BIT Startup of the Week: Vet’s Who Code – “Training Troops for a career in Tech”

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Q: Who Founded your company?

A: Myself and Alexis (Lex) Brown II are the original co-founders of FRAGO. Lex will eventually lead the Atlanta squad, once we are able to expand our operations there.

Q: Give us a brief summary of your background in tech 

A: I started learning digital design and development in 2010, after my time in the Air Force, due to tech being one of the few industries that the recession hadn’t diminished. I used the skills I learned to help a family in need whose son, a fellow veteran, was gunned down by police. I combined my tech skills with fundraising to help the family cover funeral costs and other financial burdens that resulted from their family member’s untimely death, during the summer of 2014. General Assembly took notice of my skills, and they offered me the Opportunity Fund, in which I trained with them in New York for MEAN stack and Ruby on Rails. I now work in Python, Ruby, PHP, and JavaScript.

Q: Tell us about your company:

A: Our Non-Profit/501c organization FRAGO, doing business as #VetsWhoCode, takes early stage transitioning veterans (those who have been out less than two years) and trains them to become software developers at zero cost to the veteran. We do this 100% online so that they can learn anywhere, and we have an instructor that has 15 years of experience in the field. Once the Post 9/11 veteran qualifies for our program (two interviews, a resume and an assignment to test their skills) we start training them, usually in teams no bigger than 10. We are a quality over quantity type of program. As of right now we have a 100% success rate, with our veterans landing jobs, totalling in $3.2 million being injected into the US Economy. Whether they go the route of tech entrepreneurship, or get to work at an agency or corporation, our troops start profiting from their skills out the gate. For us, our internal motto is  “Skills Pay the Bills”. While building a community is highly beneficial, and camaraderie is in our roots, those factors alone won’t keep the lights on.

Q: What is your company’s mission?

A: Our mission is to fill the wide chasm of technical talent in the software industry with a diverse pool of well trained, pragmatic, proficient veterans and military spouses.Our primary focus are what the Dept of Veteran Affairs calls the ” vulnerable population”, which are first-term troops that are within a year from exiting the military to those first two years out. We train these troops for software development careers. We have relationships with companies in major cities that truly support veterans and understand the process of transition.

Q: What has been your biggest challenge as a startup founder?

A: My biggest challenge was and is the level of support that I obtained from my local community versus the support from other cities. It’s taboo to admit, but the South is still very segregated in terms of business resources, but we have continuously adapted to those challenges to focus on a new, better way to operate nonprofits. We recently just had our first hire and I am hoping to finish building out my team by 2017.

Q: Did you ever feel like giving up?

A: Negative, I know from personal, hard earned experience that the only way we stop the cycle of despair that veterans face is with real skills that can be immediately put into action after acquired competency, and I knew my concept was correct. When we started this in 2014 I was the only nonprofit agency talking about coding for veterans. Two years later, there are at least three other organizations and now major companies have gotten involved.

Q: What lessons did you learn from that challenge?

A: Trust your gut and focus on those who are obsessed with the same things you are.

Q: What has been your biggest victory?

A: Getting the invite to White House Demo Day. I was the only enlisted military veteran and the only nonprofit invited to showcase. I was literally the needle in the haystack and they chose us when literally a week before the local accelerator said we weren’t a good fit because we wanted to focus more on the work of being able to teach veterans than a pitch.

Q: How did it make you feel?

A: Validated. It was so easy to feel like you aren’t accomplishing anything if this guy or that guy doesn’t say you are good. After that, it didn’t matter what the local gatekeepers said because now I am in a position to step around them and begin talks with larger companies without an introduction from them. I could email you from my email address with my Executive Summary and have the person email me back and either give donations or resources for veterans. As a veteran, as a man and as a father, it’s very important for me to be measured greatly by my work and abilities, not what my network offers me. On the battlefield, you’re only measured by what you bring to the table, by your performance, not whether the commander likes you.

Q: What lessons have you learned from your successes?

A: To focus, stay your course, and believe in yourself.

Q: If you could only give one piece of advice to an aspiring tech startup founder, what would it be?

A: I think the most important piece of advice I can give is something Gary Vaynerchuk said, which is master your 7pm to 2 am. By doing that I was able to do the work and get to the point where we are today.

Q: Has your company received funding? If so, what type of funding? From who?

A: We are a 501(c)3 nonprofit that is capable of taking donations and we also take small projects for small businesses as a part of our revenue stream, and we have been gratefully getting both lately..

Q: How can users find more info on your company?

A: Users can find more info about us by visiting www.vetswhocode.io

Q: (if you have a service) How can they sign up for your service?

A: If you are a veteran and interested in programming fill out this form here.

Q: How can people contact/follow you/your company?

A: Reach us on Twitter and via email here:

VetsWhoCode

Blacks In Technology’s Startup of the Week focuses on spotlighting and promoting Tech based startup companies founded by PoC or have PoC in top leadership positions. If you would like your startup company featured in our SoW please contact us.

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Blacks In Tech

Blacks In Technology is a professional platform for PoC in technology. BIT serves to increase the visibility and participation of PoC in tech through community, media, mentorship, and stewardship. Blacks In Technology (BIT)® is "Stomping the Divide" by establishing a blueprint of world class technical excellence and innovation by providing resources, guidance and issuing a challenge to our members to surpass the high mark and establish new standards of global innovation. “Stomping the Divide”