CommunityNavy Veteran to Software Developer: Geno Guerrero’s Operation Code Story

Linnea Schulenburg
writes on July 6, 2017

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This week, we’re sharing our interviews with members from one of our Treehouse Scholarship recipient organizations, Operation Code, a non-profit that helps military veterans and their families launch new careers in software development. So far, we’ve heard from Operation Code’s founder and ex-Army Captain David Molina, and an Operation Code student, Marine Corps veteran Billy Le. Now, we’d like to highlight another veteran from Operation Code that we’re honored to have learning with us. 44-year-old Geno Guerrero spent 20 years in the Navy first as a boatswain, where he mentored and taught new sailors, then in various enforcement roles.

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Geno, like many of the veterans we spoke with, has an entrepreneurial spirit. After eight years running a  successful online business selling custom roller derby equipment, he realized he enjoyed the website building aspect of the his ecommerce business, and decided to learn web development. He became a full time student, attending Coding Dojo, then Code Fellows, where he was eventually introduced to Operation Code. Now, he’s working in an early stage startup, and as a teacher and mentor in a program called beGreater.org, which focuses on mentoring and teaching technology to kids in underserved communities.

In speaking with our Operation Code veteran students, and with Geno especially, we’ve been privileged to hear about the strong commitment and drive they have to help and mentor others, and make the world a better place. We asked Geno if he would share some of his experience with the community. Here’s his story.

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What first encouraged you to learn to code?

At Sanger High School in the San Joaquin Valley, a small farming community, I was lucky enough to get my hands on what I think was a Macintosh SE for a Computer Science class. The class didn’t have much of a curriculum and I eventually became a TA for the class just so I could finish programming the football game I was coding.

Tell us a bit about what you’re doing now with your coding skills.

Right now, I’m working with other veterans I met through Operation Code on a early stage startup that should get funding soon. It’s a platform focused on agriculture and IoT, and I am actively contributing to the Angular web platform. The app will be a tremendous help for staying on-par in a heavily regulated industry.

I’m also currently working for an amazing foundation beGreater.org that focuses in underserved communities to transform today’s workforce into one of equality, inclusivity, and innovation. We have been using the GREATER Lego Robotics curriculum to reach out to 6th graders at the Denny International Middle School in west Seattle.  I’ll be teaching Swift to high schoolers next, and will probably be using Treehouse courses to learn Swift myself.

The GREATER organization was holding a class at Code Fellows looking for mentors and I quickly jumped at the opportunity. It fulfills my ‘why’ statement, which is to not leave kids like myself behind –  those who face struggles, due to being underprivileged and not a proficiency memorization wizard.

What are your plans for the future?

I want to continue to help in projects to show first ‘Sí, se puede’ and to aim in redefining education. I want to give clarity to people that have uncertainty in their life – who feel like they can’t do things for whatever reason. I try to remove those mental blocks and say, “No. You can do this.”

How does what you did in the military extend to what you’re doing now?

Being a new developer, I already have to learn a million things myself to be proficient and not feel a little imposter syndrome. But the cool thing is that I know how to be a mentor from twenty years in the Navy, teaching kids 18-22 years old, coming in. I taught hundreds of them, from all different backgrounds, usually from underserved areas, showing them that they have the opportunity to do anything they want to do and giving them the opportunity. But that’s the problem, many of us don’t have those opportunities, and that’s what beGreater.org is doing.

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We were all tinkerers of some sort in the Navy. We need to focus and understand that learning to code is really tinkering, it’s building blocks, putting them together, and making something bigger.

What would you tell other veterans thinking of getting into tech?

No matter what job you did in the military – it was all tactile. We were all tinkerers of some sort in the Navy. We need to focus and understand that learning to code is really tinkering, it’s building blocks, putting them together, and making something bigger.

What has been the greatest challenge while learning to code?

Data structures and algorithms. Partly due to being a non-computer science graduate, non-traditional student. This is my second career and it’s because I love to tinker and I am such a tactile learner that I have grown more fond of my keyboard than I probably should. I also want to add something I didn’t think about until it was repeated by a peer in a class at Code Fellows in Seattle. It’s about learning a spoken language, and the parts you need to learn being: reading the language, speaking the language, writing the language, and ultimately being able to teach the language. Essentially, teaching takes lots of patience and hours of hacking to realize that you can make your code even cleaner. It’s a process.

Which Treehouse courses/tracks have been the most valuable to you?

JavaScript! Everything JavaScript! I have found a lot of great info in the workshop videos and some the code along projects. I am always waiting to see the latest videos, for example the latest REACT workshops. I would sometimes do Treehouse assignments before homework for some of my the other programs I did. On Treehouse, I was able to watch videos, which is visual learning. Then, the questions and practice problems is tactile learning. And that’s what I needed.

Is there anything you wish you’d known when you started learning to code?

I wish I had developed a process early on of walking away from the keyboard instead of banging my head on the same line of code that wasn’t working. It’s important to have an agreement with yourself and develop a method that helps you find emotional balance. So important. I wish I would have known about Operation Code earlier as it has helped me through mentorship and peer support. The people at Operation Code are so helpful and everyone has their own experience to share. I’m on there almost every day, learning something new and networking. If it wasn’t for Operation Code, I wouldn’t be doing what I am now. The use of Treehouse and its instructors having a great way of displaying the learning goals and the patterns that are important to follow, has been some of the best instruction I’ve had and still get to this day!

Thank you Operation Code and thank you Treehouse!

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