Transitioning out of the military into civilian life can be a time of uncertainty, personally and professionally. There’s a lot to consider as you leave behind a familiar environment and begin to pursue new job opportunities. One industry that’s emerging as a great option for veterans is tech. Many military skills are transferable into tech jobs, and there’s an increasing number of payment plans, scholarships, and incentives to help veterans break into a tech career.
In my nearly four years working at Course Report, a resource for researching coding bootcamps, I’ve seen firsthand how veterans can thrive in technology roles and talked to many veterans who successfully made the career change.
Here’s your guide to navigating your first steps into the tech industry—including how to get the right skills and funding—with tips from three military veterans who have launched innovative new careers.
Why Is a Tech Career Great for Veterans?
The tech industry is known for being a lucrative one, fueled by developers, designers, data scientists, and plenty of employees performing other important functions beyond coding. And the demand for computer and information technology workers is only growing.
As a veteran, you may already have skills that are very applicable to the civilian tech world. Many military roles require use of advanced machinery and technology, and military departments are seeing the importance of tech skills for service members. With Project Nexus, for example, the Air Force is partnering with schools like The Tech Academy to upskill Air Force personnel.
If you’ve had experience working with technology in the military, entering the tech field upon your release might seem like a no-brainer. But even if you have no obvious prior tech experience, you’re likely to find your rigorous training, teamwork, and problem solving skills to be very transferable.
Former U.S. Army Colonel Matt Elledge, who works at data science bootcamp Galvanize, says that military experience of any kind is great preparation for a challenging job in technology. “Veterans have already accomplished a great deal by the time they return to civilian life,” he says. “Compared to going through basic training, learning to code is easy. Compared to serving our country, maintaining a career in tech is simple.”
And there’s a vast range of tech careers available, including software development, data science, and cybersecurity. “Tech offers a range of opportunities and long-term stability,” says U.S. Air Force veteran Maggi Molina, an advisor to Operation Code, a nonprofit that helps veterans get into tech. “Unlike in the military, we can choose our future and design a career that works for us, but our military experience gives us the discipline and work ethic to figure it out.”
U.S. Coast Guard veteran James Tanner, now a data analyst at Discount Drug Mart, saw tech as an exciting opportunity to continue using the skills and strategies he’d developed in the military. “My interest in tech was based upon wanting to get into a space that’s ever-evolving, that was growing and was going to see constant growth going into the future.”
Tanner says that learning to code aligned with the logical and problem solving mentality he needed as a systems engineer in the Coast Guard. “I’m the only one in the data field for my company, so that ‘take charge, see a problem, dissect it, and figure it out’ approach that everyone in the military has—I still have that and I get to use it every day in my job.”
So if you’re looking for a challenging and fulfilling career after the military, a job in the technology industry could be a great way to use your valuable experience while learning new skills and solving problems.
How Can Veterans Learn to Code?
There are several routes into tech, depending on the type of job you want and how much time you can invest in studying.
College is, of course, an option. A four-year computer science curriculum will generally cover computer science theory, algorithms, and advanced mathematics. Some companies still require engineers to have a computer science (CS) degree, which has traditionally been a prerequisite to break into a coding career. “A CS degree is the gold standard. If you have time and the GI Bill, get your CS degree,” Molina says. But “if you have limited GI Bill benefits or obligations like family, that could make a CS degree difficult.”
It’s possible to get a coding job without a degree, and many tech giants—like Google, Apple, and IBM—no longer require one. So students who don’t have the time or funding to do a four-year degree can consider other pathways into tech.
Teaching yourself to code is a great (and free) option if you have the discipline to self-motivate and stick to your goals, but the abundance of online resources can be confusing for beginners. That’s why an immersive technology bootcamp can be useful to provide structure and personal interaction. “A bootcamp can absolutely get you into the industry,” Molina says.
Elledge finds that veterans do “extremely well” at coding bootcamp because of their military experience. (There’s a reason why they’re called coding bootcamps, folks.) “I believe it is because [veterans] are ‘raised’ in an environment of decentralized command,” Elledge says. “They receive a task and purpose and then they solve the problems on their own or in small teams.” Coding bootcamp often puts them in similar situations to tackle projects.
And veterans are starting to take advantage—in 2018, Course Report found that 5.4% of coding bootcamp graduates had served in the military.
Tanner chose to go to Tech Elevator, a coding bootcamp in Ohio, instead of going back to college because he wanted to get into the job market sooner. “I just wanted to get right into the meat and potatoes of development, and that’s what bootcamp allows you to do,” he says. “When you’re in [military] bootcamp, you’re just absorbed into this world of the military...and that’s exactly what you get in one of these development bootcamps. You immerse yourself every day into writing code and developing. I found it was the best way to learn something new.”
But Molina warns that “bootcamps are not a quick fix and require prep and planning.” Before making the decision to go, make sure you’ll be able to complete pre-work assignments and fully commit yourself to the course.
How Can Veterans Pay for their Tech Education?
Fortunately for veterans, there are several ways to fund your training in technology skills like coding.
The Department of Veterans Affairs offers the following options for veterans to fund their education:
- The GI Bill: The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, more commonly called the GI Bill, was originally established to help veterans transition into civilian life after World War II and covers tuition and expenses for “traditional” education like college and trade schools, including CS degrees. In recent years, close to 30 coding bootcamps have been approved for GI Bill funding as well. GI Bill benefits vary depending on when a person served, in what capacity, and for how long.
- The Edith Nourse Rogers STEM Scholarship: Veterans studying STEM (science, technology, engineering, or math) subjects at college who have exhausted their GI Bill benefits can apply for the Edith Nourse Rogers STEM Scholarship, which covers up to $30,000 in tuition.
- VET TEC funding: The new VET TEC initiative specifically funds technology skills training for veterans, including coding bootcamps, without using up any GI Bill benefits. The VET TEC program is “further normalizing and opening up doors for veterans to get into tech,” Molina says. And schools only receive the full tuition payment from the VA once a veteran graduates and gets hired in the field. Galvanize, which offers a data science bootcamp and the Hack Reactor coding bootcamp, is one of the first organizations to receive VET TEC approval. “We have the metrics to prove that our graduates are well trained and are hired into incredible careers in the tech field,” Elledge says.
Beyond the benefits offered by the VA, here are some other ways to fund your tech education:
- Apply for a college scholarship aimed at veterans.
- Check out bootcamp scholarships specifically geared toward veterans and their families.
- For veterans and non-veterans alike, many tech bootcamps also offer deferred tuition and income share agreements, which can often be used in combination with GI Bill benefits.
What Kinds of Tech Jobs Can Veterans Get?
At Course Report, where I’ve now worked for nearly four years, we’ve seen hundreds of veterans graduate from coding bootcamp and dive into careers in tech. One alum started his own tech company, another became a technology consultant, a third transitioned into DevOps, and yet another landed a job as a front-end developer. Veterans who already have security clearances are also a good fit for certain cybersecurity roles. In short, the possibilities are endless.
“Veterans are suited to all kinds of jobs—from software development engineering at Amazon or a small startup [to] project management,” Molina says. “That's the beauty of the tech industry—you can find the company and culture that fits your interests and skills.”
Coding bootcamp graduates who served in the military tell us that the career change is worth it. Veterans see their salaries increase from an average of about $38,000 before bootcamp to $76,500 on average after bootcamp (a salary increase of about 102%). That’s even higher than the average post-bootcamp salary for grads who didn’t serve in the military, which comes to about $66,500.
How Can Veterans Find their First Job in Tech?
Once you’ve started to learn the skills you need, there are a number of steps you can take to increase your chances of landing a great job.
Demonstrate your skills. As a veteran, you may not have a “traditional” background for someone applying for technology roles, so you need to show potential employers what you can do via projects and portfolios. “No question, the biggest factor in getting a job is what you've built, and that does not have to be paid work,” Molina says. “Go beyond your school projects—build something that you wish existed, volunteer for a nonprofit.”
Network, network, network. Reach out to veterans already working in the field to get advice and hear about their experiences and transitions. “Talk to folks in the industry,” Molina says. “You should be meeting at least one new person a week. Don't view it as looking for a job and selling yourself—just ask people what they do, ask about industry trends, and talk about tech.”
Find the right job for you. Speaking from his own experience, Tanner recommends people don’t take the first job offer they get, but take some time to find something that’s the right fit, both in terms of the role and the company culture. “I think the first step is to write down what’s important to you, and [then try to] find that,” Tanner says. “There are so many types of development and tech environments you can work in.”
Believe in yourself and your skills. Elledge encourages veterans to be confident about their experience and abilities. “My advice is not to be intimidated when transitioning to the civilian world because veterans have already proven they are capable of far more difficult things than getting their first job in tech.”
Photo of people sitting in an office looking at a computer screen with code on it courtesy of Maskot/Getty Images.