Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a short, wiry Mexican American guy who loves the language and the food he grew up with, but secretly can’t stand the music. I’m a dedicated runner, and an even more dedicated coffee drinker. I’m an artist, a Boston Phoenix alum, an activist, an obsessive student of history who’s almost gotten into a bar fight trying to lecture some stranger about the actual history of Cinco de Mayo while the guy was trying to do shots.

Tell us about a time you failed at something.

Are you kidding? Every day. I have an unusual approach to success and failure. I believe that success is impossible if your vision is big enough. I advocate that people let go of the entire notion of “accomplishment,” in favor of an unending cycle of progressively more intelligent failures. I get a lot of pushback on this from people who understand it philosophically but not in practice. They ask: “Ok, but what sort of results will you be happy with?”

The answer must always be out of reach. Anything less than that is a failure from which we have to learn. We must always fail. And we must always learn. And we must always try harder next time. Success is permission to become complacent.

Why are you so passionate about technology?

I’m not. I’m passionate about equity. Technology happens to be the superpower that makes people impossible to ignore or disenfranchise.

What was your journey like to get where you are today?

It’s been a series of progressively more intelligent failures. My organization deserves a better leader than me. Our constituency deserves a better leader than me. So I try to keep myself in a constant state of self-disruption, in an attempt to become closer to the leader that Resilient and its students deserve.

Why did you start Resilient Coders and what goals did you have in mind at the start?

I had neither a solution nor a goal when I started Resilient Coders. Just a clear sight of the problem. And actually, this has been an advantage, because it’s allowed us to change dramatically. We used to be a program embedded in high schools and correctional institutions. Then, for the brief period during which you worked at Resilient, we ran a summer camp for high schoolers that would turn out to be the halfway mark between the two models that we’ve explored: That was when we transitioned from a high school program to a full-time workforce development bootcamp.

Why the name “Resilient Coders”?

The very first class I ran, before Resilient Coders was even a thing, was at a youth detention center. It was a volunteering opportunity for me, while I was still at PayPal. Every Wednesday, I’d take a vacation day to teach a group of young men some HTML and CSS. The Director who was coordinating my visits asked me over the phone what we should call the class, in order to get students excited about joining. I said “Coding 101?” She laughed. She said, “No one will go to a class called Coding 101.” I threw a few ideas at her over the phone, off the top of my head, until I said “Resilient Coders.” She liked it. We went with it. She felt as though the students might be able to see themselves in the name.

More and more companies are not requiring college degrees for entry-level jobs, how much of an impact do you think organizations like Resilient Coders could have in the very close future of a degreeless job market?

It’s incumbent on us to prove to the world that you can code just as well without a degree as you can with a degree. Every graduate that we put out there into the world who can code, but does not have a degree, is a crack in the wall.

What career advice would you give to students in the STEAM field and those trying to enter the STEAM field?

Don’t ever stop learning.

Any final words of Wisdom you would like to give to the community?

Oh boy. Work hard. Get some sleep. Be kind to yourself. Communicate better. Lean into difficult conversations. Understand what it is that motivates those around you and leverage that to build your coalition. Have the humility to understand that whatever you’re doing, someone out there is doing it better. Immerse yourself in that uncomfortable feeling. Grow from it.

What is your Favorite Quote?

I have so many. But here are two in particular:
“Vision and humility are a lethal combination in a leader.” – Gov. Deval Patrick
“The good thing about getting kicked in the ass is that when you fall, at least you fall forward.” – My mom
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About the Author

Kunle Lawal

COO & Co-Founder of STEAM Boston

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