Alumni Spotlight: Will’s Journey: From Homeless to Software Engineer

Meet Ulrich Wilfred Motchoffo (Will) – Will is a Code Fellows’ Alum and a resilient learner with an incredible story! Will’s journey into tech was not an easy one, in fact, it was far from it, as he faced challenge after challenge, but his persistence paid off.

Will’s perseverance is what took him from homeless to finding a rewarding career in tech. But that is not where Will’s story began.

Will was born and raised in Cameroon where he grew up in a very modest and remote life. With divorced parents, Will spent most of his early years living in the small village of Ebolowa with his mom and it wasn’t until he was old enough for high school that he moved to live with his dad. His dad lived in the cities of Yaoundé and Douala where he ran a sales business. It was during this time that Will first discovered technology, as he worked with his dad using Microsoft Excel. This planted the seed that would turn out to be the beginning of an exciting journey into tech for Will.

At the age of 15, Will had the opportunity to move to France and stay with family for a year. During his time there, Will discovered more about the power of technology as he was introduced to Yahoo and the internet. When recounting this, Will described the experience as “mind-blowing.” It opened his eyes to the wider world of technology and the value it could bring to his life.

When Will turned 21, he decided to move to the United States. This was partly motivated by a desire to learn and expand his knowledge of technology and the rest of the world but, it was also motivated by the desire to escape from a dangerously repressive environment he was experiencing as a gay man in Cameroon. Sadly, in Cameroon being gay not only put him and his family at risk of being attacked or assaulted, it could also lead to imprisonment, so Will sought to move to a more welcoming place and decided to take a chance and move to Seattle, WA.

When Will arrived in Seattle, he had very little money, could hardly speak English and wasn’t certain what the future would hold for him. But he was determined to make it work. He enrolled in a three-month language course at Shoreline Community College, where he began to learn and explore the English language for the first time. He also found his first job there where he worked as a gardener earning $400/month. Things seemed to be heading in the right direction.

However the $400 he was earning made it difficult to survive in Seattle. Though he was grateful for this new opportunity, he struggled to pay his rent, and after two months of missing his rent payment, he was evicted by his landlord with only a week’s notice.

Will had previously bought a car for $200, and it became his new home. But when the car broke down, things became even worse. He managed to live in his broken-down car and on the streets for the next year resorting to strategies such as using the YMCA for showers.

Will continued to work as a gardener and saved as much money as he could. He was determined to make it work and not return home to Cameroon. Eventually, saving enough to get his car fixed, he began driving for Lyft. Will was then able to slowly pick up English by listening and engaging with his Lyft passengers, immersing himself in the language.

Will continued to learn about technology and realized that the app he was using to drive for Lyft was created by software, so he began to research more about software and how it worked.

While driving for Lyft, Will was fortunate to pick up a passenger who was the spouse of a developer at Microsoft, who told him about an internship opportunity with Microsoft. Will applied and was accepted to the program. During his internship, he explored stigmas around mental health, developed UI prototypes, conducted usability tests & wrote a functional spec. He was also able to build an MVP to tackle workplace mental health stigmas and build allies among working professionals using TypeScript, React, Git & GitHub. He created a RESTful API with Node.js, added authentication using Firebase & implemented state management with Redux. However, Will’s biggest accomplishment was learning to communicate and work with a remote team.

Unfortunately, part of the requirements to keep the internship was that Will needed to be enrolled in school, which he couldn’t afford. Desperate to find a solution, Will reached out to his professor and mentor from Shoreline Community College for some advice. She referred him to Code Fellows, where he applied to Code Fellows and was awarded a full-ride scholarship.

Will had been interested in computer science since the first time he saw the Excel sheet as a teen and now, at the age of 25, he was finally able to learn about software in a professional capacity. Although the program was challenging, he was thankful for how much his instructors, classmates and the team at Code Fellows supported and helped him persevere. This helped him build the confidence and courage to continue towards his goal.

“The secret of success is to be resilient and to have self-confidence in what you are doing without becoming arrogant.” – Will Motchoffo

Will’s proudest moment is graduating from Code Fellows receiving job offers from Smartsheet, Microsoft, Google and Amazon. Today Will has a successful career at Smartsheet as a software engineer. He is still passionate about learning and growing, and he’s thankful to Code Fellows and the many individuals who took the time to invest in him to help him get where he is at.

Will is not just looking forward to his own career, he is paying it forward by investing in, helping and encouraging others to fulfill their dreams. He is giving back to the Code Fellows community in the same way that people helped him along his journey. Will says he owes his success to the people who have helped him on his way and gives huge credit to Code Fellows.

“Code Fellows helped me to be able to keep following my dream by giving me a full-ride scholarship. They gave me a community who supported me, and taught me how to learn and have courage in my career when I face obstacles.” – Will Motchoffo

Inspired by Will’s Story? Join us for an upcoming 101 workshop to discover if a career in tech is right for you!

Next PostPrevious Post

About the Author