Coding His Way to A New Life

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By: Eugene Chow

Before he became a programmer, Anthony Fermin, 27, made $11.50 an hour working as a salesman at T-Mobile. With luck, he could make $25,000 in a good year. He now earns more than twice that.

The son of Dominican immigrants who grew up in subsidized housing in Corona, Queens, Anthony doesn’t fit the typical profile of a programmer.

To date, the ranks of the tech sector have largely been filled by college-educated Caucasian males. A recent study found that New York City’s tech workers were 62% white and 60% male.

With the help of organizations like the Coalition for Queens (C4Q), the face of New York City’s tech industry is beginning to change. Supported by a grant from Robin Hood, C4Q operates Access Code, a free program that teaches programming skills to men and women of color, recent immigrants, and those without a college degree.

True to Robin Hood’s “teach a man to fish” philosophy of empowerment, Access Code’s nine-month intensive course equips participants with all the skills they need to secure jobs in New York’s burgeoning tech sector.

The program has opened a path and a range of new possibilities for participants like Anthony, who are brimming with talent and enthusiasm, but short on means and opportunities.

Several years ago, Anthony was on his way to earning his Associate’s Degree at LaGuardia Community College until he began losing his hearing. He required surgery to keep from going entirely deaf as a result of lingering medical issues from his childhood.

The surgery was a success, but it saddled him with debt and he could not afford to return to school. Instead, he found himself working at T-Mobile with the goal of finishing his Associate’s degree, earning a

Bachelor’s, and hopefully landing a job in tech as a programmer, a dream since he was a kid.

“I knew it was going to be a long journey with slow progress,” Anthony said.

As a child, he loved tinkering with electronic gadgets, taking them apart to discover the secret of their inner workings. In high school, he took a basic programming class, but his dream remained an abstract concept.

“I had no idea what I even needed to know to get a job in tech,” he said.

Anthony’s plans for the future got a jumpstart when he enrolled in Access Code. He worked hard and within months began developing “Chip Chop,” a smartphone app that allows users to buy home cooked meals from local community members.

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One month before the course’s completion, Anthony was hired as a Junior Android Developer at Brooklyn’s Fuzz Productions, a mobile app and web design agency.

“I feel like I really gained momentum and skipped a few years ahead in my life,” Anthony said. “Who knows what would have happened during those years. I could have gotten discouraged or something else could have happened that held me back.”

At Fuzz Productions, Anthony’s starting salary is $60,000 with opportunities to make significantly more in the near future.

“Before Access Code, I never thought I would be making this much money,” he said. “My mom, my family, and all my friends are all so happy for me.”

Anthony isn’t alone in his success. Last year, on average, graduates of Access Code’s first class increased their annual income from $26,000 to $73,000.

Looking ahead, Anthony is excited for his future.

He plans on eventually moving out of the apartment he shares with his mother and three of his eight siblings and getting a place of his own.

“I want to keep learning and moving up. The more I know, the better chances I have,” he said.

The jobs he could only dream about less than a year ago — “they’re actually within my grasp now.”

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