Alumni Spotlight

How VET TEC Helped Kody Launch a Tech Career with Hack Reactor by Galvanize

Jess Feldman

Written By Jess Feldman

Liz Eggleston

Edited By Liz Eggleston

Last updated on February 7, 2024

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When he left the Marines, Kody Low knew he wanted to work in Bitcoin as a developer. He pursued a Master’s degree in computer science, but took a pause to get more hands-on experience. By enrolling in the Software Engineering Bootcamp at Hack Reactor by Galvanize, a preferred partner of the VA, it was easy for Kody to apply VET TEC benefits to fully cover his tuition. Kody shares how he’s advanced his career from back end developer to Head of Developer & Product Support through open source projects, and the differences between his coding bootcamp vs Master’s degree. Plus, find out how his military experience continues to inform his tech career!

💰 Find out how you can use VET TEC to cover your Hack Reactor tuition!

What inspired you to launch a career in software engineering?

Coming out of the Marine Corps, I knew that I wanted to do something in Bitcoin. Bitcoin is a tool for human freedom and giving inalienable property rights to billions of people. I first used my GI Bill to go to UPenn for a Master's degree in computer science, which I did for about six months. The master’s program was theory-focused and didn’t involve much coding, so I took a semester off to get more hands-on coding experience at a bootcamp. 

Did you use your veteran benefits towards the bootcamp tuition at Hack Reactor

I used VET TEC, which is an unbelievable program because it’s available as an additional benefit to anyone who qualifies for the GI Bill! Like the GI Bill, you can use VET TEC to attend school, plus it gives you your basic housing allowance at the same rate without cutting against your GI Bill time. If you have two years of GI Bill, and you're planning on using that for attending a degree, you can use the VET TEC program to get an additional 3 months of benefits to attend the bootcamp.

Of all the coding bootcamps, why did you choose Hack Reactor?

Hack Reactor was one of the highest-ranked coding bootcamps and I knew I wanted to learn web development so I could build and ship software instead of focusing on theory through my master’s program, so Hack Reactor's web development program seemed like the best option!

How hard was it to get admitted into Hack Reactor? Was there an application challenge? 

Hack Reactor tests for theory, so I felt confident about that. The application challenge covered basic things like loops and Boolean logic. The assessment is actually testing your ability to quickly learn things. They're expecting you to be unfamiliar with it at first and quickly learn it in a couple days to prepare for the test, but since I was already familiar, it wasn't too difficult.

In your experience, did you feel like you had to know basic coding in order to apply to Hack Reactor?

No, not really. You can take the entry test as many times as you need to, so if you don’t get it the first time, find out what you need to learn to fix it and try again. The only reason to have that entry test is that it’s not valuable to the student to pay Hack Reactor to learn those basics, there are many different YouTube or other online materials available to cover them. After you know those basics, you can jump into Hack Reactor and focus on pair programming, shipping projects, and getting specific feedback on where you need to focus from more advanced developers.

What did you actually learn in the software engineering bootcamp?

The curriculum focused on React: building, prototyping, and shipping. One of the most useful things I got from Hack Reactor was user feedback from other classmates on my code and feedback from the instructors on where I was lacking. 

When I went back to UPenn to finish my Master’s degree in Computer Science, there was a huge difference between me and everyone else in my degree program. When we built projects in the degree program, my peers would maybe take a swing at doing an actual application, but I was able to build projects that were more fully developed with many features and interesting tech. For example, when we were learning about SQL databases, instead of just focusing my project on the SQL side of it, I would tie it into a front end application to make something really cool that the professors would really enjoy. Throughout my degree program, I was the only student who was able to do that, which I was surprised by, but everyone else in my class was focused on theory and didn’t know how to write real software as a team. 

Since you were already interested in Bitcoin, were you able to learn more about it at Hack Reactor? 

I always had ideas about what I wanted to do for projects. Bitcoin is a big open source community, so I immediately started working on open source projects. I took the open source projects I was interested in working on and applied it to my own bootcamp projects.

What were your instructors like at Hack Reactor? Were they software engineers?

Yes, they were software engineers. There was a lead instructor and assistant instructors who were doing their own job search. Some of them left midway through the bootcamp because they landed another tech job! 

How did Hack Reactor prepare you for the tech job hunt

They did resume reviews and portfolio reviews, but my case was different because I knew what I wanted. I tailored my resume and cover letter to 25 specific companies that were working on Bitcoin and used open source projects that I could contribute to during the job search. Instead of making a bunch of random projects, I could pitch my projects as, “Here are examples of work I’ve done on projects that you currently use — I can continue this work at your company.” 

The mental model that I developed for these things while I was at Hack Reactor was that if the code you’re writing isn’t reviewed by someone more senior than you or getting you feedback from a user, it’s fake work. With Hack Reactor, you’re getting feedback from fellow students as well as instructors. 

Since the bootcamp, you’ve worked at quite a few companies! Have companies been interested in your Hack Reactor experience? 

It was less about Hack Reactor specifically, and more about the deliverables. You can see on my GitHub graph during the first six months of 2020 when I was doing the first part of my Master’s there are basically no commits. Then I go to Hack Reactor and the graph turns green. Once I got into Hack Reactor, I was pushing code everyday, getting it reviewed. It helped interviewers to see what I was working on, especially the open source work contributions. When I got my first role at OKCoin, they hired me after looking at my GitHub and seeing I had contributed to open source lightning projects.

Something I wish someone had told me earlier about that first job search: on all the applications, they list out a dozen technologies and languages they expect you to be familiar with and it looks extremely intimidating and like you don’t qualify. Those are basically wishlists. After Hack Reactor, you have enough of a baseline that you can pick up any of them in a week if you focus. And if you’re great at one of them, that’s enough to get through an interview process and you can pick up the specifics on the job or in the weeks before you officially start. For example: OkCoin’s back end is a Java Spring Boot application. I had written a dozen lines of Java in my life, so I just did the interviews in Python. After a couple of weeks writing Java on the job, I was comfortably pushing production code.

At this point in your tech career, was Hack Reactor worth it for you? 

Absolutely. By the end of Hack Reactor I was able to look at a technical problem and confidently create a solution to it, and after putting in the reps, I was able to reflect back on all the apps I built! It helped that I did a coding bootcamp during a semester off from my Master’s program because I was able to meet the theory with the practical application. Hack Reactor’s biggest takeaway was that confidence of knowing you can ship an application to solve a technical problem for a user.

Have you found that there are transferable skills from your military service to now working in tech?

The general reason I joined the military is because I believe that people have rights and that those rights should be protected. Bitcoin is a mechanism for giving everybody in the world inalienable property rights. The motivation to protect people’s rights is the same. Currently, I work with dissident groups and activists whose government decided they would print 45% more money this year and devalue everybody's savings and steal from them. That’s a serious injustice and a silent killer around the world.

In officer candidate school in the military, they do an evaluation where they put you in a fire team and give you an impossible problem. The only real way to fail it is to stop trying. They’re looking for incremental progress; getting feedback from actions and updating the approach. That specific skill set for approaching technical problems is the same. There is a solution, I just have to adapt and make progress toward it.

Another way to fail is to not use your resources appropriately. As a leader, instead of only attacking in one direction, attack it from multiple angles effectively employing your resources. If something starts working, then you allocate more resources to that to exploit success and finish. Within basic infantry practice, we call it fire and maneuver. You're always doing something to improve your relative position for how you attack the problem. This has become especially helpful when working in a development team where I can effectively assign resources. 

You now have the Master’s in Computer and Information Technology but also started a degree in Data Science. How would you compare those Master’s degrees to the bootcamp experience?

I had additional time on my GI Bill after finishing the first degree, so I started the data science degree, but everything I was learning for the data science degree was a couple years behind and there’s way better content available online after this explosion of AI. 

In my computer science program, we learned about principles and how the computer works. I was initially frustrated that I wasn’t doing hands-on projects in my computer science program, but when I came back to it after Hack Reactor, having that project experience helped solidify the concepts. After I came out of coding bootcamp, I knew how to do web apps, but I also knew cryptography and distributed systems from working on bitcoin and through school. Putting all of that together, I was able to work on way more advanced projects.

You’re now the Head of Developer & Product Support at Fedi! What was that interview process like?

I had been working on the Fedimint open source project for a year, which is the underlying tech Fedi uses, before getting hired with them, so the entire hiring process was just over a weekend! One of the other Fedimint developers heard I was available on a Friday, organized a couple interview rounds over the weekend, and gave me an offer on Monday. That’s one of the advantages of working on open source projects.

What are your main responsibilities as the Head of Developer & Product Support?   

Working at a startup means I wear a lot of different hats depending on company needs, from fixing bugs to adjusting architecture. On different days, my job might look like protocol development for Fedimint, shipping UI code, building services, and using DevOps within the company to deploy different federations. This is also familiar to the military context. One of the things you learn doing urban warfare is that your whole job is to find work. In a complex environment, like urban warfare, there's always something to be done, some corner or hallway that's not covered because the nature of the problem is so complex. When working in a really small company, there's always something that needs additional support. Diversifying my skill set opened up my responsibilities because I can fill in wherever it’s needed.  

Are you still using what you learned at Hack Reactor by Galvanize now in your senior role at Fedi?

These days, I’m doing less front end and more complex back end, like Rust. But I can ship something useful within about eight hours, get user feedback on it, and start iterating — that specific skill set came out of Hack Reactor. 

What is your advice to other military Veterans interested in enrolling at Hack Reactor to launch a tech career? Anything you wish you knew before day one of the bootcamp?

  1. Take advantage of VET TEC! It is the single best program for anyone coming out of the military. There's no downside to it whatsoever.
  2. Contribute to open source projects on GitHub. Don’t just make a bunch of random portfolio projects, go look for the specific open source technologies used at the companies you want to work at and start contributing to them. It makes interviews and you job search way easier. You can avoid all the “stump the professor” questions and just talk to your interviewers about your contributions to the technology they already use at work.  

Find out more and read Hack Reactor reviews on Course Report. This article was produced by the Course Report team in partnership with Hack Reactor by Galvanize.

About The Author

Jess Feldman

Jess Feldman

Jess Feldman is an accomplished writer and the Content Manager at Course Report, the leading platform for career changers who are exploring coding bootcamps. With a background in writing, teaching, and social media management, Jess plays a pivotal role in helping Course Report readers make informed decisions about their educational journey.

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