A Military Spouse’s Journey into Coding

The Paradigm Switch (TPS) is a global movement of military spouses who are unapologetic about their ambitious career goals and commitment to their military lifestyle. Through access to a full spectrum of resources, scholarships, and global networks, TPS empowers spouses to unleash their true value and versatility within their own unique professional journeys.

This month, we want to highlight coding as a highly valuable and marketable skill that military spouses can add to their arsenal of job skills that can end in a career that is flexible, pays well, and is easily transportable as we move from station to station. In this article, we are highlighting Gabriela Bell, an incredibly inspiring military spouse who is embracing coding as a part of her employment toolkit.

Gabriela Bell is an Air Force military spouse and mother of four, going through the Dog Tag, Inc. (DTI) Fellowship Program which empowers service-disabled veterans, military spouses, and caregivers to discover personal and professional fulfillment in the civilian world through an innovative business and entrepreneurship fellowship. Fellows earn a Certificate in Business Administration through Georgetown University. All this while living geographically separated while her husband is stationed overseas. She first started looking into coding because, as someone with a degree in education, she is aware of how quickly information changes and how important it is to stay on top of these changes. She began seeing literature and articles about how coding was becoming an increasingly important skill.

As a mother, she saw more and more opportunities for children to learn coding. Recognizing this skill was something she did not know much about and wanting to set the example of embracing new skills to allow for more opportunities for employment, she joined a local chapter of MilSpouse Coders, which is dedicated to empowering military spouses around the globe to find challenging and fulfilling careers in technology.

At first, she struggled to attend the daytime meetup groups because her two youngest children were still in pre-school and half-day kindergarten. Later the local Mil-Spouse Coders chapter, in Northern Virginia, offered an evening time slot at the local USO which allowed Gabriela to arrange appropriate childcare in the evenings.. She met some of the kindest people who presented coding in a way that did not feel intimidating. She also appreciated the flexibleness of the group. There was definitely a come as you are and come as you can vibe that allowed the flexibility she needed. The group provided her with projects she could work on at her own pace at home and a Facebook group to allow for the sharing of ideas and encouragement of one another in the program. She plans to continue to improve her skills in coding because it will also help her create a platform for the business she’s launching to help connect military spouses with gainful, yet flexible employment.

Gabriela Bell pictured with Natalie Oliverio

She truly enjoys her Fellowship at the Dog Tag Bakery, especially the opportunity to network. Just recently, at a networking event for veterans and military spouses, she met someone wanting to help military spouses learn to code. She connected him with a group that was already focused on that same thing, allowing them to join forces. With a growing national focus on coding, she is seeing a lot of duplication in programs aimed at teaching coding to service members and their families, so helping to make connections like these are imperative.

Pursuing a career as a military spouse comes with some amazing perks and some unique challenges. As a military spouse, she has the opportunity to meet all kinds of people from all walks of life and backgrounds on a rapidly changing basis. She appreciates the opportunity to network with a diverse group of people everywhere she moves. These relationships are a rich and rewarding experience that she treasures. As a military child herself, she learned to value those friendships that can last through military moves, including friendships she still has with a friend from 2nd grade from San Antonio, TX (when they were stationed at Randolph AFB), from 3rd grade from Montgomery, AL (from Maxwell AFB), her 5th grade best friend from Sacramento, CA when her family was stationed at the now closed Mather AFB. Social media has been a great tool for staying connected with those friends as well as making new ones.

One of the challenges Gabriela finds as a military spouse is finding and redefining her own personal and professional identity with each move. With each relocation, she redefines the priorities for her family, her personal and professional relationships, and her career. The career journey can often become muddled by big life changes that come in rapid succession and she renegotiates where her career fits into the equation. There have been times, where quitting her job was the most appropriate decision for her and her family. One example of this situation was as she was near the end of her pregnancy, and facing a move soon after the baby would be born.

Now that her children are all of the age where they are attending school, Gabriela has the decision of what she wants to do as she reemerges and finds her professional voice. With her experiences, she has now rephrased the way she asks the common question of ‘do you work?’ to “do you work outside of the home?”‘ recounting that there were times that she worked very hard, but wasn’t paid for it, such as volunteer work or creating a military spouse group to help assist young service members and their families. Now, as Gabriela is restarting her career, she has taken a key piece of professional advice she received as a military spouse, who had put her own career on hold for her family and in support of her active duty spouse, was, “take everything you have done as a military spouse and reframe it in a way that employers can understand. The work you have done matters!”

Gabriela would like to start a non-profit organization focused on helping the families of service members and veterans as they support their loved ones dealing with mental health illness or substance use disorder. She is also starting a business to create, develop, and manage an online space to train, vet, and connect other military spouses to be Virtual Executive Assistants and connect them to quality projects, organizations, and small businesses so that they may have gainful, yet flexible employment regardless of where they are located. And coding is one of those skills that will help her achieve her dreams.

Gabriela Bell grew up all over the US, including Honolulu, Hawaii, Monterey, California, and Tampa, Florida, all of which hold special memories for her. She earned a B.S. in Education (Mathematics) from Baylor University and graduated Summa Cum Laude with a M.A. in Educational Leadership from Touro University International.

Gabi is an Air Force spouse to a service member currently serving overseas. She is also the daughter of a retired Air Force officer and F-4 navigator, the granddaughter of a WWII Air Force officer who fought in the Pacific, and another WWII veteran who served in the Normandy Invasion.


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