success stories

I’m a Software Engineer, and I got a D in Computer Science.

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The Culture Shock: From East Cleveland to Cornell

Wolf grew up in East Cleveland, Ohio, one of the poorest cities in the country, where over a third of families live under the poverty line and the median family income is about $22,000 per year. Wolf went to public high school and although he had lots of people around him supporting him, career paths, especially in a lucrative field like tech, were not apparent. 

Arriving at Cornell was “beyond a culture shock,” he said. “Even people who looked like me [Wolf is Black], I didn’t relate to. They had a lot more coming in than I had, a lot more experience, a lot more exposure.” Based on his general interest in computers, Wolf tried to take Intro to Computer Science, but despite the “Intro” in the course title, other students were starting way ahead. “On the first day, the professor was going really fast, saying ‘I know you all got all of this in high school… ‘ and I’m thinking, my high school definitely didn’t even offer that.” Intimidated, Wolf decided not to try to major in Computer Science. He stayed in the class, to listen, but barely passed with a D, something he finds funny now, from the vantage point of his engineering job.

Wolf ultimately didn’t finish college, leaving with one semester left to go. Coming from the high school he’d come from, he didn’t really know “how college worked.” He didn’t know you could go see a counselor for help, didn’t know how to put his schedule together to pick a major, and wasn’t able to fulfill the requirements. He struggled with his grades. When told he’d have to come back for extra semesters, he stopped out. To make matters more complicated, he’d been hired by Teach for America post-graduation, but lost his offer without a diploma. Only 2% of US teachers are Black men, and missing that last semester, Wolf couldn’t join their ranks. 

From Tech-Adjacent Teaching to Engineering

In the back of his mind, he was still thinking about tech and decided to try his luck in California.  Maybe, if he just got out to Silicon Valley, he could figure it out. The thing was, although Wolf didn’t major in Computer Science, got a D in that class, and was struggling at Cornell, he never stopped studying. “I was terrible at college,” he said, “but I was a great learner.” Every spare moment in college, even on Spring and Summer break, he was self-teaching. Wolf made himself elaborate daily studying schedules featuring Udemy, Udacity, Coursera, and YouTube tutorials. He put in hours every day. 

In San Jose, one of the tech capitals of California, Wolf was hired by Americorps (no degree required) to work with elementary school students. In addition to providing small group support, he supplemented the afterschool program with tech content, like Roblox and He kept teaching himself, too, but it wasn’t an easy time. Americorps paid $900 a month, and he shared an apartment with six other co-workers and slept on an air mattress. Median rent for a one-bedroom in San Jose at the time was about $1900, more than twice his paycheck. 

But being in the heart of the tech world paid off, and Wolf got connected to tech company SAP through his Americorps program. An introduction led to an internship and although it wasn’t coding, it was in the right direction. From there, he got hired by Google to teach a youth coding program for Black and Latinx teens, Code Next. Although he enjoyed teaching and liked being tech-adjacent, he knew deep down he still wanted to be an engineer. One day, scrolling Twitter, he saw the Onramp Twitch apprenticeship application.

It wasn’t just an engineering program, it was an engineering program at Twitch. Wolf had always been a gamer, but Twitch was his all-time favorite website. Working there would be a dream job. 

Onramp and Beyond

I never felt like people who interviewed me really supported me or wanted to help me,” Wolf said. With Onramp, he felt differently, “I didn’t feel like my take-home project was where I wanted it to be, but the interviewers encouraged me and told me to do my best. It felt like Onramp actually wanted to get to know me; they were more interested in my potential.”

The way Onramp works is that the selected cohort prepares for the apprenticeship together, brushing up on skills and learning new ones that are tailored to the company and the role. From there, apprentices join their teams–in Wolf’s case at Twitch–and work with real engineers on real problems. If the apprenticeship goes well, Twitch will offer a full-time, permanent role, which they did for Wolf. “I get to tell my little cousins that I work at Twitch,” he said, “it is literally a dream.”

Now that Wolf is settled in at Twitch, making (a lot) more than $900/month, working as a software engineer on the Browser Clients team, he’s most interested in paying it forward. “People think it’s ‘impossible’ to get jobs like this, my cousins think they aren’t cut out for it. But I say to them, just try it, try to learn it. It seems like an enigma, but it’s not magic, anyone can take an intro class, or start YouTubing.” One of the things he’s most proud of is bringing his younger sister along with him on this journey. She’s at a UX apprenticeship at Google right now, thanks to his nudges. 

“I can give back now, to aunts, uncles, mentors who helped me stay out of trouble. If my mom has any issues, I can help her out. I think about all the times she sacrificed for us, losing our house, the heat getting shut off, I think about these moments and now I can help. Money has been the limiting factor my whole life, and it feels amazing to be this stable.”

Of Onramp, he says, “I can’t speak more highly of it. It literally changed my life.”

Written by
Dana Breen

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