Tony Khawaja-Lopez: MMA Coach to Cybersecurity

“My life simply wouldn’t be the same without changing careers. My wife and I are living well because of my career switch.”

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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.

Disclaimer: The information in this blog is current as of October 23, 2023. Current policies, offerings, procedures, and programs may differ.

About Anna Van Deusen

Anna Van Deusen is the Marketing Content Manager at Flatiron School. When not writing about tech and Flatiron School students, she can be found hanging out with her dogs on a beach…

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