Episode OverviewIn this episode, Chris talks about experiencing homelessness at the age of 19 and finding himself without a job, unable to pay for school, and without support from family or friends. This month, four years later, Chris became a home owner at the age of 24 and is making six-figures. Chris shares how he overcame depression and suicidal thoughts to find his path despite the odds being against him.
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Shireen Jaffer 0:00
Hi, everybody. Welcome to the Edvolution podcast, where we question what makes our life truly ours. I’m Shireen Jaffer. And I’m very excited to introduce you to some incredible people with fascinating stories. I have Chris Atoki here with me, I this is the first time I’m talking to him. And I found him actually on Twitter, where he shared a personal life update with us. And it just got me so interested in his story and how he’s created a path for himself. So I would love to introduce you all to Chris and his story, but I’m also hearing for the first time Chris, it is so nice to have you here. Thanks for joining.
Chris Atoki 0:42
Sure thing. Thank you for having me. You know, I’ve inspired a lot of people it seems like so, you know, I hope to continue to do that.
Shireen Jaffer 0:52
I love it. So I’m going to share the tweet with everybody that’s listening. So on July 7, Chris atoki at Kinga. Toki says, four years ago, I was homeless sleeping in my car, showering at the gym, wondering where my next meal would come from. today. I’m officially a homeowner. And he has this great picture of him in front of his house. Chris, congratulations. How? How is it feel? That’s a huge moment for him. Sure.
Chris Atoki 1:24
Yeah, definitely. One. Thank you so much. You know, this is my first house. I, I’m not going to lie. I never thought well, four years ago, I never thought I’d be here. You know, it feels really great. It’s exciting. You know, there’s a lot of health stuff that I have to take care of. But it’s a fun process. And and I’m just going along with it so far.
Shireen Jaffer 1:48
Yeah. And I’m definitely intrigued to see how these four years and even before the four years, you know, what life was like for you and what you’ve really gone through and I’m sure there were A lot of epiphany you had along the way that has brought you to this point. So tell me about your childhood. Where did you grow up? And how did you grow up?
Homeless at 19 (2:09)
Chris Atoki 2:09
Sure. I mean, you know, that’s a story in itself. My parents were both in the army. And so I was born in law in Oklahoma, Fort Sill on army base, you know, the army brat. And just from then we’ve, I’ve moved around a lot, you know, but one of the things that I always like to say is I’m grateful that I did. It sucks because I didn’t really have any maybe long term friends. But I like being able to see a lot of different things, a lot of different environments, communities, a lot of different people, but it wasn’t moving around, you know, city to city it was moving around from, you know, I was born in Oklahoma, I moved to Texas, I moved to New Jersey then left and came back to Texas for a little while. So you know, it’s like, cross country trips. So as soon as I’m making friends You know, that two years later of meeting that person, or you know, those people I’m moving 3000 miles away or how, you know, however far was 1000 miles or something. Um, so that will be that was the hardest thing. And then the other thing with that is just just the move itself, you know, moving is fine. I got I am grateful that I got to see a lot of things in retrospect, but at the time, you know, I hated getting my own room, getting everything set up, you know, having my own bed and getting used to something and then just having to pick up and now it’s time to go to a new place to a new environment. So back then it was hard, because you get used to something and then it just gets taken away from you guys. That’s how it felt. But, you know, in retrospect, it was it was okay.
Shireen Jaffer 3:49
Interesting. So what ultimately led you to finding yourself on home? What led to that huge, you know, life change for you,
Chris Atoki 3:58
sir, yeah, so One of the things is, I’ll say through my teenage years, my mother and I, we didn’t really have that great of a relationship. There were some things that I guess we just butt heads a lot. Um, a lot of people ask, you know, was I disrespectful? Or, you know, what did I do to make her kick me out? Let’s just say we just had a disagreement, and she just decided it would be best if I left. So at the time, I was working full time and going to school full time. And I actually had lost my job a few weeks before she she kicked me out and we had our disagreement and, you know, then that’s whenever I got kicked out, and I found myself homeless at that point.
Shireen Jaffer 4:45
Yeah. How old were you then?
Chris Atoki 4:47
I want to say I was 19. Turning 20
Shireen Jaffer 4:50
Wow, that is tough. So you’re 19 turning 20 you’ve just lost you lost your job. You’re going to school full time. What do you do? What do you do that night or day? As soon as that happens, what do you do?
Chris Atoki 5:07
Well, as soon as it happened, I slept in my car, you know, I was tried to, I didn’t really have family members that I could call once again, you know, because of my relationship with my mom. It turned out to where the whole family was just like oh, he’s just this disrespectful teenager, you know, young adult, or whatever they call me by so I didn’t really have anybody to turn to and I had my car where, you know, two bags packed full of all my clothes and I had my mom’s because she gave me I think it was two minutes to pack as much stuff as I could and stop it into trash bags in my car and that’s all I could it So, um, I had that stayed in my car. I drove to just a Walmart because I thought that was the only place I could, you know, parked my car overnight and not get, you know, pulled out, get stopped by the cops or you know something lockup on or anything like that. And I just, I just slept I had to think about it, you know, like I, at that point I didn’t have a job. And I actually just had stopped going to school to because I had to try to work full time but I lost my job law school and then lost my house at that point. So the only thing I could do is find somewhere to go,
Shireen Jaffer 6:23
man, what was going through your head at the time? Are you someone who, you know, obviously in that huge life changing moment? Were you someone who was thinking 10 steps ahead. Were you just trying to keep your cool in the moment? I trying to get an understanding of your even headspace at that point.
Chris Atoki 6:47
At that time, it just seemed like my whole world was crashing down. I mean, you know, like I said, Go from losing my job to getting kicked out happening within two, two and a half weeks, maybe three weeks. You know, less than A month. Not to mention this was all like, right before my birthday or something, too. So it shows being at that point, then I just thought, you know, is this clip the end of my life is looking like, you know, I didn’t have any plans. I didn’t have that. Oh, you know, let me let me make the best out of my situation I was just looking at why are all these bad things happening? I didn’t understand what I did so wrong to deserve it. I didn’t think you know, I’m a quiet person. I don’t, I don’t go out, you know, doing anything that I’m not supposed to. I just thought I had my head on straight. And then out of nowhere, almost it just seemed like a left, right. You know, one thing after another was just getting taken away from it.
Shireen Jaffer 7:42
Damn, that’s a lot of life happening. And I’m not surprised that that was the reaction that was going through your head. So how was that first week. I mean, as much as you can remember, I know it was a little while ago, but I feel like these are the type of memories that unfortunately really stayed with you. What was that first week or next few days? like for you? How did you go about it?
Chris Atoki 8:06
Yeah, so, you know, at first it was just trying to see if there was anybody I could Crouse with, you know, like, even though I didn’t really have the family members that I could depend on one thing was, I tried to call, you know, anybody my uncles, my, you know, grandparents or whatever, and see, you know, Hey, can I stay with you for a little bit? And it was, you know, no, not really, you know, is more like, you know, we heard what happened with your mom, and, you know, we don’t, we don’t want you to do the same thing to us or we don’t want you to be disrespectful to us or something. And once again, you know, I wasn’t being disrespectful, but it was more of it’s my word against her. And so, at first it was just trying to survive, you know, at that point, um, and I talked about my lowest point, you know, in between, but at that point, I’ll say the first couple of days the first week or so I had a little bit of money in reserves, it might have Like, you know, $500 or something like that, but I wasn’t completely lost, I had a little bit of money saved up to not completely fall on my face, but I had no income coming in. So at that point, it was just kind of the feeling around for my next move or what I should do next. But once again, it was kind of hard to because I was being in my own head and everything and I was just, I was just down on myself and depressed.
Shireen Jaffer 9:29
Yeah, yeah. I mean, you obviously you’re not getting any support from family. What about friends? I know, obviously, you spent so much of your childhood moving around and didn’t get to build those long term friendships. But did you have any friends you could stay with?
Chris Atoki 9:44
No, not really. You know, the thing is, I did have a girlfriend at the time, which is one of the reasons why my mom kicked me out. She She said that she didn’t like the girl that I was with. Right? You know that. That was another issue. But um, so What I’d see was that she was in college at the time, and one of the things I tried to do was see if I could crash in her dorm room, you know, and try to sneak and do that. But, you know, her father wasn’t, you know, having that and I understood, you know, nobody, I, if I had a daughter, I would say the same thing. Like, no, no, no. But um, so and, you know, friends, I didn’t really have any friends, especially because I didn’t, I never was able to form those long term bonds with, with anybody, you know, four years or something. So, when I was in Vineland, New Jersey, when I graduated, you know, I had only been in violin for the past two years at the time. So I don’t think that’s enough time, especially when I’m focusing on school sports and going to college. I didn’t really have that time to form those friendships to where, you know, when I’m in a spy, or when I was in the spy like I was in the friends, I could call and say, Hey, can I crash with you? I didn’t really have
Shireen Jaffer 10:53
any you mentioned you had $500 in your pocket. So what did you do with that money?
Chris Atoki 10:58
Well, coincidentally Have the battery on my car that I had, it was a $1,000 you know, 1995 for Thunderbird, the battery was too small, it kept going out and I was one of the first things I had to get. Then another thing was it was raining one day back there and I had swerved out into the other lane, so I had to get tires and that eight of my money quicker than I would have ever thought it would, because I didn’t. I didn’t know I didn’t know anything about cars. I didn’t know anything about that. And I didn’t know how much it costs to repair it. So, you know, because that was my home at the time the car is I had to first make sure that that was right. So you know that first week, you know, you can stretch out $500 I’ve done it before, but you know, at that time, the first I think it was like the third day or something like that I had to fix all this stuff in my car and that costs almost $300 already. So when I $500 turned into 200 you know real
Shireen Jaffer 12:00
Wow, that uh that’s rough. That is freakin rough. All right, so you’re staying in your car. You’re You said you were parked in front of a Walmart? You didn’t you essentially have no money no family no friends. Then what
Deciding to Live for Himself (12:19)
Chris Atoki 12:19
I mean, what happens? I, you know, I I haven’t told anybody you know, starting starting from I guess when I was talking about I guess the eighth The day after when I had time, right I you know, that was my lowest that was I felt like that was absolute zero. You know, like, I talked about a point where I was in front of Walmart, I told you it was around the time for my birthday was and I had like 83 cents in my account at this time. And, you know, I just I wanted to die at that point. You know, I thought I had I had nothing else to live where I had no job. My car was crap. You know, I just spent all my money trying to Just barely survive. I wasn’t in college. I didn’t really have a future I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have any family, any friends. I thought it was absolute zero and I just wanted to die. I was just like, you know, should I just kill myself? Honestly, you know, that’s, that’s what I got to the point of. And I just had a talk with myself, I guess to say, you know, is that the best thing you know what happens next, like I shared a tweet where I didn’t really, I didn’t know how to describe it. I don’t want to say like, an out of body experience. But, you know, in my car, the rear view mirror was broken off and it was in the backseat. If I was telling you this is the worst car that you probably ever seen. But, um, you know, I grabbed that I looked myself literally in the mirror and it’s almost like I could see myself outside of myself. That’s the way I can describe it. But it’s as close to an out of body experience as you can get but in a good way. But that’s where at that point You know, it was either I saw the two options, which was off myself or kill myself or whatever, or start living for myself. And that’s what I chose to do is say, because at that point I saw, I couldn’t depend on anybody else. I couldn’t trust anybody else. But I can always depend on myself. And that’s when I decided to live for myself.
Shireen Jaffer 14:25
That is powerful. That recognition that we’ve got to start living for ourselves and in the moments where we can’t trust anyone else depend on anyone else. We’re all we’ve got and even when we’ve got people we can trust and depend on even then you’ve got to be able to trust yourself first and depend on yourself first so that moment happens and then what it does, do you feel this instant switch in your mindset of Okay, now I’m gonna go get it. Or you know, was it was it still a battle and something you have to constantly fight every every day.
Chris Atoki 15:02
I mean, it was a little bit of both, you know, because it was like an instance which it was almost like a fire that just awakened like, Hey, I have something to live for, you know, I’m starting at absolute zero, you know, I was still aware I’m still hungry, I’m still I don’t have any money. I’m not, you know, gonna be going out I guess standing on the street asking for money or anything like that. I say, No, I want to go and get it. You know, I want to go and take control of my life. That’s kind of how I put it to myself back then. It’s like, instead of letting all this stuff happen to me, like letting all these things get taken away from me, how about I go take something from life and that’s kind of what I decided to do. So, you know, after I think it was like the day or the day after the day after that, or something like that, you know, after I had this, I guess realization, Self Realization. I went to the nearest library, it was like this library environment on tumbling on Landis Avenue and I went in there And I applied for literally every job. I mean, I went on indeed, monster zip recruiter dice.com. And I didn’t even put in like a job title. I put in Vineland, New Jersey. And I press Search every job that came up, I applied for it. I was looking back just then because indeed saves all the jobs that you apply for pretty much and I think within that time, just off of indeed I applied to over 1500 jobs, you know, and the same thing for for zip recruiter, the same thing for monster, you know, hundreds hundred like For indeed thousands, you know, jobs. And that’s where my fire came from. I was like, I don’t want to be where I am. But I’m going to be somewhere. There’s jobs out there where people will literally hire a monkey to do the job. And I’m like, I think I can do about that a monkey. You know, I went for it.
Shireen Jaffer 16:57
Yeah, I mean, you’re focused on the outcome. You were willing to take whatever because you knew you gotta you got to make the money, you have to kind of get your basics covered. So do you hear back? I mean, you know, unfortunately, we hear a online bores, job boards are not being the most effective, but with that sheer volume of applications are sending out what’s your experience?
Chris Atoki 17:19
Yeah, you know, the thing with that, and that goes back to what you asked, you know, was it a kind of a struggle every day? And it was because I’ll get a call back or something. And, you know, I barely had to be single my resume. It’s kind of like, high school graduate, you know, work that a warehouse for, you know, almost a year or something like that. And that’s it. So it was kind of like, hey, what can you do? And I’m like, I don’t know, what is the job asking for and then it’s like, click, you know, or I’ll get an interview. They’re like, hey, come in, and they’ll literally take one look at me and be like, no, we’re looking for somebody with more experience. And it’s like it’s a it’s a pickle farm. You know, like, has experience putting pickles in a box? So, you know, it’s it was it was a struggle every day because, say for the 1500 jobs, I’ll get 1400 immediate knows I’ll get 1500 50 times where people will see me and then say no and then I might get 10 yeses and those are what I focused on so it was hard, but I didn’t focus on the bed because I told you I was living for myself at that point. Once I had a bad like say if I got a no one interview, I got a no for a job or something. I don’t care if a job doesn’t even exist anymore. In my mind, I’m looking for the ones that can potentially say yes,
Shireen Jaffer 18:39
but how do you you know, how do you find that mindset? When you are struggling so much and you’re hungry? Like you’re literally hungry? I don’t mean hunger from like, you’re passionate and want to get truly hungry. So you know, that’s that’s the biggest thing. I mean, I I took that So many people on you know, building a life for themselves. I mean, that’s why I do this podcast I want to help people find their own path but one of the biggest things you know I get is when you don’t have your basics covered when you’re starving when you don’t have a roof over your head. You don’t get time to think about you know how to build life in your own way. But you kind of did like for you it was I don’t have time to not think about it. Like all I need to do is figure out how to build this life for myself. So would you say it was just this like adrenaline inside knew that didn’t you know let you go in a negative headspace? I mean, what was it? How would you describe it?
Chris Atoki 19:43
Yeah, and I like the word that you use adrenaline, adrenaline that only lasts for that’s a bunch of energy that just expels in a short burst. And that’s what I focused on. You know, I didn’t make a goal saying hey, I’m have nothing in my account right now. I want have $1,000 or one out of $2 billion and half a million dollars, whatever it is, I was like, No, right now I have zero dollars in my account, let me get to $10 we get consistent, you know, having that I wasn’t focused on what happens next. I was like, let me get a job first. I’ll figure that out. You know, I can find food. I can buy noodles for 13 cents or 25 cents by finding it caught on, I can do that. Like, I’ll be satisfied. But I’m not focused on just the you know, what’s good what the what the negatives are in my life, like, Oh, I’m hungry or living in my car, oh, I’m cold or something like that. I’m like, No, let me find what’s going what’s the next step up? You know, not, Where am I now? But like, Where am I going to be tomorrow? Where am I going to be next week? And that’s what I focused on. It was a it was like, Yes, it was a fire. It was the fire for living for myself, I guess. But it was more of just Hey on right here. Now I know where I I am now and I don’t want to be here anymore you know not where am I going to be in 10 years? It’s where am I going to be two days from now? Where am I going to be next week? And that’s where I got her journal.
Shireen Jaffer 21:12
Well that makes a lot of sense. Okay, so you’re you’re unfortunately getting those rejections and you’re you’re applying a ton so what finally gets you that first break for yourself that first job?
From the Pickle Farm to Lambda School (21:25)
Chris Atoki 21:25
Oh, I’ll say after Well, the thing is I actually got a bunch of jobs at once and i did it i don’t care i was working for I think it was like close to 20 hours a day like just working three different jobs or something but the pickle farm they actually did get back to me after I told him like you need to experience the do pickles or whatever. Um, I had we got
Shireen Jaffer 21:51
we got a pause so is straight up told them dude who needs experience to work at a pickle farm? Yeah. hired you.
Chris Atoki 21:59
Yes. They were they they said it was something towards the effect of No, we’re looking for somebody with more experience. And I said, Like who? Who ever has experience putting pickles in a box? Oh said that’s that that requires, you know, your frontal cortex or whatever, like your basic motor skills to do that. And they said, You know what? We’ll give you a shot if you like if you think you can do
Shireen Jaffer 22:23
all right. Okay, so you got the job. I had. What other two jobs were you working?
Chris Atoki 22:30
I had another job. In a freezer. It was like this beef. Like job or something. I had to like crack beef in half and put them in a box or something. I hate event now, but I had to do it. And I had another job where I was working for it was like this Mary Kay factory where I’m putting labels on the Mary Kay product tubes. Got it? Yeah. So it’s like working back clock. The clock like clockwork.
Shireen Jaffer 22:57
Yeah. Okay, so you got three jobs. And now you’re Obviously making some money and what’s life looking like for you now?
Chris Atoki 23:05
Well, uh, a little bit better, you know, even though with those jobs, I’m not gonna lie I I wanted to quit, you know, working 20 hours a day it just it was it was draining me so I would just say like the pickle farm job I think I lasted like a week I’m not even. It was it was it was crazy because of all the different stuff that they they wanted me to do. I think, you know, I went from that job to getting that job to losing it a week later, or me quitting A week later then getting another job at a factory. I’m almost doing something like the first job that I was doing, which was a warehouse. I was stuffing boxes and trucks and everything and, you know, I went from that job to you know, another job and this is, you know, balancing two or three jobs at a time. Um, so it’s just me trying to get back up on my feet. You know, once again, I had that that crappy car That always needed repairs I, I went from there to just trying to save my money trying to get out of where I am because I’m like, I can’t live like this, you know, getting a job, and then leaving it a week later or getting a job and then getting pushed out or having no energy because I’m literally sleeping for an hour or two a day and then having to work. So that’s whenever I said I want to get an actual job that’s as good for me, you know, something that’s like a career that I could make a career out of. And that’s whenever I started working for Easy Rest. It was a it was I was a salesman in home salesman, where people would fill out like a little forum saying, Hey, we want this thing for free. And I would come in and say, Hey, let me sell it to you instead of getting it for free. But that was my first like, actual job where I was making like, I think it was maybe $500 at the time or something.
Shireen Jaffer 24:56
Yeah, and so you’re an engineer now. So obviously being Different than all these different farm jobs obviously being in sales. So now tell us how you found engineering as your path.
Chris Atoki 25:11
Definitely. So and this is, you know, the, I guess where my story gets a little bit better rather than just bouncing around jobs so so what I did was I knew I wanted to be in tech I wanted to since I graduated college, I was going to our graduated high school, I was going to college for engineering, you know, and I hated that I had to stop it. So I wanted to go back into school, the only thing is, I still had to work full time to support myself. And so I needed something that was online, I needed something with some kind of financial aid that I could get approved for. And I wanted something structured But anyway, I searched for online, you know, Boot Camps at the time because I wanted to do software engineering, and that’s when I saw an ad come up for lamda school. It’s an online coding Academy in I really like that, you know, checked all the boxes, and everything. So, like in the tweet, one of the check all the boxes that zero down, you know, it was online. But the only thing was it was full time. And that broke my heart because I was like, this seems like a perfect thing for me to get me in the field that I want to do to want to be in. But it was full time and I had to work full time. So I told I actually went, went out on a limb, and I emailed the CEO of the school. And I asked him I, you know, we just had a little conversation. It wasn’t it wasn’t much it was kind of like, Hey, I don’t think I could do this. And you just kind of talk to talk to me about it. So fill out my situation a little bit more. But the thing that blew my mind is that the CEO of a company actually took his time to email me back. And it wasn’t, you know, like a secretary or something like that. It was actually the CEO of a company who says, you know, this isn’t even my student, you know, he might be a potential student, but I’m going to take my time out. respond to them and actually talk to them. And that was the first time like, somebody that high up actually spoke to me, you know, and that blew my mind and until that just showed me that’s, you know, the school that I wanted to be at. So, um, once again, you know, that’s why I got that fire in me again and to want to do what I want to do. And I went, I made sure my phone was hooked up to you know, what, the hotspot or whatever, and I bought the crappiest MacBook that I think I could have at the time it barely even turned on. And because we didn’t have any, like, Wi Fi couldn’t use any of the computers or anything like that. And I just went to school online like that while I was working full time.
Shireen Jaffer 27:42
Wow. I mean, it goes back to like, What’s something I can tell again, this being our first conversation, but something you’ve kind of done is you’ve, you’ve taken that chance, right and taken that chance to email Austin, the CEO of lambda and you’ve taken that chance To pickle farm burgers, is that a dude? Like what experience? Do you actually be to put some pickles in a box? I mean, it’s it’s taking those chances. And I think again, those examples can be either very small, or very big, but you never know what opportunities will open up if you don’t ever take that chance. Where do you feel like that? Again, obviously, you felt that fire in you, you were living for yourself? Did you kind of just have the attitude of Look, I’ve got nothing to lose. I’ve hit rock bottom before so, you know, emailing the CEO. I mean, what is there really to lose here? Is that what was going in your head?
Chris Atoki 28:41
Pretty much, you know, like all my lightboard I’ll say the greater part of my life. I’ve always been doubted and it’s always been like, you know, getting a bunch of nose before I get it yet. So it was kind of just like you said, you know, what do I have to lose? I was like, the worst thing that could happen is he doesn’t answer You know, that doesn’t, it doesn’t hurt my feelings. You know, if he doesn’t answer I would have just talked enough to he’s the CEO, he doesn’t have time, you know, so it’s just going out on the limb.
Shireen Jaffer 29:10
Nice. So so you found a way you got your phone, you got a crappy MacBook, you got your hotspot linked up because you don’t have Wi Fi and you go on a class. What, you know, obviously, you’re now working full time. But in the short four years, you’ve essentially gone from homelessness to being in school and working full time again, to now being a homeowner. So does that happen over two years? Does that happen over three what what steps did you actually take to make that happen for yourself?
Going to School and Working Full-Time (29:44)
Chris Atoki 29:44
Yeah, well, let’s say this was like about I’ll say three years because when I got my whenever I said I wanted to go to school and everything. I was still homeless and even working at matches from the thing is, I would go to school while working and you know, have a My classes online while talking to customers pretty much. And even after the store closed, because I was still homeless at the time, I would just stay in the store, you know, until 12 123 o’clock, you know, working and studying because this is something that I really wanted to do. So I just kept, I think I put more hours than anybody who didn’t didn’t score something, but I kept doing that. And, you know, eventually I was able to afford enough to buy a room in somebody’s apartment. But I still went to school online. So, you know, I was just really dedicated to learning as much as I could about being a developer and and learning the languages and tech stack and everything like that, because I told myself it was, I think it was like September of 2017 or something I said, you know, a year from now, I want to have a job in software engineering. So all through you know, I went through school doing that. I’m studying just working hard, making sure that studying hard and making sure that, you know, I am pushing myself in the right direction to actually going through interviews, the same thing that I did with without having a job when I was in my car at the library applying for 1000 jobs. You know, I did the same thing. As a developer. I didn’t have any experience being a software engineer and stuff, you know, building a few small websites or something. So I just applied for everything and anything that would hire anybody that would hire me or talk to me or give me a chance. So I actually that goal that I said that I set for myself, it was I think it was September 4 of 2017. I actually got hired September 3 2018. And I didn’t even know I met my goal. I forgot about the goal until it came up on my memories, but I think I like shared it on Facebook or some app or something like that. And they told me like, Oh, this is in your memories. And I was like, wow, I emailed Austin, or I messaged him on slack and was like, Hey, you know, I met my goal, and I didn’t even I didn’t even know it. So
Shireen Jaffer 32:02
that’s beautiful. And I’m, I’m obviously very glad to hear that. I want also to talk about you had mentioned this on your Twitter as a black man with tattoos, you know, now being an engineer, whereas, unfortunately, we just, even as I’ve worked with so many different companies and engineering teams, I rarely see, like law. I’m definitely not black women engineers, and rarely sleep black male engineers. What has that been like for you both when you were, frankly, homeless, and obviously, you know, everything that’s been going on, and we hear the news and the profiling that’s constantly happening. Did you have any experiences that you want to talk about? And then of course, looking for a job? How did that impact you and your ability to get to your goal?
Chris Atoki 32:52
Yeah, I mean, the same thing. I mean, even as an a developer, and I, I’m confident enough to I know what I know. And I’m even confident enough to say I can admit what I don’t know. But coming into that having that initial talk with somebody, and they’re like, Man, this guy is great. And then seeing me in person. And I’ve had interviews where they would ask one question like, Oh, do you have some stuff that you built? And I’ll show them? And, you know, they’ll they’ll chalk it up and say, okay, no, we’re looking for somebody else. And they’ll say, because, you know, maybe I didn’t build something, you know, good enough or something like that, or another interview? Well, where they’ll ask me, you know, one question or something like that and just say, Oh, well, we don’t like the answer to that, you know, so we’re going to go with somebody else, you know, it’s been, it’s not even joking. It’s literally been, you know, one question or, or something like that. And it just it hurts because when I’m going out of my time to go through this interview, but it’s I prep so much, you know, for interviews, I’ll study for literally 10 hours, the day before, and all things You know, from whenever I get the notification of getting the interview, you know, whatever it be, and I know I’m going, and I’m coming in with all this confidence, and then this to get shot down, but even being on other teams, because I’ve been on a lot of different engineering teams, you know, I have an idea or something like that, and ad gets immediately shot down, or if I’m speaking and trying to give my experience on something I’m getting talked over and almost like, I don’t, I don’t matter, you know, and that really, it really hurt initially, because, you know, I’m thinking, I put a year’s worth of being a developer into studying for 15 hours a day, almost every single day into being a developer to Yeah, I know, I don’t know, as much as guys have been developers for 20 years, but, you know, I feel like I should still deserve a chance to it just just getting shut down a lot. And that was one of the first things that that that hurt and that was one of the things that I, I wanted to never ever make anybody feel like that, like even now I’m still a teacher on the side because I want to be able to push the students and see somebody who’s actually in the development field and saying, you know, women, you know, I always push women to be developers because there needs to be more I always push people of color, whether they’re black or, um, you know, there’s people who are say, like white or Indian, which are the ones who dominate the, the developing field, I always want to push them and give them that encouragement that they can do it because I say, they I know how it feels to be shut down. And I don’t want anybody else to ever feel like that. As much as I can help him, I think,
Shireen Jaffer 35:42
yeah, I mean, and it’s awesome to see you obviously giving back and you also work with populations that are struggling with homelessness and are kind of in the same place you were four years ago. I know on your Twitter you had also mentioned you want to stand up and help people who regardless of their story, stances, they obviously want to change their circumstances, but they feel like they can’t because life is against them or whatever it may be. And, and you’re really sharing your story because during tension is Look guys, like I literally had nothing, not even, you know, support system to get me through the really, really really hard days but here I am. Is there is there something you want to share with the communities so people can reach out to you?
Buying a House and Paying it Forward (36:28)
Chris Atoki 36:28
Yeah, definitely. You know, there’s a lot of like, after that post, I got probably 1000 of DMS or something people wanting motivation, people wanting inspiration, people just wanting to talk, I guess somebody that would hear them. And I always reply, I mean, I might not get back to everybody, you know, within a couple of days, but anybody that replies to me and says, Hey, Chris, you know, can you be that person that listens to me? I always say yes, like, I don’t I, I would you know if I’m busy, I would move time out of my day to make sure I can help That one person because I always say, you know, you always hear the thing about a that that person that you help could save your life later. I really feel that way or if not my life, I really feel like that person that I get to help will help somebody else’s life or somebody close to me or something like that, or even help themselves. I mean, you know, people who have kids, I like, my relationship with my parents wasn’t strong, and I hated that, you know, like for my son, I always want to make sure he can look up to me and come to me and stuff. And, um, same thing with other people in America, I hope that people are making sure that their kids can come up to them and make sure that you know, they’re, they have a strong relationship so Oh, so anybody that wants to reach out to me on Twitter or something like that, or any kind of social media or anything, I always say go for it, you know, I’ll get I’ll get to you. But if you just need somebody to talk to at least one person because that’s what I wish I had at least one person that I could, you know, lean on at that time or depend on And I’m, you know at that at that tipping point, I’m just to push me over in the right direction. I mean, it took myself to do it. But if I had somebody external saying, hey, as as little as Hey, Chris, you could do it. You know, I never heard that I always wanted somebody to say, I’m proud of you. You know, it almost brought me to tears whenever, you know, I post that that little tweet, which I thought was only going to get maybe three likes, on Twitter to people I don’t even know saying, Hey, I’m proud of you. Hey, you, you inspire me like, I never thought that would happen. So, yeah, that means they need to reach out. I say go for it all. Honestly,
Shireen Jaffer 38:38
that’s beautiful. I speaking in motivation and you’re a 24 year old and now you have this home to your name. Most people that have like, you know, fortunately haven’t even thought homelessness, and they can’t even imagine being a homeowner in this economy at 24 So what was that process like for you? Was owning a home always part of your goals? I mean, of course you had mentioned right, four years ago, you couldn’t imagine that for yourself. But what really sparked that goal for you? And then how did you make that happen?
Chris Atoki 39:16
Again, I’ll say, it was just thinking more about my son, you know, I have had, ever since that I started out with a room in somebody’s apartment, owning my own apartment, to getting a bigger apartment than like a small one bedroom studio, whatever. Then I was like, you know, I want my son to be able to have somewhere where he doesn’t have to move around. You know, for me, I like I said earlier, in the podcast, I, I moved around so much like I want to say double digits easily. You know, I lost count how many times I’ve had to move, and I never want my son to feel like that. So I wanted a place where he could grow up. It’s enough room for him to ride around and play and do all kinds of stuff, you know, and have a good life. It’ll be able to invite friends over. And like I said, I didn’t have those long term friendships. I want him to be able to have that want him to be able to say, Hey, you know, friend, whenever you can come over, you can hang out with me, you know, my dad’s chill, you know, like, go over and stuff. So I, that’s what started. I was like, I want to have a permanent place to say,
Shireen Jaffer 40:20
Hello, then what’s your son, by the way? He’s two. Ah, that’s awesome. So, so you’re you became a father when you were 22. And at the same time, at 22, you had just graduated lambda you were going to lambda school.
Chris Atoki 40:37
I had just graduated or I was going I was going to so getting ready to graduate.
Shireen Jaffer 40:44
And now you know, obviously with lambda, they have an income sharing agreement, right? So you don’t owe anything until you’ve got a job. So now that you’ve got a job, you’ve got your income sharing agreement. I want to talk about just like finances for a second because again, the biggest pushback, I get People people in their 30s and their 40s as they can’t afford a home, they’re in so much debt they have, you know, their lifestyle, like cost of living is too high. But here you are. You’ve got a two year old son, you’re looking out for you. You went to school? Yes. You didn’t take, you know, upfront student loan debt. Yes, you have an income sharing agreement. But it’s still debt. You’re still paying, you know, something out of your pocket every month. Financially, how did you get that house? How could you afford it?
Chris Atoki 41:35
Yeah, so, you know, it was just being smart with my money. The thing is, from having nothing to actually getting something I never really, you know, just started saying, Oh, I’m going to spend all my money You know, it’s like, I started out by only spending what I had to you know, like food and stuff. I didn’t go out. I didn’t party and stuff I was looking. I eat Though I was in a comfortable spots and matches for I wanted to go past that once I got my first developer job, I didn’t want to stay at there you know, I’m pretty open about my finances like when I first got my job I was when I got my first job I was making 65,000 a year you know, which is a really good income but in the development field, it’s on the lower end, you know, that’s what I started out with. But at that point, I was making more money than I had ever seen, you know. And then going from then to working at Comcast, I think I was just around like 100 K or 90 k something like that. Um, you know, to even now where I’m making you know, even much more than that so it’s like having that house but even still haven’t been able to save up to have the house No matter what, how much I increased in income. I never started just spending all my money. I never just said oh, you know, I’m I’m where it’s at now. You know, I’m good. I’m a millionaire. You know, I’m great. I don’t have to save money. It’s like no, I still plan you know, I didn’t have so I didn’t even though I had to put say like a large down payment on the house, I didn’t spend all of my money to do so. So I can still do, like get the floors are gone or something like that. So I would say, you know, whenever it’s getting in that process of getting a house, make sure you’re being smart, you know, plan to get a house builders. It’s not like an apartment where you can just say, hey, next month, I want an apartment. Somebody can save up $2,000 to $3,000 and get it it’s like, No, you have to plan for it. No matter I feel like no matter how much money you have, but that’s just me.
Shireen Jaffer 43:34
Yeah, no, I agree with that. When you when we were talking earlier, you know, you had mentioned you didn’t have a support system. You didn’t have long term friendships ever since you were a kid. And then obviously, you didn’t have the best relationships with your family. What are those relationships like now? Do you feel like you have a support system? Have you found or built new relationships? Now that you know you’re building your life on your own terms? Again,
Chris Atoki 43:59
definitely You know, my, my relationship with my parents, even though it’s not best I say it’s getting better to where, you know, I’ve always at least respected them as my parents or my mom and my stepdad. I’ve always respected them to at least be that parental figure, but I never really saw them as friends. And even still, it’s still hard for me to say like, Hey, I can confide in you, I can trust you with this information, or I can go to you for advice, but I’m trying to push myself to you know, I have a lot of trust issues. So that’s still a big thing to get over. But even with my friendships, you know, I’m going on finding friends. I have a group of friends that I’m really close with and everything and I’ll say, that’s one of the next things for me to improve my life is just my relationships with people. So I think it’s improving, but I wouldn’t say it’s where I want it to be now, you know,
Shireen Jaffer 44:53
on it. Yeah. I mean, I think it’s also just recognizing your own power. Our right I mean, you just went through like to hell and back in the last four or five years. So what do you feel like is the biggest thing you learned about yourself?
Chris Atoki 45:11
I will say, my resilience, you know, even even now today, you know, I still have things that I’m having to push through, you know, it wasn’t just a straight going, it wasn’t just a straight, I’ll say, it wasn’t just a straight, like, you know, glide up to where I am now, you know, I’ve had some downs, even through throughout all of that, you know, throughout all my life, and I’ll say my resilience just to push through, and that’s what I would want for everybody to find themselves in that thing that pushes them to keep going forward, you know, to, to not succumb to all the bad things that’s happening that’s going on or anything, but that’s that fire to fight. But I think, for me, the thing that I learned about myself is that I’m willing to do whatever it takes two to, I guess, push my life forward. I do. I’ve done a lot of things in my life, you know, good and bad, you know, not terrible or anything like that. But you know, I have to have some negatives and positives, but I think it all worked out.
Shireen Jaffer 46:17
Yeah, and you know, apart from obviously the situation not happening in the first place, but when you were going through the last four to five years, what is in the early years, at least what is one thing you wish you had, while going through that experience?
Chris Atoki 46:31
I would say, someone to lean on or to motivate, you know, it’s self motivation is good, but I think it only goes so far, but you know, not having somebody that I can, like, say, depend on somebody else. I can, like, you know, give me money when I need it or something like that, but just somebody to say, Hey, Chris, I see that you just did this. You know, I’m proud of you. Even the little things like Hey, Chris, you don’t have a job and now you have a job. Getting $8 an hour, you know, good job, that’s something great that’ll that’ll show me that I’m pushing that I’m going in the right direction I had that. I really feel like that would have that would have made me feel so bad and I would have pulled me out of depression, you know, like I would have i don’t know i that would be one thing that I want. It’s just that external motivation other than me motivated myself.
Shireen Jaffer 47:24
Yeah, love it. Well, I’m so happy to see that you can be that person now. Hopefully for quite a few people who are reaching out to you or frankly, just listening to your story and know whether they get to connect with you directly or not. I think just seeing your spirit. I think if I had to, you know, recap like three main things to take away from your story that really helped you get to this point. Number one, I think your mindset, having that switch take place. Whatever that experience out of body experience was for you. However, we Want to internalize that, but just being able to not just feel that switch in your mindset, but to hold on to it to hold on to that energy and power through and look at the positives? mindset, I believe is everything. I think the only thing we can do when life throws, you know, it stuff at us is, is figure out how we want to react to it. And those reactions determines so much of our actions and our tolerance levels and our resilience. So, absolutely. I love that. The second thing is the fact that you always sought answers, you know, whether it was applying to all these jobs and being open to whatever is out there to, you know, finding lamda I mean, that came from you just researching and trying to figure out for my situation, what works for me, instead of trying to box yourself and do things the way you know, you’re told to do that, obviously in your situation. You didn’t even have the time to think about how you should do things, you just have to do it. So that I think seeking answers and constantly being open to experiences and opportunities. I took that as a takeaway. And then lastly, always focusing on the outcome. You know, for you, it was, hey, I need to be an expert in two days, I can’t think about a year from now. I just got to think about two days from now and focusing on that outcome and not, you know, demeaning yourself because you don’t have your five year plan like we’re taught to have and then eventually, I think when you did get to that position where you could think a year from now I’m going to have a software engineering job, cool. Like, I don’t know if you notice that about yourself, but all of a sudden, you went from thinking two days, two weeks from now to Okay, a year from now. That is freaking beautiful. And it’s just another sign of your evolution and your growth over time.
Chris Atoki 49:57
Yeah, I agree. You know, I I’ve had had a lot of time in the past, I guess, you know, weeks and, you know, I have my little 15 minutes of fame or whatever, but I’ve had a lot of time to do some, you know, thinking about where I’ve been and I agree.
Shireen Jaffer 50:17
Well, thank you for sharing your story with us, Chris. And how can our listeners find you? What’s the best way to get in touch with you?
Chris Atoki 50:25
Um, I guess nowadays it’s probably Twitter. So @kingatoki, k i n g a t o k i and follow our DMA, you know, either one.
Shireen Jaffer 50:38
Awesome. All right, guys. Well, thanks again. We’re excited to obviously, follow your journey and wish you nothing but the best.
Chris Atoki 50:46
Thank you. I appreciate you spending some time to talk to me.
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