Inspiration

3 LGBTQIAA+ Kenzie Alums Inspire With Their Stories

In celebration of Pride month, Kenzie Academy chatted with 3 Kenzie alums who are a part of the LGBTQIAA+ community. These former learners discovered a new career path in technology and software engineering at Kenzie​. They also found a home here where they feel safe and comfortable learning and living as their authentic selves.

We’re so grateful for their openness and to have the opportunity to share their stories with our Kenzie community. So, let’s meet these inspiring members of the Kenzie Fam who decided to take their life to the next level!

Tianna McCoy (she/her), Full-Stack Software Engineer at Homee Inc.

Tianna left behind a career she built for 8 years after realizing she needed to pursue a path that offered a space where she could be her true self. She found that through a Facebook ad for Career Karma, which led her to Kenzie Academy and the Full-Stack Web Development program.

Kevin Carter (he/they), Technology Associate at Liberty Mutual

Kevin worked a lot of different jobs, but it was the college internship program at Walt Disney World that solidified his need to follow his dreams. It was an incredible experience. Disney provided a culture and an environment unlike any he had been a part of — full of acceptance for all different kinds of people. After Disney, he wanted his next step to be at a place where he didn’t have to suppress this feeling of being different. He found Kenzie Academy, but imposter syndrome initially held him back from enrolling. However, when the pandemic arrived and Kevin lost his job, he took a leap of faith to follow his dreams at Kenzie.

Scott Tarnowsky (he/him/they/them), Software Engineer at SiteRx

Scott’s background spanned working in finance and customer service, from being a banker to a barista. He even started a business with his brother. Yet, throughout all his jobs, he always had an interest in programming and software development. It took Scott time to figure out what he wanted to do and transition into tech. But after encountering Career Karma, he was ready to quit his job and do software engineering full-time at Kenzie. He learned a lot that year, describing it as a great experience.

Finding Success as a Kenzie Learner

Ask Questions

For Tianna, she wasn’t afraid to ask questions and refused to take “I don’t know” as an answer. If nobody could provide answers, then she was determined to go and find them herself.

Put in the Work

Kevin admits he was scared the whole time and questioned, “What do I do if this doesn’t work?” He told himself he has no other option than to make it work and he’s going to overcome his fear of his inability to code. Then self-doubt creeps in again, “Am I really going to make it? Am I going to find a job afterward, or am I going to have to return to retail with these new skills that I can’t use?” He told himself again, “No, I’m not going to accept failure;” so, he put in the work. He found success through late nights and by not being afraid to make mistakes or reach out for help if he didn’t understand something. He learned to be comfortable with the unknown and imperfection.

Create Connections

Scott made an effort to turn his classmates into friends. Not only for the camaraderie, but because he could learn from them. Some people picked things up more quickly, so Scott asked questions and absorbed knowledge from his peers who learn differently or got feedback from a facilitator. Communicating with as many people as possible is key.

That Ah-Ha Moment

Real-World Project

As a self-proclaimed real-world thinker, Scott learns best by seeing it in action or applying it to the real world, which is what he got to do in his Python course. The assignment was to make an API request from the International Space Station (ISS). “Oh, that’s pretty cool,” Scott reflected. “You can use that concept, but in other places. I can probably do this, get more practice, but I can definitely do this.”

Coaching Others

Tianna’s ah-ha moment happened during her experiences as a coach and helping others. When she helped others understand and answered questions, she felt confident in her abilities.

Rising to the Challenge and Pair Programming

A course project involved remaking a site based off of a design, and Kevin’s class was tasked with remaking the Kenzie homepage. He designed and built the page over and over and over again to make it look right and concise with clean code. On the other hand, his cohort-mates were struggling and Kevin was able to coach them. He realized he could explain what he did and helped them achieve their vision. “I understood what I was saying. I knew what I was talking about,” Kevin said. “This is it. This is the one. I can do this. I know this.”

What Does Pride Mean to You?

To Just Be Myself and Not Be Afraid to Be Myself

“Existing and being myself without any masks,” Kevin shared. It started at Disney where he was first able to just exist and be himself. Then he came to Kenzie. “It was such an inclusive environment where I felt so comfortable that I started doing some internal searching. As soon as I realized the words for what it was that I felt, I immediately came out. I didn’t have the fear … I was just comfortable being me and putting it out there.” In Kevin’s words, Kenzie was a great environment for him to incubate in.

Celebrating Living Your Life Being Your Full Self

For Scott, pride means just being proud of who you are, your full self, and all parts of you.

Continuing to Live

Pride for Tianna means that she is OK with living. Tianna previously worked with military groups to help with suicide awareness and prevention. When she got out of the military, she also struggled heavily with suicide-related thoughts. Through self-reflection, she figured out the answer to “why don’t I want to be here anymore?” “Coming to terms with the answer itself helped me take pride in continuing to live,” Tianna expressed.

Your Job Search Journey

Leveraging LinkedIn and Mastering the Technical Interview

Kevin describes his job searching experience in one word: panic. Finding a job wasn’t easy. Between sending applications daily and staying on top of his job searching tasks for months, Kevin eventually got a lead by networking on LinkedIn. He got connected with someone from the company where he works now, and they informed him of an early career program called Tech Stars. He applied and around a month or so later, he heard back about an interview.

Then, he realized that during this whole time while he was applying for jobs, he hadn’t been coding. (Panic ensues.) He got to the technical interview and needed a refresher, so he took time to go through his GitHub repositories and study his old code. The technical interview was daunting, however, he also learned they didn’t expect him to answer questions properly. They want to see how he thinks, how he can think through a problem, and how he can find answers. Despite the doubt he had while interviewing, Kevin got the offer and he couldn’t be happier with his first tech job post-Kenzie. His company invests in their employees, offers resource groups, and provides an inclusive culture where he can be himself and his seniors want to help him grow.

Pro tip: “Keep going…That application process…it’s a doozy, but make sure you’re still coding or designing,” Kevin adds.

Job Searching is a Full-Time Job

For Scott, preparing for the job search and applying for jobs started during Kenzie, like before and after class or during lunch. “I’m paying a lot of money to be at Kenzie, so I’m going to take advantage of the resources as much as possible,” Scott said. So he booked many hours with his advisor to help him jumpstart his job search and do a lot of prep. It took 6 months, many interviews, a number of rejections, and a lot of LinkedIn networking for him to get 2 great offers in 1 day — including one for the startup that he works for today (with a salary match, remote position, and mission he believes in).

Pro tip: “I just treated it like a full-time job. Kenzie finished, and then Monday came, and I was like: jobs. Consistency is the best thing — just getting a few applications a day in and just making one new connection,” Scott said.

The Power of a Project

Tianna started working 3 months into Kenzie for Kenzie. At 7 months, she got an internship and then started to build a fully independent MERN stack project at Kenzie all before she graduated. It was because of that project that Tianna was able to get the job she has now.

Pro tip: “At the very end of my coding interview, they asked me if I had worked on any projects. I was able to pull that up within 30 seconds and be like, ‘I built this with this stack using these resources,’” Tianna said.

What Advice Do You Have for Anyone Looking to Break into Tech?

Be consistent every day, whether it’s sending one more application, getting one more piece of feedback to improve on, or doing one more thing for your project. “You can get better,” Scott says. “Don’t be hard on yourself too. Seek as much feedback as possible, whether it’s for your technical skills or interview skills.”

“Have the audacity to do the things you don’t think you can do,” Tianna says. “And when it comes to those things, put yourself in situations to meet the people that do know how to do the things that you want to do.”

“Be comfortable in failure,” Kevin says. ”Commit to sit down and try something, and if it doesn’t work, try something else, and just keep trying. And don’t let yourself burn out. Take your breaks and go step outside. You need to get up and remember that you’re a person, and that you need other things other than just this. But you also need this, so make sure that you’re putting in hard too. You need a balance … and don’t let yourself get overwhelmed with fear.”

At Kenzie, we’re so proud to be able to celebrate Pride month alongside these exceptional alums who chose not to settle. They took risks and worked hard to find a fulfilling new career and job at companies where they can live their most authentic lives. These real and vulnerable stories serve as a reminder for why we at Kenzie do what we do. If you feel inspired by one of these alums and are interested in a future in tech, let’s talk about it!

Ready to Discuss Your Future In Tech?

Click the button below to apply today!

Apply Now

Related Reading