blog article

Learning to Code as a Veteran at General Assembly

Lauren Stewart

Written By Lauren Stewart

Last updated on November 15, 2018

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    Table of Contents

  • Q&A

Josh Pearson served in the US Army for 5 years in operations management and as a helicopter pilot. When he was ready to transition into a civilian career, he chose to combine his project management background with a new set of coding skills from General Assembly’s Web Development Immersive in Washington, DC. Learn how using The GI Bill® with General Assembly was a simple process for Josh, see how important networking is for the job search (with advice specifically great for fellow veterans), and see how Josh landed a Technology Consultant role at Deloitte after graduating!


Tell me about your educational and career background before attending General Assembly. 

Originally I did not want to go to college – I wanted to join the Army straight out of high school. My parents pushed me in that direction and I'm glad they did. I enlisted in the Virginia National Guard and attended Radford University at the same time. In college, I took one Intro to IT course and I dropped it – I was not a fan of being in front of the computer. I just wanted to get outside and do things I loved like rock climbing and mountain biking. I received my degree in Recreation Parks and Tourism. Because I was in ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) during college, I knew my job after college would be an Officer in the military. So, I wanted to maximize fun!

I graduated in 2012, and I went on active duty seven months later. I was in the medical services branch working in an artillery unit – not very fun. I decided to put in a packet for Flight School and got selected. By 2018, I was ready to transition out of the military. I had achieved what I wanted, but my wife is career-oriented and we were moving every several years, which wasn't very conducive to her career. I left the Army in April 2018, found General Assembly through Google searches, and now I'm working at Deloitte. 

Were you considering any other coding bootcamps? Why did General Assembly stand out?

There were actually two other bootcamps I considered here in Washington, DC. One of those was George Washington University which offers a coding bootcamp, but I went to General Assembly’s Web Development Immersive because I was really blown away by the clarity of their GI Bill process. They were very attentive in terms of scheduling, and just very nice and accommodating in every way. General Assembly is upfront about expectations for the course. The amount of support they give you post-course to help you get a job afterward just really blew me away. Finally, General Assembly is one of the only bootcamps that accepts the GI Bill in the DC area for web development – that definitely solidified my decision. 

The GI Bill® process will be different for every veteran, but tell us about using your GI Bill benefits to attend General Assembly.

My GI Bill benefits fully covered the Web Development Immersive and covered a housing allowance and stipends. So that was great. General Assembly’s WDI course itself was three months long, but the VA assesses and charges eight months worth of GI Bill credit. So veterans who use your GI Bill, please be aware of the fact that if you get 36 months of education benefits covered from the GI Bill, eight months of it will be used for GA.

I also used my GI Bill to cover my undergraduate degree and it was night and day between the amount of help, assistance, and support I received at General Assembly. There were many times when I was in college when I applied for my benefits and my college would ask me to front the bill before the VA paid it. That's pretty hard to do when you're an undergraduate student. General Assembly completely understood that the VA can be slow, and they understood that it takes time. I never once had an issue with General Assembly accepting my Gi Bill.

How was the General Assembly application and interview process for you? Were you nervous about changing career fields?

The application process made me feel way better about myself and far more capable than I actually was. It was more of a fun and challenging tutorial – nothing too crazy. To complete the application process, you talk with an admissions counselor – mine was really great. Then they give you pre-coursework and that's when I got grounded in the reality of the difficulty in coding. The pre-coursework was pretty challenging, and it took about 30 to 40 hours within one to two weeks. I was pretty late in applying, so it was not easy. But GA sets up a Slack channel for everyone who's going to be attending a course to receive support. You learn what to expect in the coding challenge before it begins. If you get stuck, there are plenty of people there willing to help you, like instructors who volunteer their time. 

I was definitely nervous about the application process, but I felt good about myself for making it to the end.

How many students were in your cohort? Was it diverse in terms of gender, race, life and career backgrounds? 

There was actually one other veteran in my cohort – he had been in the Navy for 20 years and also used the GI Bill. It was a diverse group and it was really cool to see. Five students were women, and in terms of race, there was everything you can imagine. GA is very inclusive and good with getting women and people with different backgrounds into coding. For example, they had a Women Who Code meetup group hosted at least 2-3 times while I was there. GA does a good job of getting students with different backgrounds to feel welcomed and included. Especially veterans – they did a great job getting us involved.  

What was the teaching style in the Immersive class? 

You show up at class at 9am. I typically got there at about 8:30am to take care of anything from the night before, and then get ready for the day. We'd learn from 9am – 12:30pm and then break for lunch for an hour. You then can get help on anything that you need for about an hour and then you need to be back in class until 5pm, although the instructor stayed after hours. We would also have homework or projects. It's about 50/50 between lectures and labs. By “labs” I mean that we got a coding challenge and would complete it within that two or three-hour block of instruction. 

The instructors were there at the beginning, really there to hold your hand as you went. But by the end of the bootcamp, they were very hands-off and you were on your own. You had to develop the ability to figure out what you needed to do to complete tasks. 

What programming languages did you learn at General Assembly? 

In General Assembly’s WDI, we learned HTML, CSS, and Vanilla Javascript. Then we went into the back end using Node.js and MongoDB for databases. We used Express and React as well. For the final phase of the course, we covered Python. We went over Django too, but not super in depth, just the fundamentals. We also covered Github the command line and how to deploy to a cloud platform.

How did your coding bootcamp experience compare to your Army experience? 

General Assembly was very intensive, just like going through flight school in the Army – the time commitment and the level of intensity was similar because you do want to be successful. The admissions staff said that it was going to be hard, and I thought “okay, whatever. I've done hard before, it shouldn't be too hard.” But, it definitely was. The intensity is necessary so that you can get a job in software development. 

The difference between the military and a coding bootcamp is that at the end of the day, you get to go home after coding bootcamp. But some days you're questioning your competence because you're being exposed to so many languages so quickly. It's very fast and thorough, but sometimes the wheels are just spinning and you're not quite sure what's going on. 

What's been your biggest roadblock in switching careers and learning how to code? 

I think the biggest roadblock for anyone learning to program is learning how you learn as a person. You can’t commit coding to memory, it’s very artistic. I didn't realize that at first, I thought it would be very math and science-based. But really, you have your easel (the computer) and you have to put whatever colors and shapes together (programming languages) in order to make your product. It's very abstract and I did not anticipate that at all.

Did you have a favorite project that you built at GA? Which technologies did you use? 

My favorite project was my first project, a Simon Says game. Like the kids board game – “ Simon Says: red, blue, yellow, green” – I built that in the browser. It flashed a set of colors, then users have to mimic that set of colors, and you'd go to the next level and so on. I used HTML, CSS and JavaScript. I think I enjoyed it most because it was the first project I built  – I'm actually excited to go back and work on that game after I’ve learned more at Deloitte. 

Tell us about your new job at Deloitte! How did you find the role? Did you get help from General Assembly? 

GA helped me the most by encouraging me to get out there and get to know people at meetups. In week nine, I met a guy at a meetup who worked at Deloitte. He liked like my personal portfolio page, and after talking to him, he put in an employee referral. A month later, a recruiter reached out to me through email. The week after I graduated from GA, I was hired and going through Deloitte’s onboarding process. 

I’m a Technology Specialist Consultant for the Federal Practice at Deloitte. I started here last Monday, so right now I'm just doing a really basic computer course. Deloitte is focused on networking and developing your network within the company. It’s great that I'll be working with the Federal sector – it really aligns with my goals to work with technology and government agencies in the DC area. Deloitte really seems like a perfect fit. 

How long is the training phase at Deloitte? How are they onboarding you?

Training at Deloitte is ongoing. They are very big on helping you develop yourself and aligning your projects with your strengths. Later this year, I’ll spend three days at Deloitte University in Texas, after that, my initial  training is done and then it's a matter of developing my skill sets and doing the necessary training to steer my career. 

Having worked in the military, did you have specific security clearances that were attractive to Deloitte?

Yeah, absolutely. With Deloitte being a contractor with the government, they’re committed to hiring a certain number of veterans. If you take the technical skills that you learned at GA and combine any security clearance that you had with the military, then Deloitte is really a perfect fit. Veterans working in technology are in high demand for our security clearances and technical skills. 

Do you have any tips for bootcampers who are searching for jobs? What are some general networking tips or tips for veterans?

I honestly didn’t want to network – it was really hard for me, and I believe the other veterans because we're not used to talking about our job. As a leader, you don't brag – you don't put yourself first. In addition, you wear your resume on your uniform in the army. For instance, If you've been to flight school or you've completed another school, there's probably a badge for it on your uniform. 

But as a civilian, and especially when you have to network for a job, you have to share your experience and brag a little. You have to go to meetups and constantly talk about what you've done and what you're capable of doing. 

My other advice is to utilize LinkedIn. There are veterans in the industry who will talk to you simply because they're a veteran and they've been in your shoes. LinkedIn is like online dating for jobs – keep putting it out there and eventually, something's going to land. 

How has your army experience been useful in your journey to learn how to code and become a technology consultant? 

The military makes you fail constantly (physically) and that’s a lot like coding. But failing constantly is how you get better. When you learn to accept that, that's when you're going to make the most improvements. It's also when your work is the most fun because you're challenging yourself every day. 

In terms of soft skills, communication and teamwork are skills honed in the military and transition nicely to working on a development team. 

In terms of hard skills, I would say planning. In the military, when you're doing operations, you have to plan those! And now working in tech, it’s so important to plan out what you're doing when it comes to programming. Also, that agile mindset that you have in the military and being adaptable is very transferable to a technology career. 

Now that a lot more coding bootcamps are getting approved for the GI Bill, do you think transitioning from the military into the tech sector is a natural progression?

The GI Bill and coding bootcamps  are  a great pair, especially for military spouses. If you have a military spouse interested in web development/programming, they can learn these skills for free (or way cheaper) and find a remote role. 

For veterans, especially if you want to work in the national security sector, and you have the clearance, take the sense of mission you had in the Military and now apply that to a civilian career. It's a great thing to do! You also learn project management in the military and how to be adaptable to what the customer wants. In conclusion, you take all of that and I believe veterans will find the transition into tech fairly easy. 

What advice do you have for people who are thinking about changing careers with a coding bootcamp?

Do it – change careers (and a coding bootcamp is the best way to do it). Coding is challenging and it's not something that comes easily, but just try it out free online to see if you like it. Get your toes wet and if you do like it, fully commit to it. It’s rewarding. So if you like to challenge yourself and you like to solve problems, you're definitely going to enjoy programming and a coding bootcamp.

Read more General Assembly reviews on Course Report. Check out the General Assembly website.

About The Author

Lauren Stewart

Lauren Stewart

Lauren is a communications and operations strategist who loves to help others find their idea of success. She is passionate about techonology education, career development, startups, and the arts.

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