what you learned. It must be who you met. How can we, when we are looking at different jobs, evaluate which ones are going to give us that next opportunity? Where are not just going to learn but make the connections that we need to move up.

JEROME:  For me, it was actually I’m a very honest person with myself, I guess. First to be honest with and looking at yourself assessing your weaknesses and your strengths, and then researching where you can find and help shore up those weaknesses, like I said, for veterans, our biggest weaknesses is not our ability to work hard. It’s not our ability to learn. It’s our network. It’s our community. That was one reason why I really focused on community and it was the same way with building my web development skills. My web development has started to become the forefront of the web industry with JavaScript of [inaudible], and there’s going on now.


JEROME:  You guys have heard that before, right?

JESSICA:  That’s about right.

JEROME:  Every month, there’s a new one. You just stick with the most popular ones to keep it moving. But I focus on pride in web development because I know those things at forefront and those quickly help my skills get known and that was actually the reason why I chose Ruby on Rails. I want to start doing server-side technologies and make my frontend design to do stuff. You have to be honest like where I am weak at? What I need to do so I’m no longer be weak there?

It goes back to people to understand or like the box analogy that it comes back to boxing, which you have to find out where your strengths are in the rain or your weaknesses are, or some people that they’re long range boxers like Muhammad Ali. There are some people that are short range boxers like Mike Tyson and you have to figure out what you are and what you can do to shore up skills that can either cover up your weaknesses or shore up your weaknesses so that way, they’re not as easy to exploit when you’re out of your element and your strength.

ASTRID:  I actually really like the boxing analogy because, I think it fits with what you’ve mentioned earlier about the importance of community because if you’re training as a boxer, you have a lot of people around you who are used to helping you. But when you get in the ring, it’s just you so you have to be prepared to get punched in the face and be able to get back up and keep going.

JEROME:  Yeah, you’re absolutely right. We use that analogy for our troops. We’re like boxers, they have multiple coaches where they’re good at their crafting. Then you have nutritionist and then you have sparring partners and things of that nature but in the end, just like the boxing match is like a code interviewer and that’s just you. I can’t be in there, to jog your memory and things of that nature do you have to listen everything we say and practice everything we say diligently. Then go from there and be able to excel when you get that opportunity.

JESSICA:  Time for ‘The AAR’.


CORALINE:  Jerome, we like to take time at the end of every episode to reflect on what we’ve talked about and before we started recording you said that there was a military analogy taking the time to reflect. What was that?

JEROME:  AAR — After action report.

CORALINE:  I guess this is time for our AAR. Who want to go first?

ASTRID:  I can go first. one of the things that I took from some of the things that you mentioned, Jerome is when you talked about addressing the emotional intelligence in your curriculum, which is a thing I had never thought about, about how important it is to give yourself the ability to keep remaining confident as you’re learning these hard skills, which I think is a really important thing to take away. Also, I really liked your goal of just increasing 1% each day.

JESSICA:  Yeah, and how you don’t always know what that 1% is going to be because you think, it’s going to be learning how to implement this cool new feature in JavaScript and the [inaudible]. But, no. It’s actually going to be going debugging some weird crash on your Rails app or with an operating system tool you didn’t know about yet.

JEROME:  Yes. I’m so happy that I learned that through the hard way. One of my weaknesses because I come from my career field, I guess, in military was EQ and as an executive director, you can’t have a weakness like the lack of emotional intelligence. That will crush you and your organization.

I found that weakness and that side has taught me to become stronger in that and when I thought about, not just one of the things that helped me when I was learning how to code was that I knew that I was able to always find a way to reassure myself that I get this because I already piggyback on other skills. That’s one of the things that I start to focus on.

We call our curriculum [inaudible], crawl walk, run [inaudible] space, literally are how veterans prepare for deployments. One of those reasons that we use it like that is because we always piggyback that helps you build confidence by using the other things that you’ve learned. I was like that’s actually a brilliant way so I’m not going to rebuild or remake what is already working.

JESSICA:  My takeaway is also a lot like yours, Astrid. I am fascinated by the part where the JavaScript [inaudible] framework and that’s fine because you’ve also given people a solid footing by stabilizing on a Rails backend. The important thing about Rails, which I find really fascinating is how many resources are available for learning it and for troubleshooting it.

JEROME:  I thought we chose Ruby and Ruby on Rails plus because people set use data to say that JavaScript is what you should be learning but in my opinion, Ruby is a far more forgiving language and it helps you build your confidence so when you go into JavaScript, you’re not seeing a lot of those things for the first time. You’re just being a lot more constructive. Your code is a lot less forgiving in JavaScript than it is in Ruby. That’s one of the things that why we chose Ruby and Ruby on Rails because it naturally teaches you about the web. It teaches you about servers, things of that nature, like way go from Ruby to Rack to Sinatra to Rails.

You pretty much learn everything that you need to know about the web: how to deploy an app, how to use [inaudible], things of that nature, how to make servers and make them talk, how to use SQL. You’ve learned a lot of that where you just start with JavaScript. You might just hit frontend web development. It’s one of those things where that’s why we chose it, where you learn a lot more from focusing on Ruby and Ruby on Rails and you’ll start just at JavaScript because you don’t have to get the push to learn more and it’s not a natural progression.

Once you start something in JavaScript, you have to decide that you want to learn more about JavaScript versus in Ruby, you have to learn how to do more things. It’s like a natural growth. It’s like raising a kid almost.

CORALINE:  I was pretty interested in a couple of things you said, Jerome. The first was that time is life. I think that’s something that we really lose track of and actually easy to get. I know for me if I’m working on a difficult problem, I cannot code it until it’s fixed. That inaudible] insistence on [inaudible] through it, can be good but it can also be bad because I think life is also time so we have to be very deliberate about how we spend our time recognizing that. Our life is made up of these moments.

The thing I like that you said, you talk about not being married to that tool but married to the problem to solve. I think this is something that a lot of people get tripped up on. I think people who have studied multiple languages do a little better with this because they’re able to abstract a problem that they’re solving and think of the solution outside of a particular tool set that they’re using and then figure out how to implement it using tool set, whereas if you’re just thinking with a vocabulary of a single language or a single framework, it can be more difficult to solve the problem. I thought that was really interesting that you said that. Veterans come kind of out of the box with the idea of not being married to tool but married to the problem.

JEROME:  Yeah, married of solving the problem. We don’t really care about how the problem gets solves as long as it’s solved and no one gets into trouble. Well, what’s the most ethical way that we could solve this and go home? That’s what it is. When you go overseas for deployment but you can tell like who’s been there the longest because you have troops that just got there and they’re all extra gung-ho, then you have person who’s in there like three to six months and they’re like, “Listen, we just want to solve this.”

Then you have those who are about to go back home and like, “Listen, I don’t care what you do. Just don’t mess it up. I’m out this piece. I’m trying to go home before Christmas. That’s it.” It’s very funny when you’re like, “I’ve never had to deploy anywhere like I wasn’t either going to miss Christmas.” I was like just not getting back home and [inaudible] after Christmas so it’s very funny to see that natural progression of how people ideologies and how they change over the course of a point and that’s how we view it and I see that in code programs and code schools all the time.

One of the things when I went to one, I told them, “I never was stressed out at the code school,” and one of the reason when an instructor asked me, I told them, “Nobody is really going to die. The worse that could happen is that I won’t solve the problem,” and that’s not the end of the world.

All the other lousy [inaudible] counterparts freak out over things like, “Maybe we should go on a walk or go for coffee just talk about this.” Sure enough, stepping away from the code, they’ll be able to get back into the code and actually solve the problem because a lot of people don’t understand that stress cloud your judgment, you start trying to force things, you’re started not thinking clearly. You forget things that you haven’t used a long time to actually be a solution. You’ll be amazed how many times people are killing themselves over a Rails that are not working when you restart your server and they’re like, “No. I didn’t.”

“Well, maybe you should do that.” It’s probably like the first thing you should always do. It’s like when an electronic is breaking like, “Did you turn it off and turn it back on?” It’s the same thing, do that and see what happens.

My reflections, first and foremost, it’s fun. I never had a full one in podcast. I was a little terrified and I’m not even going to lie. I was like, “Oh, my goodness. Have Ruby rock stars and they’re all women, I’m going to [inaudible] because they are smarter than guys.” I was a little nervous. Definitely, you guys asked questions that a lot of people don’t ask. A lot of good questions. Because when you’re on other more technical shows or shows that just focus only on the code and things of that nature, they don’t ask about people.

You know, I like that title being ‘Greater Than Code’ because in the end, what we do really revolves around the user not us and there’s one thing that as a community and as a culture, we need to get that out of that mindset that all that matters is the code, it’s a technology and not the lives that it’s impacting and things of that nature.

You know, it’s really fun to have questions coming from that angle versus let’s talk about how to solve this technical problem or why this, why that? I definitely enjoyed it. I’ll be passing it on other people too. Maybe we should ask more question about the impact on people’s lives or how we change people’s lives. You guys did a really good job here.

CORALINE:  Thank you, Jerome.

ASTRID:  Thank you.

JESSICA:  Yeah, thank you. Today is the 21st of December so thank you for joining us Christmas week and everybody has a very nice holiday.

This episode was brought to you by the panelists and Patrons of >Code. To pledge your support and to join our awesome Slack community, visit patreon.com/greaterthancode. Managed and produced by @therubyrep of DevReps, LLC.

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