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Stephen Leyva (He/Him)
Stephen Leyva (He/Him)

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From HS dropout to Software Engineer

These stories seem to be very common nowadays but I thought I'd take the time to share mine. I don't believe it’s special by any means, however, I am using it as a mechanism to do a retrospective on my life. To preface, I by no means discourage education. I think it is of paramount importance. However, the path to attaining education and ultimately wisdom is each one's path to forge. Discipline and determination are required no matter the path. However, as Socrates said: "Now, when you want knowledge as much as you wanted air, you shall have it."

I am a first-generation American as my parents immigrated from Mexico. I grew up in a sizable family with very little means. Though I didn't know it at the time and I wouldn't trade that experience for the world. When I was 7 years old, my dad brought an old broken Xbox 360 (RROD error for you Xbox 360 alum out there) home. As we didn't have a lot of money, my dad challenged me: If I could fix the Xbox, it would be mine. Little did he know that this would spark an interest in me that would define my future endeavors.
After reading tutorial after tutorial and watching Youtube video after Youtube video suggesting I put my Xbox in the oven or wrap it in a towel, I found one that suggested re-soldering the CPU to the motherboard. After saving up to acquire a soldering iron, CPU thermal paste, and flex screws for the heat sinks, I was ready to go. I remember the pride I got seeing that Green ring light up as the home screen came into view. I wanted more.

As we didn't have a computer or internet at home, I'd walk to the library when I wanted to use the internet. I found myself there every day, experimenting, tinkering, and creating simple applications and eventually landed in full-stack development using Codecademy. After completing several of their courses, I decided to start building a web site for small businesses in my town and hosting them on AWS. This eventually also branched into IT work (you can build a website fix my PC). About the time I was 13, I dropped out of school for personal reasons and decided to finish my HS through correspondence. College was not even possible for me and at that time plus I had decided that school just was not for me. It wasn't that I didn't like learning, I love learning. Rather, it was learning about things that I failed to see the practicality of that left a bitter taste in my mouth.

For about 4 years I did IT work in my town and surrounding areas (though I didn't know what in the world I was doing) fixing printers, imaging PCs, cleaning, and configuring pay systems for stores like Walmart. Finally, at 17 I applied to be a bank teller at a local bank to get professional experience in the workforce. I went in for the interview and the CIO of the bank (though I didn't know this at the time) interviewed me and ask if I wanted to start as a JR. network engineer under their Sr. network architect. I was floored!
This is what I consider to be my first break into tech as its what allowed me to branch into engineering on a professional level. Additionally, it allowed me to work with some amazing people and get some awesome mentoring. 5 years later, I now have my dream job of working on solving some awesome problems at Amazon Web Services. While the journey involved late nights banging my head against a computer, weekends at various coffee shops cursing at my code, and bargaining (if this pod goes into a CrashLoop one more time...) it was worth it. Everyone has their path to take when it comes to attaining knowledge and everyone is capable in their way. In the words of Socrates (or someone just as wise IMO), "just keep swimming".

That's my story, what's yours?

Top comments (7)

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geopopos profile image
George Roros

You’ve really grown into your own since leaving Baltimore. Super well written and I can sense the spiritual growth you’ve had through your righting alone! Your tenacity and drive show, and this story explains the immense gap in skill between you and other engineers our age! Keep up the good work Leyva πŸ’ͺ

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

One hell of a journey!

Here's a quick anecdote from my path, which I left in another thread.

I was broke and looked pretty disheveled when I got my first dev job and when I showed up on my first day somebody called security on me while I was waiting in the lobby 😐

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srleyva profile image
Stephen Leyva (He/Him)

This an amazing anecdote and inspiring story!! Plot twist, with no barbershops open and everyone working from home this how we all look now! πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

πŸ˜„ I have hair for days

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geofflangenderfer profile image
Geoff Langenderfer

This is an inspiring story Stephen! Thanks for sharing.

I taught myself to code because I was out of options after a previous employer went out of business.

I like that path because you get to choose what to study. It's more engaging than learning something without any apparent application.

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daniel2231 profile image
Daniel Kang

Inspiring story! As a student who's still learning to become a programmer, your story gave me strength to continue on! Keep up the good work! πŸ™Œ

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srleyva profile image
Stephen Leyva (He/Him)

Thanks!! You as well!

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