After José Guerra completed SFU Continuing Studies' free, five-week computer coding course, he was awarded a scholarship for a further 12-week, full-time coding program at CodeCore, the company co-sponsoring the free course.

Free SFU Continuing Studies course leads to job for determined father living in homeless shelter

October 23, 2017
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SFU Continuing Studies and CodeCore teamed up earlier this year to deliver life-changing job skills to low-income, unemployed or underemployed residents in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, one of Canada’s poorest neighbourhoods. Here is the story of a successful program participant.

By Kim Mah

For Peruvian native José Guerra, living in a Downtown Eastside (DTES) men’s homeless shelter was a new low. But it was also a turning point after he learned of a free SFU Continuing Studies training program that would eventually lead him to a job, allowing him to once again provide for his wife and four daughters.

Guerra and his family had immigrated to Canada in 2000, but moved back to Peru 12 years later when a Canadian oil company offered Guerra a job in his homeland. As a result of the 2014 oil price crash, however, he was laid off in March 2015, and returned to Canada with his family in August 2016.

But Guerra, 53, couldn’t find steady work in Metro Vancouver, despite his decades of experience in computers and information technology.

“I was sending out resumés,” he says, “but maybe it was my age, maybe my accent?”

Living in shelters

That’s when he discovered his family no longer qualified for any form of income assistance. By fall of 2016, he was forced to live apart from the rest of his family, who had moved to a women’s shelter in Surrey.

At the DTES shelter, he noticed an SFU poster advertising free computer-coding boot camps, beginning in March 2017, for Downtown Eastside residents. Offered in partnership with Vancouver-based CodeCore, the program would provide fundamental training in computer programming for up to 20 low-income students. The free program was made possible through funding from the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education.

By the time Guerra phoned to register, however, the program was full. He joined the waiting list and then found temporary work while holding onto a thin hope that he could still join the course. In January this year, just as his short-term contract was ending, he learned he had been accepted after all.

Free coding program leads to job

He was thrilled. Guerra completed the intensive five-week program in April, working as hard as he’d ever worked. His efforts were rewarded with a scholarship for a further 12-week, full-time coding program at CodeCore. For those 12 weeks, he recalls, he barely saw his family, even missing his Father’s Day celebration for the first time in 24 years.

“And now I have a job,” Guerra says with a wide smile.

In September, Guerra was hired for a senior technical support analyst role at a local private school. Web development was brought up during his interview, and he believes his newly acquired skills gave him a significant advantage.

“Just knowing that I knew how to code gave me confidence, gave me a new skill, no matter what position I was applying for.”

Guerra says the long hours and hard work were all worth it.

“I am so happy and so very grateful,” he says. “Everything fell into place. Even though sometimes I was discouraged, I kept going. It might have been easier staying in the shelter, being supported by the system. That’s okay for some people, but for myself, I wanted something better. I kept trying, and it finally paid off.”

This story originally appeared on SFU News.