In this feature of CK Spotlight, we hear from Kwamena Amissah, a graduate of Flatiron School in Atlanta. He explains how he went from struggling to teach himself to code to finding much more success in the structured and supportive environment offered by Flatiron School. He goes on to detail the crucial role that Career Karma played in his bootcamp experience—especially as he was enrolled in one of Flatiron School Atlanta’s very first cohorts.
Next, Kwamena covers the options he had available to him to fund his coding bootcamp at Flatiron School, emphasizing the importance of a scholarship designed to help women and people of color get coding education.
Finally, Kwam discusses his experiences as he has begun taking the first steps into the job hunt. He outlines how challenging this part of the process of breaking into tech can be but ends on a positive note, leaving absolutely no doubt about the value he gained from attending a coding bootcamp.
If you’re considering enrolling in a coding bootcamp, do yourself a favor and listen in to Kwamena’s inspiring story. Once you’ve listened and are feeling pumped about breaking into tech, be sure to download the free Career Karma app and let us help you get your career change on track!
KAHAAN PATEL (Interviewer): Today we are doing another episode of the CK Spotlight. During these episodes, we like to feature members of our community who have a remarkable journey of breaking into tech and have broken in by attending a coding bootcamp, are still going through one, or have graduated from one.
Our guest today fits that bill to the T. His name is Kwam. I’m going to let Kwam introduce himself and tell us a little bit more about his story and how he got into tech.
KWAMENA AMISSAH: Hi everyone, my name is Kwamena Amissah. I recently completed the software engineering program at Flatiron School this past February. Before that, I was doing finance for a number of years coming from Howard University as a finance major. I went into corporate finance before thinking about making a transition into tech.
Kahaan: What prompted you to even consider tech?
Kwamena: For me, it was the level of creativity that you can have when you’re developing—especially as a coder. It’s more than just coding because there’s a design aspect to it, as well.
I had a blog on Squarespace that I was working on, and I just wanted to make some changes to the website. I learned that, in order to do the things that I really wanted to do, I had to know some type of code. So, I looked into code school and Codecademy and picked up some basics of HTML and CSS to manipulate the website in the way I wanted to, and I actually really enjoyed it.
Kahaan: And did you try to teach yourself any other engineering skills?
Kahaan: That makes sense. I think a lot of us who have gone through coding bootcamp have a similar journey. I distinctly remember trying to teach myself how to code as a freshman, and if you get stuck and have a question, it’s very difficult to ask good questions and get unstuck. It’s very difficult to self-teach without any background–but it’s possible, for sure. That’s definitely a big advantage of coding bootcamp.
What did you do when you looked at coding camps in Atlanta? Specifically, how did you settle on Flatiron School Atlanta?
I spoke to the CEO of Career Karma, Ruben Harris, who is very into tech. He told he there was a coding school called Flatiron School that was about to open up in Atlanta. He told me to look into it and connected me with somebody from Flatiron School in Atlanta. I went to the launch event, and I liked what I saw from Flatiron School, liked the people that I met. And eventually, it led me to becoming part of the first graduating cohort in Atlanta.
Kahaan: No way! That’s amazing! It’s such a small world. Those connections pay off so much: you knew Ruben, knew he was big into tech, and you knew you wanted to break into tech, but you really weren’t sure how, so you hustled your way in. That’s amazing, man.
So, were you part of Career Karma’s peer circles? How do you think Career Karma impacted your journey to going to Flatiron School?
Kwamena: What’s funny is that last summer is when they first started Career Karma and the peer circles, so I was a part of one of the first peer circles, I believe–especially the one in Atlanta.
It was helpful for the simple fact that people shared resources. It kind of motivated you to keep going. Also, there were people who had a bit more experience who were willing to help you and guide you through the process. For me, being a part of a peer circle and having access to Career Karma was very helpful because they even helped me get ready for my code challenge to get into Flatiron School.
I’m sure the process for Career Karma has changed dramatically since last summer when they first started, but for me, it was helpful because I had a support system and that kind of helped propel me to getting into the coding bootcamp.
Kahaan: I really appreciate that. Our goal is to help people break into tech, and providing that support system has been very effective for a lot of people.
Kahaan: Nice. Could you talk more about Flatiron School’s scholarships?
Kwamena: Flatiron School has a number of scholarships for women, minorities… I don’t know all of them but those are the two that stuck out to me. The minority scholarship was through a partnership with OHUB that started last September. OHUB pledged, I believe, a million dollars to help people of color and minorities get into tech through scholarships. It was really big for me to be one of the first recipients, especially with my transition. So, everything just kind of played a role in leading me to Flatiron School.
Kahaan: Does Flatiron School do income sharing?
Kwamena: Flatiron School offers an Income Share Agreement–and you can learn more on their website: https://flatironschool.com/tuition-financing/.
Kahaan: What advice do you have for people looking to start Flatiron School? What was Flatiron School’s technical interview like?
Kahaan: Ok. So algorithm problems, and you teach yourself with the prep course?
Kahaan: Can you speak to more of Flatiron School’s outcomes? Do any of the people senior to you or a few cohorts ahead of you get good jobs? What was the general outcome post-Flatiron School?
Kwamena: Since we were the first graduating class, we got to be the guinea pigs for Atlanta. It was a little slower in terms of finding jobs because Flatiron School was new to the market, so their employee resource team had to get up and going in Atlanta.
And a lot of jobs that are more comfortable with hiring bootcamp grads weren’t necessarily in Atlanta yet, so it was kind of a wait for that transition, but now that transition has been made, Flatiron School has more of a foot in Atlanta. More people are starting to get jobs faster than I would say our class did
Kahaah: Ok. That makes sense. Can you speak to what some of your cohorts mates were like? What were some of the backgrounds of your cohort mates? What were they doing before?
Kwamena: We had a wide range of people. I think we had two bartenders, a lawyer, an artist, and then my background in business. It was about seven of us, so it was a pretty diverse background.
Kahaan:: Nice. That’s a pretty small cohort. Cohorts usually aren’t usually seven people. What’s the average cohort size of Atlanta now?
Kwamena: About 20. The last couple of incoming cohorts at Flatiron School have been about 15-20.
Kahaan: That’s actually pretty small. That’s great. That’s amazing. Do you think Flatiron School did a good job for you preparing for a job search?
Kwamena: They give you the resources that you need to at least put yourself in a position. I would say, going to a bootcamp and then going into the job search, one thing that you’ll learn is that there’s not really enough time during that time to learn everything that you need to know to be prepared for a job.
What I’ve seen a lot of people do is they’ll go back and take a job as a TA or Assistant Teacher, that way they can help teach the fellow cohorts behind them while still kind of reiterating what they learned, building up their skills and getting that necessary algorithm practice that’s needed to compete for some of these jobs.
Kahaan: Got it. That makes sense. Have you done any engineering interviews yet? Did you do that early on?
Kwamena: I’ve done two interviews before I ended up with the position that I have now. One not as technical, but it was more so for backend Sequel. The second one was very technical for a bank, and they use languages that I didn’t necessarily know but they were willing to teach, like Java.
The difference between the two is the bank interview was very technical. They wanted to go through my projects thoroughly and make sure I understood what I was doing and try to understand why I did some of the things the way I did it. There was an algorithm challenge, whiteboard exercises that were given to me, which can be kind of intimidating, especially if you haven’t done any before.
My advice there would be once you graduate, go back and ask one of the teachers if they’re willing to give you some of their whiteboard exercises because, when you just jump into it, it’s a lot different, a little bit more intimidating, especially when you’re so used to having a computer to test out your solutions.
Kahaan: Yeah, 100%. Overall, has it been worth it?
Kwamena: Absolutely. One of the reasons why I wanted to do software engineering was not necessarily all about what you can create or the money you can make, but software engineering teaches you how to think differently, how to see things differently, how to solve problems. Even if I don’t have a career in software engineering, having those skills and that ability is invaluable. Being able to solve problems is something that no matter what you do, is always going to be needed.
Kahaan: I feel the same way. Learning how to code changes the way you process information. It definitely changed my life for the better. Do you have any advice for folks who are looking to follow your footsteps, inspired by the changes you’ve made? Do you have any advice for people wanting to do what you’ve done?
Kwamena: My biggest thing is just to understand your “why?” That “why?” is going to be your strength when you have your lowest moments, and you will have low moments throughout this process, but that “why?” will help you get through it. No matter what that motivation may be, that “why?” will help you get through. Once you start, you might as well finish–no matter how long it may take you because everyone goes at a different pace. Once you start something, you might as well finish it.
Kahaan: That is so true. I think Nietzsche said “someone who knows his ‘why’ can face any ‘how.’” Bootcamp is such a hard journey, not an easy thing, not always a straight path.
Kwam, you’ve been really nice and generous with your time, and we really appreciate you coming to the podcast. Thanks so much.
Kwamena: Thank you, it’s been my pleasure.