Ben Cunningham led an infantry team in the U.S. Army for years before working as a roughneck on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico for another half-decade. Seeking a career change afterward, he enrolled in computer science classes at a local community college, where he realized his interest in software engineering.
Below, read about Ben’s transition into this field, his experience in the 12-week Hack Reactor coding bootcamp, and what he’s up to now as a Software Engineer at CACI International, a company that develops technology to optimize U.S. government operations.
What drew you to software engineering? And what keeps you interested?
Prior to software engineering, I spent about 5 years working as a roughneck for an offshore drilling company in the Gulf of Mexico. In 2018, I decided to make a career change, so I used the G.I. Bill to enroll in a local community college studying Computer Science. I graduated in 2020 and transferred to a university in Colorado to continue my education for an additional year before enrolling in Hack Reactor’s 12-Week Software Engineering Immersive.
I’ve always enjoyed creating things and software engineering satisfies that creative urge. I enjoy the process of identifying a need, creating an application to solve that need, watching the project slowly come to life, and refining it. The software engineering field is so broad and the technologies are constantly changing, so there is always something new to learn which keeps things interesting!
What led you to enroll in the 12-week Hack Reactor coding bootcamp?
The G.I. Bill benefits that I had been using to attend school were beginning to dwindle and I realized that I would be unable to finish my degree. I knew that I wanted to be a software engineer though, so I began looking at coding bootcamps as a way to combine the more theoretical CS knowledge from college with actual hands-on software engineering experience from a bootcamp. Hack Reactor consistently ranked among the best coding bootcamps available and combined with the awesome alumni network, it made Hack Reactor an easy first choice.
What are some things you got out of your time in the bootcamp?
I think I gained a lot from my time at Hack Reactor. The hands-on experience with actual tools and technologies that are currently being used in the industry was absolutely invaluable. From resolving merge conflicts to building intuitive UIs for the front end, to building and scaling the backend to handle thousands of concurrent requests, Hack Reactor prepares its students to immediately succeed on the job.
The second big thing I took away from Hack Reactor was the friendships made during the immersive and access to the professional alumni network after graduation. The 12-week program is very intense, but I found that our cohort really came together during that time to help and support each other. Whether it was problem-solving during a sprint or offering encouragement during the job hunt after graduation, the friends made along the way are another really wonderful part of the experience.
My last big takeaway from Hack Reactor was that it really taught me how to learn quickly and autonomously. The immersive provides a really good balance of pushing you to find your own solutions to a problem while also offering help and guiding you toward a solution when you get stuck. The hours spent during the immersive learning how to debug code, read and understand documentation, and find a solution to a problem are skills that I still use on a daily basis.
Congrats on your role at CACI International! What do you do there? What projects are you working on?
Thank you! CACI provides expertise and technology to enterprise and mission customers in support of national security missions and government transformations for defense, intelligence, and civilian customers. I am a software engineer working on a small team within the company. At the moment, most of my day-to-day work is spent working on the back end of our application.
What do you like about your role? And what challenges have you faced so far?
One of the things I really enjoy about the role and working on a smaller team is the ability to directly feel the impact of my contributions to the team and the project. Having the ability to take ownership of a feature or portion of the application, building upon it and refining it to work faster or more efficiently, and being able to directly contribute to my team’s success has been very personally satisfying.
There have been a variety of challenges that I’ve faced since starting. From becoming familiar with an entirely new programming language to learning the ins and outs of Amazon Web Services (AWS) and its many resources or learning industry best practices, there is always something new to learn. Fortunately, learning quickly is something that I feel Hack Reactor prepares its graduates exceptionally well for.
What’s your work environment like? On-site, remote?
The work environment at CACI has been awesome. Everyone has been welcoming, helpful, and supportive and the senior engineers have always made time to answer any questions I’ve had along the way. Most days I work remotely, which has been great, but I will usually go into the office once per week just to meet up with others, socialize, and discuss the application with teammates in person.
Is there anything from your time in the Army that you’ve been able to carry over into your career as a software engineer? Has anything been transferrable?
I haven’t found much of a direct overlap between the infantry skill set and software engineering but I think that the leadership and interpersonal skills gained during that time have absolutely been useful. The same discipline and drive to accomplish a mission that was necessary in the military has helped me push through some of the long hours and difficult sprints as a software engineer.
How can new bootcamp students get the most out of their experience?
Know that the course will be difficult, but it is absolutely doable. The first week can be a little overwhelming with all of the new things going on, but hang in there. Throughout the immersive, there will be moments when you get stuck, can’t figure out a solution, and start to doubt yourself or whether you can really make it. You can. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others for help when you do hit a wall. I’ve been there. Everyone I know has been there. It’s all a part of the journey.