Before Zip Code Wilmington, Albert Collazo’s work experience included being a Non-Destructive Testing Technician in the oil and energy industry and an Intel Analyst for the U.S. Army. Both jobs paid the bills but neither were fulfilling, according to Collazo.
Collazo is a creative at heart. In 2004, after high school, he attended Delaware College of Art and Design to study animation. But that didn’t work out as planned.
“I didn’t come from a wealthy or even middle-class family,” Collazo reflects. As the second youngest of five children born to a single mother, he was proud to be the first in his family to attend college. But with no outside financial support, he worked full-time to pay for his studies. He was overwhelmed and exhausted.
Collazo decided to pause his dream of animation and art in favor of a stable job with a steady paycheck, which he found in inspecting pipes. He did that for three years. Next, he joined the military at age 23, where he did intelligence and surveillance work from Afghanistan and South Korea. He did that for five years before returning to civilian life as a pipe-inspector, again.
After 10 years of working to “create a means to an end,” he became disillusioned with the idea of enjoying his job. “I began to believe that you go work to make money and you go home to live your life,” says Collazo.
He recalls driving with a friend on the George C. Platt Memorial Bridge over the oil refinery, where he worked in Philadelphia. As he pointed to his job campus, his friend told him, “That’s not the place for you.” Unfortunately, Collazo knew that his job was not a good fit for him, but he felt stuck.
“Deep down I knew I wanted to leave my job, but I’m a single father with responsibilities,” says Collazo. “I couldn’t up and leave a secure job with my son looking to me for stability. I worked for so long thinking that’s all I could do without an education.”
“I worked for so long thinking that’s all I could do without an education.”
The responsibility of being the primary caregiver of his six-year-old son, Saia, pushed Collazo to finally make a career move. The slight nudging from friends helped, too.
Collazo spoke to one of his animator friends about his possible return to the art industry; his friend had this sound advice: Learn to code.
In 2015, Collazo took online classes with Full Sail University to learn mobile app design. He combined this with an associate’s degree he earned from Columbia College while in the military.
But when he heard about Zip Code Wilmington, Collazo decided it was the right space for him.
“I chose to go to Zip Code because of my age,” explains Collazo. “I’m not old but I’ve already spent a ton of time in other careers. I wanted to get started working as soon as possible and that wouldn’t work if I went back to a four-year college. I wouldn’t have graduate until I was in my late 30s.”
The hard work started before his classes began. Collazo had to save money and arrange care for his son while he took on an intense program, like Zip Code Wilmington.
He says, “I felt like I had to work twice as hard to get half as far because I have family obligations.”
Many of his days started at 5 a.m. and ended at 11:30 p.m., as he tried to fit all his responsibilities in the hours. His son felt the strain and often complained about Collazo’s lack of quality time.
“It was rough, but I had an amazing support system who helped out and I always assured him it was temporary,” says Collazo.
And it was temporary. Three months of grueling work and long days, led to Collazo being a mobile and web developer at Freya Systems, LLC. He admits that many in his cohort received job offers within the first two-weeks of graduating but his took two months.
“I wanted to make sure I had the right position that set me up for where I want to go in the future,” says Collazo, who turned down offers he didn’t see as a fit.
In his new position, he has learned a new programming language and works mostly on front-end design – something that piqued his art interest.
His current project is to create an app for Good Works, Inc., a non-profit organization helping low-income homeowners to repair homes.
“Someone once told me ‘If you enjoy your work, and like what you’re doing for a career, you’re never tired,’” says Collazo. “I can finally say that’s true. I use to drag after work and even in the mornings, but having a job you love changes you in ways you wouldn’t imagine.”
The biggest bonus of all: His son sees the change.
“I thought I needed to make more money, but the change in my mood has made me a better father,” says Collazo.
“What more could you ask for?”