At one point in his life, Jerome Hardaway was just a veteran trying to get back into civilian life. Today he runs a successful nonprofit teaching other vets to compete in a modern world.
Launched in 2014, Vets Who Code is a nonprofit that teaches veterans technical skills to earn a stable income in the civilian world. And as many Americans seek to make the transition to working from home, technical skills are in demand.
“COVID-19 validated this model because (Hardaway) was always virtual and kept going despite the pandemic,” said Chris Christie, who serves on the board of directors.
Hardaway got the idea when he was adjusting to civilian life. Fresh out of the U.S. Air Force, he understood more than anyone that the transition from the military life to the civilian world wasn’t easy, and often veterans don’t have the time to go back to school.
“[Veterans] are trying to hurry up. They’re trying to flatten that curve, because for veterans, it takes two years to get back to where you were financially before you joined the military,” he said.
Although Hardaway had a degree in criminal justice and no knowledge of computer engineering, Hardaway forced himself to learn coding knowing it would increase his job opportunities. After seeing a need to help veterans transition, he then decided to teach them as well.
“They call me the Captain America of codes,” said Hardaway.
Hardaway has since attracted national attention, and in 2015 he was invited to meet former-President Barack Obama.
When COVID-19 slowed down the workforce, at Vets Who Code it was “business as usual,” said Hardaway. The nonprofit had been teaching remotely long before the pandemic hit, so Hardaway was able to continue working. In 2020 alone, the organization has taught more than 250 veterans from 37 states.
“I started my nonprofit remotely because, to me, it was just the smartest thing to do,” said Hardaway.
“People think about all this stuff about coding from like the old school Microsoft, and people think about the military from the aspect of ‘Saving Private Ryan,’… but now let’s show you the new and improved military,” he said.
Anyone can learn, according to Hardaway, who otherwise feels “spoiled to educate military-trained students.”
Stereotypes from the current polarized political climate have given the military a negative image, but Hardaway wants to show that veterans are “just normal people that want to feed their families.”
Each year, $10,000 is raised to cover 100% of the costs for veterans, and Hardaway boasts that 94% of graduates find jobs within 12 months. Although Vets Who Code offers classes year round, Hardaway seeks to expand in 2021 to ease access and be able to teach more veterans, especially as demand rises with the pandemic.
“We have better success rates than for-profit code schools. We want to scale but at a scale that doesn’t hurt quality.” said Hardaway.