NOVA picks up $14,000 tab for coder boot camp giving transitioning military members new skills, job options


WOODBRIDGE, Va. — Missing your child’s baseball game because you’re stuck in traffic: There’s an app for that.

It’s called the Interactive Scorebook, and it was developed at the Workforce Development Center in Woodbridge as part of an intensive 12-week coding boot camp. The application can be used to score games, pinpoint players on the diamond, and to post the data for real-time monitoring for those who can’t make it to the field.

“If you’ve ever scored a baseball game, there’s a lot of paper involved. We’ve eliminated all of that, and we’ve made it more user-friendly,” said the application’s developer Kevin Allen.

Later, he and his partner Olympew Jordan might add more features like the current weather on the field, a text message function to alert parents to canceled games, or a feature that allows team moms to coordinate who is bringing the snacks.

The app is just one example of the creativity that produced over the last 12 weeks at the Uncommon Coders boot camp at the Northern Virginia Community College Woodbridge Campus. For eight hours a day, and sometimes nights and weekends military veterans transitioning from service to the workforce learned how to code websites, phone apps, and other programs while learning how to use Java, HTML, and other web development tools.

The $14,000 per person class was offered for the first time to these students for free in a partnership between the Northern Virginia Community College Foundation and Northern Virginia Technology Council which picked up the tab for the students’ participation in the class.

“This is a booming industry sector,” said Melanie Stover, director of business engagement at NOVA Workforce. “Every day we see 20 to 30,000 IT positions go unfilled in this region.”

There are more IT, coding, and cyber security jobs in the Washington, D.C. area than anywhere else in the U.S. Many go unfilled because there isn’t enough talent to go around to fill them.

Teaching transitioning military vets to become coders has its challenges. While many have basic experience working with computers and are used to the long hours and grueling pace of completing a mission, there’s an absolute creative freedom — one they didn’t have while in the military — class participants need to learn to be successful.

“There is not one set of directions on how to code. The way one person may get to an answer may be different than another person gets to it,” explained Trung Ngo, program specialist for Uncommon Coders. “They’re used to being barked orders and taking standard operating procedures to get to the end, and they don’t have that here, and students struggled with that initially.”

The students began to hit their strides by the third week of classes, said Ngo, each finding their “aha moments. During the morning hours, students are emersed in classroom learning and concepts, and after lunch, there is an assigned daily project.

By the end of the term, students have a full portfolio of work showcased in an online cloud storage account readily available for potential employers to view. Friday afternoon, students and their instructors gathered at the Woodbridge Campus for a graduation ceremony that marked the completion of the boot camp.

Peter Bruner, a 31-year-old Army reservist didn’t work during what he called a grueling experience. With his completion certificate in hand, he’ll look for work in the field of cyber defense.

“I was here each morning at eight-thirty when they opened the doors and there were some nights I didn’t leave until 9 o’clock. It cost me zero dollars to be in this program, and it’s been an unbelievable investment in my future,” he said.

The college hopes to continue the program next year.

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