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Meet Rodrigo Levy of Code Platoon in Loop and Downtown

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rodrigo Levy.

Rodrigo, Founder and Executive Director of Code Platoon, attended Dev Bootcamp in 2013. He was amazed by the effectiveness of the immersive coding boot camp model, whereby a beginner could learn enough in a short period of time to become a junior software developer. Mr. Levy saw a need to help veterans learn in­-demand job-­ready skills in a manner they could afford. He founded Code Platoon in early 2015 with the goal to be an affordable, viable pathway for veterans to have a successful career in software
development.

Based in Chicago, Code Platoon provides software development training to help local veterans find meaningful careers as professional software developers. While some veterans do have four-year degrees, the only requirements of enrollment are a deep desire to become a professional software developer, a positive work ethic, and a tremendous amount of tenacity. They began their program teaching Ruby on Rails, JavaScript, HTML, and CSS.

Each veteran is eligible to receive a scholarship that covers about 80% of their tuition, making this career path affordable and attainable. Code Platoon also offers extra scholarships to women veterans who join the Bootcamp as they are historically underrepresented in technology-based careers.

The program consists of 8 to 15 students per class who spend 60-80 hours a week together for 14 weeks. Instruction is a carefully curated mix of lectures, advanced coding training, and team projects, frequently culminating in a locally paid internship.

Code Platoon currently focuses recruitment efforts on post-9/11 veterans. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, post-9/11 veterans have a 5.8% unemployment rate, the highest among all veteran groups.

Three years later, Code Platoon has run 6 classes of students, graduating over 30 veterans from their program. The majority of their students are working in the software development field in Chicago. They partner with a variety of Chicago based small to mid-size tech firms who provide financial contributions as well as paid internships to interested students. Code Platoon also enjoys generous funding support from foundations including Boeing Global Citizenship, Motorola Solutions Foundation, NBCUniversal Foundation, The McCormick Foundation, Amazon, and Capital One.

In early 2018, they were the first software development boot camp to be approved for the GI Bill in Illinois. This approval allows for more veterans to access their program as the GI Bill provides both tuition and housing allowances.

In 2019, they are expanding their mission and are excited to welcome military spouses to their program. They recognize that veterans are part of a greater military family and believe having military spouses in their program more thoroughly supports both their mission and the military family. They are also expanding their curriculum to teach Python. This increasingly popular technology stack will allow their graduates to have greater employment opportunities within the software development field. With these two big announcements, they plan to run three classes in 2019.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
There are challenges within any startup nonprofit. The biggest challenge that we face is centered around our marketing and recruitment efforts. We are constantly working to secure more resources, allowing us to expand our marketing efforts, and reach more military veterans and spouses who could benefit from our program. We rely on our expert volunteers to provide meaningful contributions to our growing organization.

We are exploring innovative ways to advertise our program to ensure we are reaching the broadest audience possible. In order for us to maximize our success in these endeavors, we must consistently recruit students and funding partners, increase our research around ways to find new students, and maintain and grow a network of brand ambassadors to help us spread our mission.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Code Platoon – what should we know?
Code Platoon, located in Chicago, Illinois, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit working to transform veterans into
professional software developers through an immersive, educational boot camp, mentorship, and internship program. Code Platoon employs hands-on, in-person training with each group of students learning software design principles, modern software languages, and best practices. Classes are taught by local industry leaders. Mentors are also provided to each student during this rigorous training program to ensure optimal success. Graduates of our program are typically matched with one of our corporate sponsors for a 3-6 month paid internship, which traditionally leads to a full-time salaried position.

Code Platoon currently focuses recruitment efforts on post-9/11 veterans because they have a 5.8%
the unemployment rate, the highest among all veteran groups. Our goal is to ultimately decrease veteran
underemployment in the greater Chicago area. By creating a program that leads to high paying and sustainable jobs, veterans enjoy productive and profitable careers as software developers after their training with Code Platoon. Medium-term outcomes include spreading community awareness of veterans’ abilities as professional developers and growing the program each year to include more graduating classes.

According to the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs, there were 35,000 new veterans between 2013 and 2017. Veterans ages 18-24 are the hardest hit by unemployment, having a 28.8% unemployment rate. A survey of Chicago-area veterans showed 65 percent of post-9/11 veterans left the military without a job.
While unemployment rates among veterans grow, the demand for software developers also continues to grow. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics posts there will be a shortfall of 1 million computer-related workers by 2020, with a 17 percent growth rate from 2014 to 2024. Code Platoon is opening the door to technology jobs for
veterans.

Code Platoon is the only software coding boot camp in the Chicagoland area that exclusively focuses on
teaching veterans these skills. Most coding boot camps cost between $12,000 and $20,000, creating a barrier of entry. At Code Platoon, each veteran receives a scholarship that covers $10,500 of their $13,000 tuition, making this career path affordable and attainable. We also offer extra scholarships to women veterans who join the program as they are historically underrepresented in technology-based careers. By design, Code Platoon is serving those who have served their country by providing affordable professional software development skills.

Our approach is innovative in that we have identified a path to full-time employment for veterans, utilizing skills they have already honed while they served our country. Many veterans struggle with translating employment skills learned during their years of service to a civilian career. Through our own research and deep understanding of the software development field, we will serve as a role model for organizations who provide underemployed veterans with quality employment.

Code Platoon is the only software coding boot camp in the Chicagoland area that exclusively focuses on
teaching veterans these skills. We partner with industry experts to design our relevant and cutting-edge
curriculum, ensuring our students are receiving the most up-to-date education. These corporate sponsorships allow our students access to high-level internships upon graduation, leading to lucrative full-time employment opportunities. We provide a direct link between our education and a career to our veterans.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Starting a non-profit is one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my professional life. In order to be successful, I rely heavily on innovating in the non-profit sector by borrowing from highly successful practices in the startup and tech communities. I am always looking for new and inventive ways to challenge the traditional methods of workforce development in the technology sector, especially as it relates to veterans and military spouses. This forward thinking allows me and the staff at Code Platoon to be nimble and adaptable to the needs of our various stakeholders. Above all else, every day, we are mission-driven to do all we can through our program to help our nation’s heroes and their families find career stability and success in software development.

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