After serving in the United States Navy for 10 years as a nuclear electrician and traveling around the world, Silas Pete Tolliver decided it was time for he and his family to plant roots and become part of a community. He was tired of moving his family around the country and he wanted to give his wife an opportunity to have a career. More than anything, he wanted to see his kids more often.
So, in 2006, Pete and his family joined his mom in Indianapolis, and his stepfather helped him find a job in logistics and transportation. “I basically just got a job, because what I really wanted was for my wife to be able to have the career she deserved,” he said. “I have two daughters, and I wanted them to see their mother succeed and follow her dreams. I wanted her to get to her maximum ability so they would understand how to do the same thing – at least, that’s my theory.”
So he worked while his wife Doris finished her masters degree in human resources and, eventually, her law degree. She worked her way through the Department of Children’s Services and is now serving as Chief of Staff.
Meanwhile, Pete started thinking about his own career again. When he thought back to the topics and experiences that sparked his interest most, he couldn’t help but think of computer camp. “I don’t even know if that’s still a thing, but I was always good at math and science and ever since then I’d been sort of a tinkerer – I am that guy that modifies my own router,” he said.
His skills were already quite impressive: he’d been responsible for overseeing electricity for a nuclear power plant and became a communications officer during his time in the Navy, and he earned his college degree. But it had been nearly 25 years since he’d finished high school, and Pete wasn’t sure if he could successfully go back.
How do you pull that off? How do you stop your entire life to go to school? When you’re a little bit older, you’ve got life, you’ve got bills. You’ve got a budget. You can’t necessarily stop a whole income.
He bit the bullet and started working on his master’s degree in data analytics. Soon after, he heard about code schools and started doing some research. “At the time, there wasn’t a school in Indianapolis, so I started wondering if I needed to go to Chicago or somewhere, but I didn’t want to disrupt my family,” he said. “Then there was an advertisement for The Iron Yard starting a class that was in Indianapolis. I was like oh man, this is it. I need this arrow in my quiver to change my career. I need something that’s interesting, something I can do, something that challenges me. I wanted to have this on my resume, and I wanted to have this ability.”
Pete enrolled in our very first course in Indianapolis. Throughout each week of the course, he blew us away with his tenacity, focus and natural leadership abilities.
“For his final project, Pete found an undocumented API for the Indiana legislature, hunted down the right contact at the statehouse – even walked over to the Capital grounds to find the holder of the API keys – and wrote a parser for it from scratch to get the data his team needed to pull off the project,” said Chris Vannoy, Pete’s instructor. He had two job offers within a week of each other, and has now been a senior engineer with Apparatus for over a year (the story of how he landed the job is amazing – it involves unknowingly helping jump-start his future boss’ car on the day of his interview).
When he thinks back to what he learned and how he uses his experience at The Iron Yard in his current job as a developer, Pete says it’s all about learning to learn, or “the ability to figure it out on my own, to go out on the internet, gather up bits and pieces, put it all together, make a puzzle, and then read the puzzle so I know what I’m doing and to solve whatever problem has been placed in front of me.”
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