Learning to code helped Tosin Awofeso find the home he’d always wanted in Austin.
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 a photographer wasn’t going to cut it for him and his pregnant partner, Sophia. That worked when he was single, but barely.
One morning last spring, Awofeso showed up for an interview for a customer service position at a local search engine optimization company in Austin, Texas. Awofeso really wanted that job—he really needed it—and he felt he was more than qualified, which is why he was both surprised and frustrated when instead of offering him the position, Awofeso remembers the interviewer suggesting he “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 to gigging at night and worrying about his family’s immediate future.
There was a lot on his mind: he and Sophia had to move several times in the past few months and were now living out of a hotel a few miles north of Austin; their only car started infrequently at best, and they likely wouldn’t have the money to fix it whenever it finally failed; and Sophia had thrown out her back and was generally having a challenging pregnancy.
A few months before he’d interviewed at the search engine company,, 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; problem was, those schools were expensive and he didn’t have the money to enroll.
Then, in what Awofeso credits as one of the big breaks that helped him sort out his life, a friend who knew he was in a bind offered to give him the money for a deposit on a coding school program.
“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.
His initial excitement aside, however, Awofeso hesitated before enrolling. He 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 of enrolling in Galvanize.
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.”
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 were staying 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. He was used to these sort of challenges in life. “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, and Awofeso was already feeling good about his decision to enroll in Galvanize. “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 land a coding job with. “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 started with a short-term contract for the pay he wanted. After a few weeks, Common Edit liked what he was producing and agreed to hire him full-time at the same rate. Awofeso can’t reveal much about what he’s doing, but says the company is working on “a suite of tech products that will help musicians collaborate with each other and make music.” Common Edit planned to release the first piece this month at SXSW.
When I talked to Awofeso in February, he’d already had a couple paychecks land in his bank account and things were looking up. Gone was their unreliable Pontiac Bonneville; Awofeso had just bought a new Kia, and was excited to be using the bluetooth feature to talk to me on his cell phone. Even better, Awofeso said, next weekend he and Sophia and their new little baby were going apartment hunting. “There’s an end in sight,” he said.