These two Iron Yard grads want to make it easier for servicemembers to buy condos - DC

Software Development

These two Iron Yard grads want to make it easier for servicemembers to buy condos

Meet Stella Ma and Eric Douglas, two recent grads of the coding bootcamp who are putting their newfound knowledge to good use.

Finding VA-approved loans for D.C. condos isn't as easy as it should be. Until now.

(Photo by Flickr user Tim Evanson, used under a Creative Commons license)

Until just a few months ago, Stella Ma was working on a mobile app to help female travelers find travel companions and Eric Douglas was a public high-school physics teacher in northern Virginia. For various reasons those two divergent career paths led both Ma and Douglas, at the same moment, to a three-month coding bootcamp at The Iron Yard.

Now the duo is gearing up to demo their final project — a web app called OscarMike Condos (OMC) that aims to help identify Department of Veterans Affairs loan-approved condos that are for sale. It’s quite the transformation.

“Three months ago, I didn’t even know how to open up a command line terminal,” Ma reflects. “Now I’m building entirely functional web apps. The change still surprises me.”

So what’s that process of transformation like? And why OscarMike Condos? Ma and Douglas joined to reflect on the rewards and challenges of the bootcamp experience, and share what they’ve built.

OscarMike, so named for the military jargon denoting “on the move,” sets out to answer a simple question: which VA loan-approved condos are for sale? “You would think this already exists, but unfortunately the current process is tedious and inefficient,” Ma and Douglas told

With OMC, though, current or former servicemembers searching to buy a condo can see what’s available with one click, rather than searching through, and comparing, Zillow and VA information by hand — an undoubtedly time-consuming process.

The site’s Ruby on Rails backend scrapes the VA website for all loan-approved condo buildings, formats the addresses through the Google Geocoder API and then filters through the Zillow API. Easy.

The condo search function in OscarMike Condos. (Courtesy photo)

The condo search function in OscarMike Condos. (Courtesy image)

Ma and Douglas were inspired to create OMC based on Ma’s experience searching for a condo with her boyfriend, who is active duty Navy, and Douglas’ recent experience purchasing a home. But the duo also felt the tug of an unfilled niche. “We were surprised that something like OMC didn’t already exist, which is why we decided to build it,” they said.


Building OMC wasn’t just a question of writing the code and working with difficult VA data, however (though this was certainly also the case). As new programmers, Ma and Douglas were learning almost everything from the ground up.

“One of the greatest challenges was trying to mold my thinking to fit that of a computer programmer,” Ma told “There have been lectures and assignments where I could almost feel my brain processes changing to use logic I had probably never engaged before. It’s like when you work out a muscle that you didn’t even know existed. But when you get it, that feeling is about as rewarding as it gets.”

Douglas felt similarly: “At times, I doubted if I would ever really make the leap from novice programmer to professional,” he reflected. However, there was always a reward to be found in the sheer experience of learning. “No matter whether I had a good day, a hard day, a successful day, or a frustrating day, I knew that I had learned something that day.”

OMC is currently in proof-of-concept stage with D.C. as a test market. Ultimately, however, the duo would love to make the site “a one stop shop for those hoping to utilize a VA loan.” Ma and Douglas, graduates of the front-end and back-end engineering courses respectively, told they are aiming to release a nation-wide beta of OMC on Veterans Day, November 11.

Despite how far they’ve has come in three months, though, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

The OscarMike interface. (Courtesy photo)

The OscarMike interface. (Courtesy photo)

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