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A Veteran Success Story with Thomas Rodriguez

My name is Thomas Rodriguez, and I grew up in a military family.


My father was in the United States Marine Corps and I spent a lot of time moving and being in different places. This led me to not want to join the military.

When I graduated high school, I pursued a degree in psychology, which I have wanted to do my entire life. But, when it was time to pay off my school loans, that’s when I started considering the military.


Following my younger sister’s footsteps, I enlisted in the United States Navy.


Given my fascination and background with technology and computers, I started looking at MLS. My experience with tech comprises of radio control, antennas, satellite communications, and cryptology.

After burning out due to continuous schooling, I decided to do something different to change the pace. That’s how I elected to pursue psychology while combining it with my IT and computer tech background.


I was looking at eligible schools, because I needed something to get me through summer.


I discovered Divergence Academy during the COVID-19 pandemic. They stood out to me, because they were the most receptive and the easiest to work with among all the schools I looked at.

What’s funny is that the Cybersecurity Penetration Tester (CPPT) program wasn’t actually my first choice. But because VET TEC funding depleted so quickly, I decided to forego the Data Science Immersive (DSI) course in favor of CPPT while waiting for the funds for VET TEC to replenish.

While the CPPT program was interesting, it was also challenging. It was a weekend-only course and that was tough, giving up weekends and spending them on a program that was done remotely.

I live in a rural area with no internet service provider, so I couldn’t talk on video or share screen. My mobile internet was slow (this was even before 5G was out, so I was using 4G).

Since it was during the prevalence of COVID-19, everything was shut down. I couldn’t take my laptop to a coffee shop, because there were no coffee shops open.

That said, I never missed a day in both programs (CPPT and DSI). I had a perfect attendance record and I was diligent. Whenever I decide to do something, I always try to do it 100%.


Getting into the Data Science Immersive program was much more enjoyable.


The program ran Monday through Friday at only four hours a day for 20 weeks. In those four hours, I felt more engaged, received more feedback, and found myself participating in more activities.

What made DSI more interesting was how the program was geared to introduce learners to many different tools and concepts. The instructors were knowledgeable and engaging—and you could see that they enjoyed what they were doing. They also had so much patience.

Sitting there, watching them, I saw how patient they were towards the other learners in the class, given that not everyone in my cohort had a tech background to lean on.


For my capstone project, I decided to do something that was abstract, fun, but also relevant. I examined what the safest cities in America would be in the case of a zombie apocalypse.


To make the project happen, I looked at the top 200 U.S. cities by population, dug through tons of data to give scores for different subjects and areas that had weighted metrics. To create a formula that would calculate and provide an average score, I compared them against other cities with a survival rating.

Based on how those scores translated, you could say what town or city has a higher likelihood of an individual surviving a zombie apocalypse. That’s for fun, but it’s still relevant, timely, and applicable in the case of infectious diseases.

I was able to incorporate the different modules that I learned from the programs into my capstone. I used various applications such as Microsoft Power BI, SharePoint, Excel, SQL, and machine learning.

While it was a project that didn’t need a lot of tools for it to be solved—it was extensive. One of my class instructors was impressed that he even contacted someone to check out my project, and he was able to make time out of his day to come and see me present it.

I thought it was pretty cool to hear him provide his feedback and praise. It felt gratifying to see that the project turned out so well.


The online learning experience with Divergence made you feel like you’re actually part of the class.


A lot of different universities offer online programs, because they can not mimic a real class scenario. What they do is they try to engage with students and have them participate—but it often feels forced. It gets to a point where people are just doing it because they want a participation grade, but they're not learning anything. That’s why the responses are generic.

When you're trying to learn something and understand it at a conceptual level, you just don’t get a piece of paper or an online certification. You have to engage in a certain manner and you need tangible encounters.

With Divergence, I was able to engage with both my instructors and my fellow cohort members through screen sharing. We had meetings, did labs and explored virtual machines. I think the thing I appreciate the most is how communication was done as organically as possible. You were never forced to do anything for a grade. That is so much better than the typical online experiences at other schools.


One of the biggest impacts of Divergence were the connections I made.


Because of Divergence, I was able to meet people and pursue mentorships—including Vish who offered me a job to work for his company. That’s what I consider the biggest gain—I was introduced to a more extensive network that has provided me a way to earn income.


I think Divergence is a great stepping stone into the world of IT.


As an academy, Divergence is not meant to prepare anybody to be a master at anything. Don't try to see Divergence as a one-stop-shop to get a high-paying job.

Instead, think of them as an introduction. They are the first step so you can get familiar with the concepts and the tools to get you started on your career path. Because, ultimately, it still falls on you as an individual to see what you might find interesting and passionate about in the IT space.

Given the different programs that they offer, think of this as an opportunity to get a little taste of everything. And from there, it’s up to you to take it a step further.


I was the first to be offered a spot in the Bowsprit program while I was still a student completing the DSI course.


One of my instructors, Vish Puttagunta, approached me and said that he saw something in me. He said I was engaged, consistent, and naturally curious. And then he helped me get into Bowsprit.

Typically, Bowsprit is reserved for postgraduates. It felt really good to know that I was given a chance to be a part of it while I was still completing my run with DSI.


My participation in Bowsprit challenged me to solve business problems and embrace lifelong learning.


One of the best things about having such a great mentor like Vish in Divergence is that he provided me and others with an entire environment to go mess around in. That environment was like a sandbox—it doesn't affect anything, so you’re allowed to try and do whatever you want.

The main business problem I was given to solve was item auditing. We needed to be able to use a mobile app to audit and scan different items and digitally move them across multi-platforms.

Prior to joining Divergence, I had no experience with power platforms or mobile apps—even SQL or business central. So I spent a lot of time learning how to write and read code, as well as create and build these apps.

Because technology continues to grow, it’s important to remember that you have to grow with it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and embrace the idea that you may have to rebuild the same app, test it, tear it down, and rebuild it again.

I’m proud to say that I’ve completed my run at Bowsprit and am now working in a full time role as a power platform developer and data analyst for Power Central.


For future learners: don’t be afraid to fail and don’t worry about the future too much.


Having gone through both CPPT and DSI, I’ve found that it's crucial to be open, curious, and passionate about what you want to learn. Have a hunger for learning. Have the passion and the mindset to do everything yourself.

Spend time practicing what you pick up. Not everything will be fun—but it will all serve a purpose.

You have to tackle every single thing you do. Understand that everything will shape you on your journey. Your skills will naturally grow. Your understanding will become more well-rounded.

There's a huge learning curve, so be open and willing to not skip the small steps. Also, try not to feel overwhelmed. What’s important is that you keep practicing, and if you make mistakes or fail—that’s also okay.

If you have that natural curiosity to learn and try to connect the dots for yourself, those opportunities will advance you towards your career goal.

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