Tony Khawaja-Lopez: MMA Coach to Cybersecurity

Tony Khawaja-Lopez, a November 2022 Cybersecurity Engineering graduate from Flatiron School, initially began his career in tech before spending several years in martial arts and the service industry. It took an injury to inspire him to come full circle to where he began – tech.


Tony initially graduated with a degree in Computer Science. Post-graduation he was employed in the tech industry for a few years before switching to working as an MMA Coach and Stackbucks Supervisor. But, he says that an injury made him reconsider his current career path. 

“When I got injured, my wife [had just been] accepted to a Ph.D. program in Boston,” he explained. “Ultimately, I [wanted to change careers] for a better lifestyle and a field that was more mentally stimulating.”

While considering his next step, he found that he didn’t have to go far. In fact, he went full circle back to where he began – tech. 

“I have been a techie most of my life and Cybersecurity has always been interesting to me. I had been thinking about the field a lot, and after [my injury] I decided to take the plunge,” he said. “Cybersecurity seemed like work with importance and it was just the coolest thing I could think of.”

Bootcamp Experience

Transitioning into a new field, however, would require an expanded skill set. Eventually, Tony learned of Flatiron School’s Cybersecurity program through referrals from previous graduates. 

“I did some market research and spoke with a few friends who all knew someone who had gone to Flatiron,” he said. “After my own friend signed up, I decided I would too.” 

Tony enrolled in Flatiron School’s Cybersecurity Engineering Flex program, an online, part-time program designed for busy people. The format enables students to continue to work or fulfill other responsibilities while pursuing their education – a delicate balance that Tony admits was difficult to strike at first. 

“I worked throughout the whole program,” he explained. “So, time management and goalkeeping [were challenging].” 

Despite the challenges he faced adjusting to the coursework, Tony reported that he enjoyed the entirety of the program – hard work included. 

“My favorite part of the program was definitely the experience throughout, understanding something that was so foreign to me was an experience I hadn’t really ever achieved through conventional education,” he said. “I really enjoyed working with my Cohort lead, and the time they would take to help us whenever we messaged them.”

Job Search

Tony graduated from Flatiron School on November 9, 2022. By the time he received his certificate of completion, he already had two job offers in hand.

“The job search experience was tough at first, it involves a lot of leg work and finding what works for you,” he recalled. “But, I job-searched throughout the entire program, and managed to land two security-based IT jobs before even graduating.”

When we spoke with him almost a year out from graduation, he had nothing but good things to say about his decision to pivot into Cybersecurity. 

“My life simply wouldn’t be the same without the change. My wife and I are living well because of the career switch, which allows me to work from home while she studies for her Ph.D.”

Check out what Tony’s up to on his website:

Reflecting On His Journey

Looking back on where he began, Tony is acutely aware of the importance of betting on oneself. 

“[Before attending Flatiron] I had been on the fence, worried that if it didn’t pan out, I’d be in a pinch,” he said. “However, the experience, what I learned, and the opportunities wouldn’t have been possible without attending Flatiron and going for it.”

 As for his advice to current Cybersecurity students, he recommends accepting the fact that you may not get things right the first time and to lean on those around you for help.

“There’s going to be a lot that won’t make sense, and you might have to spend 4 or 5 times the amount of time you thought you would on something to understand it. Reaching out to others in your cohort will get you further than you could alone.”

Ready To Pivot, Just Like Tony Khawaja-Lopez?

Apply Now to join other career changers like Tony Khawaja-Lopez in a program that’ll give you the tech skills you need to land your first job in tech.

Not ready to apply? Try out our Free Cybersecurity Prep Work and test-run the material we teach in the course. Read more stories about successful career changes on the Flatiron School blog.

Qingsong Chen: Biology to Cybersecurity

Qingsong Chen, an October 2022 Cybersecurity graduate from Flatiron School, began his career working in the biological sciences. But, a short 4 years in, he made the decision to pivot to tech.

He shares his journey of crossing continents and changing careers below.


Qingsong Chen began his career in China, first earning a degree in Medical Laboratory Technology from the Hubei University of Chinese Medicine, then working for four years as a Laboratory Assistant. But, despite his burgeoning profession in the biological sciences, he felt that something had to change. 

“I wasn’t living the lifestyle I wanted and my field of interest was more in IT,” he explained. “After researching the fields of tech I found myself very interested and eager to learn more; working in tech also felt like ‘my type’ of lifestyle.”

He took his time exploring different aspects of tech, trying out coding languages and software to see what he liked most. 

“I pursued self-learning in all areas of tech including Java, front end development, python, and cybersecurity,” he said. “I found out that I was most interested in Cybersecurity. So, I decided to leave the medical field and pursue a career I would enjoy.”

Bootcamp Experience

To expedite his transition into Cybersecurity, Qingsong began looking into bootcamps that would teach him the skills he needed to land his first job in tech. Eventually, he decided to apply to the Flatiron School Cybersecurity program.

“I did a lot of research before choosing Flatiron School,” he recalled. “Ultimately, I made the decision primarily based on the feedback from some graduates and a little bit of instinct. I also hoped to network with other students entering the field.” 

Qingsong enrolled in Flatiron School’s full-time online Cybersecurity Engineering Live program. An accelerated course, it is designed to equip students with the foundational skills needed to break into the Cybersecurity industry. While he recalls initially finding it difficult to adjust to the “entry-level knowledge gap,” he appreciated the labs that equipped him with real-world skills. 

“My favorite part of the program was the hands-on labs,” he said. “Only by getting your hands dirty can you validate and truly understand what you have learned.”

The Job Search

Upon graduation in October 2022, Qingsong entered a tech job market that had recently been shaken by layoffs at big-name companies. But, despite the “hard” job search, Qingsong’s Flatiron School career coach supported him throughout. 

“My career coach helped a lot with my resume and my LinkedIn profile,” he said, “and we communicated regularly to discuss what I could improve in my job search.”

Ultimately, Qingsong accepted a tech-adjacent role at a technology company in Fremont, California. Though not the Cybersecurity role he’d initially set his sights on, he is confident that his current position will set him up for success moving forward.

“Though I was not yet able to land a job in Cybersecurity, I got an offer as a Server Repair Technician in a big company. In only 4 months I’ve become widely recognized as a reliable and capable person,” he said. “I’m hopeful I’ll be able to take the next step in my Cybersecurity career soon.”

Reflecting On His Journey

Looking back on where he began – a continent and a career ago – Qingsong’s takeaway is the importance of leaning into the challenge to get valuable experience. 

“I was able to complete tasks that were a bit over my experience level, as I learned a lot each time I got stuck. There were challenging tasks that took tons of time, but every minute was worth it. I am proud that I was able to hang in there and overcome the problems I’ve encountered.”

As for his advice to other upcoming graduates, he recommends considering a tech-adjacent job as a stepping stone.

“Breaking into the field of Cybersecurity is hard especially if you don’t have related experience,” he explained. “I would advise current students to consider other tech-related jobs to start with and build a way towards Cybersecurity. For example, if you’re offered a Network Engineer role but not a Cybersecurity role, consider taking it to start with.”

Ready For A Change, Just Like Qingsong Chen?

Apply Now to join other career changers like Qingsong Chen in a program that’ll give you the tech skills you need to land your first job in tech.

Not ready to apply? Try out our Free Cybersecurity Prep Work and test-run the material we teach in the course. Read more stories about successful career changes on the Flatiron School blog.

Terry Threatt: Event Management to Software Engineering

Terry Threatt, a December 2020 graduate of Flatiron School’s Software Engineering program, began his career in sports event management, but a life-long interest in coding ultimately led him to tech. 

He shares his journey from planning events to writing code below.


Terry Threatt began his career in the world of sports, first as a college athlete and then as an event manager for athletic events. But, despite his fledgling career in athletics, Terry had a secret – he loved coding, and his interest in Software Engineering was drawing him in. 

“I’d been experimenting with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript since I was 14,” he said. “The allure of coding never left me, it felt like a calling that combined my love for problem-solving and a desire to make a big impact.”

It was in 2017, just short three years after earning an MBA in Sports Business, that Terry’s passion for the field was “reignited through an Angular book” and he decided to seriously pursue a career change. 

“The field of tech drew me in because of its boundless opportunities to engage in new problems and the chance to make lives easier,” he explained. “I realized that with coding I could craft tools that streamline processes and create efficiencies in many areas and industries. It felt like a canvas where I could continually create, innovate, and learn.”

He started learning on his own, but eventually hit a wall. He recognized he’d need external guidance and support to progress to a professional level. 

“After years of self-study, I recognized some knowledge gaps and realized I needed a structured approach to take my skills to the next level,” he explained. “Flatiron School offered exactly what I needed to streamline my learning and prepare me for the ever-evolving tech world.”

Bootcamp Experience

To break through his learning plateau, Terry enrolled in Flatiron School’s Part-Time Online Software Engineering program. While the program’s format allowed him the flexibility to learn at his own pace while continuing to work, balancing existing responsibilities while adapting to the course is a challenge for even the most organized students. 

“Juggling the part-time program while working a full-time job was no small feat. Long nights of debugging and intense focus were required,” he said. “The time commitment was challenging, but it taught me resilience and discipline—skills that now define my approach to my work and growth.”

Despite those long nights, Terry thoroughly enjoyed both his coursework and his classmate’s company. 

“My favorite part of Flatiron School was the project/assessment period and the people. The assessments allowed me to gauge my progress and set reachable goals, while my cohort mates and instructor made the learning process enriching and enjoyable. We grew together, and the bonds forged will last a lifetime.”

Job Search

After 10 months of study, Terry graduated in late 2020, right into the height of the COVID pandemic. Despite the circumstances, he says his job search “went well” and was supported by his dedicated Flatiron School career coach. 

“My career coach was instrumental in my job search. She provided endless resources and motivation, guiding me toward landing my first role. Her support made the transition into tech smooth and inspiring,” he said. “It was a challenging job market at the time but I was still able to land a role as a software engineer for a commercial real estate company.”

When we spoke with him in August 2023, Terry reported that he was thriving in his new career field.

“Working in tech has been everything I hoped for and more. As a Software Engineer, I’m continually learning and have the opportunity to develop software that enhances people’s work. It’s a field where my creativity and drive can flourish.”

To see what Terry is up to now, visit his LinkedIn and his blog

Reflecting On His Journey

Looking back on the path he’s taken, Terry’s takeaway is that of embracing the possibility of transformation.  

“The biggest lesson I learned is that change is within our grasp. My decision to attend Flatiron School created a profound change in my life. It reinforced my belief that with determination and the right choices, we can shape our destiny.”

As for his advice to others just beginning their Flatiron School programs, he recommends trusting the process and staying the course. 

“The journey may be tough, but the rewards are immeasurable. Believe in your goals, and you’ll find that everything falls into place. Your dreams are reachable, and Flatiron School is a stepping stone towards realizing them.”

Ready For A Change, Just Like Terry Threatt?

Apply Now to join other career changers like Terry Threatt in a program that sets you apart from the competition. 

Need more time to be ready to apply? Try out our Free Software Engineering Prep. Or, review the Software Engineering course Syllabus that will set you up for success and can help launch you into a new and fulfilling career.

Read more stories about successful career changes on the Flatiron School blog.

Cybersecurity Awareness Month 2023

2023 is the 20th anniversary of Cybersecurity Awareness Month. All October long, while Halloween candy fills stores, government agencies and private industry organizations collaborate to ensure every American has the resources to stay safe and secure online.

So, in honor of the Cybersecurity industry keeping individuals, companies, and governments safe on the web (and your yearly reminder that ‘Password’ should never be your actual password), we’re featuring 5 recent Cybersecurity grads and their reasons for pursuing a career in the field.

Usman Sikander: Mechanical Engineer to Cybersecurity Analyst

Usman Sikander

Usman Sikander, a May 2021 Cybersecurity Analytics* graduate from Flatiron School, began his career in mechanical engineering. Eventually, an interest in the digital world of cybersecurity led him to tech.

“I was drawn to the field […] due to its dynamic nature and the ever-growing importance of securing digital assets in our increasingly connected world,” he explained. “The constant evolution of technology presents both opportunities and challenges. I was captivated by the idea of playing a crucial role in safeguarding sensitive information and defending against cyber threats.”

When we spoke with Usman in June 2023, he’d been working as a Cybersecurity Analyst and White Hat Hacker at Warehouse Services, Inc. for just under 2 years. He has only good things to say about his new career.

“Working in cybersecurity has been a fulfilling and exciting experience. The opportunity to protect organizations and individuals from cyber threats, analyze vulnerabilities, and develop robust security strategies is deeply satisfying. The reality of the field certainly lives up to the initial allure and expectations.”

Read his full career change story

Igor Vlasenko: Air Traffic Control to Cybersecurity

Igor Vlasenko

Igor Vlasenko, an August 2022 Cybersecurity Engineering graduate from Flatiron School, grew up in Ukraine and went to university to be an air traffic controller. After moving to the USA as an adult, he decided to pursue Cybersecurity for a technical challenge.

“I didn’t feel challenged. When I asked myself if doing what I was doing every day at work helped me get where I want to be, I did not get a satisfactory answer,” he explained. “That was the primary reason I decided that I had to do something about it.”

As to why he settled on Cybersecurity, Igor cites a “curiosity” about the field. 

“I would read news articles about recent cybersecurity breaches throughout various industries around the world,” he said. “And I often found myself not understanding the specifics of adversary techniques and defense mechanisms. I wanted to understand it better and be able to protect myself and others.”

After graduating, Igor accepted a Senior Information Security Analyst position with Western Union, based in his new hometown of Denver, Colorado.

Read his full career change story.

Maxwell Wolfe: DJ to Cybersecurity

Maxwell Wolfe

Maxwell Wolfe, a May 2021 Cybersecurity graduate, says that he could easily fill the pages of a book to explain the winding career path he’s taken to get where he is today. He held a string of unrelated, hands-on positions until the pandemic left him without an income and casting about for his next move. 

But, in his search for a new career, Maxwell didn’t have to go far. He went back to his early curiosity in “gadgets,” renewing his interest in a tech career he’d long ago discounted as unrealistic. 

“Tech and video games always intrigued me,” he recalled. “But I never thought I was cut out for a career in tech until I stumbled upon some free online resources.” 

His decision to pursue Cybersecurity specifically, however, was driven by a more recent experience.  

“The TV show Mr. Robot was a significant catalyst, inspiring me to dive into tech and, more specifically, ethical hacking. The idea of protecting individuals or non-profit organizations sparked my desire to contribute positively to society and prompted me to embark on this new career path.”

After graduating, he worked as a SOC Analyst at a technology company for over a year. After taking some time off to earn additional certifications and enhance his skills, Maxwell opened Wolfhart IT, an IT service provider and consulting firm, in mid-2023. In early July he shared on LinkedIn that his company had signed its first contract.

Read his full career change story.

Roger Brown: Amazon Career Choice 2021

Roger Brown

Roger Brown, an October 2021 graduate of the Amazon Career Choice Cybersecurity Engineering program, transitioned into tech by way of Amazon’s Career Choice program. He began his career in hospitality, working in the field for several years before transitioning into tech.

“I was drawn to the constantly evolving nature of the tech industry and the opportunity to work with cutting-edge technology.”

In early 2021, he’d been working as an Inbound Problem Solver at Amazon for two years when he learned about the Amazon Career Choice program. The program allows Amazon employees to receive technical training from partner institutions to pursue higher-paying career paths. 

Roger was accepted and enrolled with a cohort of fellow students from Amazon. The program ran for 32 weeks from February through October with the curriculum delivered online via live lectures. Students completed about 15 hours a week of classwork while continuing to work full-time, a logistical challenge for any new student. 

“Balancing the intense coursework with my other responsibilities was challenging,” Roger recalled. “But, my favorite part of the program was the hands-on projects, which allowed me to apply what I had learned and see the results firsthand.”

When we chatted with Roger in early 2023 he reported that he was “working as a Cybersecurity Specialist at a top tech company.”

Read his full career change story.

Travon Bryant: Amazon Career Choice 2022

Travon Bryant title card

Travon Bryant, an October 2022 graduate of the Amazon Career Choice Cybersecurity Engineering program, began his career by earning an Associate of Science degree and spent the next 11 years as a pharmacy technician. But, a decade in, Travon’s priorities had changed, and he decided it was time to pivot. 

“I chose to make the switch because the pharmacy wasn’t paying the bills,” he explained. “I wanted to get a good-paying job to be able to take care of my family.” 

It was while working for Pillpack – a pharmaceutical management service acquired by Amazon in 2018 – that Travon learned about the Amazon Career Choice program. The program allows Amazon employees to receive technical training from partner institutions to pursue higher-paying career paths. While exploring the program, Travon settled on applying for the Amazon Career Choice Cybersecurity Bootcamp taught by Flatiron School. 

“I was always interested in securing networks and the tools that were involved,” he said.  “I needed a change, so when presented with the opportunity [to change careers], I took it.”

Upon graduating in October 2022 with a brand new Cybersecurity skillset, Travon quickly secured his first opportunity. When we spoke with him in June 2023, he had only good things to say about working in his industry. 

“My job search was brief. I had 3 interviews before getting a job at a bank in a rotational program where I rotate every 8 months to a new cybersecurity team. I love my new field, it definitely lives up to my dream. I’m proud I’m in the field at a good company.”

Read his full career change story.

Secure The World With Cybersecurity

Has a career in cybersecurity always fascinated you? Do you often try to convince your family and friends to update their passwords? Then a career in cybersecurity might be the perfect fit for you!

Apply Now to join career changers like those featured above in a program that’ll give you the cybersecurity skills you’ll need to land your first job in tech.

Not ready to apply? Try out our Free Cybersecurity Prep Work and test-run the material we teach in the course. Read more stories about successful career changes on the Flatiron School blog.

*The Cybersecurity Analytics program is no longer available. For prospective students interested in this course of study, visit the Cybersecurity course page to learn more.

Ilolo Izu: Medicine to Software Engineering

Ilolo Izu, an April 2022 graduate of Flatiron School’s Software Engineering program, began his career on the “right” path. But, shortly after enrolling in graduate school, had a change of heart. 

He shares his journey from pursuing medicine to becoming a Software Engineer below.

A Background In Medicine

If you Google Ilolo Izu, one of the first things you’ll find – right below his LinkedIn profile – is his Wikipedia page. The fact that it exists is a testament to his hard work and the fairly substantial list of achievements he’d already earned before coming to Flatiron School. He studied Allied Health as an undergrad at Texas A&M University, where he competed as a student-athlete in track and field, setting a world record time for the 4×400 meters relay indoor in March 2018. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science, a minor in business administration, and a long list of student activities and awards. But, a few semesters into his graduate studies to become a Physician Assistant, Ilolo realized something – he wasn’t on the right path. 

“Living in a small west Texas town and studying 16+ hours a day made me reconsider what was important to me. I chose medicine initially because I knew it was a stereotypical good career,” he explained, “something that would gain some respect. Rather than finding something I was passionate about, I chose something I knew would give me a relatively good life.” 

Deciding On Tech

Following this revelation, Ilolo stepped off the path that would have led him to a career in medicine. In the search for his next career, Ilolo’s thoughts returned to an early childhood interest – technology. 

“I always have been a techie—whether modding video games like Minecraft growing up or even keeping up with the latest OS updates for all my devices or even trying to code my own game when I was in 7th grade from YouTube tutorials.” 

But, what made him finally pull the trigger on the significant life change, was jealousy. 

“I heard in a podcast that if a particular lifestyle or job makes you jealous, it’s a good inclination that it’s something you should try to pursue. After hearing those words, I took a big leap of faith into dropping out of grad school and pursuing learning to code.”

Bootcamp Experience

Having set his sights on pursuing a tech career, Ilolo enrolled in Flatiron School’s full-time online Software Engineering Live program. He chose the program primarily based on the testimony of previous graduates.

“Flatiron School had a solid reputation. I first heard of Flatiron when my friend working as a Software Engineer at Microsoft told me she had some coworkers who went through the bootcamp. This was really important to me as I knew that it wasn’t only about the skills that mattered, but also about the professionalism of each individual.” 

Joined by a cohort of other learners, he committed to studying 8 hours a day, Monday through Friday. Ilolo says that, while he “loved the technical projects” during his program, his favorite part was making connections with other students. 

“As an online student, it was especially important to me to connect with my cohort and build a sense of community. We worked closely together on a daily basis and held each other accountable for producing our best work.”

Despite being an online student, the cohort got to connect in person towards the tail end of the course. 

“I was thrilled to meet everyone in person during our final days in NYC, and we still keep in touch to this day. The bonds I formed with my cohort members have been invaluable in my career journey, and I’m grateful to have had such a supportive and motivating group of people by my side during the program.”

Job Search

Ilolo graduated from Flatiron School in April 2022 with a plan: to land his first role “within 3 months of leaving the program.” To achieve his goal, he started the job search early. 

“I began applying to positions during phase 2 of the program to gain experience and learn how to handle failures quickly. The hardest part was the technical interviews. You always hear they are hard, but you never really understand it until you take one. Once I became strict with my schedule, consistency was the only thing that I needed for everything to fall into place.” 

Ultimately, that persistence paid off. Within weeks of graduating, Ilolo landed his first tech job as an Associate Software Engineer at RippleMatch. 

“I was able to [land a role] within the first month. Consistency and dedication to my schedule played a big role in my success during the job search process.”

Working In The Field

When we spoke to Ilolo in March 2023, he had only good things to say about his new career. 

“As a Full Stack Software Engineer, I have the unique opportunity to dive deep into both the frontend and backend processes, enabling me to develop a comprehensive understanding of how everything fits together. Overall, the tech industry’s fast-paced and dynamic nature keeps me excited and motivated to continue learning and growing as a professional.”

And, if you’re wondering whether he ever thinks about his previous career path, Ilolo says that at their foundation, both fields actually serve the same purpose.  

“Being a software engineer [allows] me to still help people through the projects I’m building, similarly to how I was helping people in medicine.”

Ilolo also has enjoyed the constant pursuit of knowledge inherent to the field. 

“I love that technology is constantly evolving, and there’s always something new to learn and improve upon. I really love to learn and challenge myself. [Software Engineering] allows me to be a life-long learner.”

Curious to see what Ilolo Izu is up to now? Visit his portfolio website or his YouTube channel

Reflecting On His Journey

Looking back on his student experience, Ilolo’s biggest takeaway was the importance of “enjoying the process” and making the most of one’s time in the program. 

“During my time at Flatiron School, I learned that the journey is just as important as the destination. I realized that immersing yourself in the process and enjoying every step can make you a better engineer, designer, data analyst, or whatever you aspire to be. Utilizing the resources provided by Flatiron, such as the career coach, technical coaches, and fellow cohort-mates is crucial in achieving success. I found that everyone in the program is striving for the same goal, so working together and supporting each other is the best way to make it happen.”

As for his advice to other students hoping to transition into tech, he stresses the importance of making connections. 

“Make the most out of LinkedIn. Posting regular blog articles, setting up coffee chats, sharing technical insights, and growing your network can all lead to great opportunities,” he said. “Strong communication skills are just as important as technical skills, and building connections can often lead to unexpected successes. At the end of the day, people hire people, to work with people!”

As for what’s next, Ilolo looks forward to continued growth.

“Learning to code has been a challenging but rewarding journey. It’s allowed me to combine my love for problem-solving with my tech-savvy skills to create something tangible. Looking back, I’m grateful for the experiences that led me to where I am today, and I’m excited for what the future holds as a developer.”

Ready For A Change, Just Like Ilolo Izu?

Apply Now to join other career changers like Ilolo Izu in a program that sets you apart from the competition. 

Not ready to apply? Try out our Free Software Engineering Prep. Or, review the Software Engineering Course Syllabus that will set you up for success and can help launch you into a new and fulfilling career.

Read more stories about successful career changes on the Flatiron School blog.