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Factory Job To Full Stack Engineer: Carlos Vasquez's Story

i.c. stars Milwaukee
Carlos Vasquez is a graduate from the first cycle of i.c. stars Milwaukee.

i.c. stars is a program trying to address a major problem in tech: the lack of diversity in talent. In part one of this series, we spoke with Onom Boye, an intern who went through the rigorous four-month program. On Thursday, Boye will walk across the stage with her colleagues to receive her certificate of completion.

But the question remains: what lies ahead for these interns? To find out, we spoke with Carlos Vasquez, a graduate from i.c. stars' very first cohort in Milwaukee.

Vasquez has had a lot of jobs.

"When I was in high school, I used to work at the backhouse of a liquor store. After, I worked at Denny’s as a waiter. Then I worked cleaning for a cleaning company. And then throwing newspaper at the Journal Sentinel. Then at my last job, working at a factory," Vazques recalls. 

READ: Coding Program Attempts To Address One Of The Biggest Problems In Tech

For Vasquez, working low-skilled jobs was normal. College simply wasn't an option because he didn’t know anyone who went, nor did he know anyone who owned their own business. Right out of high school, Vasquez worked at a factory, sanding down Corian, a material used for kitchen countertops. That's when he began to notice that something was wrong with him.

“I would wake up and my hand would be cramped. Sometimes I would even go to work [and] I would be driving with one hand cuz the other hand would still be cramped up and it was in really, really bad pain,” he explains.

The machine that Vasquez used to sand down Corian would shake. He would work eight to nine hours a day. "The machine would be shaking those nine hours nonstop," says Vasquez.

He never got his hand checked out. Vasquez says he didn’t have insurance. Besides, in his family, the first thought when someone gets hurt isn’t to go to the doctor.

"When something hurts us, our first thought is not to, just to, it's to get over, you know? It's not to go to the doctor. No, its never been like that," he says.  

So right out of high school, this was Vasquez's life — working a factory job with no health insurance and hands that hurt. Two years in, he makes a change. He quit his factory job and decides he wants to learn to code. So, he joined the very first cohort of i.c. stars interns. And what he found for the very first time in a job was autonomy working as a coder.

"Someone didn’t tell me what to do. Someone gave me the tools. And either it was do it or don’t do it, it’s up to you," he says.

For the i.c. stars final project, Vasquez and another intern built an app for a company. He says they worked really hard and, in the end, that company decided to bring him on as a paid intern. 

"They liked the work that I did. They knew that I was self-motivated. They knew that I had it in me and right away they hired me, which was cool," he says.

A little over a year later and Vasquez is a full stack engineer at Northwestern Mutual. Which means he does front end and back end web development. He isn’t an anomaly. According to i.c. stars data, 30 of the 46 interns end up with a job in technology after graduation.

But despite the positive outlook, Vasquez says his advice for the current interns that are graduating Thursday is that ultimately, it's up to the intern to land a job.

"You're given these tools, by amazing people, by an amazing organization. But they can’t drag you to a job. They can’t drag you to learn a skill. So, it’s up to the intern," he says.

Vasquez says, the drive to succeed, along with technical ability, will take you far in the tech industry.

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