3 Life Lessons I Learned on my Road to Software Engineering

by: Gary Coffey, Software Engineer

When I left the Air Force, I did not have a computer science education background. It was a long and winding road to becoming a Software Engineer at Enova, but I was able to learn some important life lessons along the way. How did I go from working on a multi-billion-dollar aircraft to working at a billion-dollar company? I participated in a cohort at Code Platoon before being hired as an apprentice at Enova. But wait… what is Code Platoon? Code Platoon is a coding bootcamp intended for military veterans and spouses who are interested in software development. The lessons Code Platoon taught me extend outside of software development and can be applied to other aspects of my life. Here are some things I learned throughout my journey.

Lesson 1: Know When it’s Time to Reprogram

I spent seven years in the Air Force working as an avionics technician on the B-2 Stealth Bomber. During that time, I worked directly on the jet troubleshooting avionics systems, worked as a Linux Administrator for the ground equipment that processed the jet’s flight data, and helped ensure that the software deployed to the flight simulator and other maintenance trainers met government standards. I am grateful for the opportunities that I had in the Air Force, and I am proud of the technical skills that I learned. 

I decided not to continue my time in the Air Force because I tore my ACL and running was becoming more difficult each year. Also, while I loved my last job in the Air Force (working with software developers to keep the flight simulators up to date), that job was limited to two years, and I would return to doing aircraft maintenance (which was interesting work but much more stressful). 

Lesson 2: Learn (and code) in small understandable chunks

After leaving the Air Force, I knew I wanted to be in tech. My dream job was to be in software development, but I didn’t think that was feasible.  At that point, I didn’t know coding bootcamps existed. Getting out of the military and rejoining the civilian workforce can be a challenge. While preparing to leave service you have to make arrangements to move, often long distances. You also have to find a company willing to interview you over the phone or through Skype, because before moving your family a long distance, you want to secure employment. I have no family ties to Chicago, and I was actually looking at a few different cities. Chicago was on the list and just happened to be the first place I was able to secure a job. 

My first job in Chicago was as a sales associate at a mattress store. Although I had some tech experience, it was difficult to get employers to accept my skill set without formal education. So I kept programming as a hobby and started studying for an A+ certification to get a job at an IT helpdesk. While studying for the A+ certification, my wife sent me a link to the Code Platoon program. I learned that Code Platoon was a 14-week program that teaches full-stack development and has an apprenticeship program for graduates. Another plus was that they accept the GI bill. I realized that there was a way that I could get into software development without a formal computer science degree. 

Graduating Code Platoon wasn’t easy. It took a lot of long nights and most of my free time. During my weeks at Code Platoon, there were times when I would look at everything I had not learned yet and feel overwhelmed. It was a lot of complex material, and we only had three months to learn it all. And after all of that, we were going to have to convince one of six interviewers that we would succeed at their company. It was a lot to take in. This is where I learned the next important lesson of keeping things in small understandable chunks. I had to stay focused on what we were learning on a particular day and learn it well. 

Lesson 3: Once Something is Working, Refactor it and Make it Better

After the hard work of Code Platoon was complete, I was happy to be offered the opportunity to start work with Enova. From the start, I was placed in the training program, known as Baseline, that felt like a continuation of Code Platoon. Instead of learning from a water hose, I was taught how to hone my skills. I learned more about convention and the right way to think about and solve problems. 

After about three months of perfecting my development practices, I was placed on an apprentice project. My desk location changed, but the support and mentorship that I’ve received at Enova continued. Another Code Platoon graduate, Han, and I  were placed on a large and challenging project of adding payment instrument features to one of our international products. Although our project wasn’t easy, we had a full team of support and all the tools we needed from day one. Our teammates taught us how to navigate the market environment, how to overcome various coding challenges and the best ways of finding/creating data to test with. 

How Code Platoon Changed My Life

I was given the opportunity to go from working on a multi-billion dollar aircraft to working at a billion-dollar company thanks to Code Platoon. Not only that — my wife recently graduated from Code Platoon and got an internship opportunity at another tech company in Chicago. 

Code Platoon changed my life and helped my wife and me start the life we’ve always wanted. Since starting Enova in January 2019, we’ve been able to purchase a home/investment property and start saving. 

I can’t thank Code Platoon enough for helping me learn the skills I needed — and Enova, for giving me a chance to develop those skills even further. 

Moving into the future, I know the foundation I developed at Code Platoon, along with the combination of the challenging work and a smart, supportive team here at Enova, will enable me to continue growing as a software engineer.

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