“Receiving a DCTF scholarship was such a weight off my shoulders - it literally took my breath away”
A lifetime in the military and criminal justice system had a great influence on the head of the Flores household. And so Gabe Flores’ childhood -- and that of his two brothers -- were defined by the three principles their father held dearest: discipline, training and focus.
Growing up in Pflugerville, the Flores boys participated in competitive sports and put those principles into practice. Gabe remembers the feeling of a “lot of eyes on you as all your teammates worked toward the same goal.” His dad was always on the coaching staff and continued to “coach at home, away from practice.” Expectations were high in the Flores household and Gabe learned a lesson he would carry into his adult life: to be “present in the moment when there’s high tension. When your teammates are relying on you, you have to set the example of being prepared and having the right mindset.”
Gabe’s dad attended college after completing his military duty in Vietnam, but his mother -- a Mexican immigrant who taught herself English by listening to television -- didn’t have the chance to complete high school. Nonetheless, there was always an assumption that Gabe would go to a four-year college with grades that would earn him a scholarship. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.
The Dream Deferred
Gabe graduated from high school and began attending Austin Community College (ACC) full time. He also worked full time and continued to live with his parents. But like so many of his peers, he had no clear direction and focused only on getting the core courses behind him.
After completing 50 course credits, Gabe still had no focus. He decided that the classroom just wasn’t for him and he put his studies on hold while working a variety of manual labor jobs.
Eventually, he landed a job delivering appliances and stayed with the company for seven years. During this time, he never considered returning to school. “I was getting through life and enjoying myself. And I wasn’t sure what I was looking for or what kind of long-term career was in my future.”
But when he got laid off in his late 20’s he began looking for something more sustainable.
A friend with a family business producing restaurant-quality firewood brought him into the company to help manage logistics. He was able to make his own schedule and manage his own time and the prospects for building this role into a good future looked good. However, after 3 ½ years, the company lost some major customers and he found himself unemployed once again.
A Spark of Light
Gabe happened to be speaking with a friend who had graduated college with a business degree but had moved into coding and web development. He suggested the same for Gabe by sharing the vast opportunities of this fast-growing industry.
Gabe knew his way around the internet and social media, and now took the time to explore the skill set he would need to succeed in this field. He realized that coders spend a lot of time in front of a screen, which requires the ability to focus on the task at hand and the discipline to always know what’s expected and put in the time to learn how to perform the tasks. Focus and discipline… two things he had already learned from his father.
The Community Invests in a Dreamer
So at age 33, Gabe began to seriously investigate his options - whether to go to a formal coding school or to pursue his studies online.
He applied to Austin Coding Academy and was accepted. But the required deposit and the total cost of the academy was just too expensive for someone who had lost his job just three months earlier. He searched for financial assistance but only found loans with exorbitant interest rates. Gabe was living on the edge, surviving with unemployment checks and living with his fiancée and his brother. With his marriage scheduled for one month later, Gabe recalls, “We were uncertain of our future. The timing couldn't have been worse and tensions were high.”
Three weeks had passed since he applied to Austin Coding School, and Gabe was still trying to figure out how he could afford the program. Out of the blue, he received an email from the CEO at Austin Coding Academy who informed him that they were now partnering with a local non-profit - The Dream Come True Foundation (DCTF) - and that there was a possibility for a full scholarship.
Gabe immediately submitted an essay and application. One week later, DCTF staff member (and now Executive Director) Chiquita Board contacted him and they spoke for an hour and a half, discussing his interests and what led him to coding. After an in-person interview with the Board, Gabe was granted a full scholarship to Austin Coding Academy for a 36-week program.
Gabe recalls with a smile that when he received the congratulatory email, “it was such a weight off my shoulders - it literally took my breath away.”
DCTF Mentors: Guiding the Way for Dream Achievers
The coursework was very challenging, like learning a foreign language, according to Gabe. “I still work at it every day. You’re training a different muscle in your brain and need to flex the logical/mathematical side of thinking - muscles I hadn't used since high school. At the Austin Coding Academy, I had to learn to work backwards with problems and find out how to find the core reason for an error.”
Fortunately DCTF assigned him a mentor from his own field. Rigo Zevada, Jr. is a product manager at Whole Foods and understood the structure and responsibilities of a coder. Rigo was able to share business insights and real life examples of what a job in coding would look like. They spoke weekly and Gabe notes appreciatively that “it was great to have a friendly ear to talk to.”
Their relationship has inspired Gabe to plan on playing the same role and give back as a mentor. He envisions the point when “it will be beneficial for me to share my experiences, especially if someone’s going through the same program.” Rigo and Gabe have become friends and, now that the program is ended, they hang out regularly watching soccer and basketball games.
The Dream Fulfilled
Gabe completed the program in April 2019. He’s currently tutoring at the Academy and driving for Amazon while applying for jobs in his field. He acknowledges that he still has a lot to learn and is working every day to get beyond being “code literate but not necessarily fluent.”
And his dreams today? As he has experienced and enjoyed a great deal of flexibility in all his previous jobs, he notes that “someday I would like to work for myself. Whether I work as a freelancer or own my own company, or even find a great company that allows coding work to be done remotely.”
Lessons from the Journey
Gabe still attributes the lessons he learned from his father and from sports as contributors to his success. “Discipline is something you gain over time - in the moment you didn’t realize how beneficial that it will be down the road. I feel that I can withstand any kind of turmoil and respond well in times of high stress.”
And he will be forever grateful to the DCTF team who made his training dream a reality. “The team at DCTF feels like family,” says Gabe.“Through the whole experience, Chiquita was the sweetest person. She thinks of everyone and will do whatever she can to make your journey easier.”