A then-homeless Max Johnson entered the Holberton School, a project-based alternative to college for aspiring software engineers, not knowing what to expect. With the guidance of Grammy Award-winning artist Ne-Yo, the education from Holberton, and the assistance from Scality, a data storage firm, Johnson was able to land his first engineering job.
Johnson had a rough upbringing, being shuttled between Nigeria and the streets of Camden, New Jersey. In addition to his external environment, Johnson battled autoimmune deficiency illnesses that impacted both his mobility and the way his brain functioned. After attempting to go to college, Johnson quickly found that it wasn’t a fit for him.
When he came across the Holberton School he decided to give it a shot, knowing that he would not have to pay tuition unless he was hired as a software engineer. Although this was a great catalyst for his entry, Johnson did not have enough money saved up to afford a place in San Francisco, which resulted in him sleeping in his car.
When the school found out, they turned to Scality to help raise funds to secure Johnson a place to live. School trustee and investor Ne-Yo heard about the situation and personally took an interest in Johnson’s story and success.
“Max didn’t give up for two very important reasons. One, Max’s spirit and two, the Holberton approach. Max is one of those people who has the spirit of a champion. The drive, grit, and other personal qualities that enable them to persevere through adversity. He is the real MVP,” said Ne-Yo. “Any employer is lucky to hire employees with these personal attributes because they translate so well into workplace success.”
“As long as I wake up every day, then there isn’t a reason to give up. All of us will be gone one day, so you might as well go after what you want instead of settling for something you don’t want,” said Johnson. “I didn’t want to go back to what I was doing before. Hopefully, one day I will have a family and I don’t want them to grow up struggling because I can’t provide.”
The Holberton school takes a very different approach to traditional education, which they attribute to a lot of their student’s successes. “The hands-on, collaborative peer-to-peer learning environment makes learning feel accessible. Traditional learning environments make it hard for students to see how what they’re learning will be relevant in the real world,” stated Ne-Yo. “With Holberton, students know that everything they learn is applicable to precisely the jobs they desire.”
Johnson has since landed a new job as a software engineer at J. Crew in New York City.