Teri Pfeffer has built a life on service. A military spouse of 24 years, Teri served behind the battle lines: raising a family, supporting her husband’s military career—whether that meant finding a new job with every move or cutting vacations short when he was recalled—and supporting her fellow military families as a member of a care team, a group that stays with families who have lost a service member in the hours after they learn that tragic news.
Teri’s husband retired from the military in 2013, but she still serves—as the military program manager for Code Fellows, helping veterans kick-start fulfilling new careers and find their spot within the Code Fellows family. As someone who has experienced military life firsthand, Teri knows what it’s like to make the transition into the civilian world—from figuring out a new career to navigating how to use the GI Bill.
“There’s a very specific set of rules to using the GI Bill and a lot of compliance,” says Teri. “Code Fellows has recognized this is a community they want to be a part of their school, and they want to support them all the way through.”
It’s a family affair
Teri’s journey started when she married into the military. Being a military spouse is a unique challenge: you get to live in a lot of different places, but that also means it’s hard to hold down a career; you form a tight-knit community with the other families on your base, but you don’t get to be around your own extended family, and you know your service member is serving a greater good, but you often worry about the unknown dangers awaiting them. “It can be exhausting, and it can be exhilarating,” says Teri. “It can be scary. And it can be absolutely the most fun you’ve ever had.”
For Teri, finding a new job with every move and raising her family within the confines of a military lifestyle presented the biggest challenges. But the lifestyle was difficult for her whole family. Her daughter went to four different high schools, and, after a three-year stint at Fort Drum where her son developed a love of hockey, he had to step away from his team. But the family knew their sacrifices weren’t in vain.
“We were really proud of my husband’s service,” she says. “We are proud to be a military family, which helped a lot. We didn’t rebel against being a military family. We took a lot of pride in it, and we found a lot of humor in it. We met some wonderful, wonderful people that will be lifelong friends and family to us because we served together.”
After decades of service, Teri and her husband decided the time had come for him to retire. He was up for a promotion that would have required three moves in five years, and they wanted their son to be able to stay at one high school. But in a lot of ways, Teri wasn’t ready. She still wanted to go on an overseas tour, she loved her job (as a Family Readiness Support Assistant with the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade), and she was worried about how her husband’s military skills would translate into the civilian workforce. But, perhaps the scariest part was transitioning from a military spouse to an ordinary citizen.
From commissary to grocery store
Coming back into civilian life was a whole new world for Teri. With the solid routine of military life gone, for the first time in decades, Teri was in charge of her own destiny—where to live, what career path to pursue, and how to structure her day-to-day life. Military bases are like small cities: they have everything families need to live—grocery stores, doctors offices, schools—so coming into the larger civilian world can present an overload of options. “It’s kind of like being an expat in your own country,” says Teri.
Teri and her family were able to ease their transition by moving back to Gig Harbor, Washington, where they already owned a home. During a previous deployment, their kids had played sports and gone to school in the community, so they had some civilian friends to reach out to. The hardest part, they figured, would be finding jobs.
After moving to Gig Harbor, Teri settled into an office manager job at the World Trade Center in Tacoma. It was during Teri’s time there that her friend, then-military program manager at Code Fellows Maggie Molina, asked Teri to take over the position.
“She called me and she said, ‘I want you to carry on my legacy,’” says Teri. “There is nothing more flattering than to have somebody tell you they trust you with their legacy, and that’s exactly the way she looked at this. It was the legacy of taking care of veterans, and that was the important part.”
Once military, always military
Today, Teri serves veterans in a new way: as the military program manager at Code Fellows, a role that allows her to help veterans find meaningful, fulfilling work in the tech industry. As part of the admissions team, she talks to every single applicant—veterans and their families alike—who wants to use the GI Bill to propel a second career in coding. She knows how hard it can be to make that transition into civilian life, and she wants to use her experience to help pave the way for her military community.
“I recognize that had I been in tech, had I gone to Code Fellows, then I could have had a career as a spouse that was more portable,” she says. “I could have found work in the same type of field. It may not have been the same company, it may not have been doing the same job, but in the same type of field where my skills could grow, I could grow.”
Each veteran who graduates from Code Fellows lays the groundwork for more to follow, and with each admissions interview she conducts, Teri helps those veterans take the first step in their coding journeys. She stands by her military community not only because of the camaraderie and mutual love of serving she feels with them, but also because she believes in them.
“Tech is hard. You’re always learning. It’s always moving forward,” says Teri. “And the military really brings that grit. It’s not about sitting still and waiting for somebody to come and give them everything they need. They’re like, ‘No, we’re going to get it done.’”
Through her role at Code Fellows, Teri uses her experience in military life to help veterans transfer their skills to a whole new life path. She gets to watch and help people grow. And she gets to put in her service where it matters most to her: within her military community.
Thinking about making the transition to a new career path? If you’re a veteran or want to know more about using your GI Bill, we’ll automatically connect you with Teri. Check out our admissions process here.