Flatiron Graduation

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Yesterday was the final day of the Flatiron School semester. I’ll write a longer blog post hopefully next week with my reflections and thoughts on the 3 month program, but I just wanted to say that its been an awesome experience. I’ve met some amazing people and I’m so happy to have a skill set now that I can continue to cultivate for the rest of my life. I used to have a lot of ideas for applications or programs that could never reach fruition without knowing how to code; now, I can have an idea and write a simple exploratory Rails app or script to see if its feasible. The skill of being able to ideate and execute simultaneously is a true blessing, and I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to build it at the Flatiron School.

Despite the end of the program, I have no plans to slow down. Sure, I’ll be heading back to Chicago next weekend for about 5 days, but I plan to keep coding whenever I’m not hanging out with friends and family. I’ll still keep going into school to code with others. I’ll still keep blogging about what I’m learning and building. I’ll still keep reading coding books and working on Project Euler problems. In many ways, the end of Flatiron just means that I’ll have more flexibility during the day to grab coffee or a longer lunch; I don’t expect the learning process to decelerate.

Oh, and looking for jobs. That process will start imminently. While I don’t exactly relish the idea of the job search process, it will be a great opportunity for me to meet people in the tech community and learn about what cool stuff companies in New York are building. And if you know of somewhere that looks interesting or someone you think I should meet, feel free to shoot me an e-mail (eugene.wang.77@gmail.com)!

Updated Saturday, April 27, 10:00 pm

I had the opportunity today to serve as a judge in the Big Stakes Challenge for Defy Ventures. If you haven’t heard of Defy, its an entrepreneurial program for formerly incarcerated individuals. The program is structured as a mini-MBA; students have classes for a few hours two evenings during the week and all-day Saturday for about 8 months. They learn about the fundamentals of entrepreneurship - business plans, marketing, finance, operations, etc. And while they take classes, they apply their education to their own business ventures. As a judge in today’s competition (the last of three that they held throughout the program), I heard from promising entrepreneurs about a computer repair business, an artisan ice cream cart and a brand management agency, among many others. All of the men and women I heard from today have criminal records (a few spent the majority of their lives in prison), but I honestly forgot they served hard time after a few minutes. I found them to be articulate, passionate and eager to take on the challenge of (legal) entrepreneurship, and hearing their personal stories and business pitches helped me break down stereotypes I have of ex-convicts. You can find more information about the program here.

After the all-day business plan competition, I attended the graduation ceremony for the students this evening. Having just gone through my own graduation ceremony at the Flatiron School yesterday, I found it interesting to compare the missions of Defy and Flatiron. Like Flatiron, Defy just wrapped up its second semester in New York City. At its core, both Flatiron and Defy are about personal transformation and rejecting the popular narrative about their respective target populations. Flatiron seeks to refute the notion that developers and coders have to come out of computer science programs, or that programming is more about solving mathematical equations than creative expression. In the same vein, Defy aims to demonstrate that ex-convicts and felony offenders are talented, hard-working individuals who just so happened to get the short end of the straw in going to prison. Both programs inspire confidence and faith that the past is not prescient about our future and that we can shape our future if only we have the right tools at our fingertips and a supporting community to encourage us along the way. Despite the vastly different curricular focus, both Flatiron and Defy believe that its never too late to make a change for the better, and that while our past experiences undoubtedly shape our present selves, they do not define the who we’ll become.

I’m incredibly grateful for programs like the Flatiron School and Defy Ventures, and I’m especially thankful for the desire of individuals like Adam and Avi of Flatiron and Catherine Rohr of Defy to serve their respective target communities and give people a chance to change their personal career trajectory. Society today seems to slowly ossifying into socioeconomic categories that are defined earlier and earlier in life. We’re told that what college we go to matters because the people we meet will define the rest of our lives. We’re told that how many high school AP classes we take will ripple throughout our lives because it’ll affect what college we go to. Backtracing these assumptions to their logical conclusion partially explains why tuition at “top” pre-schools can hit five digits.

And while I’m not saying that these early decisions don’t matter (research shows that a good early education program has a huge multiplier effect on future earnings), its dangerous to assume those decisions are destiny. Avi described in his commencement speech that his grades steadily deteriorated throughout high school and that he eventually dropped out of college. By conventional wisdom, Avi’s future should have been pretty dim. Instead, he found a way to reject the narrative that your college defines your future and is today the founder of two successful startups. Both Flatiron and Defy reminds us that humans are more malleable and mentally flexible farther along in their lives than people think; its not just children who can learn new skills and transform themselves. Flatiron and Defy are doing awesome things in New York City, and I’m humbled to have had the opportunity to play a role in the two programs.