A Tech Bootcamp for Real Bootcamp Vets: How One Technology Company is Training Our Veterans

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the unemployment rate for veterans is way too high. Nearly 250,000 Americans who have volunteered to serve our country and put their lives at risk are out of work entirely. Meanwhile, technology companies are actively seeking larger talent pools.

There’s enormous opportunity here to provide high-demand job training to some our our country’s most dedicated, disciplined, and hard-working citizens.

Karen Ross, CEO of Sharp Decisions, a strategic business and technology consulting services firm based in New York City, recognized this opportunity and decided to take initiative. In 2013, Sharp Decisions established a training program tailored exclusively to veterans. They hire, train, and deploy groups of veterans on client-based technology projects around the country.

Today, Sharp Decisions employs around 50 veterans who receive full salaries and benefits, and are hoping to expand their veteran pool to 200 men and women by the end of next year, said Jared Baiman, a strategist at Sharp Decisions.

Their V.E.T.S. program — Vocation, Education and Training for Service members — recruits tech-savvy armed services veterans who undergo intensive training centered on quality assurance and software testing, a set of skills well-suited to military personnel with some level of technical background. “Vets have a unique skill set,” explained Jared. For one, they know how to perform in high-pressure situations.

Sharp Decisions hires veterans with a baseline of technical experience, whether from their positions in intelligence gathering, as operations specialists, or operating highly classified technology unfamiliar to American consumers. During “technology bootcamp”, trainers use military terminology that resonates with vets: client projects are deployments, objectives are missions, and the client teams they put together are squads.

“A lot businesses don’t understand how veterans’ technology experience translates,” said Jared. But veterans are uniquely qualified for many kinds of work in technology: “They bring leadership, an unparalleled work ethic, strong self-motivation and a respect for each client’s unique culture and chain of command,” explains the V.E.T.S. website.

Veterans train together and offer one another support with a kind of no-man-left-behind mentality. Sharp Decisions then assigns them to client projects together, where they can continue to work in teams and support one another. In the past year, these veteran squads have been deployed on technology assignments in cybersecurity, quality assurance, and payment processing for major clients including EmblemHealth, Experian, and Freddie Mac.

With a 94% retention rate, Sharp Decisions is doing something right — and they’ve run the program without even touching the GI Bill. The GI Bill has been a critical part of educating our country’s veterans since World War II, but its benefits are only available for federally accredited programs. As we’ve written before, nearly all modern coding bootcamps and schools lack this accreditation, (though Galvanize recently became accredited through its partnership with the University of New Haven.) Where private companies like Sharp Decisions aren’t taking initiative (and picking up the tab) for educating veterans with today’s high-demand skills, a reformed GI Bill could. What Congress can and should do is create a special category of accreditation that would pave the way for veterans to receive this kind of technical training.

Despite GI Bill limitations, we’re excited to see programs like Sharp Decisions as well as other companies team up with developer bootcamps to offer scholarships to veterans. General Assembly now offers an $8,500 scholarship to veterans through their Opportunity Fund, and Code Fellows has invited veterans to join some of their summer intensive coding programs.

As a country, we can do better for our veterans. We hope other companies and organizations can follow the lead of Sharp Decisions and come up with innovative ways to solve the vets job crisis. In this time of unprecedented opportunity in the technology sector, it would be a dishonor and a disservice to leave these men and women behind.

by Julie Samuels and Anna Duning at Engine, a public policy organization supporting tech entrepreneurship. This story is part of Engine’s series, “Innovation for All,” documenting efforts to diversify tech. Read this post and others on our blog athttp://engine.is/news.