The Heartbeat of a Champion: My Hack.Diversity Reflections
By Victor Obetta ‘21
In 2014, while living with my uncle, I became homeless because he didn’t want me to go to school or do anything I love. I chose my way and he threw me out of his house. I slept with 4 guys in a small room that we all slept on our side in order to accommodate everybody on the floor. No blanket, no pillow, I was just happy I was alive. Then came 2015: I was begging for food in the street in order to survive; people would have leftovers they wanted to throw away and I would stop them and plead to have it for dinner. I would go to bed by 1 or 2 a.m. and wake up at 4 am to shower in the street. I would be ready for the day and happily step out in faith that everything would work out soon.
However, soccer and prayers were my escape route. I do have a lot of faith and I believed so much in myself and stayed positive the whole time. Everyone rejected me, they thought I would join a gang and get killed but I never listened to them. I would walk for 20 miles to get to my soccer practice and repeat it regularly because I didn’t have money for a bus ticket. Life was teaching me something I would never forget.
Then along came a soccer agent; a white man that was scouting for players to come to America and play in colleges. I went to the tryout with an empty stomach, and I was selected to go study and play soccer in America on scholarship. That was a game-changer for me. We were asked to pay a consulting fee of $3500. Another uncle Kevin that liked me a lot and supported my career helped pay that fee and helped pay all the fees for me to go to America. We went through intensive preparation to go face the consulate of America to get a visa. With my bad English, I was favored with an American visa. Uncle Kevin gave me $1800 to travel to America on the 18th of August, 2015.
I arrived on the 19th of August, to face my new life, getting here I discovered that we weren’t on scholarship, and I had to pay for everything I needed to make life happen. But I remained in high spirits, because as they say: “America is a land of opportunity”. People at the church helped pay off my first-semester bill at the community college. The second semester, I got a job on campus and I got down to business. I reached an agreement to take 80 percent of my tuition towards my school bill. During those struggles I was fully involved with the school honor society, served as an officer, was in student government as a student senator, was on the soccer team, served as the soccer team representative in the athletic department, I was in the international student organization, speech club and excelled in all events. I managed to graduate College with a 3.84 GPA and was the “Scholar Student of the Year” at the Celebration of the Excellence of the school and “Athletic Scholar Student of the Year” at the Athletic Award Night. All I did was within $1800 and within two years.
Then came four years of school. I had $0 on me and I was devastated, but I was strong in mind and faith. I talked to a lot of coaches in different schools about scholarships and only one came with a good deal. My first year was paid off through the help of sponsors the coach found to help found my school. Coach Kyle will always be the best coach I’ve ever met. In my second year, however, I had to pay for school. I worked in the kitchen doing dishes, and I was in the custodial, cleaning school and all the bathrooms. I had an internship too; all I was doing while on the soccer team. Nevertheless, I managed to graduate with a 3.45 GPA.
Now the big moment of life after school, I never had anyone to advise me on choosing a career, so I did what I thought was good enough.. I studied Sports Management and later added Business Administration, but life hit me after school. I had OPT, which allows international students to work within 1 year of graduation. I worked in an insurance company for 4 months, got fired, then went and worked in a factory, got fired, and then went to Chewy warehouse and worked for the remainder of the work permit. All the people that fired me never gave me a reason why they did, but life went on. The work permit finished and I was left with nothing. The only way was to be illegal in the country or do something negative and stay in the country at my own risk.
One day someone told me about a Master’s in Business Analytics, said it would help me get a job in tech. And the big question came, “how do I pay for a master’s, and who will give me a job after that?” I struggled thinking to myself that life ended there, and I had done all I could, but a small voice came and said you can do more. Then I enrolled at Bentley University with $0 in my account. Then I went back looking for money in the area. I did dishes at the restaurants, cleaned people’s houses, painted, cut the grass, got a job at the farm to cut asparagus where I was cutting 3 acres of land in 6 hours, but I was desperate to make my school life happen. Then I also got a coaching job to train kids in the area. All of this I did when I got into my master’s program in order to pay for school.
Then the big moment came, someone told me about Hack.Diversity, an organization that helps the diverse community get jobs into tech. I thought to myself “this person is lying, nothing like that exists.” First, I am in my first ever coding experience. Secondly, I just got into coding that semester and thought they wouldn’t accept me because I didn’t know much about the tech world. But Hack got back to me saying that I would be interviewed. I went for the interview, which was the very first video interview I’ve had. I dressed like I was going to a live interview, I was wearing a tie and shoes sitting behind the camera of my laptop, wishing myself all the best. First came a lady that opened the floor, and it was a good conversational interview. Then, another man came, and it was great. In my head I said, “this must be magic dreams.” The man told me he was a recruiter and that I should follow him on LinkedIn, and he said to me “if you don’t find anything, reach out and I will be more than happy to help.” I did reach out to him, and he replied. I was amazed that someone like that would get back to me. At the end they both gave me good feedback and wished me well.
The letter came that I was accepted into Hack. The first thing I did was go back to bed and try to sleep just to make sure I wasn’t daydreaming, and sure enough, I wasn’t… My heart was beating fast. What if they learn that I am not that good at coding, how will I solve the pressure of being around master-minded people in the tech world? I asked myself many questions, and when the answers started coming, it was a life turnaround.
These people at Hack want to know me, they care about me more than the tech life, they want to help me. They are giving me these big opportunities in life. I said this is a once in a lifetime thing, but no, they mean everything they said they will do and all the plans and the documents they sent were real. The Program Leads and staff checked on me all the time when we attended Pod meetings. They care more about us before the main business. All of this was still unreal to me…
For de.Hackathon, I got placed in team Lion. I became very worried that my team members may not understand that I was bad at coding, and they may not tolerate my illiteracy of coding skills. Goodness me, I was lying to myself. The Lion team loved me. We became very good friends, and they would write to me and say hello when we had a project meeting. They didn’t care who was doing what, all they wanted was to get the job done. Not only did they want to get the job done but they were constantly teaching me how things are being done, and from there I was getting rooted in coding. began to grow and I started learning how to code in real life. We would spend an hour on a project and this group would spend two hours teaching me and making sure I understood the coding parts. Long story short, the Lion team went on to win the de.Hackathon. While the other members were coding, I was mostly the hype man and brainstormer on the team. Another magic of Hack.Diversity: how did they get us to be there for each other like that? Furthermore, I couldn’t stop getting gifts from the winning projects. I got so many gifts that I asked the delivery man, “are you sure all of this is for me?”
The miracle of Hack hit me again: mentorship. The first time in Victor’s life to get a personal mentor, I thought: “this is a joke, Hack.Diversity is deceiving me.” But no, they weren’t, it was real. I reached out to my Mentor, and I was scared again. How will I deal with a mentor? How will a professional in the tech world feel sorry for me not knowing how to code and not being a guru in technical skills? However, it became the opposite of my thoughts. Chris was more than a mentor; he asked me to tell him about myself, and he said “how can I help you?” I told him everything about my fears and he said “don’t worry everybody in tech industries is not as good as you think and the job is not that hard, you learn as you go.” I was thinking in my head, “does this man know how bad I am in everything about technology?” I am a sports guy that came here with nothing, and I felt I would never be good enough. Chris said to me “I will serve your needs and help you become a tech guy” then I went crazy. How can an honorable man like him serve me as a former homeless guy? And to be honest, Chris did and made me feel worthy of deciding to go into the tech world.
Chris connected me with many people in different aspects of tech. He connected me with recruiters, and when I got interviews with different companies, Chris prepared me for those interviews. And said to me: “Victor, go and have fun and be your best.” We had scheduled to meet once a week on a video call, but we ended up calling each other or texting every day with my concerns. Chris would go above and beyond to tell me things that made me become a master in my confidence going into my internship.
He gave me the heart to walk into an interview and crush it. Chris went from being my mentor to a lifetime friend, and surely the best mentor I could ever ask for.
Chris inspired me so much that during my interviews I knew what I wanted and got all I wanted. In Chris’s mentorship, we talked about family, he cared to know what was going on in my daily struggle, school, and above all, Chris offered constant support. The funny part of it all, is that Chris called me “Obe”, the name my grandfather gave me when I was small, the name that only a father figure called me. Even though my grandfather passed away a long time ago, he lives on in me and still is my role model.
Above all, I can’t thank the founders of Hack.Diversity enough for giving me hope and making me feel like Superman. As an international student, the chance of getting a company to sponsor a work visa is very slim, but I am proud of how things are shaping up. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Hack.Diversity has made me discover that I am a champion, and I will be doing great things with my life. Today I walk in the street with my head up and proudly say I am in Tech and I am interning as an engineer at one of the best consulting companies in the world. Even though I am still struggling to get my education due to financial challenges, I still have to do all these jobs plus my internship to make money for school. Hack.Diversity has shown me that there is more for me in this world, and I can achieve anything I want through hard work and consistency with perseverance and faith. Even though I am still in fear of where my future will end up, I hope all your investment in my life will pay off in the future.
As I plan to give back, I have a vision to help the less privileged people in my country through the charity organization I created: Victorious Foundation. It is designed to help folks get an education, computer skills, tech skills, and sports opportunities. My first target is my country.
Lastly, to my Program Lead, Robert, thank you for not giving up on me. Even when I wasn’t there, you made it look like I was working hard, and you checked on me all the time. Thank you for pulling out the last magic of my placement when I was having a hard time figuring it out with my school — you made it happen. Thank you, amazing Raven, and the rest of the Hack advisors — all of you are wonderful. Academics alone don’t help students get internships or jobs or prepare for the real world. But Hack.Diversity did all that for free. And what’s more, they followed every single step to ensure that everything was smooth. I have never seen anything like Hack.Diversity and I am forever grateful.