Helping Veterans Find Work and Meaning—in Coding

Jerome Hardaway, Founder of Vets Who Code, discusses his non-profit organization in EP5 of Wednesdays Get Centered.

Sammi Geraci-Yee

Sammi Geraci-Yee

Jerome Hardaway of Vets Who Code

Life After Service

After spending five years in the Air Force, Jerome Hardaway returned to Nashville to discover the same problem many veterans confront: finding work. 

In many ways, it didn't make sense.  His military resume was impressive, including working in airplane safety, security, and law enforcement.  His tours led him throughout Afghanistan, Iraq, and South Korea. His skillset was broad yet, tragically, not applicable at home. 

Add to the fact that he returned during the Recession.  As he weighed career options, Hardaway noticed something: the tech industry wasn't as hard hit as other sectors.  While not bulletproof, it seemed to be doing much better than other drivers of the American economy—in fact, tech was driving the economy. 

So he learned to code. 

Then, he wanted to do more.

Vets Who Code

By 2014, Hardaway realized he wanted to help other vets find work.  He founded the non-profit, Vets Who Code, which has now helped hundreds of veterans around the nation learn the skills they need to begin careers in tech. 

While the military-to-tech pipeline might at first sound strange, Hardaway says it's an ideal transition. As he told Centered, 

Veterans understand processes better than anyone. The military invented death by Powerpoint. That correlates perfectly to a lot of the tech documentation out there.

Vets Who Code teaches coding newbies "how to move like a programmer, first and foremost."  The program is holistic, teaching not only coding skills, but everything you need to transition into a competitive industry. 

During our discussion, Hardaway offers a number of analogies between military life and coding to help people wrap their heads around the connection. For example, 

I would consider how we use Github in the same way as how we basic training uses marching: it teaches unit cohesion, how to be in step and be aligned at all times, and how to communicate and listen.

Job placement will, unfortunately, remain an issue with veterans returning from service, as will increasing rates of mental health disorders—until better interventions are discovered and implemented, that is.

Vets Who Code is an important pathway that helps veterans make sense of their career path and, by extension, their lives.

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