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(5 min read) By Tony Byrd
President and CEO of IBM, Ginni Rometty, with apprentice Tony, onstage at CES 2019
“Are you serious?” This was my first thought when someone suggested that I make the change from serving coffee to developing code. After all, I don’t have any experience in that field. I have been serving coffee for the last seven years.
Speaking of coffee. Have you ever seen a cup of coffee worth thousands?
When I handed a black coffee with two pumps of caramel to an IBMer named David Green, I never knew it would be worth this much. And even more than that because it literally changed my life.
Most people would assume that to work at IBM you have to have a strong resume, a 4-year degree, and past work experiences that are pretty much aligned with what you do, right?
Well, that was not the case for me and for many others that joined the IBM Apprenticeship program. The program is like the equivalent of going to college AND getting “on the job” training at the same time. If a year at my community college costs around $3,000 and we double it to account for the job training, that’s one rewarding cup of coffee, right?
Let me tell you how this all got started
When I graduated from high school, I didn’t go to college. I was kind of directionless. A few months passed, and my mom got worried – as most parents do. She called me one day and said, “I got you an interview at a coffee shop.” She’d been working at the IBM cafeteria for 17 years and wanted to make sure I was working as well.
I went to the interview and got the job. During my time as a barista, I met many IBMers, and started to network and build relationships. I worked there for 7 years and began to know my regular customers pretty well. We talked every day about sports, family, and our personal lives. Many IBMers recognized that I was a hard worker and wanted to see me in a better place, so they encouraged me to go back to school and try something new.
Since I’d always had an interest in technology, I started taking courses at Wake Tech community college and did a lot of self-learning with the help of David Green. We would spend countless hours studying, building apps, and he would help me learn about IBM’s business. I’m not sure how many lunch hours David gave up for me, but it was quite a few. I started to see that I was actually good at coding and that there was a future for me outside of the coffee shop.
Then came the opportunity that changed my life
After two years with David as my informal mentor, the IBM Apprenticeship program was launched, and he encouraged me to apply. The first year I applied I wasn’t chosen, but David wouldn’t let me give up. We had a whole year to prepare again, and we learned a lot along the way. The next time applications opened up, I was ready.
I applied again and was excited to be one of the 13 people that were selected. Everyone in Raleigh that encouraged me daily to go the extra step was very happy and excited to see me start my new IBM career. But I’ll tell you, no one was happier than my mom!
The other 12 people in my class had interesting jobs and backgrounds too. One was a firefighter and a paramedic. One worked at a nail salon. Another, my favorite story of an apprentice who had come from Colombia just a year and a half ago – worked as mail delivery driver and in the kitchen at a food chain restaurant. We all had different experiences before IBM, but here’s what we had in common: basic tech skills, a curiosity for learning, and a passion for technology. This combination made us the perfect match for the IBM apprenticeship program.
As of today, I’ve been a full-time IBMer for 3 months. I look back and think that just over a year ago I was making coffee for a living. And now, I’m working support for API Connect and DataPower Gateways. During my apprenticeship, I worked on many different projects including the TJ Bot. I had the chance to really build my skills and set a great foundation.
All because one person took a personal interest in me
When I started as a barista, I could never imagine how many doors a simple cup of coffee would open for me. This opportunity means a lot – both professionally and personally. I’m adding value to my clients, the marketplace, and to IBM while being able to provide better opportunities for my family, like saving money to send my own kids to college.
To me, that shows what a great company IBM is and what we stand for – our job begins with technology, but it certainly doesn’t end there. Together we can make the changes that will shape our future for the better.This is only a reality because many IBMers took one of our Values to heart – “Trust and personal responsibility in all relationships.” They showed personal interest in me, my story and my aspirations, and invested their time and dedication to ensure I could use my potential to the fullest.
So, I would encourage you to chase your dreams. Your skills will dictate your future. If you have a passion for it then pursue it like there is no tomorrow! With the new opportunities available you are the only one that can stop you from achieving your goals.
Learn more about how the IBM New Collar Apprenticeship Program creates new pathways to employment for candidates without an advanced degree.
About the Author
Tony works as a Software Engineer on API Connect & DataPower Gateways and is based in Raleigh, NC. After spending 7 years in a coffee shop, he made the jump to a job in technology. With a passion for technology and solving problems, he decided to put down the coffee and pick up the code.