Written By Jess Feldman
With nearly two decades experience in the military and law enforcement, Chad Martinez was just about to launch his own business when the COVID-19 lockdowns scuttled his plans. Chad discovered the Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program (VRRAP), which is aimed at assisting veterans impacted by COVID-19, and was able to cover his entire Sabio bootcamp tuition plus receive a living stipend with VRRAP funding. Find out how Chad landed his job as a Junior Software Engineer at Blackburn Labs just one month after graduation, and his insights for other veterans about making the most of Sabio’s coding bootcamp and career services.
What inspired you to pivot your career into software engineering?
I was a National Guard member from 2001-2007, and then transitioned into law enforcement for 11 years. I left law enforcement in 2018 to start a business and open a restaurant. I was just about to sign a lease for my restaurant in 2020 when COVID shut down everything. Unsure about how long shutdowns would last and how bad COVID would be, I decided to shelve the idea of opening a restaurant and I went back to the drawing board looking for my next step.
After doing some research, I found the Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program (VRRAP). VRRAP offers funds to veterans who have lost their job due to COVID, and the funds can be used to get technical training. I was able to use VRRAP as an entrepreneur, which was great!
Did you consider using another program like the GI Bill or VET TEC?
I had just run out of VA benefits because they had expired in November 2020. At the time, I didn’t see any other options available to me until I found VRAPP, so I was very thankful for the timing.
What was the process like to get VRRAP funding for your Sabio bootcamp tuition?
The application process on VA.gov didn't take more than 10 minutes to complete. The longest part was processing my application, which took 30-45 days, but that’s actually pretty fast considering it’s a government agency.
Were you able to cover your full, online bootcamp tuition with VRRAP? And does VRRAP cover housing?
VRRAP paid the whole online bootcamp tuition and some living expenses. If you went to school virtually, VRRAP only allowed half your basic housing allowance, but the allowance is paid as if you were a Sergeant with dependents (E5 status), which was a higher benefit. If you went to school in-person, full-time then you got the full housing allowance.
There are so many coding bootcamps out there — why did you choose Sabio?
Sabio was listed as a Preferred Provider through the VA, which was a good indicator for me that Sabio was confident in their program. Veteran Affairs supports preferred provider schools, which are schools that say they can find graduates a job in 6 months, and if they don't, the school returns the tuition.
After reading reviews of Sabio on sites like Course Report and exploring their website, my interest was piqued. Sabio has free introductory courses to the fundamentals of programming, and I also appreciated that they work on real world projects. I also liked the small size of the cohorts at Sabio.
What really convinced me to enroll at Sabio, though, was the lead instructor, Gregorio. It was obvious the amount of work he put into designing this program and his teaching style was clear. He made programming easy to understand.
You hold an Associate’s degree in Computer & Information Sciences — Why did you choose to enroll in a coding bootcamp?
I had an Associate's degree in Computer & Information Systems with a concentration on programming, but it was from 1999.... so much has changed since then! I had some familiarity with programming languages, but it was so long ago that it wasn't really that helpful. Coding is complex and diverse, from the many languages, programs, and ways to implement and design software. The idea of trying to teach myself was overwhelming. On top of the impact of the stress of COVID and not having a job, I didn't want to go down that path.
I do remember what led me to do software engineering was a passion for coding and creating web pages. Attending a bootcamp was a way to return to my roots as a young adult and rekindle that passion.
What was the Sabio application process like?
Part of the prerequisite at Sabio was going through the free intro course and taking a coding challenge at the end. They offered as much time as needed to complete the prework, but I finished in three months because I wanted to get it done before the program started. I did find it challenging, but it wasn't a deterrent.
What was a typical day like in Sabio’s online bootcamp?
For me, a typical day at Sabio was 12 hours long! We started the day by meeting with senior instructors and getting instructions on either what to study or what course material to complete, followed by time to work on those assignments. We would check in with instructors if we had questions. We relied a lot on each other as students as well.
After around 8 hours of coding, we spent about four hours on our own studying the interview prep material they provided us or working on our class presentations regarding programming concepts and programming implementation.
Preparing a presentation solidified the learning material because we spent that time studying, talking about it, and instructing others. It helped reinforce it within myself and gave the opportunity to impart that wisdom to other students. These presentations granted greater exposure to topics, from both giving and receiving presentations.
Saturday was another 8 hours, primarily working on our own. There was clear instruction on what to study and work on, but no meeting with the instructors that day.
Did the teaching style match your learning style?
For me, yes. Military and police training got me used to bootcamp-style learning, so I was ready for the intensity, long hours, and limited free time.
What did you learn in the bootcamp?
What is the online community like at Sabio? Were you able to connect with your cohort?
For the most part, we worked on our own, but I made it a point to reach out to other students and build connections with them. You never know when they have a better grasp on a concept than you do, so they're another resource that I didn't want to block out. Because of COVID, most of us were remote workers, so with the popularity of video conferencing, it was very easy to establish those connections with other students. There were also 4-5 other veterans in my cohort, out of 20-25 students.
What kinds of projects did you work on at Sabio?
The whole course was designed to build on itself. After learning the lesson's material, there was a coordinated project. The next course material built on that project. By the time we reached the Capstone project, we were building our own application.
The capstone project was a month long, and it was impressive because it meant we got an opportunity to build features. We coordinated with entrepreneurs in the area to build a custom application for them. It was a minimum viable product application that then they could take to investors or to demo to other people interested in the project. Once the project with the entrepreneur was completed, we did a demonstration for both the entrepreneur and then the rest of the other classes at Sabio.
How did you overcome obstacles as you were learning at Sabio?
When working on my final project, I asked to implement the Stripe payment system in our app. Stripe is a third-party software that allows companies to accept credit card payments. The instructors had experience implementing themselves, but because it's a third-party app, I had to read a lot of documentation. I got stuck a lot trying to implement it, and as much as I wanted to use my instructors as a resource (and I did occasionally), the whole point of implementing a third-party app is trying to figure it out yourself. I even reached out to Stripe's customer support in order to get it implemented.
How did Sabio prepare you for the job hunt?
Leading up to applying for jobs, Sabio gave us interview prep material. They provided us with study material but they didn't give us everything, which required us to find the answers ourselves, which is similar to giving those presentations. It required us to know the material a bit more intimately. We also went through two mock interviews. After completing the interview worksheets they gave us, we would review them with the instructors, then do the mock interviews.
The last week of the program, we wound down building the application and transitioned to applying for jobs. We had a week of applying and trying to do interviews while we were still in the program, which gave us more opportunities to ask questions.
After graduating, we still had a point of contact if we had any questions. Sabio would check up on us to see if there were any resources they could provide to us. I didn't need any at the time, since what they did to prepare us to go into the field was enough for me.
What soft skills did you learn at Sabio?
Presenting in front of others was instrumental in helping us build soft skills. Technical skills are taught at all the schools and are very important, but when I actually found a job, one of the main reasons they hired me was for my soft skills and I have Sabio to thank for that. One of those important soft skills is the ability to communicate a technical problem in a non-technical way.
It was also good practice to go through the mock interviews and be comfortable interviewing again. I personally hadn't interviewed for a job in 13 years! The ability to sit down and feel that pressure and get the experience of doing a live interview online with my Sabio instructors was invaluable.
What kinds of tech jobs did you feel prepared to apply for?
I looked for entry-level roles. I felt I was qualified above entry-level but not quite mid-level. I applied for jobs within my tech stack, but I also applied for jobs that were closely related to my stack.
Congrats on your job as a Junior Software Engineer at Blackburn Labs! How did you land the job?
I had been hunting for a job for about a month after graduation, when I came across Blackburn Labs, which is a company that builds healthcare applications. I saved the job in my queue to come back to later, but by the time I got back to applying for it, the job posting had closed. I read through the job description again and felt it was something I would be a really good fit for, so I reached out to their team. I wrote an email (essentially a cover letter) saying I realized the job was closed but asked if they would give me a shot at it so I could show them what I can do. The owner was so impressed with the letter and the fact that even though the job posting had closed, I was still pursuing them. Again, those soft skills I honed at Sabio came into play here!
What was the interview process like at Blackburn Labs?
There was an initial interview and then I got a coding challenge. The coding challenge was two parts:
After I completed the coding challenge, I had a second interview and was then offered the job.
What kinds of projects are you working on now at Blackburn Labs?
Out of a team of 15 people, my team is just me and one other mid-level programmer. We are working on a project that came to us from another software design firm. It was interesting to take over a code base that I didn't build myself and there was a lot of investigative work on trying to understand what they did and why.
Are you using everything that you learned at Sabio?
How did your military service prepare you for the tech world and software engineering?
"Grit" is a word that comes to mind. To be in the military and to be successful in software engineering, you need to be willing to go after what you want and be persistent with it.
You also need to be willing to grind. The days are long and you have to be organized, disciplined, and willing to put in the work, all of which the military prepared me for.
What’s your advice to recent bootcamp grads on landing their first software engineering jobs?
I'll reinforce what Sabio taught me, which is to:
I also recommend using LinkedIn Premium, which LinkedIn offers a yearly subscription for free to military vets.
At this point in your tech career, was Sabio worth it for you?
Why is a program like Sabio a good fit for veterans looking to change careers and move into the tech sector?
If you've been exposed to bootcamp-style learning and you completed it and didn't find it overly stressful or mentally overwhelming, then a coding bootcamp like Sabio is definitely a good fit. The learning style is very much equivalent to military training.
Jess Feldman is an accomplished writer and the Content Manager at Course Report, the leading platform for career changers who are exploring coding bootcamps.
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