Backstage – Episode #19

Honoring Veterans Day and #VetsWhoCode

with Jerome Hardaway, Executive Director of Vets Who Code

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We’re “doing it live” with Jerome Hardaway, a Senior Software Engineer at Microsoft and the Executive Director of Vets Who Code — a veteran-led and operated 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that focuses on training veterans, active duty military, and military spouses in software development and open source with the goal of starting careers in the technology industry.

This is a lengthly conversation in and around Jerome’s story, the Vets Who Code mission and impact, the experience of being in the United States Military, and the opportunity and potential of 1.5x’ing one of the most elite group of people on the planet.


Notes & Links

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📝 Edit Transcript


Play the audio to listen along while you enjoy the transcript. 🎧

Welcome backstage. We’re doing it live; I’m here with Jerome Hardaway. Jerome - big fan, man. I’m a big fan. You know I’m a big fan. We met each other years ago at OSCON, haven’t talked since… And I feel so bad about that. I’ve thought about you several times though.

Reach out to a player, man… I’m on Twitter!

Well, you know, you’re busy… It gets busy, you know? So it’s not a matter of not wanting to, it’s just a matter of being busy. I’m a fan family guy, I’m trying to run this thing here called Changelog… It just gets busy.

I totally understand.

My excuses are done though, you know what I’m saying?

Whatever, man… We just had a one-month-old man, so…

Yeah. I totally understand that life comes at you fast.

Oh, yeah. I’ve got an almost two-year-old, and a five-year-old, and a seventeen-year-old.

See… I love our newborn, but I’m kind of regretting it now… It’s like “Dang…!” We almost had everybody out the house, and we started over. We’ve got a 14-year-old, a 15-year-old, and an 18-year-old… And now we have a one-month-old, and it’s like “Yooo! No…! We start all over again!” Wild. [laughs]

I feel you on that…

I’m being THE old man…

You know what though? The one thing about children is that they’ve got a way of winning you over, man… They’ve got a way of just – especially dads, man… Taking that heart, man… I love it, honestly.

Legacy versus dynasty.

That’s right.

You know, when you’re doing the work… I think about Vets Who Code – I don’t know, I am a stoic by trade. The thing that keeps me most productive and focused is I literally have a makeshift obituary, like a eulogy on my desk that I read.

Oh, really? You go that far, huh?

Yeah. This is what I want people–

Do you have it nearby? Can you repeat some of it? Is it public and shareable?

No, it’s private.

Okay, it’s private.

Yeah, it’s private. But the goal is to write it, and then do the work and make it come true. That’s legacy. But when it comes to children, you switch over from legacy to dynasty. So legacy is like the thing that you leave behind that makes your name echo beyond your lifespan. Dying twice, as they say. But dynasty is the things that you do today to ensure that the generations that are related to you – like, in the future, they are gonna be okay; they are gonna have resources and tools they need to have a happy life to chase the American dream. The mental switch is wild.

It is. So you’re from the ATL, is that right?

Negative. I’m in Atlanta. I’m from Memphis originally, and I moved back to Memphis after the military, then moved to Nashville, and now I moved to Atlanta. I think one part was that my wife - she ended up getting a super-cool promotion at Zillow, and then I ended up just… Well, Microsoft has an office here, even though the people I work with at Microsoft are in Seattle… I was like, I might as well move to a nice Microsoft compound area as well. So that was an easy W.

Very cool. So Memphis, huh?

And you said “Negative”, so clearly, we’re talking to a soldier here, because…

airman but that’s okay…

Negative ghost rider the pattern is full. That’s a mix of airforce though, but in a movie.

What movie is that?

Top Gun.

I haven’t watched Top Gun. I’m sorry.

That’s Tom Cruise at his finest. OG Tom Cruise.

Oh, and they were lying to us about his height… like is he actually look 5’ 4” in the movie?

Yeah… Well, he was next to Goose, and I think – what was that? I think that guy has actually passed away now, the guy who played Goose. What was his name? Man, he was in the movie Nerds, too. I can’t remember his name. What a bummer.

[04:18] I’m thinking Val Kilmer, or something like that…

Well, Val Kilmer was one of them. He was Ice. And Goose was his side-by-side… And I’m gonna look it up right now on IMDb. I’m a big fan of, by the way. Not the actual website, but the app is better; but the website itself is so good.

I have a website – my favorite website that has nothing to do with tech… Serious Eats.

Serious Eats…

So I totally feel you. Yeah. I totally feel you on [unintelligible 00:04:48.04]

So Anthony Edwards was the guy I was thinking about. And I thought he passed away… I could be wrong, that he’s still alive… But I thought I heard that he passed away from something. He’s Top Gun, Nerds, Revenge of the Nerds, all that good stuff. He was Goose, he was Tom Cruise’s sidekick. Maverick’s sidekick named Goose.

That’s my call sign in Slack, Maverick.

Is that right?

Yeah. [laughs] And that’s funny, because this is like the fourth time people bring up Top Gun, and I’m like “I just chose it because of what a Maverick is. I had no idea that it was like a Top Gun thing.” I just thought [unintelligible 00:05:32.12] just because I could… [laughs] I was like “The Captain America one is kind of like–” I used to be Captain America JS, and then I was like “Oh, I’ll switch it to Maverick.” And I haven’t switched it back since, so…

Yeah… That’s good, man. So we’re recording this the day before Veterans Day… And so I’ve mentioned that I’ve thought about you a lot. One, it was cool meeting, and I pay attention to what you do… And then, you know, I’m a veteran, I was in the military, I was in the army for 3,5 years…

You should have said that. Did I give you a coin?

I don’t think you did… But that’s okay.

You need to go ahead and shoot me an addy so I can get you a hashflag coin, like, what is wrong with you?

Oh, man. I would love that. I would love that. I would rep it, man. I’ve got a drill sergeant’s coin, I think I’ve got a coin from being in Bosnia, a couple other things… I’ve obviously got my stations coin, I was in Fort Drum, I was in 10th Mountain Division, aviation unit there, 10th Aviation… I worked on what they call FARP - forward area refueling point. I worked with helicopters. I pumped gas for a living, bro’, in the military. I was a glorified gas man, basically…

It’s okay. I was a glorified security guard/air cop. That’s what security forces is. You know, they do that weird thing, they’re like “Oh, here are the jobs that you can qualify for.” And it was like cop, security guard, air marshal, which ironically, none of those were hiring when I got in the military, because it was the Great Recession, so I was like “Oh… That’s awesome.”

That’s a bummer. When did you ETS?

  1. August 13th, 2009.

I ETS-ed in 2001, right before 9/11, man…

2001 I was in tenth grade. I was like, “Yo, this is wild.” Man, how did that feel? Did it make you wanna get back into the fight? I feel like if I was one of those people that ETS right before 9/11 and everything went down, I’d be like “Okay, pull me back in, coach.” But at the same time, I’m like “Maybe –” You’d be like “Okay, I know I want to do this bad, but I also know that I have a greater purpose and I don’t want to squander the things that I have planned.” Because you know, Changelog impacts a lot of people now, right?

So you probably think about that.

I do, man…

“If I had decided to go back in, would Changelog be here, and have the impact that it has?”

It wouldn’t be.

It wouldn’t be, honestly. And you know, that was actually a real struggle for me, because I got out –

You feel guilty.

So to answer your question directly, I was ready to be out of the military; despite me loving the military, I was ready to forge my new path. I had mentally prepared – nobody mentally or emotionally prepared for our country to be attacked in that regard, so… I wanted to go back in, but at the same time, I had some plans in motion. Because I got out in January, and it wasn’t until September that that tragedy happened… So I had that nine months to sort of get into my grooves.

Now, I was obviously young too, and I was stupid, and I made mistakes… Those 20-year-old mistakes, essentially… So yeah, I wanted to get back in, but I got in originally in 1998. I entered service. And I would say I was pretty not smart back in those days. I didn’t test well on my ASVAB, which is the test - as you know, but for listeners… The ASVAB is what you take to qualify – essentially, it predicts your intelligence, and it qualifies you for certain jobs in the military. And you can either be a gas man like I was, or get offered intelligence, or maybe being a cop like you were, or whatever the MOS turned out to be…

Fun story - I was offered intel, chose cop because some dude was trying to make his quota and trying to hurry up and push us through. You know, cops are like super-cool, you know…

Yeah. MPs, man…

Yeah, MPs… See, all this jargon… You get a cool beret, and stuff… And you’re 17, you don’t know any better. I’ll never forget a Navy recruiter… She called me after I took the ASVAB and I told her I already signed the airfoce. She was like what was your AFSC and I told her 3POX1 and she was like, “You could have had any job you wanted.” She laughed and hung up on me. She didn’t even say bye. I was like, “Dang…” [laughs]

Well, she had her own quotas to fill, that’s the thing…

Yeah. Rude… [laughs]

I’ve got a friend actually who just retired from the Navy as a Master Chief… His name is Nick Davis. Super-proud of him. My wife just flew up to Indiana for his retirement from the Navy. Like, I didn’t retire. I stayed in for my 3,5 years and I got out. But my heart is still there. I’ve still got friends that I was battle buddies with, all that stuff. And I pay attention to their lives, and whatnot; we’re still involved.

You pay attention to the things that impact the military. I totally get it.

But I haven’t done anything service-wise back to the military. I haven’t gone back to veterans by any means to serve them… You know, like you have, with Vets Who Code, for example; to pour back into those who are transitioning from military life to civilian life and think of what’s next. That’s a tough transition anyways… But then to have a – I would kind of call you like a life raft, or life preserver, or something like that for those who exit… Right?

[laughs] That’s incredibly awesome, but that’s not what I am. I don’t think I am like that.

I mean, the organization Vets Who Code. It’s a lifeline, is what I mean.

[11:55] I think it is a light at the end of the tunnel… Because I remember being in the military and not having the resources I needed. First and foremost, when Vets Who Code was birthed, it was a totally different ball game. People, when I came out the gate – we’re talking about Vets Who Code, and… You know, I’m a (spoiler alert) black guy from Memphis… People were literally looking at me like I was crazy, talking about enlisted troops can code, and do all this heavy mental stuff, this problem-solving. They were looking at me like I was talking gibberish. And I was like, “No… We can absolutely do that.”

If you’ve ever been to Iraq, or Afghanistan, or been on a boat or a submarine, you learn how to problem-solve without all the resources pretty fast. And it’s usually civilians who don’t think about us like that. They see a movie with a bunch of kids getting yelled at and being called crazy names by a drill sergeant, and that’s they – or they see Saving Private Ryan… Any movie where there’s nothing but firefights, and then they see the old-school VSO commercials that are talking about us being just two PTSD riddled like alcohol adult veterans that need help, and they don’t talk about anything else with us. So that’s all with VWC.

Well, I saw something different in myself… Because when you have that ability to be able to solve problems, pick up a book and learn SQL in 3-4 months… You know, you’re looking around like “These people really are underestimating us.” And back then we had that advantage. Well, now VWC doesn’t have that advantage, because not only does everybody know that veterans can do the work, they also have done the legislation to ensure that they get access to the GI Bill.

I’ve just heard of another non-profit; they serve everybody, but they’re getting $18,000 a person. And I’m like “We don’t raise that in a year.” Straight up. Like every VWC we don’t raise that in a year. When you donate to VWC, you literally make your impact. If we get one veteran through the door at a job, we make our financial impact for one veteran. That’s just how much money we raise. But we go so hard in the paint and we put so many people through, and do so many resources, that people – it’s so funny, because people think we’re just like a crazy, big-level non-profit. Like, no, it’s just a bunch of military dudes doing what military dudes do. And now, what we’ve evolved to is we wanna create those 1.5 developers, because we know that the code schools are essentially creating developer farms that give high-level coding skills, on the CRUD creation level… But they’re not doing a lot of the things that we’re doing. They’re not deep-diving into a language. They’re not talking about Git flow, and how to work as a team, and collaborate, and Kanban, and Scrum, they’re not looking at AWS Lambdas…

I make a joke, because we’re still the only organization that trusts their students to push code to their website, to this day. Right, you can’t go to General Assembly and see a student that is in a cohort or in learning, pushing code to General Assembly’s website, even though that’s what you should be able to do. a) Your stack should be around that. b) I value myself as being the first person that’s gonna put trust in you to do something great.

[16:15] If you have to be great, I want it to start with me. I treat VWC as – I’ll tell people, it’s the boxing gym. Everything that you’re gonna experience outside, you should experience here first. Your first KO should be in a gym. Your first time vomiting during training should be in a gym. Your first time hitting your wall and having to push through that plateau should be in the gym. Your first time should never be in a fight in front of 5,000 people. I learned that. That’s my logic going into it. You need to learn how you work, and everything needs to happen here first, before you go outside in the real world. Because I want you to be mentally ready for this stuff. You should have your worst interview experience – like, we’ve been revamping our interviewing team, and I’m like, “I want you guys to intentionally have three touches, and one interview should be –” I want the technical to be the intentionally worst interview of the interview prep… Because it shows how you think under pressure. And on top of thinking, dealing with hard to work with people. Because usually, in most things, the smartest dude is kind of an asshole, right? Everybody’s been there, where the smartest developer is kind of a joke, because they’re rare. At Microsoft it’s super-cool; the smartest dude on my team is also the sweetest dude on the team. But I’ve been on enough teams where the smartest person is like “Yo, if it was legal, I’d flip your chair from underneath you, man, if I wouldn’t get fired.” [laughter] “I would put glue in your seat, or something.” You know, military horrible practical jokers.

But yeah, so that’s what we look at at VWC. Over the next five years – our process is, like I said, 1.5 devs. We wanna create the diamonds. Because what I’ve seen with our – we have these two user personas, and two successful troops that were totally different on paper. One’s Andrew, one’s Schuster… And Andrew was hard charge on code Schuster was super-strong on soft skills… And we use these two as user personas, and we keep them in mind when we’re interviewing. Then I would speak to the businesses and they’re like, “No, what we want more is someone closer to you. Someone who has the coding chops, someone who has the ability to communicate, someone that has those soft skills. We’re okay with someone with balance. We don’t want a strong one way or the other and then grow them; we want them as close in the middle as possible.” Or if they’re like Schuster and Andrew, and they are really good on one, then that can also be like “Alright, let’s grow you towards the other one. Because now Schuster is a super-strong engineer; he’s been at Amazon, he’s been at Eventbrite, he’s doing DevOps work, he’s doing frontend DevOps, a.k.a. div ops, he’s doing all this stuff… And Andrew - I joke when people are like “What can we do for Andrew?” I’m like, “Andrew is the strongest coder in VWC.” I think there are board members that he can out-code. [laughs] And I’ve got Brian Holt and [unintelligible 00:19:38.17] on the board, and I still think he would at best give them a round for their money…

Andrew was a Special Forces candidate, got out of the military, it turns out he was a D1 athlete and cheerleading, coached the runs for Olympic cheerleading… He has an Olympic ring.

[20:04] Yeah. We were talking – because you know, I was on the Air Force boxing team, and we were showing off [unintelligible 00:20:09.28] back in my day I knew what I could do. I knew I was something back in the day… And we were all showing off sports stuff, and I was showing off pictures of me and Roy Jones, pictures of me with Clint Jackson, me at the Air Force boxing camp… And he just throws [unintelligible 00:20:27.26] Wow! Say something before you throw something out there like that…!

The dude’s a certified rockstar, and he’s one of the people – he doesn’t say anything, he just does the work. And when he does the work, he does it well, and it’s scary how well he does it. And Schuster has that ability to jump in and bring his business intelligence along with a level of empathy that most veterans don’t have, and to any project, while growing.

And he’s fearless, to a degree. Sometimes you’re like, “Okay, you’re taking things on that would scare the normal person, or you’re probably not thinking all the way through about it…”, but he still wants to do it. I’m really proud of him, because he’s the veteran that I see myself the most in, because when he was in Savannah, he did things that other people didn’t do. He learned how to code with us, he got his first coding job, then within three months got his second coding job, then he started teaching a bootcamp, then he helped create the first meetup, then he helped create the first conference there… He did all of this stuff to pour back into his community. I was like, “That’s dope.” That’s what I wanna see with my troops. I’m not gonna sit here and just be the person who pushes pixels. I’m gonna impact the world. So those are the types of guys and girls that we wanna create.

I just did an interview with a person; she has the potential to be super – she has the potential to be amazing. What she needs is structure, and she needs someone who believes in her, and someone who’s gonna make her do the work. And that’s one thing that we’re injecting in VWC that comes from me. To be the next me is not just coding. 30% of what got me here today was coding. The rest of that rounds out to being able to communicate well, being able to write well, being able to put my thoughts out clearly to speak, being able to connect and have some degree of business intelligence. These are the things that you need to get to this level fast. And these are the things we’re gonna be making them do.

I don’t wanna be that old searge mode, because I used to be – Schuster tells the newbies all the times these stories, like “Oh yeah, Jerome will be teaching class”, and people start making jokes, and Jerome starts handing out homework left and right. Jerome was the homework star. He could find homework in anything. Schuster tells the story about how he didn’t know – he never watched Dragon Ball Z, and I was just so WTF, like “How did you make it to being a grown man and not watched Dragon Ball Z?” And then somebody else was like, “Okay, we can talk if you do like pop culture things, like Stranger Things” and I never saw that, and they like “What are you people doing?” And I’m like “Being an adult.” So I’m being an adult too, but I still have time for Netflix… [laughter]

[23:49] So that class – I’ll never forget it, because it was on a Thursday night, and they all hated me, because I gave everybody homework based upon shows they didn’t see… And I told them “You’ve gotta research it, write about it, make a UI about it, inspired from it, and it’s due Monday night.” And they were like, “Are you serious?” I’m like, “Yes. Absolutely. Get on YouTube, get on Netflix. I don’t care.”

Figure it out.

Yeah, exactly. And he wrote about it. He’s like “I guess that’s how it is sometimes at the job, where they tell you you have to solve a problem, they don’t tell you how to solve the problem.” They start from the solution and then they work the solution into the deliverables, and then they work backwards from it [unintelligible 00:24:26.21] Like, “Welcome to tech, baby.”

And we’ll bring a lot of that stuff back. And I think that’s the thing that I’m the most excited for. We have VWC right now, we’re talking a lot about it tomorrow, we’re debuting our partnerships team, we’re debuting – we’re talking about… What is this called…? See, I’m brain-fogging, because this is all like new stuff… Talking about contracting protocols that were put in place, because we’re gonna start building a unit out for federal contracting… We’re talking about our new community leads, we’re talking about our interviewing process… What VWC is becoming - it’s going to be the first place that feels like a tech job for you, for you to get in. Our three interview protocols for mentors and new devs, how we’re gonna be creating touches with – even our educational content is changing, because we’ve been looking at how to use more automation tools. We’re developing a vwc-cli for the troops. So they come in, they npm install it, and they just run the CLI, and we go from there.

Then we have our protocols and procedures based upon that, while also keeping the thing that I enjoy the most about the veterans, which is letting them touch things live. Because veterans are different people to teach. You can’t have a person who spent their youth doing on-the-job training, getting that type of thrill… Like, we get educational thrill. Our ideals and practices of learning is literally connected to fight or flight. That’s what the military does; that’s how you end up making a culture of elite combat forces so quickly. If you think about the average time, it takes Marines 12 weeks to a Marine. How do they do that? They blend training with the most basic level of fight or flight. So that’s on some level how every services does it. So what we have to do with veterans is you have to connect training with fight or flight, with like “Yo, if you mess this up, you may cost me a thousand dollars.” You do not wanna be the person that comes through VWC and does something like AWS. They cost me a thousand dollars. So don’t mess this up. [laughter] When they hear that, they’re like “I don’t wanna be that guy. I wanna be on the wall of fame, not on the wall of shame.” Even though I have some that are like, “As long as I’m on the wall, I don’t care.” And I’m like, “You’re scary. I like you. You’re a little crazy.”

Do you run it like the military then? Because you speak of it like troops, you say you’ve got a unit, you’re using this terminology that you have in the military. Do you treat it like it’s still military(ish)?

No, I treat it like a blend of Silicon Valley tech, remote technology – I treat it like how… If I was automatic, in the air force, and - what’s the saying? Lingo of the military, an organizational structure of an open source project. It’s a blend of a remote-first company, the military, and just open source… Because we live on GitHub, and we’re very much open source-friendly. That’s how I view it.

[28:04] When we’re debuting our roadmap and knocking that out, I wanna have that public, so people know “Hey, this quarter, this is what the cohort is working on.” One of the things we’re attaching to a cohort starting 2022 is - guess what, while you’re learning, you need to start reading this documentation. Because every project – your capstones, they’re all gonna be focused around this technology, and integrating this technology into Vets Who Code. There you go. And we’re gonna have those experts from those companies coming in and doing talks to the veterans. We have some people already lined up with Twilio… When we drop our – spoiler alert. In the next couple of months we’re doing the mockups and stuff and dropping the iOS app for a game. So for the next Veterans Day, our goal was to have this game out there that helps us raise funds, and stuff like that, that’s based on – I have this markup of Horseshoes and Hand Grenades… With the VWC colors, and people just click and try to blow stuff up with grenades as fast as possible.

But we’re gonna have the Apple team, Apple dev rels - they’re gonna be coming through. I have a friend, she wanted to – she’s one of the best dev rels in the game; she’s gonna be talking to my veterans about it, and holding camps and things like that with them, so they can learn. And I think that’s the thing that I want to be with Vets Who Code. I want you to come to me to learn how to do the thing from the best of the best. And I wanna flatten that curve. Because it took me seven years to get to FAANGAM. I am proud of the fact that it took Schuster three. That’s what it’s supposed to be. If it took me seven, you’ve gotta be doing it in half that time.

I tell all my veterans, I’m like “If it took me this time, you’re gonna do it in half. It is what it is. That’s just part of the contract that you come with me, or I’m gonna be up your ass. It is what it is. This is the life that you chose.” You should have been like “Let’s do a podcast, or something.” That’s what it is. [laughs] They scrub the stuff out of the blogs, from the veterans, from us, to make us cleaner and not scare people away. But when I’m podcasting, I tend to let us talk a little more freely. So next time, let’s do a podcast.

Actually, with HackerRank, we had our first censorship, with my veteran who’s head of mentorship, Eddie. I don’t even know what he said to this person, the editor that was in his story when they were asking him questions, but all I know is that they like took half of his interview and cut it in half.

Is that right?

Yeah. I was like, you know what - in retrospect, sending in a Marine to go talk to tech people probably was a bad idea. Sending a tanker and a Marine was probably a double-bad idea. [laughs] Any tanker - they’ve got a potty mouth. A Marine on top of it? Meh…

Two days before the Marines Birthday, when the world was all open - it was, you know, leadership hindsight, that was a pretty bad idea, coming from me. I should have saw it. [laughs]

And that’s the crazy thing… I have to also do this balance of how the real world is out there and perceives veterans, and how veteran you can be in here. Some of the mentors are civilians, we’ve got women in here… It just has to be an inclusive place first. You can’t be out here going all of the way that direction. You can’t be out here being the worst of the worst either. I don’t want people thinking that we were like also January 6th *bleep* like, “I need you to be quiet”, right. So there’s balance. You can’t say some of the things… Just like in the real world, things you say have consequences.

[32:08] That’s right.

And I try to teach – as I always say, it’s a crazy balance of sub-cultures… Because the culture is American, but I’m trying to balance multiple subcultures every time. Being an African-American, being a veteran, having people wanna be comfortable and be safe who are LGBTQIA… Those are all the sub-cultures that I’m trying to ensure they feels safe. Because that’s what I tell people, our first – like, veteran is a subculture. You’re American first. So don’t lean into the veteran; lean into the fact that you’re an American, and you’re trying to take the things you learn from a subculture and apply them to make America better. That’s what this is about.

People know that we can work hard, people know that we’re disciplined. What we wanna show them is that we are force multipliers. You hire a VWC troop, you’re gonna get a force multiplier of 1.5 of whatever stage in their career they are. Entry-level, junior level dev - that person might as well have 1.5 years of experience compared to your entry-level or junior-level dev over here, because that’s our goal. That’s the intent. If you get a coin from me, that’s what you are.

I tell guys all the time, I don’t hand out coins. I have a stack of coins, and I don’t hand them out easily. It takes a miracle to get a coin. And it’s gonna take an even bigger miracle for a new award. That’s one reason I keep checking the door, and stuff. We have an award called our Excelsior award… Because how the VWC is built - the ideal behind what a veteran that transitions back to America should be, in my mind, is more Marvel less grunt style. When we think about veterans, we tend to always leave out the big three… You know, Jack Kirby was a veteran, Stan Lee, Steve Ditko - all three of these guys are veterans, and they gave us Captain America, they gave us Guardians of the Galaxy, they gave us all these people. Bob Ross - he was a veteran. So I think about – you know, we should be amplifiers of the best parts of what America is.

So what do we have to give? So we have this new award, championship bill; this is gonna have their names on it, and stuff… It’s called the Excelsior award… And it’s about – Stan Lee used to always say “Excelsior”, and what that meant was like, you know, “Be the best. Be the brightest.” That’s was what he was trying to tell via Excelsior - be the best, be the brightest, go for it. And that’s what I want VWC troops to be. I want you to see this award – I want you to aspire to a force multiplier and be the change you wanna see in the world.

I’ll tell you – because this is going out tomorrow, so when people hear this, they’re like “Oh, snap! This person won it?” The person that won it, his name is Nathan B. Hanks. He is an Army veteran that – he came back home with post-traumatic stress. How he dealt with post-traumatic stress is he hiked the Appalachian Trails. All those mountains. Me, the minute I got out of my boots, I stopped hiking. I was like, “No more ruck marches for me, homie. Not ever. No.”

He then came back home, he learned how to code… He wanted to learn how to code to change his – to get better jobs. But he also wanted to learn how to code to be able to create his own nonprofit. So he came in, learned how to code, built his own nonprofit; a nonprofit focused on writing. Oh, he’s a bestseller, too. The dude wrote a book about his experience in dealing with PTSD while hiking.

[36:06] Is that right?

Yes. I’ll send you the link once we get off.

What’s the title of the book?

Let me check that out right now. “Waking up on the Appalachian Trail.” 78 ratings, 4.4 out of 5 on Amazon right now. But it’s [unintelligible 00:36:34.21] He wrote a book about it, and then – yeah, he returned home, was too in Iraq, and able to answer his most basic question… “Determined to find clarity and forge a new identity outside the U.S. Army, Nate alongside his brother Dan, a recent college grad, landed his entry to the Great Recession job market set out to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail.”

2000 miles, man… Wow.

Yeah. I’m not doing that.

That’s not even flat. That’s up and down.

Yes. Elevation…

I lived in Pennsylvania, so I’m originally from Pennsylvania. I live in Texas now. So I know the Appalachian Trail is not flat, by any means… [laughs] They call it the Appalachian Mountains for a reason.

Every time I think about it, I just start rubbing my knees. I’m like, “No, I can’t be out here, in these streets, like that, homie…”

So did he have a ruck on? Do you know much about the story then? Did he have a rucksack on?

Yeah, he said he had a ruck… like he says, unpredictable weather, brutal terrain, straining health, fractured mind all this stuff.

I bet you that’s probably the most free he’s been in his whole life though… Despite the PTSD – I can imagine that’s a struggle for him, but that’s the time when you’re free, when you’re in the elements, on your own. This is an opt-in. This isn’t like “I’m stranded.” This is like “I wanna do it on purpose.” Probably planned for months, or not… At least a day.

You don’t know if he’s a thinker or a psycho, right?

Well, I just imagine, what a free… It reminds me of that movie with Reese Whitherspoon. It was a Pacific North-West thing, where it’s common to hike this particular trail… And she did it as a journey. It reminds me of that story.

It’s his crucible, right? That is what it was; it was his crucible for clarity, to get to the next level.

That’s right. He was a Marine, right? No, he was in the U.S. Army, never mind.

Yeah. Crucible is a Marine thing, right?

Yeah, I think so… But I just use the term crucible as like, you know, it’s your thing that you have to go through to get to the other end of being a better person. My crucible was the Great Recession.

I don’t know who I would be if it wasn’t for that Great Recession. Vets Who Code wouldn’t exist, that’s for sure. People probably wouldn’t even look at Vets Who Code if it wasn’t for the Great Recession, because so many of us were looking for a different way to get – I’m sorry, my dog is losing his mind, so [unintelligible 00:38:55.25] is probably here.

I’ve got a pup too, so it happens every once in a while…

Mine’s a little pup though, not a big dog. That sounds like a big dog.

I have 200 pounds’ worth of dog. I have a 60-pound Akita, and a 100-pound Great Pyrenees, and I’ve got a 30-pound of a Terrier. These are my – my smallest dog is like 30 pounds.

I’ve got a 25-pound mini doodle. However, I used to have a 100-pound Rhodesian Ridgeback.

Oh man, that’s a big dog.

And I got this new dog – my wife and kids wanted a dog; I did not want a new animal in the house… I’m a lover. You come in my house, I’m gonna love you. You’re family. Even if you’re an animal – I mean, obviously, right? A lot of people love their animals. But I’m gonna love you. And I loved my last dog so much, I didn’t wanna open my heart back up to a new animal. So my heart was still closed off to a new animal being in the house, all that good stuff. So Toby was his name, he was a phenomenal dog; I missed him so much… So getting Rex, our new dog – so our little mini doodle is named Rex, short for T-Rex.

We’ve got kids, so dinosaurs are a big thing around here, so… T-Rex is one of the most iconic dinosaurs. So we called him Rex. But he’s 28 pounds. He’s not a big dog.

Our dog’s name is Ty. Our smallest dog is Ty, for Tyrion Lannister. His real name is Tyrion Lannister Hardaway.

Nice, okay…

And then we have Wolfgang Amadeus Hardaway, and my wife - she always wanted a Great Pyrenees, so we just had this Great Pyrenees… I was like, “You know what - I’m tired of fancy names. Let’s just call him Fletcher, move along with it.” I get tired of these names.

But yeah, Nate - he’s winning it. He learned how to do React, he created his non-profit using React and serverless technologies… Then he taught himself .NET and ended up getting his first tech job. At this current job, he was like “Look, I really love working for y’all, but I wanna be into code, so I’m just letting you know my intent that I’m probably gonna move off from this position for a new software engineering position.” And they were like, “We don’t wanna lose you, because you’re such a great person. You know what - let’s talk about this, and let’s see what you can do.” And he sent me a note. He was like, “By the time you get this, I’ll be in my first week as a software engineer.” And I was like, “Oh my–” Because he got it right when our baby was due. So I was literally running back from the hospital and I had a note with some stickers in my mailbox, and I was like, “Oh my God. This is the best part of my day right now.”

So for me, that’s amazing, because all the negative stereotypes we have as veterans, to see a person put boot to a** in his community to the point where his job doesn’t wanna lose him, and they look at him for another something that’s more of his passion, so they can have him - hey, that speaks volumes. That’s what Stan Lee and Steve Ditko Bob Ross, what they did it for. That’s what they did their things for. Bob Ross - he went to Alaska, he saw the mountains, and started painting. He was like, “Yo, I’m done with this yelling at people thing.”

And he was such a calm-spirited person, too.

Yeah, but he was a drill sergeant. That’s what they don’t tell you.

Is that right?

Yes, he was a drill sergeant at one point.

I didn’t know if his military – I watched the Netflix thing on him recently, but I don’t know a ton about Bob Ross’ actual past. I didn’t even know he was in the military.

Yeah, he was Air Force, his last base was [unintelligible 00:42:40.22] saw the mountains and he was like, “Peace out. I’m gonna draw these for the rest of my life.” [laughter] [unintelligible 00:42:47.25] Steve Ditko was a coast guard, Stan Lee was U.S. Army, you have Jack Kirby, who was also U.S. Army… These world creators, these people who – you know, they were multipliers. They showed a different side of us as veterans, as veteran culture, that isn’t the thing that puts dollars on a lot of people’s plates, unless you’re the anomaly, right? And they showed this other side of the world. And especially in tech, where I don’t feel like we need to be trying to push this grunt-style black rifle coffee look with veterans in tech… Because they don’t even think about those guys being – you know, Stan Lee, Bob Ross, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby being veterans - they don’t even know that veterans have already influenced so much of their life, right? You know, the only veteran that they think about really is Chuck Norris, right? Because of all the jokes. He’s Air Force, Security Forces, Defensive Forces in these streets. So that’s where this award comes from, and that’s why I’m so happy to give it to Nathan, because I’m like –

[44:07] Excelsior.

Yeah. That’s part of my legacy. I want to be the person that brings the veterans that are the true force multipliers of our society, and give them the fire of code, and give them every opportunity and experience I can… And you know, if you go to a podcast on the HashFlag Nation Podcast that Nate and I did, and I told him the story of when I started Vets Who Code, how as a nonprofit I had another nonprofit director - who knew my work, knew my heart, knew my desire is to help people - tried to bury me, because all he saw was that “If you get into this bucket, that’s less money for my nonprofit.” And that had impacted me so much in my youth, that when Nathan - when he started his nonprofit, I reached out, I asked him if he needed help with anything… I was the first person to make donation dollars. I put him on podcasts, made sure people heard about his nonprofit, I was personally tweeting about his nonprofit… Even on Veterans Day we’re talking about his nonprofit, because he has stipends to help veteran writers, storytellers – he essentially pays as they finish their books, and stuff… And he takes care of food, rent, everything. And I’m like, that’s amazing. He was inspired by another Excelsior veteran, Adam Driver. He’s the dude that was in Star Wars.

I love that. He was a Marine.

Yeah. People don’t look at Adam Driver and see a Marine.

I love that TED talk he gave… And I’m also thankful he did that, because I wouldn’t – I mean, you pay attention to an actor, but once I learned about his story… And that’s what’s interesting about humanity at large - I re-shaped who I thought Adam Driver was as a person based upon his story.

You can pre-judge or assume certain things about a person, but then you learn about their struggle, and you learn about the commitment he had to his unit, and how he didn’t wanna leave them, and how that led him to L.A, and turning into an actor, reluctantly, in some cases. I think that’s really an interesting path. I gained a lot of respect for Adam Driver after hearing hat.

Yeah. What other Marine – oh, there’s another marine that is a… I call him an Excelsior veteran as well, but… He did Terminal Lance… Do you remember Terminal Lance?

Oh man… He’s the one that coined the E-4 Mafia, man… I love that dude. I can’t remember his name, I’m brain-fogging on his name, but… Terminal Lance creator is like – he was my hero. Maximilian – Lance Corporal Maximilian Uriarte. He created Terminal Lance, and it’s just a comic about Marines; the behind-the-scenes of Marines. So he’s like a real author and comic now. He’s world-famous. But he was a Marine Corps vet, and he was just like – I just wanna show the other side of being a Marine. Instead of this hardcore stuff, let’s talk about mandatory fun days… Because we wanna do – at Vets Who Code we wanna do a retreat, and people are like “What should we do?” I was like, “Well, I don’t wanna do any of that crazy [unintelligible 00:47:44.27] stuff. What do we do to keep it veteran, to keep it normal?” They were like, “Let’s have a mandatory fun day.” I was like, “That sounds perfect.” That’s right up my alley. We’re gonna have a mandatory fun day. In 2022 we come out, have a mandatory fun day, get everybody in one city.

[48:02] And every year we pick a different city and have a mandatory fun day. That would be the whole vibe of – you know, not talking about tech, or anything… Just a bunch of veterans celebrating the idea that, you know, we’re here to make the world a better place for those who didn’t come back home with us. We’re gonna come in here, we’re gonna push these pixels, and we’re gonna kick ass, right? That’s what I want it to be.

So that’s another thing that we’re working on… Like I said, we’re working on a lot of things for the next –

You’re busy, man… Y’all are busy.

We are. Absolutely. I think people don’t understand how busy I am, because I’m doing this – like, the first seven years of Vets Who Code was great; we got media and everything else… But now, over the course of the next five years, I want to be the creator, the distributor. I wanna be able to come to people [unintelligible 00:48:55.23] here’s what we’ve been doing in our codebases… Here’s what we’ve been doing, this is how we use AWS, this is how we use Netlify, this is how we use all this stuff”, and you’re like, “Wow, you’re creating an entire ecosystem.” That’s what we wanna do. That’s what I wanna do. I wanna be like Jack Kirby, a world creator.

So you work at Microsoft though, right?

Yeah, and they’re super-supportive of the work I do. My manager –

Do you put in like 60 hours a week, 80 hours a week, 40 hours a week?

40 hours. They believe in work-life balance, one, and two –

I mean, at large. Work for you at large.

Oh, for me, VWC…

Like, at large.

For VWC, myself, and I do contract work, I help nonprofits modernize their stuff… I’ve actually been working with these villages… They’ve just got a new website, I helped them get a new hire, I’ve taught the new hire some serverless things, so they can get it to the next level with serverless technologies.

But between contract work, helping nonprofits get into the 21st century, my nonprofit work and Microsoft, I think I’m pushing to 75-80-hour workdays. And you know, then I make sure I have time for family… But yeah, I think 75-80 hours…

I’m just adding up how much you do and how much time is available too, and I’m just thinking - wow. It’s a lot.

But it’s about chunking. I think people have this idea when it comes to productivity of staying focused on one thing, and [unintelligible 00:50:41.16] You do the task, and then you chunk it. For instance, when I do my personal planning meeting, I know which task from which – like, I have Obsidian, Notion, and I have a Kanban board from GitHub. So when I’m in my planning meeting, I’m in Obsidian, I’m doing this mindmap of like – I have these three giant folders. One Vets Who Code, one for contracts stuff… Well, four. Sorry. One for family, and one for Microsoft. And I look at every task that I have coming up, and what task makes the most sense to connect, regardless. It’s not for like the company, it’s for like how the brain works. Documentation reading and study goes great with emails. So I use email to warm up the brain, to then jump to documentation and learning. Because now I’ve already been writing on this other stuff… Then I can do that, and jump straight into some code, and I know my code is gonna be more productive because I’ve been learning, right?

Then I check my energy levels throughout the day, so I know – you know, your body is weird… Actually, you have to have a certain – when you’re in a learning phase, it helps to have a certain level of calmness, and being [unintelligible 00:52:02.08] while being up, to really make things stick. Because you have to focus.

[52:08] Whereas with me, with code, I am literally hardcore hip-hop in the ears. My wife [unintelligible 00:52:14.05] because she’s like “Dude, it sounds like – you’re either doing drugs, or you’re in a club in here. Either one, you need to be putting headphones on.” [laughs]

Yeah. Protect the ears.

Yes. Protect her ears, not mine.

Oh, okay… Somebody’s ears at least…

Yeah. Military already got my hearing. I’m already –

Yeah, I figured your hearing, too… I meant protecting – yeah, from the lyrics, is what I mean.

Yeah. So doing that… And that’s how I do things. And my espresso machine is my best friends. I go downstairs… Especially when I feel overwhelmed, I go downstairs, I do that process of making an espresso… And then while I’m working on that, [unintelligible 00:52:55.19]

I’m very much about – and I’m a big fan of minimalization of tools. You’ve heard about the Notion, Obsidian and GitHub, about the Moleskine, but once I get past that, that’s it. Those are the only tools I use. When people talk about all their plugins… I use Terminal, Visual Studio Code, Chrome. That’s it. If I have to work on anything, that’s it.

Visual Studio Code gets better every day. You can now do Jupyter Notebooks in there, you can draw in there now… So I use literally – I use Visual Studio Code for everything. And whether I’m doing DevOps stuff – I’m on GitHub, GitHub Actions, I’m doing TerraForm stuff in there, I have GitHub Copilot as a plugin… I am in there, focusing on using as few tools as possible, so I can maximize my time from subject to subject.

Keep it simple.

Yes. And voice. That’s one thing that I’ve found that people are really not there yet… We have a lot of talk-to-text technologies… For instance, my newsletter I was sending out today - I spoke it, the iPhone wrote it in Notes, now I’m gonna take that, put it in Grammarly, make sure it doesn’t sound like a country kid from Tennessee wrote it… [laughter] [unintelligible 00:54:28.03] send it to the designer, tell the designer “Do what you need to do with it”, and move on from that. That’s my life.

That’s it, man.

So that’s how I do it. That’s the whole science. And that’s a super – that’s another lifehack that I have. People think I’m busy… I’m optimized. I’m busy on the things that I focus on, but 80% of my time – well, not 80%. I would say 20% of my time I spend finding people who are more on fire for certain things, that I have taught or trained, than myself… And giving them that agency to run with it. Because that’s the secret of a great leader. One thing I try to tell my troops with Vets Who Code is “I’m already FAANGAM. Everybody already knows my name. I don’t need Vets Who Code. My job at Vets Who Code is to teach you how to leverage Vets Who Code to get everything you need to get out of it. That’s my job. I need to make sure you know how to leverage every tool, resource and person in Vets Who Code to get your career where you want it to be, faster than I got my career where I want it.” Because I’m at apex. Literally, the only jobs that are out there for me to go to is other big tech jobs. That’s not even my desire; I love Microsoft. I’m a workaholic, and this is where work happens.

Mm-hm. What’s this term you use…? You said “fang out”?

What does that mean?

Well, I guess MANGAM now, right? So you have Meta, a.k.a. formally Facebook, and you have Apple…

[56:08] Right, okay. I thought it was this. I was making sure if it was that.

Yeah. So it’s FAANG, and then M. But now I guess it’s MAANG, yeah.

FAANG. Okay, gotcha. So what’s the terminology then? So you say you FAANG ‘em out? Is that what you’re saying?

Yeah, I’m FAANGed out, I’m already there.

Okay, gotcha. You’ve arrived. *************

Yeah, I’m there. Right now, it’s only up in these industries, up in these companies. So you now have to leverage Vets Who Code to do that. That’s your goal, that’s your entire mission. If you need training, talk to me. If you need me to connect you with a high-level mentor, speak to me. If you need me to connect you to – like, if you have a passion that I may not be the best person [unintelligible 00:56:50.00] I’m connected in every part of the industry. I can connect you with people in infrastructure and SRE, even though I don’t do anything with SRE. I can [unintelligible 00:57:02.18] people that are making low-level build tools… I know a guy with a Ph.D. in Egypt who focuses on garbage collection. So I can do it all. I can do what I do well, and if I don’t do it well, I know who to connect you to. So talk to me about what you wanna do, where you wanna go.

And that’s my life’s work. That’s my legacy. I wanna be the dude that – basically, I want the HashFlag coin to be worth, on average, $85,000 to a recruiter. When that HR or recruiter sees that, “Oh, that’s an $85,000 troop there, minimum. That person right there is worth $85,000, because he/she has the HashFlag coin.” That’s my life’s work.

The average salary of entry-level is anywhere – the national average is from 49k to 94k. I want that number to be 85k. So they know “I need to start at 85k, and probably go up some, because I know that this person is gonna come into my industry, come to our job, and they’re gonna bring it.”

That’s my life’s work. When I’m done with Vets Who Code, I want people to be able to say that - “Jerome - his people come in here and they crush it.”

I get it, yeah. High speed, right?

Low drag. [laughs] High speed, low drag. Remember those? Oh, man…

That’s right.

[unintelligible 00:58:35.21]

I only got to the high speed part. I got the low drag too, but I would only get the high speed part, because that’s what I was. I was always high speed. Spit shine and high speed, you know?

They don’t shine boots anymore. They don’t iron –

What? That’s a shame.

Well, it kind of makes sense… The shiny boots don’t really do well in that desert environment…

Well, you’re always on base though… It’s not about this shiny though, so… I don’t know what the reason for it is…

Well, think about the cost though, right? So now you’ve gotta have a pair of shiny boots, and –

It’s about honor, man… It’s about honoring the uniform, man… For me.

Yes, for us. But it also goes back to –

If you’re in combat, you don’t need to shine your boots in combat, for sure. If you’re deployed, don’t even think about it.

Think about the government, right? So we’re in a situation where now every – you know, back in my day you had to have DCUs and BDUs. So now taxpayers are giving you stipends and money to spend [unintelligible 00:59:36.05] just to be prepared for when you go to the dessert. Versus now, where you’ve got the ABUs or ACUs - you’re combat-ready no matter way you are. Suede boots, come out ready wherever – I mean, this stuff works well…

I guess so, yeah.

Same way with tech, right? The number one job of a technologist is –

So are they pressing uniforms, or are they not pressing uniforms?

Oh, no. They’re not doing that either.

The uniforms are wrinkle-free now, right?

You’ve gotta be kidding me… They’re not pressing uniforms?

I mean, they’re still cutting their hair, and stuff…

Okay, good…

Even though Navy did change regs…

[01:00:10.23] Are they still running? Are they doing push-ups?

Yeah, they’re still running… The Army has change PT to the point where it’s closer to strength… Strength and explosiveness. Which makes sense, because [unintelligible 01:00:22.01]

I’m throwing a little bit of shade, because things change. I’m just throwing a little bit of shade because things change.

Yes… [laughs]

But I’m so disconnected from that change… Like, I don’t pay attention to those rulebooks, so I’m a little surprised by a couple of them, so I threw a little bit of shade.

Yeah. Navy allows them to have a beard now…

What?! Gosh, [unintelligible 01:00:39.11]

Yeah, that’s the part, right? Yeah, so you can have a beard, as long as – it cannot be crazy design. It has to be natural. It still has to be –

The whole point of the beard was to be able to put the gas mask on, right? So you can get sealed.

Come to find out, that’s been untrue the entire time.

No way… You can still get a seal without that?

Yes, it’s been a lie.

Liars, man… Liars.

Man, my world is being turned upside down right now, Jerome… Come on, man.

The generals lied to us. The generals lied to us. You can absolutely get a seal on a gas mask with like the five o’clock beard. You can’t go out here like with the operator beard and then put on a gas mask. That ain’t gonna work.

Gotcha, yeah.

But yeah, something nice and clean - you can do it. Women - they’re allowing to have their hair a little longer, and they’ve added a bunch of new hairstyles.

That never made any sense to me, with women’s haircuts in the military, the length and stuff like that. I can see having a consistency, a uniform. That’s the whole point of uni in uniform; it’s one way, it’s a way to do things, and it’s consistency for the attire, but… I don’t know, man…

That’s what happens when dudes are making the rules about shit they don’t understand. [laughs] Like, yeah, they’re letting the women have a lot of protective styles… I mean, I didn’t even know what a protective style was until I got seriously dating, and stuff… I was like, “Oh…” People don’t think about braids as a super-protective style for women. They don’t have to do a lot with it, it protects their hair from breaking… And then it gets out the way. So they don’t have to wear – I don’t know if you remember how horrible helmets/kevlars were back in the day… Like, you put on the kevlar, and you have to wear a beanie underneath the kevlar…

Never. I just put that thing on.

[unintelligible 01:02:33.02] and we had like these Vietnam-era kevlars…

I don’t know if it was Vietnam-era. It was definitely old, but…

Yeah, this thing was old…

It just had like a little mesh on the top. Like a big, thick, banded mesh, if I recall correctly.

No, my first kevlar was [unintelligible 01:02:55.06] I did not trust that kevlar. I was like, “Oh, no… I thought we were Air Force. Why am I getting this Walmart kevlar? I’m not about this life… Somebody give me some new equipment now… Who do I talk to? Where’s the manager?”

So things have changed, basically. Things have changed.

Yes, yes, yes.

Okay… Alright…

Well, because you know, looking at it –

I can’t believe they’re not pressing their uniforms. That’s a real bummer.

I mean, when you’re getting shot at, do you really care about the creases?

You know, so –

No. [laughs]

Absolutely not, you’re right. So you’re right; so the tacticality of it, I understand that. But – and maybe this is why I’m so surprised and emotionally attached to this, because whenever I was in… It’s part of my leadership journey. My first time I was given leadership was in the military. And whenever I share any story with people today, like when I share who I am now, today, as a leader - my beginning began whenever my drill sergeant, whenever I was in my MOS, learning my MOS, I was a bad… I wouldn’t say I was the best soldier, let’s just say. I was in the third rank, somewhere in the middle, trying to hide, I wasn’t trying to excel, I wasn’t that into it, I was kind of homesick, I was kind of friend-sick… And the drill sergeant says “Stacoviak! First squad leader.”

[01:04:23.25] And I didn’t know what that meant, I didn’t know what that was gonna do to me… All I knew now was I was in a position of leadership. Because I wasn’t the platoon leader, I was first squad leader, which means I’m second in command, I’m called to do more action… And that was somebody – they sponsored me, essentially, in the leadership.

And at the time at least, culturally, it was about spit shine boots, press your uniform, learn uniform code of military justice, learn all the different things about military history… Just different things like that. You took it more seriously.

So I did that stuff, and one of the ways I showed off my, I suppose, pride in the uniform and respect for what it was to be a soldier, and what it meant to be in the military, what it meant to have that honor, was to take care of the uniform, to honor the uniform. And so that’s why I think I have that disconnect. I totally agree. If you’re in combat, don’t press your uniform.

Alright, so you’re thinking of the –

It’s about honoring the uniform and honoring the integrity…

…nostalgia. That’s not what you learned. You’re thinking about nostalgia of the action, and how it made you feel. But what they instilled with you with that was taking care of your work. Caring about your craft.

Like, alright, let’s look at [unintelligible 01:05:41.29] I guarantee you, if you look at your process when it comes to getting podcasts out, to take care of your uniform, there are some one to one correlations to how you had knowledge transfer from that to this.


Let’s think about how they do it now, instead of taking care of the uniform. They focus on the SOPs, they focus on the training, they focus on – you know, we have to make this thing clear; we have to take care of the things that matter, so that people can have pride in knowing their job… Because that’s most important today.

I grew up in the BDUs, like – you know, I was security forces; they basically have razor-sharp creases… It was ridiculous.

Right. On your sleeves.

Yeah. You could cut a person with those. I know every trick to make your uniform like [unintelligible 01:06:43.23] I’m that dude, I was trying the uniform inside out, [unintelligible 01:06:49.04] and then letting it stay overnight until you could crack it, and stuff. Then ironing that.

And shining your boots, and then turning around and using a lighter on your boots to get the polish right into the pores, and then making sure you use cold water after you touch the heat, to get that super-shine, super-fast.

See? Yeah.

I’ve been there. I was there. But –

And I can agree that’s a waste of time. I can agree it’s a waste of time…

Yeah, that was a waste of time.

They call it busy work.

Yes. When you’re thinking about “I need my troops to be mentally sound and well-rested”, but now you’ve just spent an hour and a half on boots, and stuff.

Right. I can agree with that.

When you could have been becoming a better combatant, or going to the gym and being better [unintelligible 01:07:32.22] scores. Or studying, right? Or doing something for the mental health.

I’m folding. I’m getting down with this, okay?

Yeah. And you have to think about the new military–

Give the suede boots, and I don’t wanna have to iron my uniform anymore, okay?

[laughs] There you go. And then, it’s all about right now. A lot of people aren’t noticing, but a lot of the changes are more about transition and recruitment than the military lifestyle. Because these new kids, they are not stupid. They have YouTube, they have Instagram, they’ve got TikTok, and these veterans are getting on TikTok, these active duty troops are getting on these social medias and they’re telling their stories without the military interference.

That’s right.

[01:08:17.29] So they’re creating these changes, because what’s the number one deterrent before (I would say) 2015-2016, in the military? It was obesity. Around 2016-2017 it became soldier suicide, because it became such a big thing… And people were like, “Okay, do I really wanna serve my country to come out with some issues, and not get the proper support for mental health?” So a lot of this is about – they look at the services, and they wanna get the services… Like, they wanna make it separate, but they also want being able to transition smoothly. Very important, right? And so we have to keep the things that make us a fighting force there, but the things that don’t make us a fighting force there - we can fill it with something that can make a healthier Air Force, or a healthier army, a healthier space for us, whatever that looks like there. Then let’s implement that.

I’m sorry, Space Force people, for venting out here. I don’t know what you do… I hear about, you know, the marketing team brings their GPS, but I’m like “We had GPS my whole life.” I don’t understand it. So… [laughs] I’m just [unintelligible 01:09:35.17] “Why are you here, bro?”

Yeah… My military didn’t involve Space Force. It’s still sort of surreal to think about Space Force being a military force.

Because – you know, what you said makes so much sense. Essentially, what Space Force is is all the space commands that grew up, that were in the military. You know, Navy had their own space command. Army had theirs. Marines had theirs. Air Force had theirs. So we’re just consolidating that and making it Space Force. I’m like, “Alright, if we’re gonna do that, why not consolidate all the logistics components?” Every other service has logistics, right? And every other service has MPs, right? But the thing is, they are [unintelligible 01:10:18.13] federal-level police thing. I just saw with security forces - they’re trying to make at least 6,000 security forces the next two years, essentially like federally-trained police officers. I was like, “Man…” Yeah, so they’re gonna start that transition, like, of already having you federally-trained to be a police officer before you get out of service. And I’m like, “I actually like that.”

We have to have less wasted time, right? I mean, if you’re gonna put the time in to serve your country, being able to transition and leverage career capital, basically, into something else… Even if you don’t use it directly; if it can be a jump-off point, if it can be a reference point… Something like that, that translates.

Yes, you’re absolutely right.

That totally makes sense. There’s just a lot of wasted – I will agree, 100%, there’s a lot of wasted time in the military. At least from my perspective, it was “Hurry up and wait.”

[laughs] Death by [unintelligible 01:11:12.19]

You know what I’m saying? Hurry up and wait. Be here – if you’re 15 minutes early, you’re still late, and when you get there early, not on time, you’re probably gonna do some push-ups, because why not… And then you’re still gonna wait.

15 minutes prior, and 15 minutes prior.

Yeah. The first sergeant will say “Be here at 0800”, your squad leader might say, “Okay, 0715.”

You’ve gotta be there early, for some reason. You’ve gotta meet, for some reason. It’s like, “Okay, we’re 45 minutes early, and the first sergeant actually made us early, too.” So we had to be there till nine o’clock. Next thing you know, we’re there an hour and forty-five minutes early, we miss breakfast, we spit shined our boots the night before, we pressed our uniform… A lot of wasted time.

Now you see how [unintelligible 01:11:57.17] like, “Oh, man…”

Yeah. A lot of wasted time.

And still people are like – you know, a 12-hour shift in the military is really like a 14-15 hour shift. So it’s not–

Maybe it’s because you’re young, maybe… I mean, the majority… So the majority of people that are new in the military are younger. Just by nature. I mean, I was 18.

[01:12:18.28] So you think it’s designed to keep us out of trouble? Because that don’t work…

No, I mean, I just think that you’ve got maybe more energy, so you could be abused more, to some degree.

You’re more resilient. You can stay up later and get up earlier.

No, I remember it sucking, and that’s why –

It did suck.

Because we don’t have that balance. That’s why active duty troops go so hard [unintelligible 01:12:38.22] when it comes to partying. And then you go – you know, I was a [unintelligible 01:12:42.11] in the military…

Oh, my gosh…

So I didn’t drink, I didn’t do any of that. I was a go-to-the-gym type of dude. I was a gym nerd. I was a boxing gym nerd, a fitness gym nerd… That was my thing; that’s my party. So you go to the gym, and you’re [unintelligible 01:12:59.06] sparring practice… So you get back to the squadron Monday, there’s a DUI that you had nothing to do… And you know, we’re old-school, so when one person got in trouble on something like DUI, everybody [unintelligible 01:13:12.18]

Everybody got in trouble, yeah.

And that person is getting bad conduct.

Wow. I’ve got some stories, man… I’ve got some stories. [laughter]

That’s what I’m saying, like “Oh, man…”

I lived close to Canada and I was under 21. Me and my buddies were under 21, so we were in Canada a lot.

I was stationed at [unintelligible 01:13:27.28] Air Force Base at one point in my career. This was essentially nine months to spring break. So spring break started in February when the college kids from Canada started calming down, and didn’t end till like September. That’s spring break in Panama City.

Like… Wow. I don’t even wanna talk about this on air. [unintelligible 01:13:51.00]

Well, a little teaser there… So for listeners catching up, still deep in this somewhat tangent… This is a mixture of Air Force life and military life for the army as well… Because it’s just a different time. I’m 42, man. I’m not 21 anymore. I was in the military 18 to 21. 22-ish, something like that. I mean, those were a whole different Adam. A whole different Adam, with a different set of agendas, a different set of goals, a different set of experience… And so that’s like Adam beta. I don’t even know if I was like a 1.0. It was a different version of Adam, basically.

Yeah. I try to tell people that… I have a friend I tell, like, nostalgia – what happens is the further you get away from something, the more you miss it, because you forget how much that thing sucked when you were in it… And the thing that people like us - all we’re doing is we’re reminiscing about how it made us feel, but we’re not thinking about… You know, we were complaining the entire time, like “Yo, this is stupid.”

I was super-broke, that’s one I remember, too. I was BROKE. My gosh. My wife’s like, “How much money did you make in the military?” I’m like, “Not much.” I remember writing down – I didn’t have a computer then, because this is 2001. I didn’t have a computer; I really didn’t. I didn’t have a computer until I was out of the military, and I was 21 years old. So every day I’d be writing down my bills, like “Okay, I’ve gotta pay this.” It’d be like $18 for this… And that’s nickel and diming, basically. Writing down, “Okay, I’ve got a $10 bill here, and – okay, minus, minus, minus… Okay, I’ve got $120 to spend, for the rest of the month.” If that. After paying for my car, and all that stuff like that. I didn’t make a lot of money.

[01:15:54.10] It’s kind of crazy that you actually wrote your stuff down. They had this thing when I was in it where you could take your bills to services… Well, finance. They’ve merged Services and Finance, into some like MPF type thing. You’d take your bills to finance, they could log it in, so you didn’t even see that money come out. Like, that money would come out your check before it even hit your bank account.

Is that right?

It made life really easy then, I guess.

Yes and no… Because you were like, “Man, my money – this is crazy.”

Yeah, I get it. How much did you get paid a month? 120 bucks. [laughs]

“They say I make this much money? I am not seeing that. Like, I need to make some life changes.”

And people think that active duty troops make bank, because they see the Marine with like a Mustang… And it’s like, “No, that dude gets like 30% markup, and…”

Oh, gosh… Yeah.

That’s the one thing I went – please… Like, if you know any people trying to get in the military, especially young people, please tell them “Do not buy a car from any car dealership near the installation.”

Oh my gosh, yes… Please go very far away… It should be illegal, it’s so predatory. Yeah. It’s so predatory…

And I learned this the hard way. I was trying to get more involved in my community in Tyndall in Panama City, and I had learned that there was an era – there was a time at the school they taught economics. And what had happened was… Because the first biggest funding thing for the city was military. The second was spring break. Third was car dealerships. Well, because people that would come out of high school and had learned about interest and all this other stuff - they were not buying these cars. So two years later, they stopped teaching economics in the high schools, because the businesspeople were like “The things you’re teaching in school is impacting our bottom line.” And that was the first time I was like –

That’s so crazy.

People are like “Why don’t we learn taxes in school?” I was like, “Because it impacts somebody’s bottom line, somewhere in your government’s pipeline.”

That’s right.

That’s why your kids [unintelligible 01:18:24.01] that you’ve never heard of, but they can’t balance their own stuff…

Yeah. It’s rigging the system, essentially. It’s censorship of knowledge, essentially.

Oh, that’s what it is. And putting the onus on you, or the parent, or…

That’s disgusting, man.

Yeah. I learned that while in the military.

It’s so unamerican, even.

Actually, [unintelligible 01:18:49.23] a lot of cities and municipalities do that… So it’s almost as American as apple pie.

Okay… Let me rephrase then. It should be unamerican.

It should be unamerican.

You shouldn’t treat your fellow country people that way. Just using the car dealership as an example, if you educate people of what interest rates are, how they work, how they impact your credit, what happens if you miss a payment, what it means to have your car repossessed - if you’re educated to that and you make a wiser decision on a purchase, with your own dollars that you’re working hard for, and you’re serving the country to get those dollars… Shame on you. You know what I’m saying? Shame on you for suppressing that.

Well, what is it that lawyers – the number one thing that they focus on when you go to law school for like the first two years is developing your moral pit. You have to be able to do the thing that’s best for the client, but that might not necessarily be best for society… Because the best lawyers - you know, if the best lawyers [unintelligible 01:19:54.09] type deal, right?

[01:19:58.01] That’s right, man…

[unintelligible 01:19:58.02] And when you come to those municipalities and those areas - it’s what it’s supposed to be… And it’s really weird as a society. That’s when I look at politics and things now these days, I’m like – you know, when I look at algorithms these days, I think about like “How do we make our algorithms and our programming more holistic?” Because I look at the Audi thing, where they were having the algorithm lie about emissions. And I look at how the manager of the programmer didn’t go to jail, the CEO didn’t go to jail, but the programmer went to jail. So the dude that wrote the code was the only person who got punished for this big lie… And I was like, “How do I solve this problem?” [dogs barking] I have no idea what’s going on there, but…

Pups, man. Pups. Pups do what they do.

Yeah. We have talked about everything today though… It’s crazy. And we’ve been on here for like an hour and a half. So what else do you wanna know?

You know, let’s come back to Vets Who Code. I think that 1) I started off saying – you know, I have thought about you quite a bit, and I am a veteran, and obviously, a large part of my story is my time in the military service… And my advice to people too - if I meet a mom or something like that, and they’re like “Hey, I’ve got a kid, I’ve got my son there, they wanna go in the military. My daughter wants to go in the military. What do you think? Is that smart?” And my answer is a couple different versions of it, but my point is that I love the military and I think it does have its benefits… And I think it’s smart to do that. If you don’t have a plan in your life, and you don’t have grades to get in school or whatever, if you’re looking for an alternative – I think it’s great no matter what, whether you’re not smart even. Or super-smart even. I think regardless, you should do what you’ve gotta do, but I think the military taught me so much about leadership, taught me so much about discipline, way of life… All sorts of different stuff. So my advice is like - military. So I’m pro-military on that front.

I am, too. As a matter of fact, I’m very pro-military, and what I am is anti putting stigmas on the military. Because the issue is not the military, the issue is the stigmas that come from the military, in the civilian sector, that they push on us, to where you either have to fall in alignment to these stigmas or you’re not really military, one… Or two, we don’t get the types of services and opportunities because of the fact that we’re not military – I mean, the fact that we don’t have these stigmas.

One of my projects, one of my life’s works is I am trying to make sure that employers understand that you are fumbling the bag when you do not hire enlisted troops, particularly first-term troops; those troops that served 4-6 years. Because when you see about military veteran leadership, in the military, active duty, everybody’s a leader. That’s what they sell. You are a leader, at the lowest level, no matter what; you have the ability to change things. Then you get up to the civilian sector, and if you’re enlisted, you served for four years, you served for six years, they don’t even look at you. The only real thing they tell you to do is go to school and use [unintelligible 01:23:35.24] But an officer - you can do whatever.

The world opens up, yeah.

[01:23:44.22] So the enlisted corps is much larger than officer corps, so why is enlisted corps not being utilized? Because the harsh reality – like, I view the officer corps like I view doctors. The worst part about being a nurse is that the nurse in the enlisted corps teacher the officer how to do the duties, or the doctor how to do the duties of the job, and then they get all the respect… And you have some person coming in and taking a crap on you…

I’ve had to train officers and show them how to do things when I was in the military. Master sergeants are usually the first people – [unintelligible 01:24:20.23] they’re always linked up with the baby ALT, right?

Yeah. The E-4s, the E-7s are the ones that pour the most into your baby officers… And then these dudes - they get off military and they get treated with so much respect from the gate. [unintelligible 01:24:40.20] with an ALT, going over everything, like for a week, and teaching him so much stuff… And then I get out and people think I don’t have the abilities to do this. This is crazy.

So that is one of my things. That impacts me. I’m like, “How do I get Mr. Corporate America over here”, who knows nothing about military but what he saw on TV, to recognize that guess what - requiring a degree from a person that already did four years of on-the-job training, and in one of the world’s most elite fighting forces, may not be the smartest thing to do, and it’s actually hurting your bottom line, and it’s hurting [unintelligible 01:25:25.14] I love talking about forced multipliers. They’re like “What’s that?” I’m like, “Oh, y’all don’t have it because you don’t know what it is… You don’t have it because you’re too busy making the E-4’s and below go back to college, get burned out by college, and get all the good habits they had in the military worked out of them by being around civilians for four years.”

That’s right.

“That’s why you don’t know what a forced multiplier is.” A forced multiplier is somebody who comes in and 2x, 4x, 8x, 10x an entire workflow because they’re looking at the inches. They’re not just looking at the deliverables; they’re looking at the inches around the deliverables… Like, “Okay, here’s a deliverable… But here’s how I automate this deliverable so it never becomes a deliverable again. How do I automate it and make it so it’s transferable to another team?”

Military is on inner source style protocols before inner source was cool in a lot of these companies… And it’s hilarious – like, I’ll never forget being at an innersource meeting at a company two years ago, and I was like “This is the lamest meeting on Earth, because you all have never done this… I’ve been in the military and that’s all we do, is innersource technically.” Everybody learns from everybody. Every team, every unit learns from everybody.

That’s right.

Every force learns from everybody, and you all don’t know what other people learn.

Well, it comes down to – it’s kind of like guard duty. It’s that thing where it’s like, you can’t leave your post until properly relieved. It’s the same thing. You can’t leave your job or leave a post until you’re properly relieved, and that includes training. That doesn’t mean “They’re here. I leave.” It means “Are they equipped? Do they have the knowledge? Do they have the mindset?” All those things.

Or if you find a better tool, pass it on to other people.

Yeah, exactly. Transfer of knowledge.

Yes, knowledge transfer. Thank you. I view it in the way military working dogs – a military working dog is… Or police dogs, military working dogs - that’s normal right now, right? That wasn’t around until the Vietnam War, right? The security forces troops have created the military working dog program. Then they’ve scaled it and created innersource procedures and protocols, so that way other services could implement this as well.

[01:27:45.25] Same way with MP. Most MP schools are [unintelligible 01:27:48.29] the Navy trains right there with the Air Force how to do that, because we created this program on how to do law enforcement, and high-level air base defense, air base security… Because every naval ship is essentially a moving air base. So we did all this stuff, and then we scaled it and created a methodology to be able to have the other teams cross-functional, to be able to do the same thing.

And it’s funny to me, because [unintelligible 01:28:19.12] and they’re talking about it now, in the past 2-3 years, and I’m like “What is going on?” You think that you’re the lame, because you went to the military instead of college, and [unintelligible 01:28:34.00] “Oh, we’ve been doing that for a minute. I’m sorry, sir.” [laughter] Like, that’s kind of weird.

Or that also comes with my role of dealing with the military and Vets Who Code and working with all these other cool companies… Like, I end up working at places – until now, I ended up working at places where they’re just now getting onboarded with stuff that I’m not surprised or shocked about at all, because I’m like, “I’m already dealing with those people and seeing those things. I’ve already been exposed to that, and I’m working on it.”

The biggest problem that I have now, literally, in my life as the lead of Vets Who Code is “How do I transfer the things that I’ve been exposed to at this new level, and port that into the other people, so that way they can pour that into the people below them, and they can pour that into people below them, so that way the new person coming on Vets Who Code gets skills that the junior across the street from them at a for-profit school is never going to see until they get into the work force?” That is my – right now, that’s my big [unintelligible 01:29:49.23] I get exposed to things, because you know, I’m a GitHub star, I’m in a Cloudinary chain. I’m in all of these programs because of my work, and I get exposed to all of this stuff… And I’m like, “How do I transfer this down the pipeline?”

There are things about GitHub Actions and with GitHub that are coming down the pipeline and I’m just like, 1) How do I do it without breaking my NDA… [laughs] And how do I do it in a manner to really amplify these people’s power to get to work and change the game? That’s always my first thought - how do I make this new dev better than the old dev? How do I give this FAANGAM or this big tech technology exposure to people that don’t get that, or they’re not there yet? That’s my biggest problem. That’s the one problem that is not a child that keeps me up at night. [laughs]

That’s a good problem to have, and it’s a challenging problem.

It’s a horrible problem to have, because –

Good in terms of what the mission is, not like “Oh, I’m glad you’ve got that problem.” More like “That’s a good problem to have, because you’ve got the ability to take what you’ve worked hard to gain in your career, the path you’ve taken through the military, and your toughest problem with that is how to pass on this knowledge that you’re getting every single day, and enable.

I’m glad that you love it, because I hate it… Because all I see myself as is the gatekeeper. I’m not the person that I was [unintelligible 01:31:29.12] against, because I’m gatekeeping, because I have information and exposure to things that I have to figure out…

You could write a book… Talk to Nate, he’ll help you out.

[laughs] Yeah, I know, right? I think that’s one thing [unintelligible 01:31:44.04]

Documentation… Yeah, you’ve gotta find a way to document the ideas that you’ve got, and the knowledge you’ve got, the wisdom.

I just wish there was a way to just get into [unintelligible 01:31:55.15]

You know, anything worth doing is gonna be challenging, right? Anything worth doing is gonna be hard.

[01:32:04.13] Yes. But how do you – alright… For instance, the way I look at it - the past year I’ve been exposed to really high-level problems when it comes to data engineering. And that’s one thing - the scariest thing about that exposure is certain things don’t bother you, because you’ve seen scary things; like veterans, who are very fight-or-flight motivated. So I know right now my designer is probably blowing me up, because she wants the text for the newsletter… And it doesn’t really bother me, because I’ve been exposed to some crazy things, and I’m like “I’ll get it to you when I get it to you. It’s cool, it’s whatever.” And she’s like, “I’m gonna punch you in the face.” [unintelligible 01:32:40.24] But that is how I envision in Dragon Ball Z how Goku is with [unintelligible 01:32:52.23] He doesn’t register anymore… So like, how do I keep that growth mindset, that beginner’s mind, and focus on the problems that may matter to someone that’s not on my skillset or my exposure level yet? Because what has happened to me is their problem doesn’t matter to me anymore, because I’ve been exposed so much more.

“This is a very big problem… My CSS isn’t working.” Okay… I’ll get to that when I get to that. It’s not an end of the world thing. Like, “Oh, heck, this code isn’t working the way I want it to work.” We’ll figure it out. I literally – before I out parentally, I was dealing… Like, you see it in the news, where people are talking about the supply chain stuff… And we were literally working on stuff that impacts that. But that’s all I can say. But that is what I was working on at work. Like, I’m working on code that is impacting stuff with the entire country. It’s so crazy when you’re talking –

Large numbers of people. Yeah, it’s a mass impact.

Millions of people, right? And you’re sitting here, trying to stay in that beginner’s mindset when you know that this problem isn’t important now, but at one point it would have been. So you need to remember the empathy of “This person is you five years ago, so you need to bring yourself there.” And it is so tough, because people don’t recognize that they – you know, the thing that I never wanted to do, that I see other leaders do, they just put [unintelligible 01:34:54.02] between you and that person. “Okay, I don’t wanna deal with that problem. I’m gonna put somebody that’s not on my level, but has experience [unintelligible 01:35:01.07] in between you and me.” That sucks, because now every layer I put, I’m not impacting the people the way they should be impacted.

And you know, I don’t see the problems that people that don’t have experience are seeing. I don’t know if you’ve ever been on a call with another community organizer or leader, and - she was asking me advice. And I’ve been in this game so long, I could see that she was asking me advice, but she had a look on her face of another type of advice that she needed. She wanted to know the “Am I doing the right thing?” advice. I was like, “No, you’re doing the right thing.”

[unintelligible 01:35:40.07] Yes, it is the hardest thing you will ever do. You are dealing with people from all walks of life at all times… But this is also the most rewarding thing you will ever do in your life. And I had this 30-minute talk with her because I could see it in her face that this was not her problem. And she was like, “Thank you. You knew exactly what to say.”

[01:36:03.28] And I was like, if I had said “Hey, go talk to one of my senior-level people instead of me”, she would have just gotten the answers to the questions that asked, but not the answers to the questions that she was too afraid to ask, because she was worried of how she may come across. She didn’t want to feel like she was – because women, especially women in tech, have this stigma of like being weak, emotional [unintelligible 01:36:31.03] and we don’t recognize that you could be strong and emotional at the same time. I tell everybody, I work on that every day, because I’m old-school military still; you cry on the inside in the military I come from. I had a military dad. I was telling people on Twitter how my dad now is the best, most empathic grandparent ever, but that person to me is the old person [unintelligible 01:37:06.07] because I’m like, “Oh, this is the same dude that during the summer had us doing push-ups every time we went in and out the house, because he didn’t want us to keep running in and out”, because of the [unintelligible 01:37:15.25]

That’s right. You’re letting the cold out!

Yeah. This is the same dude – I tell people, I’m the first kid that had a curfew for when they could get up, because I was an early riser as a teenager, and my dad, he would wake up at 5:30, and one morning I was up at like 4:30. No alarm, nothing. I got up, and I was reading the newspaper before him… And since then, he was like “Look, don’t leave your room until after 5 AM.”

That’s right. “You’re not gonna [unintelligible 01:37:44.06]

“This is dad time. This is my quiet time. You’re un in the kitchen in my quiet time…”

That’s right. “My space, that’s your space…”

“I can’t have that.” I was like, “No. This dude –” If you brought home anything less than a B, the whole neighborhood, not just me… I was like “Now, imagine you’re the kid with the dad that all the parents knew “Hey, if you don’t bring home A’s and B’s - if you bring home a C, you’ve gotta go ruck marching with [unintelligible 01:38:15.24] tomorrow, over the weekend.” That was my dad. That was my pops. That’s my dad. He’s the Army guy who was making all the kids that brought home C’s ruck-march on Saturday. I was like, “That’s why I absolutely hate outside, to this day.” The minute I quit the military, I was like, “I’m not ruck-marching at all, ever.”

That’s right.

Don’t asking to go hiking at no waterfalls, nothing. Because this dude – he ruined outside for me. Outside sucks. So now, he’s getting on me for having controls on how long the kids can get on the Wi-Fi.

“Do you remember how you were? Can I remind you some of the things you did?”

“Sir… We weren’t allowed to play video games from 8 to 12 on Saturdays. If we woke up early enough to knock out mowing the lawn during the summer, and you were there the entire time… They didn’t knew it had to stop, so that was four hours a week. I’ve given them triple the amount of time you gave me as a kid. What are you talking about?!” [laughs]

My mother-in-law, she was talking about some “We need to find a way to take care of one of the dogs more ourselves than having our teenage children take care of the one dog they have responsibility for…” And my wife was like, “It’s crack, isn’t it? You’re insane. You’re on a type of drug.” And like I said, it was the funniest thing on Earth.

Our parents are really tripping in this grandparent phase of their life. Like, “Who are you people?” My wife, she asked me quite a lot. That is not my dad. I have no idea who that man is. He looks my dad, but –

[01:40:06.19] Proof there’s change, right? I mean, gosh… My 20-year-old versus 4-year-old version of me? Not the same at all.

No. I feel like my parents were kidnapped, and [unintelligible 01:40:14.19]

Invasion of the body-snatchers.

Yes. I was like, “That is not my–” Like, they still hold that same relationship with you, right? When you have a thought process and you talk to your parents, they still talk and think like your parents to you. Then they get with your kids and I’m like “Who are you? I just spoke to you five minutes ago. What happened? Why don’t I get that? What is going on?”

“What’s going on here?”

Well, I’ll be here to encourage you. I’d like to make this some sort of annual thing, where we get together on Veterans Day. I wanna talk about where you’re at with Vets Who Code, I wanna talk about who’s coming [unintelligible 01:41:00.06] who you’re giving the Excelsior award to… You know, I wanna honor what they’re doing, the books they’re writing, the non-profits they’re creating, the impact you’re helping to make… I wanna do that.

Yeah, I love that, man. I want to be able to make introductions – my dream is to… Like I said, I’m the guy now; when it comes to veterans learning how to code, no matter what code school said it, the first person that a veteran is gonna reach out to to ask questions about coding, whether they’re from FreeCodeCamp, or General Assembly, or Nashville Software School, somebody’s gonna send me a DM and ask me questions.

So what I want to be able to do and become is on Veterans Day not just me – I wanna be able to be a force multiplier and bring these people to you. Like “Yo, here’s some veteran talent I hear that people aren’t really talking about.” Or even just throughout the year, like “Yo, this is a hot veteran. This person is affiliated with this…” [unintelligible 01:42:03.12]

I have a veteran, Mike White. He’s doing some cool stuff. Jacob Evans - if you’re on Twitter, you need to reach out and find Jacob Evans at Cloudflare. Man, he’s a former Security Forces troop, and he is blazin’. He’s been in code for like 3-4 years, and he’s already really – he’s just a talented dude. And that’s my dream. And that’s the ability you and I can have.

That’s such a great thing you have… That’s why I was saying it’s a good problem to have, and I couldn’t quite articulate it well… Because I was trying to say your problem is good; it’s more like the position in life you’re in. You have the great fortune to be able to direct so many and impact so many lives. Like you were saying, the code you got to write in this NDA scenario that impacts X - you get to impact more people that have that opportunity to impact that. You know what I mean? It’s such a great place you’re in, to have that kind of impact. That’s what I was trying to say.

Yeah, I agree with you.

And that’s what I meant by “a great problem to have.” That’s what I was trying to articulate that didn’t come out quite that way.

Alright, I get that now. You have to read – even if you’re not a big fan, you have to read meditations by Marcus Aurelius. I was inspired by that to be like – you know, when it came to the journey of stoicism and things of that nature, it was like, I want to be… Like, what’s the point of coming through here knowing that you have a finite time, coming through here and not making sure you’re the best of the best?

Like, I don’t understand – I don’t have it in me to be that guy… To be like, “I’m just gonna dial it in, and not give it my all.” Because I keep that pain of how it felt in the military for me, and then I move on and I’m like “If it hurt for me, it’s gotta hurt for other people”, right? So now that’s my mission; my mission is “Let me find those hard chargers, let me train them up, let me give them opportunities that I wish I had, faster.”

[01:44:17.27] I tell people, I feel like I’m – like, this next phase of Vets Who Code, I feel like I’m on like the Avengers protocol. I feel less Captain America and more like Director Nick Fury. Like, I’m all here starting the Avengers.

You’re a big Marvel fan. I’m a big Marvel fan too, but I like how you –

I am the biggest Marvel fan, because Marvel did something that DC never done. DC was all about correlations of gods to superheroes. Marvel is about “Okay, what happens if there are no gods? That makes us the superheroes; that makes us the problem-solvers. That makes us the people that have to solve these really tough, really complex problems.” You know, it makes us having to figure out how to –


Yeah. How do I in the 60’s talk to people about racism without them getting mad, and making them able to listen? I create X-Men. [unintelligible 01:45:10.09] opposing views and let you make the decision on your own how they are handling it, which one’s right or wrong, which one you agree or disagree with, the bigger problem that I want you to focus on is how the human race is [unintelligible 01:45:31.11] That’s the story, that’s what Stan Lee, and Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko were on, right? [unintelligible 01:45:38.19] happen months before, in New York, before Captain America won, where he’s punching Hitler. And that was like the thing that Stan Lee was like, “No. Americans punch nazis. Americans don’t become nazis, Americans punch nazis.” I’m gonna put that – boom! Here you go. Here’s Capitain America hitting a nazi in the face, so you know where we stand about this. This is what you do, right?

“This is what you do.”

Yeah, this is what you’re supposed to do. And the question of super-soldier syndrome. When they did the whole 616, my whole weapon story is Weapon Plus. That’s my favorite arc with Captain America, because it involves a lot of people beyond Captain America. It involves Wolverine.

So Weapon Plus is about the super-soldier protocols, where there’s a Weapon Zero, they made him, and he went crazy. They learned that the super-soldier syndrome not only amplifies your abilities, it amplifies who you are as a person. So what the X is – I mean, weapon X is Wolverine. Weapon One is Captain America. And how super-soldier syndrome amplify who he was as a person. And the secret of being a true superhero becomes well before you have super-strength, and you can throw a shield, and do backflips, and stuff. It begins when –

When he jumped on that grenade. He was selfless.

Yeah, exactly. And that’s the lessons that they wanted to teach and instill, right? And I just love how Marvel tries to focus on teaching us things. That’s what I wanna do with code, and what I wanna do with veterans when it comes to society. That’s the thing I taught to civilians. I’m like, “A veteran came up with this idea.” I use [unintelligible 01:47:36.18] When I was a kid and we did African-American literature, there was the [01:47:41.17]

You can go into Chinese history, they had my favorite book, Journey Into the West, they had the Monkey King. And he shows how as a monkey birthed out of stone, he grows to the level of gods by doing the work. And that’s what Dragon Ball Z is based off of.

[01:48:09.28] I love these types of tales where it shows off perseverance and going deeper into yourself to pull the best version of yourself out and bring people up with you. And that’s what I want; that’s what I see with Vets Who Code. I’m like “Alright, my job is to identify those veterans who are going into themselves, pulling the best version of themselves out, and they can impact society positively with code”, and they’re in your industry, and you should hire these people. You should not look at whether they are an officer, or whether they have a degree, how many years they’ve been in… No. This person right here is a force multiplier, and you should bring that person to your table. That’s what I wanna do. That’s my new life’s work.

And that’s the scary thing about being at FAANGAM companies - your goals get so crazy big, because you see the world at a much smaller view than when you’re junior, and you’re working… Like, I see the world so much different now that I’m working at Microsoft than when I was working at ComicBook, because I was exposed to a totally different world. Or the problems that as Microsoft we try to solve are real, and scary-real sometimes. The problems that we’re trying to solve at ComicBook was pay [unintelligible 01:49:24.19] and how to get people to stay on the website longer for more ads, right? So we can make more money. [laughs]

Yeah, that doesn’t translate to meaningful…

It’s not the same.

Yeah, it’s not.

So when I think about this stuff, that’s what and how I think about it. This is how I wanna help veterans. I wanna find a talent, find the military spouses that are talented too, train them up, get them in front of the right people, get them in front of the you’s of the world, let you be like “So what makes you so highly regarded? Jerome’s like on fire about you. Because I know who Jerome is. I know how on-fire Jerome can get. And if Jerome’s excited about you, who the hell are you?” So that’s what I want.

What’s the plan for tomorrow then? You mentioned an award and something like that, but how do you plan to expose some of this higher talent that you’ve been blessed to work with?

We are doing our Vets Who Code Demo Day… Basically, we go through all our organization stuff, our goals for the next five years, how we’re gonna be doing cohorts from now on, from hiring, all the way to features and things of that nature. We’re gonna be talking about the job search features the last cohort dropped, and bringing up about Steven L. I can’t pronounce – it’s like some crazy French name. Steven and David…

That’s why you call him L. [laughs]

Yeah. David, and how they work together, and built this; and I have another junior dev with them, who through the process of this he ended up getting full-time at his job. He was on a contract, an internship, came through, did this… I made him – I was like, “You are the engineering manager. You’re not allowed to touch a single line of code, unless you’re pairing with somebody. And you report to me. I’m the client.” Because you know, I wanna put the fear of God in people. That’s what I do. I feel like that’s what 80% of my job is, is scaring the s***t out of people. Like, “Okay, Jerome’s serious as f***.”

So we’re gonna be talking about that, and we’re gonna show the things that are like – I’m gonna show you our entire roadmap that I have, that I’ve built in secrecy from people. And it’s crazy, because I saw how GitHub was building their stuff, and I was like “So we can be this crazy? I’m gonna be as crazy. This is what I’m gonna be.”

[01:51:45.04] And just like – I’m gonna bring the award up, because it’s here, and I’m super-excited to go and look at it right now… And then we’re just gonna talk – oh, there’s just two new board members… One of them is a super – like, people absolutely love Taylor Desseyn. He’s the hottest recruiter on the market right now. He’s coming onto the board of VWC. People beg to be in his Rolodex when it comes to jobs. The dude is at VACO, and he’s on fire.

And Melanie Sumner. Melanie is – she’s one of those rare frontend talents. She’s at HashiCorp now, building their design systems, but she was at LinkedIn… And she’s one of those talents that when it comes to accessibility – she’s an accessibility expert that can actually write code. And you would be amazed how rare that is in this market, having an accessibility expert who can write scalable, performant framework code. There’s Melanie and there’s Marcy, and that’s pretty much all I know who are true accessibility experts with coding jobs. Marcy Sutton and Melanie Sumner. Melanie was a Navy veteran, and Taylor - he’s just a dude who’s been around veterans all his life, active duty military, and he’s like “I cannot wait to give back.” And he’s helping us with our processes, with 1.5x-ing our juniors/entry-level devs, which is what we wanna do.

So that’s just in a nutshell what we’re gonna have. We’re gonna bring some other troops to talk…

Big day.

Yeah. We’ll meet some of the other troops that are on the team, and our partnerships lead, and everybody else. I’m very happy about this.

Wow. Yeah, I’d love to do that. I’d love to somehow celebrate with you every Veterans Day. And I don’t know what kind of impact we can apply to it, but like I had said, I wanted to reach out for pretty much since we’ve met at OSCON. This is like several years ago.

Three years, yeah.

It’s been at least three years. And every year, I just get so busy. This is – the business we’ve built is bootstrapped. We’re not venture-backed… We’ve had to build it from scratch…

From the ground-up. I love that.

And so we’ve had to keep our teams lean, and think small, and stuff like that, in terms of just agility…

That is a story in itself of veteran agility. It’s so funny, because when people think about us veterans, they think about companies and orgs at the scale of how civilians do it. But when they see our level of impact on society, and how we do things, and how we do it so lean… You know - Vets Who Code, it’s lean. Changelog. Lean. People are like – but our impact does not match our leanness and agility. So I’ll be like, “This is why you should hire veterans.” I tell people all the time [unintelligible 01:54:44.04] So why are you not hiring more veterans? Like, [unintelligible 01:54:54.23]

I love it.

So it’s like, why? Like veterans, we can do – we are forged in the fire, the hot sun in Iraq, and Afghanistan. We can do it all. Don’t sleep on us. And like I said, that’s my life’s work. I love being in these rooms, and people be having Ph.D’s, and there are officers that are 10-15 years older than me now, they’ve got grey hair, and stuff… They’re so shocked of who I am when they hear my background that they start making up urban legends about my background.

I went to one meeting and three weeks later it went down the pipeline, and people were like, “Oh, he’s like some Air Force intelligence officer, or something. He was a former Air Force intel.” I’m like, “No, I wasn’t. Who told you that?” “Oh, this guy told me.” “Who told him them?” He’s like, “This guy told him.” All of those people are wrong, because they can’t fathom that a person like me, a dude from the South, from the enlist corps, from Security Forces, has done this type of impact, to get into Barack Obama’s radar, getting on Google’s radar, Microsoft’s radar… Everybody’s radar. All the big tech’s radar. If you’re in education in tech, if you’re part of that sector, I’m on everybody’s website. I’m on Frontend Masters, Plurasight, HackerRank… Everybody talks about me. “This dude must be a genius.” Like, no. I’m not. I’m not Quincy Larson. I’m not some teacher who turned into a coder. I’m [unintelligible 01:56:29.01] into a MacBook Pro. That’s who I am. I am the person – I talk the talk because I walked the walk that my veterans have. I know how it feels to do long patrols, I know how it feels to be out there in 120 degree heat, I know what it feels to be like “You know what - this is trash.” Every worst day you’ve had, I’ve had days just like that, I know exactly where you’re coming from.

I know how hard it is to learn how to do this with a family, I know all of that stuff. Let me tell you how I did it, so that you don’t have to figure out how to do it. So that puts me on fire. That’s my life’s work. And the best part is when officers in their uniforms come in and they’re like, “Okay, bro. Whatever.” I don’t even – it’s like [unintelligible 01:57:19.22] And Harry Potter. I’m like, “I’m good.” Or Pinocchio, he’s singing like “I have no strings in here.” That’s me. And my wife, she’s like “You’re so mean when it comes to officers.” I’m like, “Because they were mean to us first, and now I get to be mean at them. I’m doing it for every E-4 and below in the world.

Ha-ha! Payback.

Yeah. Revenge is best served cold. I’m serving this hella spicy. This is what’s going on. She’s like, “You’re gonna grow up one day.” I’m like, “Not today…” [laughs]

Not today.

But yeah, it was great talking to you. I think my wife just texted me… Yeah, I have to go help –

You’ve got things to do, man. You’ve got things to do. I’m sure you do. Hey, I appreciate you giving me so much time, honestly. It’s great catching back up, and I wanna celebrate with you, so…

…let’s make it a thing. Let’s make it a thing, if we can.

Let’s do it. Let’s do it. I’m gonna send you an invite to tomorrow as well, so you can see the things we’re doing.

Cool. Alright, Jerome… Thanks, man.

Thank you.


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