OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR | February 13, 2018
By Marvin Ojwang
We are what we remember. If we lose our memory, we lose our identity and our identity is the accumulation of our experiences. That was a quote about memory I once read from an author I’ve long since forgotten about. However, those words still ring true to this day. We go through a lot of experiences in life but only remember a few. The ones that matter. The ones that shape who and what we’ll become. The ones we use for storytelling and I couldn’t tell my story without mentioning TAF. This is my TAF story from the beginning.
I was born in Nairobi, Kenya. I moved to the United States with my mother and two siblings in 1995. I had just turned ten years old a few months earlier and my father had just passed away earlier that same year as well. Life was moving fast that year as if God was quickly flipping through my picture book of life. My young mind only had enough time to take a few snapshots.
“Life was moving fast that year as if God was quickly flipping through my picture book of life. My young mind only had enough time to take a few snapshots.”
As strangers in a new land, my mother was a guiding light. She was born in a village in the countryside of Kenya and one of greatest gifts she ever received from her parents was the opportunity to get an education. With an education in hand, the sky was the limit and she was determined to pass along that same gift to her children.
I got involved with TAF’s Technical Teens Internship Program (TTIP) while I was a high school student. That was almost fifteen years ago. I don’t remember how my mother found out about TTIP, but she was thrilled to sign me up. To her, it was just another avenue to keep me focused on my studies and away from the foolishness that came along with adolescence. I would walk from Garfield High School to TAF’s training center at Judkins Park of Seattle’s Central District every Tuesday and Thursday for a two-hour class on how to build websites. I never expected I would enjoy my time in the program as much as I did. I was building flashy websites and having fun.
“As a young black kid growing up in Seattle, I would hear about Microsoft and all its greatness. But in my mind, Microsoft was part of a world I had no access to.”
Through TTIP, I developed my passion for technology and the thought of pursuing a STEM career became a dream later on that summer when I was blessed with the opportunity to intern with Microsoft. That experience completely blew my mind and reset my life’s trajectory. As a young black kid growing up in Seattle, I would hear about Microsoft and all its greatness. But in my mind, Microsoft was part of a world I had no access to. My involvement with TAF completely changed that.
After completing my first year with TTIP, TAF scheduled a few interviews with Microsoft. I remember being so excited that I began to share it with my church family and friends. I even asked my pastor for advice on what I should wear to the interviews and he gave me one of his suits. I was a nervous-wreck heading into the interviews. But nevertheless, my TTIP training carried me through the process. I interned for two consecutive summers and graduated high school with a clear focus on what I wanted to accomplish in college as I bulldozed towards a career as a software engineer.
“I can say with absolute certainty that without TAF and my experience with TTIP, I would not be a software engineer today.”
Today, I’m a senior software engineer at Netflix. I work on improving the Netflix experience on second-screen devices such as Google Chromecast. I can say with absolute certainty that without TAF and my experience with TTIP, I would not be a software engineer today. I would not have found my focus when transitioning from high school to college, my motivation to push through a Computer Science degree at Washington State University, and the strength to persevere in an industry that currently doesn’t have a lot of people that look like me. Maintaining a relationship with TAF throughout the years has been important to me. I have a laundry list of reasons why it’s important but one dominates all the rest: an opportunity to give back to the organization that gave so much to me.
I am forever grateful to TAF. If my story could impact at least one child, then it would have all been worth it. Maybe one day that child will walk down memory lane, tell his or her TAF story for the next generation.
TAF’s Varsity Luncheon, The Defining Moment, will be held on Wednesday, March 7, 2018, 11 am – 1 pm at Seattle Center’s Fisher Pavilion. Come witness what happens when barriers to quality education are eliminated and access is granted through STEM education, K12 corporate partnerships, and committed educators. To attend, register online before March 5, 2018.