The last couple of months have flown by (it’s already the end of July!) with most of us staying at home or working under unusual conditions. It’s been such a long couple of months that at some point, I decided to do some email cleanup! Who does that? Though cleaning out my personal email inbox isn’t part of my regular routine, I was glad I did it, because I found a special old email from July 1st, 2014 with the subject line “TechWorks Class of 2014.”
This was the start of a life-changing experience for me. But before I explain why, I think I should quickly introduce myself. I’m Celio Reyes, a Software Engineer at Red Ventures — but I didn’t get here through a college degree. The email above gave me the entry to the TechWorks program, now known at a bigger scale as Road to Hire. I want to take you all on a quick journey and show you how I got from that program six years ago to where I am today.
Around the time I received that email, I had just graduated from high school and there was a lot on my mind. I wasn’t sure what the future held, as college wasn’t the right option for me at that time. That’s where Road to Hire came into play! I’d heard about the program from my SAS Programming I teacher — he pushed me to apply since he thought I’d be a good fit and understood my situation. He gave me a few details and a sheet of paper about the online application process.
So there I was, sitting at my computer, checking out the website and thinking to myself, “Is this even real? They’ll teach me programming and then they’ll offer me a job? That’s gotta be fake, no one would do that!” Well, considering I had no other plan, I decided to take a leap of faith and apply for this new program that promised to create economic mobility for those coming from a low-income household.
I still remember the day of my interview. I remember the feeling I had when I saw the campus. I remember how nervous I was when I got out of the car and walked into the building. I clearly recall feeling out of place while I signed in and took a seat to wait my turn. While I sat there anxiously, I heard the song “Quesadilla” by Walk the Moon start playing over the lobby speakers (or I may have imagined it, I honestly don’t know). The song was familiar and helped calm me down. I took a deep breath and thought to myself, “You’ve got this.”
After a short wait, I was called into the room where I was going to be interviewed. This is where I met three of the many people that have made my six-year journey so full of success and joy. Kacey Grantham and Chandler Martin — two of the program coordinators — were the first two people to interview me that day, sparking a relationship that I am still very grateful for. After a short tour around some of the campus buildings, they walked me back to another room where someone else was waiting for my “technical” interview. That’s where I met James Huston, the lead engineer on one of our chat platforms (he’s now a Director of Engineering) — another relationship that has been very important to me and my career over the last six years.
Soon afterwards, I was accepted into the program. I was ready to give it my all to prove that I was a good fit. From July through October we were to take online classes through a platform called Treehouse. I hadn’t expected the entire course to be held online without a proper “teacher,” and I was scared I would struggle to stay focused. Once I got going though, it was tough to stop myself from moving forward. The work was very engaging, and it was something I could see myself doing for a long time. I instantly knew that I had made the right decision by applying to the program.
Fast-forward to Fall of 2014: My fellow graduates — Katherine, Jordan, and Jose — and myself started our careers as Web Developers at Red Ventures. Katherine, Jordan, and I bonded a lot during our first month working at RV through our shared struggles in not only the tech world but also in our adult, post-high-school world.
There was a time when Jordan and I would get rides to work from my dad — he was working at a construction site in Ballantyne and would go slightly out of his way to drop us off. (This meant that we made it to work around 6 a.m. most days!) At the end of the day, Katherine would give us a ride back home. We helped each other in these ways so much throughout the first few weeks. One week, my dad had to work out of town and left us his car (Jordan was the only one who could drive a stick shift, so he was the chosen one!) so we could make it to work. Katherine didn’t have a car that week either, so we all rode together to and from work. There was a restaurant that we’d always drive by, and we’d tell each other, “Once we all have our cars, we’ll go eat there to celebrate.” We never went to eat there, but we all have cars now. It was these experiences that make me value the doors that the program opened — not just for me, but for this original crew.
For the first couple of weeks, and even months, working at RV was out of my comfort zone. I had to learn to make the environment my norm. I always dreamed of working in tech, ever since I first used a computer so long ago. It was surreal to me that I was there, working my dream job, at a great company, with great people. There were times when I would leave the office and life would feel like a dream that my high school self hadn’t woken up from — honestly, it still feels like that from time to time!
That brings us to today — it’s been six years since I received that acceptance email. I’m five and a half years into my career. Things have definitely changed since July of 2014, in ways that I couldn’t even imagine when I was reading that message. More importantly, there are a few things that haven’t changed. Katherine, Jordan, and I still see each other often. Before COVID, we would get lunch together at the office. I hold them close to my heart and I am thankful for how our friendship has grown over the years.
There has been so much positive change in my life over the last six years. From buying a reliable car to help my family get to and from work, to buying my own house, there are so many highlights I could touch on. However, the experiences I’ve been able to give my wife, my parents, and siblings have held greater value than any physical thing I’ve purchased throughout the years.
My dad and I always wanted to go see a Mexico National Soccer Team game, and I remember the first time I bought tickets for my dad, mom, brother-in-law, and myself to go see them play in Charlotte. It felt great to be able to do that for them after their years of hard work to make sure we had the essentials growing up.
We were able to go on our first family vacation after so many years of talking about going on one. Between what my older sister and dad could contribute, I filled in the rest to make sure everyone could join in. It was one of our best family experiences, and I was so happy I was able to help us achieve it.
Early this year when it was still safe to travel, my wife, Rochelly, and I went to Japan for her birthday. That was definitely one of the best experiences I’ve had in the last six years. The ability to experience a whole different culture and country was awesome! I hope to go back once everything settles down and have a big bowl of ramen with my lovely wife again.
Whew! Ok, I threw a lot of things out there just now — some with less detail than others, but I did it for a reason. Though I have enjoyed my personal success financially and career-wise over the last six years, there’s one more thing that I have enjoyed equally if not more. Ever since I graduated from Road to Hire, I have been a huge advocate for the program. I immediately saw the success that it was bringing myself and my fellow graduates, and I wanted to share this success with others. Over the last few years, I’ve been able to recruit lots of friends into the program, who then recruit other friends into the program. Seeing their success and hearing their stories is what keeps me moving forward. To me, that’s the biggest door that Road to Hire opened — the door that allowed me to help others like myself open doors as well. Leaving the woodpile higher than we found it is a pillar of Red Ventures’ culture, and it has also become a pillar of my own life. As I continue to grow in my career, I hope to keep lifting others up with me along the way.
Times are hard right now in a lot of different ways, but together, we can get past this and come out stronger. I hope to see all of us do great things and help each other achieve our goals. As my previous manager would say, “Keep On Keepin’ On”.