This article originally appeared in Stars & Stripes Magazine
Veterans turn to computer coding bootcamps as GI BillⓇ benefits become available to specialized schools.
By Gordon Bronson
Computer programming schools, specialized, accelerated programs designed to teach high-tech skills in short time periods are popping up all over the United States. But until recently, these programs were unable to access the benefits provided by the GI BillⓇ. Though it may initially seem surprising, military veterans have what it takes to become extraordinary computer programmers, with the requisite drive, discipline and attention to detail learned in active duty able to be tailored to coding. With that in mind, non-traditional computer science-focused schools are being validated, with some newly able to accept veterans’ benefits.
According to a 2012 report from Microsoft, an estimated 1 million technology jobs will go unfilled by 2020, meaning there is significant potential for former military members to enter this flourishing industry. Boasting higher-than-average starting salaries and opportunities for mobility, many boot-camp graduates go on to work in cyber security, intelligence and roles protecting critical infrastructure. Others have gone to firms, from startups to corporations alike, where computer programming expertise means solidifying a career, not just a job.
Upon signing the GI BillⓇ into law, President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated that, “The members of the armed forces have been compelled to make greater economic sacrifice and every other kind of sacrifice than the rest of us, and they are entitled to definite action to help take care of their special problems.” The measure was intended to grant benefits and opportunities to members of the military returning home from war and jumpstart their lives. Through homeownership, medical support and education, the GI BillⓇ helped invent the middle class in America.
Designed for an era where the middle-class was defined by a mix of white- and blue-collar jobs, the original beneficiaries of the GI BillⓇ returned stateside from World War II and used the financial aid to train for a vast array of jobs and specialties.
“The GI BillⓇ has expanded opportunity in the U.S. for nearly 70 years, and represents a profound display of gratitude our men and women in uniform,” said Bruce Batky, founder of Skill Distillery, which, in 2015, was among the first boot camps certified to accept the GI BillⓇ in the country. “Generations of military veterans have used these benefits to jumpstart their civilian transition and build a sustainable life post-service. We are really proud to support the veterans community as it helps build the tech economy and with it, the new middle class.”
The economy has advanced and continues to transform before our very eyes. The need for talent with advanced training in computer science is growing daily; according to the U.S. Department of Labor, more than 500,000 jobs remain unfilled in high-tech across the country. With colleges and other formal institutions falling behind to efficiently and effectively develop curriculum and attract new students to keep up with this need, fast-paced, intensive computer programing schools have emerged.
These coding programs offer accelerated courses on specialized computer programming languages. Boot camps typically range from 10 to 20 weeks and focus on a specific languages or “stack” of languages. They are rapid, intensive and challenging, aimed at introducing and immersing learners into the world of coding. According to Skilled Up, an online resource that tracks training programs, more than 70 computer-coding programs exist under the umbrella of boot camps. These programs have not, until recently, enjoyed access to financial aid packages, like the GI BillⓇ.
“We help people develop the skills to excel in high fulfillment technical careers; but paying tuition isn’t easy for everyone,” says Jeff Casimir, founder of the Turing School of Software and Design in Denver. “The Post-9/11 GI BillⓇ helps veterans and their families access our program and join the tech industry.” Turing recently applied for GI BillⓇ approval and is awaiting approval from the Veterans Administration.
Languages – from Java to Ruby to CSS and more – will help determine the position, company and industry boot camp graduates are best prepared to enter. Some will point toward web development, others toward databasing or hardware integration. It’s vital to evaluate the kind of work you’re looking to dive into post-graduation before selecting a program. Many boot camps provide support to help guide their students into careers once the program comes to a close.
“From day one, I was consistently blown away by the level of care and thought shown by each and every member of the Skill Distillery team,” says Sarah Lobser, a retired U.S. Navy member and Denver-based coding boot-camp graduate who used her VA benefits to attend the program. “It seemed their sole purpose was to help me succeed. The program was very challenging, and rightly so. Working through the material and getting so much practice building applications has given me all the confidence I need to launch my new career.”