Table XI

Why we sent Table XI team members to teach at Code Platoon

We’ve been training our future competitors.

Code Platoon is a non-profit that teaches development skills to veterans, to help them transition back into civilian life and get quality jobs. A coding bootcamp for folks who have been to real-life bootcamp. The 16-week courses cover the full Ruby on Rails stack — the same technology Table XI uses — and equips veterans for paid coding internships, and hopefully from there a career. With the help of scholarships, Code Platoon offers all this for only $1,500, a fraction of what other coding schools charge students.

“It’s a great career path.” says Rod Levy, founder of Code Platoon. If you find veterans in tech at all, he says, it’s usually in an IT role. “Not to diminish going into IT, but I think for the right person, software development just gives you more opportunity to be more creative, to be a deeper thinker, and financially it's much more rewarding.”

We knew we wanted to help Code Platoon see its mission through, so we offered up three Table XI staffers to help teach students about how their new Ruby on Rails skills fit into real-life work. Altogether we spent 12 hours teaching the fine folks at Code Platoon, including 10 hours over the course of a week tackling Front-End JavaScript.

Here’s why we decided to help train a new set of developers, and what we learned doing it.

We believe it’s important to support our veterans

We know how tough it can be for veterans to find civilian jobs after years spent in active duty.

“Many veterans come back with a wealth of skills. But, they have a difficult time explaining how their skill set translates into the civilian world. And the civilian world doesn’t understand the skills that veterans picked up while they were serving,” Rod says. Instead of trying to train veterans on how to sell their experience, Code Platoon equips them with a work-ready skill — Ruby on Rails development.

As a team, we know firsthand how transformative learning to code can be, and what great careers it can open up. We want to share that feeling of learning something truly valuable with everyone. Especially with veterans, who have already made big sacrifices on our behalf. If we can set them up to enjoy the perks of civilian life once they’ve completed their service, we’ll do that every time.

It helps that veterans are poised to make great developers. “Veterans bring a couple characteristics that many CTOs are already looking for,” Rod says. “If you want someone who's going to come in, work hard, persevere, work in a team and step into leadership, we found that person for you and they just went through our program.”

One of the Code Platoon teams' final projects.

Teaching lets us know our methodology is strong

Selfishly, we can use teaching to test our own approach to development. If we can’t teach development to novices, we don’t have a very strong methodology.

Zach spent two hours every morning for a week teaching the veterans Front-End JavaScript — how to make data on the page change and move after the site is already loaded. It’s something he feels strongly about. In 2016, he accepts no excuses for static pages, or ones that reload every time something needs to update. So he made sure the Code Platoon students would have a basic understanding of practical Front-End Javascript. He stuck to things they might actually do, like having a form update a list of states to show only those in the country a user has already selected. JavaScript is outside of the purview of the Code Platoon course, which sticks to Ruby on Rails, but it lets students know what else is out there, and to pick up a few skills that might come in handy in real jobs.

Working with the veterans helped Zach improve his workshop. His initial emphasis was on making sure that the students were exposed to a theoretical framework, followed by a set of skills. That approach buried the class in facts and repetition, and didn’t seem to be helping much. So on the second day, he switched to showing them achievable wins, like making a sortable grid and a upvote widget. Explaining the why and giving students context made them more receptive to learning. By the end of the week, Zach had flipped his approach to focusing on fun and applicability first and theory second. It worked. Despite having only given 10 class hours of instruction, one of the two teams of students built their project using the techniques that Zach introduced to them.

Usually we’re so focused on doing the work, we don’t have time to think about the why and the how. Teaching people who don’t share the same experience and shorthand as us forces us to take a step back and look at the theory behind the code. That way we can make sure our own foundation is strong before sharing it with others.

We can teach them the best practices we wish everyone knew

Just like Zach wants everyone to know how to properly add interactions to their websites, Judith wants everyone to know how to work with a project manager. So much so that her “fairly biased” talk on project management included this bullet point on the agenda: “We’ll talk about you, or really, what I want from you.”

Working with project managers is a skill, one any employable developer needs to have. And if Judith can make sure more people joining the coding world know what a project manager needs, she can increase her odds of working with developers who are already well-trained.

Teaching veterans what project management really means is a bit different from teaching civilians. Because of the military experience and discipline they have, veterans already know how to work on and communicate in a team. They’re more likely to need help knowing when and how to effectively question the direction the team is going in, something that’s a crucial source of feedback for project managers. Veterans can also make great project managers. Introducing them to project management will make it easier for them to work with other team members project managers down the line, sure. But it might also open them up to a new career they hadn’t been thinking about. “I wanted our students to understand what the different roles were in the dev team that they would either at some point be working with or working as,” says Rod.
We taught the veterans at Code Platoon because we believe society owes them that much, sure. But we also did it because it helps keeps us sharp, and helping new developers get better improves the overall coding ecosystem. Who knows, maybe one of these students will go on to build out the perfect open-source solution we need when we’re working on a project years from now. We’d like to help make that possible.