When U.S. Army veteran Hermon Cotton retired from the military after 21 years of service, he knew he wanted to finally pursue his passion for technology and continue serving his community.
Not long after his retirement, the Mississippi Delta native learned about the Veterans Code program through Mississippi Coding Academies (MCA), an economic development and educational non-profit organization, and was eager to enroll.
“As soon as I heard about a program like this for veterans, I jumped at the opportunity,” he said. “I was excited to learn the skills I needed to make a difference.”
In 2019, Comcast partnered with MCA to create Veterans Code to deliver coding training and certification for veterans. The tuition-free program is an 11-month course that provides veterans and military spouses the skills needed to succeed in the technology industry.
In addition to Veterans Code, MCA also offers a day program for under-served high school graduates. The organization’s newest of three training locations in Downtown Jackson was also recently launched as a Comcast Lift Zone, a safe space that provides free WiFi connectivity, helping its students get online and learn to become full-stack coders and developers.
To date, Comcast has donated more than $100,000 in financial support to MCA, which has provided training for nearly 50 veterans and counting.
“Veterans Code provides veterans and their families with a path to a career in tech and helps develop Jackson’s and Mississippi’s tech-skilled workforce,” said Richard Sun, Co-founder of MCA. “This attracts companies to Mississippi and enables existing companies to meet their tech needs in-state.”
Supporting digital skills training and creating pathways to careers in tech is part of Comcast’s larger commitment to providing more people with the tools and resources they need to succeed in the digital economy.
Cotton, who completed six combat tours during his military career, used his newfound coding skills to develop the MS Heritage African American Influence (AAI) App, an educational hub for learning about the historically significant African American influence in Mississippi.
“I had the idea after seeing how Black History Month was being taught at my daughters’ school. There were all of these stories, but there wasn’t a central location to find all of this rich history,” he said. “I wanted to change that.”
When Hermon had the idea for the MS Heritage AAI app, he partnered with his longtime friend, Dr. Teresa Moore.
As the Co-Founder of the app, Dr. Moore said it has been a rewarding experience learning and sharing the history of untold African American stories in Mississippi. It’s also been incredible to see her friend in action.
“Hermon continuously goes beyond the call of duty,” she said. “Seeing him so passionately use his coding skills to create a superior mobile app has been nothing but impressive.”
Cotton, who retired as a logistics officer, credits his military service with inspiring his new role as an entrepreneur. “One thing I learned in the military is if there’s not a way, then you find a way.”
Fellow Veterans Code graduate Jessica Nelson, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, echoed Cotton’s sentiments, agreeing that the military provided her with valuable life skills she relied on when deciding to learn coding.
“At first, I was intimidated, but I’m not one to quit,” she said. “The military teaches you that you can’t give up easily.”
For Nelson, who grew up in Houston, Texas, and served as a topographic analyst for six years in the Marines, coding felt like a natural fit following her service.
“From the military, I knew how to navigate a computer and operating system. I was already comfortable with multitasking with technical and computer skills, but that wasn’t the case for many other students,” she explained. “That was a hurdle they had to overcome, but the Veterans Code instructors were great with taking their time to make sure everyone understood what they were doing.”
Like Cotton, Nelson’s ultimate goal is to apply her new technical skills to solving challenges in her community, as well as the non-profit world. In 2020 she founded her own, Grid North, which helps veterans transition into the workforce.
“Web design, database management, and other information collection tools are necessary in non-profit work, which is what I’m most passionate about,” Nelson said. “I wanted to shape my future, and these skills will help me do that.”
As far as Cotton’s future, he plans to continue furthering the MS Heritage AAI app and pursue others like KIDZAMM, a superhero book series and accompanying app he is working on with his daughters.
“Veterans Code taught me everything I needed to make my ideas come to life,” he said. “I’m confident other veterans will continue to be inspired and grow from the opportunities that Mississippi Coding Academies has to offer.”