April 11, 2017
Tosin Awofeso felt like he didn’t have a lot of options. With a baby on the way, stringing together freelance gigs as a piano player and photographer wasn’t going to cut it.
One morning, Awofeso showed up for an interview for a customer service position at OwnLocal, a search engine optimization company in Austin, Texas. Awofeso really wanted that job, because simply put, he needed it to feed his family. Unfortunately, they turned him away and said that he should “concentrate on what he’s really passionate about.”
“I was like, ‘I’m really passionate about feeding my unborn child,’” Awofeso told me last month. “I just wanted to take care of my family.”
Without another promising lead on full-time work, Awofeso was back doing gigs at night and figuring out how to support his family. To add to the worry, he and his partner Sophia had to move several times and had to live out of a hotel. Their car barely worked and they didn’t have the money to fix it whenever it decided to die on them. Sophia was unable to work due to her back problems and a challenging pregnancy.
Prior to interviewing at OwlLocal, Awofeso had started taking free online coding classes, thinking the skill might lead him to a good, steady paycheck and health benefits. He hadn’t made much progress, though. He thought attending a coding school would be a better path to learning coding. The problem was, those schools were expensive and he didn’t have the money to enroll.
Then he got a stroke of luck. A friend who knew he was in a bind offered to give him the money for a deposit on a coding school program. Awofeso credits as one of the big breaks that helped him sort out his life,
“I was like, ‘Hell yeah!’” Awofeso told me.
Awofeso had a friend who was an instructor at Galvanize’s Austin campus. What’s more, Awofeso looked at the school’s placement rates and the kind of jobs Galvanize grads were landing and felt it would be a good fit for him.
Awofeso hesitated at first and realized money wasn’t the only obstacle, there was also his time. He’d have to put the rest of his life on hold for six months—no work, no music performances. What’s more, Sophia’s due date was only a few months away.
“I almost didn’t do it,” Awofeso said.
He and Sophia talked it through and decided that although it would be tough, if they could just get through those six months of school, things might finally be easier.
“Once I started, I went with the mindset that I needed to succeed—all my eggs were in this basket,” Awofeso said.
If beginning school wasn’t hard enough, Awofeso and Sophia continued to struggle to find a stable place to live. They had to move out of the hotel and stayed with a friend who had an extra room they rented as an Airbnb. Awofeso and Sophia lived there when the room was vacant, but every time someone rented it they had to move out for a few days and stay somewhere else.
Nevertheless, Awofeso studied coding and did everything he could to care for his pregnant partner at the same time. Awofeso was used to these type of challenges in life but it didn’t get him down.
“I’ve been black for a long time,” he said. “I’m not mad at anybody, but I’ve had to work twice as hard to get half as far in a lot of places.”
A few weeks in, Awofeso began to gain his stride with coding.
“I love coding,” he said. “It’s so much fun; I love solving problems other people give up on.”
He credits three things having made all the difference for him at Galvanize: an incredible teacher, a great curriculum, and a killer group of people in his cohort.
“It was fantastic,” Awofeso said. “I learned quickly and was perfectly challenged the whole time.”
Toward the end of his six months, Awofeso was sitting in a workshop about how to negotiate a competitive salary. His phone rang. It was someone with an Austin startup called Common Edit, a music company he’d hoped to work for someday.
“Literally, I get up out of the room and get an offer during the talk about how to negotiate the salary you’re worth,” Awofeso said. “So I had the confidence to be like, ‘No, I need to get paid this much.’”
He was able to start with a short-term contract for the pay he negoitated. Eventually, Common Edit liked what he was producing and agreed to hire him full-time at the same rate and would be working on their “suite of tech products that will help musicians collaborate with each other and make music.”
I checked in with Awofeso and he’d already had a couple paychecks land in his bank account and things were looking up. Awofeso had just bought a new Kia, and he and Sophia and their new little baby were going apartment hunting.
“There’s an end in sight,” he said.
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