At Flatiron School, our success is our students’ success — when students get jobs, we achieve our mission of enabling the pursuit of a better life through education. But, students’ stories don’t end after they graduate. In this series, we chat with Flatiron School’s alumni community about their journey into coding, and how that journey transformed their life.
A common theme for many students attending the Access Labs Initiative, powered by WeWork and Flatiron School, is a desire to change their careers and empower themselves economically. This was especially true for Saige L., a student from Access Labs’ first cohort. Before attending Flatiron School, Saige was working retail jobs to get by. He was eager to help himself and his mom, whom he lived with, overcome their economic hardships.
After speaking with friends and mentors in tech, Saige decided that he needed to change careers. He’s now a full-time software engineer at 2U Inc. and has gained the financial freedom he’d been searching for since college.
Below, Saige discusses how software engineering has helped him find financial security, a career he loves, and the ability to support his mother.
With three years of mechanical engineering under his belt — and no money to complete his college education — Saige worked retail positions to help pay off his loans. He soon realized that these jobs were not enough to make an impact on his loans. “I was going down a never-ending cycle,” he recalls.
Saige had student loans to consider while his situation at home created a greater sense of urgency to switch careers. “I knew that a drastic change needed to take place after seeing my mother struggle with maintaining our home,” said Saige.
He needed a career that combined opportunity with stability. He found his inspiration from friends and mentors.
When Saige felt ready to take the steps to improve his life, he reached out to industry veterans for advice. “It was important for me to seek the council of mentors, who happen to be black women, doing well for themselves in their tech careers,” he said.
These mentors advised that he had the mindset and background to succeed even though the change would be drastic. “It gave me the confidence to have people who look like me, as a person of color, to encourage me to take the leap of faith and be there for me along the way,” he said.
As he prepared to transition from retail to the 15-week immersive Software Engineering program, Saige battled with the idea that he wasn’t ready. “You have to jump in. There’s never going to be a perfect time,” he said.
With very little programming experience before starting the Coding Bootcamp Prep, he began to question whether he was good enough to complete the course. “It’s more about having the ability to push past obstacles, not so much your technical acumen, if you want to be successful in this industry” said Saige. It was his willingness to push past his feelings of not belonging, along with the support of his instructors and cohort, that helped him excel throughout the program.
His fellow students were also his biggest allies. “What made Flatiron School so great is that your cohort is like one big family. We’re always discussing our challenges and trying to help each other,” he said. That culture was also reflected in the instructors who were always available to help students.
As Saige completed his 15-week course, he was anxious to begin his new career. With the help of Flatiron School’s career services program, he was thoroughly prepared for any interview question he received.
He also realized how important the social aspect of tech is to prospective companies. “Anybody can learn to code, anybody can learn to program. Not everyone can cooperate. Not everyone can make coding a pleasant experience,” he observed. Coding is already stressful and a good programmer makes a tense situation easier to navigate by being a great teammate, according to Saige.
Key Takeaway – At Flatiron School it’s critical that students are great developers and great people. Companies hire quality engineers, but they invest long term in quality people.
After graduating from Access Labs, Saige was able to land a job as an Apprentice at 2U Inc., an education technology company that partners with top colleges and universities to bring their degree programs and credit-bearing courses online. He has since been promoted to work full-time as a Software Engineer.
Saige enjoys the work he’s doing but he’s most proud of how he’s been able to lift some of the financial burden from his mother’s shoulders.
“I was unemployed, living with my mother in a house that she struggled to maintain. After some months, I was able to buy my mother a new house with a co-sign from my father. I was able to improve my credit, as well as pay off all my student loans. This changed my life. Economically challenged communities need opportunities like this.”
Now Saige is looking forward to working with Access Labs to help make sure that people in economically disenfranchised communities know that a career in tech is not only a great option, but does not require a college tuition.
He also hopes that underrepresented groups understand how important it is to have a presence in tech. “Outside of the economic reasons, people of color, minorities in general, should strongly consider this field because it will define the future for us,” he said. “Technology is an extension of the creator so if we don’t have diversity in tech, our tech won’t be diverse and it won’t be able to handle diversity.”