When Charles Lee first thought of going to college, he was 32 years old and at a dead end of a 14-year career in retail. He’d never written a line of computer code, and outside of playing video games or working with computers, he had little experience with information technology.
What a difference two years make. Today, he’s almost done with an associate degree in computer science, and is working on transferring into the bachelor of applied science degree in application development at Renton Technical College.
He is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, a peer tutor on campus, and a member of the 2016 All-Washington Academic Team - a select group of high-achieving students in Washington’s community and technical colleges.
But his greatest achievement, and one of the main reasons he’s in school today, is his 4-year-old daughter, Sofiya.
“I’m 34 years old. I really want that bachelor’s degree,” Charles said. “I want her to see me graduate.”
Charles’s transformative journey began in 2014. He was working in a major retail chain and had risen as high as he could.
“I was just really tired of the hamster wheel I was stuck in, with no real education, nothing to fall back on,” he said.
Charles’s last brush with school was completing his GED. As a young person, he admits to having spent too much time with the wrong crowd, and he had no real concept of where to go to learn, or what to expect.
But he lived about four miles from RTC, and had heard from friends that the College had strong programs and helpful instructors. He enrolled in the two-year associate degree program in computer science, a program that focuses on computer programming, applications and hardware.
“At first, the programming was difficult to grasp. It’s like learning a new language,” he recalled. “I struggled the first quarter, but then I got a tutor outside of school to help me understand, and it all made sense.”
Charles was very happy with the support he received at RTC.
“Everybody is here for you, from the first day,” he said.
Today, Charles is well versed in languages such as C#, Java, SQL, and familiar with PC platforms and Microsoft products. He can assemble a PC from spare parts. He looks forward to earning his associate degree this June, and to moving into the bachelor’s program at RTC, so that he can pursue a rewarding career in information technology.
“That’s why I chose this field. It moves fast, something is always happening, new technologies and new things to learn,” he said.
And it’s a long way from the old hamster wheel.