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Chicago's Code Platoon Trains Veterans Computer Skills To Bolster High-Tech Workforce; 'We Are Really Solving Two Problems At Once'

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A Chicago-based coding academy is teaching military veterans and their spouses valuable tech skills, helping them quickly climb the career ladder in civilian life.

Gary Coffey's job as a software engineer for Enova involves a scramble of numbers and letters.

"It's about a $45,000 increase since I came here. It pretty much doubled my salary; more than doubled," he said.

The Air Force veteran's life wasn't always so lucrative. He struggled to find employment when he left the service two years ago.

"I had tried to apply to probably 20-plus, 30-plus companies," he said. "The only job I could get was selling mattresses, which going from working on a billion-dollar jet to this was a little bit different."

Nearly a third of military veterans looking for a job are under-employed, according to a study by ZipRecruiter. That rate is almost 16% higher than non-veterans.

But ever since Coffey learned how to code at Code Platoon, he and his wife have purchased their first home, and paid off a lot of old debt.

"It's been really great," he said.

Coffey's wife, Karin Matsuyama, has continued the success. She also graduated from Code Platoon, a technology training program in Chicago.

"I worked as an assistant in the business industry for a little over a year, but I didn't see the growth opportunities I wanted," she said.

The 14-week coding academy put Matsuyama on a different path, just like her husband.

"I learned JavaScript, Python, and frameworks that I need to develop full cycle web applications," she said.

Code Platoon founder Rod Levy initially offered the course only to veterans, but expanded the program to spouses after seeing Department of Defense data about unemployment rates for military wives and husbands. It hovers around 24%, six times greater than the national average.

"We are really solving two problems at once. We're solving the problem of veteran unemployment, or at least addressing that problem; and at the same time we're trying to address this tech gap, skills gap," he said.

Thinking back to when he graduated from Code Platoon, Coffey said he's grown a lot in his career.

"Code Platoon kind of took me from being more of a hobbyist programmer to being someone with a professional skill set," he said.

His wife is less than a year behind him. Soon, the two coders will be crunching numbers and crushing financials.

"Nothing was really working for me before Code Platoon," Coffey said. "It's made a huge impact on my life."

Matsuyama just took a job as a software engineering intern at Trading Technologies International.


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