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Episode 72 July 4, 2017 | 39min

Bringing Military Veterans to Tech

Our co-founders talk to Jerome Hardaway about his nonprofit organization Vets Who Code.

Show Notes

Helping veterans enter the tech world: this week Paul Ford and Rich Ziade talk to Jerome Hardaway, a veteran who became a programmer before founding Vets Who Code, a nonprofit that helps other veterans do the same. They discuss the challenges he faced reentering civilian life at the height of the Great Recession, how Vets Who Code was born, the specific assets vets bring to programming and the tech world, and how they overcome the challenges and stereotypes they face.

[Intro music]

[0:17]

Paul Ford [Intro music ramps down] Hi! You’re listening to Track Changes, the official podcast of Postlight, a digital products studio at 101 5th Avenue in New York City. My name is Paul Ford. I’m the co-founder of Postlight.

Rich Ziade You do this thing [silence] it’s like you—you’re trying to recapture 1950s radio.

PF Mm hmm!

RZ “Hi!”

PF “Hi!”

RZ You—you do it every time.

PF I just wanna get it, you know, it’s consistent, it’s got a little voice to it.

RZ Yeah.

PF Cuz I feel that a lot of your more corporate podcasts where they’re like, “Hi, this is blah blah blah blah blah.”

RZ This podcast, by the way, my name is Rich Ziade, I’m the other co-founder of Postlight. This podcast is not sponsored by Postlight, which is a digital products studio in New York City that designs, builds, and architects apps, platforms, web apps, mobile apps, all sorts of technology stuff. They’re not sponsoring this. You know who’s sponsoring this? Chesterfield cigarettes.

PF That’s right [Rich chuffs]. Chesterfield [Rich laughs] for a smooth, smooth, relaxing smoke.

RZ Yes. Gentle’s the—gentle’s the—throat?

PF You know sometimes I like to smoke an entire pack at once. It’s that gentle.

RZ [Chuckles] Guys, if you wanna see a really cool ad, search for, on YouTube, Lee Marvin Paul Mall.

PF We’ll put a link on there.

RZ We’ll put a link on there. By the way, it’s pronounced “pell-mell”.

PF Yeah.

RZ That’s not what this podcast is about.

PF Not at all!

[1:40]

RZ Not at all.

PF No.

RZ We’ve got a really cool guest today.

PF We do. We do. His name is Jerome Hardaway. He’s the founder and executive director of Vets Who Code.

RZ I could ask you what Vets Who Code is but I’d rather ask Jerome.

PF Yeah. We should actually disclose: I advise this organization a tiny bit.

RZ Ok.

PF A tiny bit because I wrote that big Bloomberg piece, Jerome reached out, and just was like, “Would you be affiliated with this?” And uh not many people know this about me but my grandfather, my father, and my brother all served in the US military.

RZ I—I didn’t even know this.

PF Yeah. No, and I—I have a lot of respect for—

RZ You didn’t.

PF I did not. No. I was always a little too weird and a little too fat, never really thought about it. You know it just wasn’t my path.

RZ Right.

PF My brother was in the Navy. He loved it. Still loves it!

RZ Hmm.

PF He was on the USS Carl Vinson, my dad served in Korea, and my grandfather was in the Navy in the mid-thirties, and actually didn’t serve in World War II. He was out before.

[2:36]

RZ Got it.

PF And he tried to get back in and they were like, “Eh, we’re gonna make you a private.” He was like, “What? What?”

RZ Yeah.

PF And so he did other stuff.

RZ Interesting.

PF He was on the plane that went and found Amelia Earhart but didn’t find her actually.

RZ Oh.

PF They looked for her but, you know, just not a lot. Not—you couldn’t use GPS back then.

RZ So let’s get back to Jerome.

PF Yeah, sure! Jerome, hi!

Jerome Hardaway Hey, how you guys doin’ today?

RZ We’re good.

PF Where are you calling from?

JH I am calling from Nashville, Tennessee. Um right now uh I can literally see the river from my uh office.

RZ Pretty cool. Pretty cool. Paul, you—you—you’re an advisor for Vets Who Code. Uh I’m comin’ at this pretty green. So, Jerome, give us a background. Give us a little—a little history about yourself before we get to how you got here.

JH Uh Roger that. So history about myself: uh I was in the United States Air Force. Uh I was in security forces. I did, you know, did my job. Deployed a few times, uh been to a couple of countries that were cool, some that weren’t so cool [Rich chuffs] uh [laughs] and I afterwards, once I finished my tour of duty, I decided I was gonna get out the military, um was honorably uh out the military, [stammers] did my DD 214, basically the discharge papers that they give you, they give everyone once they get out the military, had my golden ticket it said that I was an honorably discharged veteran, I served my country with honor and all this other jazz. I was ready to get out there and punch my ticket in the civilian world. Well, when I exited the military it was 2009 and it was the worst time to be a civilian in the civilian world. I was doing um we were pretty much at the top, the apex, of the uh the great um of the recession.

[4:26]

RZ Right.

JH So I was getting all of these uh basically the first six months out, everyone was telling me that I just I—you know, “Thank you for service but you’re not skilled.”

RZ Mm hmm.

JH So I spent the last six months of 2009 really just uh focused on what was I gonna do, what could I do to really skill up myself to uh become more marketable, and I happened to find this uh commercial about coding and things of that nature. And I was like, “You know what? That sounds like a great idea.” So I actually started like going through the internet and finding tutorials everywhere um until I became good enough a programmer to actually land a SQL [pronounced “sequel”] analyst job with uh the Department of Homeland Security. And that was how I started my life in code and I’ve never looked back. Um I’ve always loved programming, and design, things of that nature. I remember even as a kid my favorite um not a kid, maybe a teenager, my favorite company, my dream company to work at would be like Droga5. And, you know, uh—

PF Oh so advertising and sort of marketing?

JH Well, yeah, well I—I really enjoyed like how they made things, you know, how they got the story of companies across. Even today, I’m a huge fan of their work and I’m looking at—always looking at Under Armour or uh with the work they’ve done with The Rock, for instance—

PF Mm hmm.

JH—like is pretty amazing. So that was always the area I was always going to go into I knew when I got out was digital design and development. But in 2014 there was a situation that happened in my hometown um Memphis, in which a veteran ended up—end up losing their life, and there was no uh help for his family, um and it was a really, really tough time cuz the Department of Veteran Affairs was actually going through a really big scandal that summer. So, uh I actually, I stepped up and I used my tech skills, and I raised uh about 10,000 dollars in 27 hours. And that’s how Vet Who Code was born—

[6:25]

PF Cuz you saw that—

JH—from that point on.

PF You saw that this was possible, that you could affect change by using your tech skills.

JH Um I learned that that was possible through that. I had no idea when I did it. I was a 25, 26 year old kid that was just out there just trying to change the world, and trying to help [stammers] all the veterans uh family. Uh but once I did that, I saw that, “Hey, this has real impact, so, you know, why not focus on that impact and start helping and doing more? And, you know, doing what helped me which was learning how to program.” So that is how things got started.

PF So, at that point, so did you—what was the next step? Did you set up a not-for-profit? Did you talk to people? What’d you do next?

JH Well the next step was, of course, the setup, to do all the paperwork and stuff for a not-for-profit but I ended up getting all these calls and offers to come to New York and uh train with people I actually went through general assembly. They invited me to come up and train with them. I spent about six months at NYC networking and meeting all these cool people, getting all these high level relationships uh which was really valuable cuz, you know, if you know anything about tech, Silicon Valley, most money in regard to helping get missions done in when it comes to tech is either from New York or Silicon Valley. So it was really helpful uh for me uh when trying to get my mission across. So I did that and then I was like, “Eh! I’m going to back home and try to do this.” And which I realized to try to do it back home in my hometown of Memphis it didn’t really make sense to do it as a local non-profit because people, they weren’t as adept in—in what we call bleeding edge technology, basically, you know, the most up-to-date, current tech uh in the industry.

PF Mm hmm.

JH And so what I decided to do was how was I gonna impact veterans in a manner that would make sense? And that’s when I decided, “You know what? Let’s do this remotely,” and that’s how we came out with the first VSO [Veterans Service Organization] that was uh formed specifically for teaching veterans to program for free, it became the first remote VSO that uh was focused on teaching veterans for free. So that’s what we’ve done to this day.

PF A VSO is a Veterans Service Organization? Is it—

JH Yeah. So it was, it was classified as, yes sir.

PF Ok. And remote meaning that it’s virtual, there’s no—it sounds like you have an office. Are there other founders or is it just you?

[8:59]

JH Neg—negative. There are uh about, right now uh we have three people on the website, [?] a team of six, uh they are between D.C., uh New York, Nashville, that’s where everybody’s at, um we have one person in Arkansas. So that’s what we currently, you know, our head of mentorship is actually in South Carolina, and uh the head person who helps out with our recruitment, talking to recruiters and things of that nature in big companies, their HR department, he’s in uh Arkansas. So we’re basically we’re a six man team. Six man unit. And we’re like just spread throughout uh the east coast.

PF Ok, so, it’s a virtual program. I know that you use Slack very heavily to coordinate and talk to people.

JH Yes, sir. We use Slack, we use Screenhero, um we’re using actually we’re doing a lot more things on Facebook with Facebook Groups. But Slack, and Screenhero, and Zoom, and CodePen uh actually, and repo it— they’re some of the top tools that we use the most. That way we create homework and courses for our veterans to go through on repo it and with CodePen so they can as much forward facing work as possible for and when it comes time to get jobs.

PF And how do you find veterans or how do veterans find you?

JH Veterans find us through avenues like this, like podcasts, they hear about us or they read something that mentions us and uh they apply to our program and I um I usually lead up the first interview and then Noel he does the second interview which is the technical interview. We give every veteran the same uh technical interview which is we give them a tutorial and then we give them a week to complete that tutorial as well as do a final project based upon that tutorial. Just like you would apply at a tech [stammers] you know, every tech position is usually two to three interviews. So for us it’s two interviews and then upon who has done the strongest um interview process, that’s how we select our troops.

PF What are you looking for in a successful applicant?

JH I’m looking for people that um wanna go above and beyond; we’re looking for people who are willing to not give up. That’s what, in the end, when it comes to tech, you know, everybody has different learning curves, everybody’s gonna learn at different speed but the true acumen of success is those who aren’t willing to quit. Like, you know, even—like I tell people, I was not a strong mathematician or any of that, I just had the uh willpower to not give up. So that’s what, you know, helped me reach where I am today.

RZ Hey, Jerome, this is Rich. So, it sounds like—it sounds like you gotta show a little somethin’ before you get in the program.

[11:42]

JH You have to—yes, we are not one of those organizations where oh if you just—

RZ Apply!

JH—you just served, you just get in, like you just apply. Like no, you have to do some work cuz we’re giving you—not only are—do we have mentors there that we are assigning to you, we are spending up to two hours a day, Monday through Thursday with you, as well as we’re giving you anywhere from two to 400 dollars worth of free uh resources. We’re giving them free Interview Cake, we’re giving them free uh Pluralsight, we’re giving them access to those tools for a year. Whenever we are in like local areas, we’re giving them [inaudible] specialized area, we have like [inaudible], we’re giving them um access to tech conferences, we’re giving them access to uh tech company tours, we’ve had several of our veterans tour um Facebook HQ in the past year. Uh that’s what, you know, these are things we do: give them access to our network; we uh we have a veteran who’s in Illinois and we’ve given her access to people in really big tech companies such as Basecamp or DHH or other locations where she wanted to work at, and we do that because, you know, we want you to earn being here, because even though my first step in the door, I didn’t have to pay for anything, I put about six months worth of work into um my craft. That’s where I was able to get my shot.

RZ Sure. Sure.

JH So that’s what we try to do with our veterans. To let them know that, you know, this is—we want to go ahead and demystify tech and let them know that, hey, this is hard work. So don’t think that just, you know, because you served that the working stops. No, the working keeps going forward, and you have to continue to put in the work.

RZ Now, how long have you been doing this?

JH I’ve been doing this since 2014.

RZ Ok so about three years.

JH Summer of 2014.

RZ Got it. And how many people have you trained?

JH Uh we are almost at 100 right now. Um we are doing—we do that in really small bursts, we try to do it no more than two teams of 13, even though our next cohort is doing—the smallest number we’re gonna be doing is 25. We’re hoping to have something special lined up that we can even teach more veterans. So that’s our um goal for our September cohort.

[13:48]

RZ And is this full-time for you?

JH Uh negative. Uh my team while we do uh we work part-time all of us—

RZ Mm hmm.

JH—everybody is a software engineer uh or a developer, designer somewhere in another field. I work with a company um that does high-level healthcare systems and uh we have another individual who works at USA Today, another team member works Amazon, uh everybody works in tech. So when we’re going through the resume or the interview process, people know that, “Hey, these people, they know what they’re talking about because they’re actually in the industry.”

RZ Sure.

JH “They’re actually going through it.”

RZ So, for a lot of these people, there’s no resume. I mean that’s what it sounds like. That’s what you’ve—cuz they’ve spent time in the military.

PF Well, they served. That’s the resume.

RZ Right. Exactly. And so there’s a swath of time so what is grad—like is it six months? Like is that the program? Like what is the program?

JH We do three, we do 12 weeks but we also—like there’s a lot homework. When you say there’s no resume, we totally agree, and that’s why we focus on so heavily on portfolio and on the job interview because we tell them—we’re very honest with our veterans and that’s why—that’s the biggest difference between us and other places. They try to sugarcoat things, where we are not a sugarcoat organizations. Uh we tell them processes like how the interview will go, we train them on the technical interview, we uh actually we use tools in regards to the technical interview that we’ve gotten from Google and Twitter on how to help teach them about the technical interview, uh we make sure their portfolio is up to speed, their GitHub, their CodePen, their Medium account. Uh every avenue prepping for employment and learning, we uh use and we exploit. Part of their homework is going out in the community to meetups so you maybe been in a meetup with a Vets Who Code veteran and you didn’t even know it. That’s just our whole concept is getting—making them integrate into the civilian communities as well as prepare them for the hardest things they could possibly do. The last two weeks of our cohort is completely focused on the tech interview. And we do that—

RZ Right.

JH—intentionally.

[15:58]

RZ As it grows, as Vets Who Code grow—like how do you see it grow? Is it more people? Is it more program? Like talk to me.

JH Um we don’t see it growing as in more people, we see it growing as more automation so that we can have scale.

RZ Mmm.

JH That is our thing. The first thing that we saw a massive level of success with is when we switched our curriculum from doing Ruby to JavaScript, to just pure Javascript, and we saw a huge influx of success when we did that, when we just started focusing more on Javascript. And the reason was that um was not just that, you know, JavaScript eaten the world, it’s just that because everybody’s using it, employers are giving people more of a chance when it comes to coming into their organizations or their companies and not knowing the full stack. So that way they’re able to, “You know what? At least you’re good at this. That way we can teach you the rest.” And being able to—

RZ Sure.

JH—use JavaScript and focus a lot more on computer science, that is one thing that we uh we adopted really fast, halfway through last year when we saw that we were interviewing companies and what they were saying was a lot of people in code schools they just don’t have the computer science fundamentals that they need, and that’s when we decided, “Hey, this is what we need to implement is computer science.” We nixed one language but then we basically tripled down on computer science. So that’s something that we uh we’ve done that the troops kinda don’t like in the first half of the cohort, that makes it really tough but we tell them we’re doing this out of love and that, you know, “You have to learn this.”

PF How do you think vets are different from non-vets when you—when you’re teaching?

JH How do I think veterans are different? I think vets uh they are not all that different it just it comes from a community and an experience concept. Uh there are just some things when we’re trying to communicate with someone, having shared experiences makes it easier, just like any other uh job when it comes to teaching or uh even, you know, teaching driving. Knowing how to drive on the right side of the road in another country will help you be able to teach that person how to drive a lot easier versus, you know, an American going to Europe and trying to teach people how to drive. Um—

[18:08]

PF You gotta imagine, too, like vets have been told to do things and didn’t always get to ask why, just knew they had to do them [Rich chuffs] which is probably really good when you’re learning about technology.

JH [Laughs] Uh yes to a degree, no to a degree. A lot of people [Paul laughs] have that uh idea that veterans, you know, they—they—they’re not allowed to ask questions but veterans do ask questions and uh that’s why we have processes like operational waters and fragment waters. Uh just these aren’t things that are shared in the uh civilian world because people, you know, they don’t really care about all the nooks and crannies of every aspect of military culture and life but, you know, some things like we were sure that, you know, veterans have been working in Agile before Agile was cool. It just wasn’t named Agile. We were calling it AES or Rapid Deployment System, things of that nature.

PF Mm hmm.

JH Uh how breaking big problems down into smaller chunks and then spreading and knocking out those smaller chunks where you guys, where uh civilian style when it comes to Agile is like, “Oh, we’re going to do these sprints and knock out and build out these features in seven days or 21 days,” or whatever um timeframe that you share. So it’s one of those things where that’s where the experience comes—you know how the person—like that person’s background, so you know how to approach—um how to solve a problem given that person understand the work a little better. So that’s one big difference. Um the biggest issues that we do see veterans which is one other reason why we chose um JavaScript, ironically, is that they miss the camaraderie that came with the military and it’s really hard to find that camaraderie elsewhere. That’s why you see a lot of veterans, they are right now running towards Crossfit clubs and uh runner’s groups and things of that nature. So we were looking for the—which community that would help with their transition and help with their being able to integrate with civilians that had the closest amount of camaraderie and we looked at it, it was JavaScript. JavaScript had the—was the most open community, it didn’t have that elitist feel, you could come in, you know, because it’s usually one of the most—one of the first languages people learn. You could come into a JavaScript meetup and know absolutely nothing and be accepted, and not be expected to be contributing from the gate versus other communities where they kinda expect you to know a little bit more such as, you know, Ruby or Go communities. So—

PF Mm hmm.

JH—that was another reason why we chose JavaScript because those communities they seem to be the most forgiving, they seem to be communities that were most open. So we were like, you know, being able to integrate these guys and get then into JavaScript meetups would make it significantly easier in our uh transition uh process.

[20:49]

PF So now where are the graduates landing? Where are they going?

JH They’re landing um anywhere from small shops to really big startups. We just had uh one veteran, Jason, we did the graduation three weeks ago but he ended up getting his job and his offer letter four days after graduation. He ended up being at Whitehat Security where we have another veteran who’s actually going through one of the developer programs at Facebook. So he’s there for rotation for a year. One—another veteran works at Elle Magazine. So that was kinda crazy to—to come out for us. Um they’re just all over the place because they’re so decentralized uh um, you know, we have veterans in Jacksonville, Florida that worked in healthcare companies; we have veterans uh who are working in insurance companies in um Nebraska; uh—

RZ It sounds like there’s a comfort level with where [chuckles] the job is gonna be because you’ve got a history here of being deployed. So every single example you just gave was, I mean, you were zigzagging all over the country um so—

JH Well, that’s the—the harsh reality, I mean, of veterans is that, you know, because of deployment you’re trained to go where the mission is, one. So that helps us when it comes to getting into the workforce. We will go where the organizations that want our talent to be and we will learn those skills. We’ve had uh veterans who they graduate with one technology and they start working in another one um regularly or they just, you know, they’re—they’re not afraid to travel and their families understand that sacrifice. We have one young um, you know, young woman who—she is prepping to uh leave her family for a new job on the other side of the state but because her husband is going to be retiring within like the next seven to eight months, they’re ok with the fact that they’re gonna be living opposite sides of the state for eight months. And that is like, you know, these are the type of sacrifices that veterans, you know, it’s not Iraq or Afghanistan, it’s just, in our eyes, down the street.

RZ Are they staying connected? The veterans that graduate out of your program? Staying connected with each other?

JH Yeah, staying connected with us and each other. We actually, to make it easier cuz what we saw um was that a lot of the communication or our Slack channel was going in direct messaging. So we decided we were gonna open a Facebook Group and start making everyone go to the Facebook Group once they grad, and we’re getting our new um alumni and basically putting everybody in there so that way everyone can communicate together, as opposed to doing the direct messaging uh avenue. They’re either in that or in their class channels. There’s not enough people connecting with outsiders, they are cohorts, so let’s see how we can uh change that. We were like, “Oh, you know what? Let’s just make a Facebook Group and make a community. And we’re actually starting to put like people who actually apply in that community so that way they know that there are people that they can talk to and communicate with that have done this or other new people. So if they’re going through the process, they will be able to have um access to not only those people but they can have access to the mentors and things of that nature. So they can ask questions. Like that’s what we’re trying to do cuz we understand the idea of, you know, iron sharpens iron so the more people that you’re talking to and communicating with who have been where you are, the better you’ll be but it also helps having like basically a foundation as well, and that’s why we make sure that foundation is JavaScript focused on Node.js and React with a lot of computer science thrown in there and then, you know, you’ve got to start branching out as you get further along. And we make every veteran try to do like a little mini project, something that they don’t know intentionally because, you know, that’s the only way to get better is being able to learn how to learn. But that’s our process. We make everybody connect and stay connected through the Facebook Group now.

[24:44]

PF This is one of the things, Jerome, when you first reached out to me that I thought was really impressive which is that it was really clearly that a) this is beyond a labor of love, it’s an enormous amount of energy, it’s a pure not-for-profit. There’s not a lot of resources here and you’re making a lot of things stretch really far but also that the goal was clearly to build a self-sustaining community that could drive everybody forward together. That it wasn’t the Jerome Show, it was The Vets Who Code Show, and I thought that was really like that stuck out in like the first two seconds of conversation.

JH Thank you. Um our goal is that, to make a self-sustaining community but our goal is also to disprove a lot of those stigmas that comes with being a veteran. Uh that’s the biggest issue that we see is that, you know, veterans are followers, they’re not critical thinkers, and that’s the furthest from the truth. If you’ve never been in a fire fight, then you don’t know what true critical thinking is. Um [Paul chuckles] like that is something that we’re, you know, that we fight really hard on. Like, you know, that’s [stammers] um I, myself, I go to hackathons. I take some of the troops to hackathons so that they get free things. I’m like, “No, go out—go in there and beat the crap out of everyone.” Uh last November I went to a hackathon and I was, you know, the Southern Boy, as they like to say, um and there were developers there, they were from Microsoft. So when my team won, you know, all of a sudden I was the cool kid, and that was because, you know, just because you’re, you know, a Microsoft developer doesn’t mean that you’re automatically the best. And that’s one of those things that what we’ve learned even in—with Vet Who Code that, you know, brand recognition of a company doesn’t equate to talent. You know, one of the reasons why we don’t grow as fast as other organizations, and we have this process is very intentional. We’re looking for the people who are like me, who, you know, they didn’t have that network or those resources that typical veterans would have if they were to get out the military or certain civilians would have uh but about 50 percent of the people that we take, we accept, are minorities. We’re going out there and we’re finding those women veterans who aren’t as heavily represented in tech or in a lot of other veteran populations. We’re finding those um Latina, Latino, African American veterans that are out there, they’re not being heavily represented or being, you know, pushed that they too can do this in their communities. I always share that story of how when I decided I was gonna get into tech, my parents laughed at me because they had never knew that there were any African Americans in tech and they were like, “You know that is not a type of job that they hire black people for.” I was like, “Well, I think I’m gonna do this.” And now in the past three or four years I have made more money—um, you know, I’ve been since I’ve been in tech, I’ve been making more money than my parents at their same respective jobs. They’ve been there—some of their jobs were 10, 15 years. So like that is—that is—I actually try to teach our troops uh the greatest revenge is success so [laughs]. But that is one of the things that we really focus on is those—We try to find those people that are really unrepresented, even in the veteran community, because, you know, the stigma of veterans is you’re either a broken veteran or, you know, you’re some super outrageous veteran with a beard that’s coming down to your chest and, you know, you’re, you know, wearing a dysfunctional veterans shirt and [laughter] and everything you have is a eff bomb or guns on it and, you know, just not a normal person that likes making—that you just like making people uncomfortable and that’s the furthest from the truth um that the extreme versions of our community get pushed as, you know, this is the average. You’re gonna be dealing with a young male who has anger issues. I’m like, “No”, Paul, you can actually attest to this, we end up involved with a person on Twitter from a big company that was like, “How many people—how well that your program does for PTSD,” and it was just the craziest thing to me as a veteran who has suffered from PTSD and has got the help that they needed for post traumatic stress, I actually voluntary uh hospitalized myself for six months when I first came back out um the military—

[28:59]

PF Mm hmm.

JH To make sure I could help to do—to do my mission, to do what I love. And I could tell that like, you know, PTSD has more to do with isolation, it was just really weird how this person was going off but that’s not—the stigma of post traumatic stress is totally different from the reality of it, and for every bad example out there, there are 20 that people aren’t even talking about. So that’s what a lot of our job is. It’s, you know, taking the stigma and eradicating it. That’s what we wanna do.

PF I think what—when, you know, listening to you talk, what I, you know, what I’m hearing is like everybody’s got these stereotypes of veterans and it’s good to blow those up but also just like veterans need economic empowerment and jobs, and there are people who need more representation in this industry and dammit they’re gonna get it. And all the other stuff needs to get taken care of but that’s not what this is about. This is about getting people into the workforce, into the economy, and letting them build their lives.

JH Exactly. This is about, you know, I tell the vets that code is about one and one thing only: jobs. That’s what we care about. And, you know, here is the problem: the problem is that the tech community does not have enough people who can do the work, and, you know, there are ample people that can do the work, they just don’t have the skills. So what are we doing is we’re taking America’s best and we’re giving them skills to help fill in that skills gap, and then we’re doing our best to make sure uh we’re not asking you for a hand out, we’re asking you to give them a shot and put them in your interviews and if they meet your metrics then hire these people and don’t be afraid of what they’ve done in the name of their country. Just, you know, see these as they are: real human beings.

[30:38]

PF Let’s talk through how people can help. So, employers: what can they do?

JH Employers, they can help by either hosting veteran [inaudible] jobs at their own organizations or they can uh contact us at vetswhocode.io and we’ll definitely help them find ways how they integrate with their HR department on how to look for more ways for hiring veterans. The [inaudible] like population, just go out there and get to know a veteran. That’s something I always ask people, like, “Get out there and know and learn about like veterans,” like the real stuff. Not just what you see on TV. And the same that goes especially for people in HR: go out there and be a part of a military community. Uh we are more than our resumes and I know that you can’t understand everything on our resumes because, you know, military speak is a language in itself almost. I challenge veterans to do the exact same thing. I do not join these communities that aren’t integrated with civilians because as a result what you’re doing is that you’re just building a bubble. And when you’re building a bubble, your network doesn’t get stronger, you don’t get to see different points of view, you just see people that you don’t agree with as the enemy, and you’re not becoming better. You’re not becoming a better uh American citizen. So that’s like on both sides of the fence. We ask people like if you wanna help support us, please go to vetswhocode.io, donate, or like and share uh the work we’re doing. Like we’re about to uh launch a lot of media in the next three months, showcasing a lot of our veterans, they’re gonna be doing recorded pitches, all types of crazy stuff that we’re gonna be doing for the next three months to help push our veterans to the forefront. So that way our vets, our troops, can hopefully land on the ears of some people that are looking for good talent. Also, software engineers: we have a mentorship form on our website, please fill that out if you’re looking to give back with your skills. We are looking for a lot more um developers who are people who are strong in React for um our troops, and also looking for people who have a strong background in regards to Cyber Sect and Node.js. So if you are strong in any of those and you wanna help mentor our veterans, please sign up on our mentor form, so that way we can uh definitely get you involved.

PF Alright. We know what—

RZ This is so cool.

PF We know what to do. And also, I mean, people—I don’t think you mentioned, or maybe you just glossed over but there’s a donation form on that page.

[33:06]

JH Yes, sir, we have our donate button, our donation form. Fill it out. Please donate to us. Uh every dollar that people donate to us actually goes to [?] 25 dollars would go into your conventional uh non-profit. So because of that we’re remote and we focus on technologies and quality of tech with our troops. So a lot of that money goes directly towards technology costs to be able to connect our veterans, and be able to communicate with them. We’re actually on the secondary leg, we just did a UI makeover of our website, and now we’re on a secondary leg, and we’re doing some really cool things on the backend, so we can start the process of integrating everyone directly into the fight. So once you’ll be able—once you’re there, you’ll be able to sign up. We’ll have a worker working with id.me, so that way we can verify your an honored discharged veteran. So from there and, you know, go to secondary phases we’ll have our pre-work um there so when you log in you’ll be able to do our prework. And from there we’ll be able to have classes and things directly within the um web app. We’re going [?] web app and we’re hoping to have all this done by September, fingers crossed. But uh please donate, your support so that way we can cross that milestone as fast as possible and as smooth as possible.

PF Alright, well this has been a fantastic conversation.

RZ Yeah, first off: we’re gonna share all the links necessary here to do all the different things when we post this up. So, everyone look out for that. Yeah, I mean this is great. I mean this is—you’re—you’re doing a lot more than putting a form out and saying, “Hey, we’ll train you.” Uh I think you—your outreach and—and your willingness to go and understand where people are and uh invite them into this—into this process is great.

JH Well, that’s our philosophy. Uh we try to set the world as it is, not how we want it to be and try to navigate it as such. So one of the things that we really focus on is we are always looking at metrics, looking at hiring practices, looking at—looking at what’s going on in these communities. Like literally there’s one person per region who that’s their assignment is to look at hiring practices per region and to come back with that data and we do that once a quarter. So that we’re looking at this stuff to figure out how to best, you know, serve our veterans, particularly in those regions. It’s really tough when you have, you know, for instance, when you’re further south than a south east, for example, it’s a lot harder when it comes to get a job because there’s not a lot of influx and a lot of people moving around. So it’s more who you know type deal in the south than in New York or Silicon Valley, you can, you know, get a job there, frankly, easier if you know what you’re doing. So we have to be prepared for that and that’s what for our south eastern troops, we push a lot more on going to meetups versus, you know, maybe our New York or Silicon Valley troops who, they don’t need to do that as much as the people who are in the south and if no one knows you in the tech community then when the HR person starts asking around, you know, your resume’s gonna go in the uh ‘do not answer’ pile.

[36:19]

PF So, Jerome, last question: how do people get in touch with you?

JH Uh the best way to get in contact with me is through Twitter: JeromeHardaway is um my Twitter handle. If you um tweet me, I’ll tweet you back. I try to answer everyone.

PF Well, man, this was a great conversation. Thank you so much.

RZ Thank you, Jerome, and thank you for doing what you’re doing.

JH Thank you. Thank you guys for having us and supporting the veterans!

PF Absolutely! It’s great talking to you, man, thank you!

RZ Take care.

JH Alright. You guys have a great evening.

RZ You too.

PF Buh bye. You too.

RZ You got your causes and you got your causes. This is a really cool one.

PF I mean this is somebody saying, “Let’s do this!”

RZ Mm hmm.

PF This is like—I don’t know what the air force equivalent of hooah is but this is—this is some—

RZ Well it’s a ‘do’ rather than ‘isn’t it terrible?’

PF Yeah, it’s like, “Let’s help, let’s help these guys [yeah] and these women to get their lives moving uh once they’re out of the military and what can we do? We can use Slack, we can use the tools at hand [yup] and create an organization and make some change.” So, look, I mean, people should jump in if they can. If they can help. Especially if anybody’s listening and they’re a vet, it’s a great—- great organization to connect with if you’re a vet in a—in a program where I know [yeah] that this is a place that really welcomes mentors. Most of the—it’s done virtually. People on Slack. Things like that.

RZ It’s very cool.

PF Uh vetswhocode.io. I—I try to kick in whenever there’s a fundraiser. I don’t know, I feel like I”m doing something.

[37:45]

RZ Nice!

PF Yeah. Trying to help. And uh Jerome is bound for glory. Love—love talking—love talking to that guy.

RZ Mm hmm! Not many people who we’ve had on this podcast are bound for glory.

PF He’s bound for glory [Rich laughs]. He is—is killin’ it. [Music fades in] Um you’ve been listening to—

RZ Track Changes.

PF The podcast of—

RZ Postlight!

PF A digital products studio at—

RZ New York City. Well, ‘at’ is on 101 5th Avenue in New York. You love giving that address.

PF And if you need to reach us, you can send an email to—

RZ [email protected]

PF And if you wanna rank us five stars, you should visit—

RZ iTunes or your phone or something. I don’t even know how to do it anymore but give us five stars. Please! Uh we love five stars.

PF I’m your co-host, Paul Ford.

RZ And I’m Rich Ziade.

PF And thank you. We’ll talk to you next week.

RZ Bye! [Music ramps up, plays for four seconds, fades out to end]