From military life to software pro: A Chicago coding boot camp’s impact

By Anika Exum
Medill Reports

Today, uncertainty frightens the American population as many find themselves either newly unemployed or at high risk of losing employment due to COVID-19.

Although before the global pandemic, the feelings of uncertainty and insecurity were known all too well by Air Force veteran Gary Coffey and wife Karin Matsuyama when Coffey left the service in 2017. Despite having managed million-dollar projects and having worked as a Linux system administrator while in the Air Force, the only job Coffey could find once leaving was as a mattress salesman.

“It was definitely a big difference going from this job with hard problems to solve,” Coffey said. “To this job that was pretty much sitting in a store all day, trying to talk people into buying mattresses.”

Back then, Coffey was just one of the many underemployed veterans across the United States. In a study by LinkedIn, 2017 data showed that veterans were 38% more likely to be underemployed compared to non-veterans. Additionally, current U.S. Department of Labor data shows a 3.5% veteran unemployment rate. And when it comes to military spouses, the unemployment and underemployment rates skyrocket to 30% and 56% respectively according to Blue Star Families.

Noticing this gap and that both Coffey and Matsuyama both wanted to move on to something bigger, Matsuyama researched for ways in which the couple could take steps to find the careers they felt they desired and deserved. Eventually, she came across Code Platoon.

Code Platoon is a nonprofit, 14-week coding boot camp initially created to chip away at high veteran unemployment statistics. Today, the program provides veterans and military spouses with the opportunity to affordably obtain job-ready skills and join one of the most lucrative and growing industries to date. With 82% of graduates gaining employment within 180 days of program completion, students emerge equipped with top-notch training and the network necessary for a transition from military to civilian life as, in most cases, full-stack software developers.

Founder and CEO Rodrigo Levy began Code Platoon with this goal.

“I had an experience with the coding boot camp model and I saw how effective it was in giving in-demand skills to deeply motivated learners in a very compressed time frame,” Levy said. “There was no one out there offering this type of training in a nonprofit scenario, offering strong scholarships with a tie to the veteran community.”

Coffey and Matsuyama are now both alumni of Code Platoon. They are also full-time software developers, almost debt-free and new owners of a three-flat apartment building they plan to rent out as they grow their real estate portfolio. The couple currently works from home due to COVID-19 and will continue to do so for its duration.

Photo at top: Chicago couple Gary Coffey and Karin Matsuyama chat in their office while working on an online site for fellow Code Platoon alumni. Code Platoon is a 14-week coding boot camp for veterans and military spouses. (Anika Exum/MEDILL)