So Do I
He walks into the room, drops his headphones on the table, looks me in the eye.
T-shirt, slops, shorts. A smile.
I like him already.
I shake his hand, offer him a glass of water, ask him to sit, tell him to make himself comfortable.
I can see he is nervous. He fumbles his words while rushing to ask me how I am. Another good sign — this means a lot to him, that is fundamental.
I like him a little bit more.
I start. I introduce myself. I introduce the Academy.
I ask him to tell me his story.
He’s 19. The oldest in a large family. Two brothers, two sisters. A mother. A grandparent. They all live together. They’re close. He looks after them — ‘this is my job,’ he says.
He works in Cape Town as a software developer. After High School he travelled to the city to find work. ‘I love to code,’ he says with light in his eyes. ‘I love to solve problems,’ he exclaims, ‘it’s just how I was born.’
High School was easy for him. ‘No problems at all.’ He aced his tests and finished with ‘lots of A’s’.
He never investigated ‘the University’. His family did not have the means to afford that option, so ‘that was that’.
So from High School off to the city to find work doing what he loved — writing code, ‘playing with 1’s and 0’s.’
He has been coding since 11, has built a few applications, started a few businesses. He’s an expert at many languages (‘no problems’), he can answer any technical question I throw at him.
To write software is his dream. That’s what he has been doing for the last two years since High School. At work (for his company) and at night (for himself and his family).
That is his story.
I ask him to tell me why he wants to do this.
He looks me in the eyes, disarms me with his intensity.
He knows he has greatness inside of him, he says. He knows that he can make a difference in this world, he continues. He knows he needs to do something important in his life. For him. For his family.
And, to do that, he needs to learn more. ‘I need to come here next year. I need you to teach me.’
His voice does not waiver, his eyes are locked into mine.
His words strike my core. My heart rises to my throat, my eyes start to water.
I am not prepared for this.
He continues: ‘I want to build the future. I want to make things better. That is our job here.’
He stops, he has answered the question.
He looks to me for the next one. But I cannot talk. My eyes are wet, my words are gone. I’m breathing in the weight of the moment, a moment that was written by another 19-year old many years ago.
I press ahead. I lie to him — tell him I have a bad cold and I apologise for my sniffling.
I do my job — I ask him the questions on the sheet. I battle to catch his answers. I am a mess of emotion. All I can do is breathe in the young man in front of me, the young man inside of me.
‘Our time is up,’ I say. ‘Thank you so much for coming through.’
He stands up, shakes my hand, looks me in the eye.
‘Thank you for the opportunity — I hope to see you next year.’
We stand there, two strangers in a small room, shaking hands, bound by a moment outside of time. Two pairs of shirts, slops and shorts, hopeful, ready to do whatever it takes.’
I reply: ‘So do I.’