When Mohamed Koanda, B.S. ’18, moved to the United States at age 16, he did not speak English. Now, less than eight years later, the 24-year-old is not only bilingual; he can also speak 10 computer programming languages.
And the recent graduate just accepted a full-time-job offer with Microsoft Corporation, starting in July as a software engineer at the company’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington.
“Although I knew I always wanted to work for a large technology company,” he said, “I did not think the opportunity would be so soon after graduation.”
A Difficult Adjustment
Koanda—who studied computer information systems at Buffalo State—was born in Burkina Faso, Africa. He grew up speaking French, the country’s official language, and his native dialect, Moore.
He and his sister moved to America in 2011 to live with their father in New York City, where Koanda enrolled in the Bronx High School of Business.
“It was very difficult to adjust culturally because there was so much I had to learn so quickly,” said Koanda, who completed high school in just two and a half years.
He said he relied on his father, his teachers, and his track coaches to help with his English language skills. He also watched television, especially the sitcom Martin, to understand how to speak the new language conversationally.
“My father never attended school and does not know to read, but he speaks English fluently,” Koanda said. “I would read him my assignments in English, and my father would help translate them into French, so I could understand the material better.”
Motivated by EOP
Attending college was always an aspiration for Koanda, who was the first person in his family to earn a college degree.
“I remember I met with the admissions team at the first college I visited,” he said. “I got so discouraged, because I was not accepted because they did not think I could speak English well enough to pass my classes. I was devastated.”
Soon after, Koanda’s track coach introduced him to Buffalo State. He applied and was accepted to the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP).
Koanda said his EOP counselors played a pivotal role in keeping him motivated. He describes senior EOP counselor Carole Miller-Canestrari as a “second mom.”
“Mohamed is an extraordinary young man who has overcome insurmountable life circumstances to become the person he is today,” said Miller-Canestrari. “I know this is just the beginning of his successful career and life.”
“If I could give new students any advice, it would be to take advantage of the resources at Buffalo State.”
An Intensive Postgraduate Journey
Koanda said Miller-Canestrari and the staff in Buffalo State’s Career Development Center helped him prepare for his postgraduate journey. After applying to several internships and full-time positions, Koanda accepted an opportunity to participate in Camp Dojo, an intensive 14-week coding program in California’s Silicon Valley.
“The program was very intense,” Koanda said. “We were coding 90 hours a week, with usually only one day off.”
He said the experience gave him the skills and expertise to be competitive in the tech industry. Shortly after Camp Dojo, Koanda relocated to Seattle, Washington, for a 16-week apprenticeship with Microsoft, after which he applied for employment and was hired.
Miller-Canestrari credits Koanda’s ambition for much of his success. “His love for knowledge and education is beyond anything I’ve experienced,” she said.
Guidance from Buffalo State Support Services
“I have always been the person to keep going after what I want,” Koanda said. “I try to never give up. I’m a fighter.”
But, he added, Buffalo State provides the support services that all students need to succeed.
“Get help from the Writing Center, find an academic tutor, go to the Career Development Center,” he said. “If I could give new students any advice, it would be to take advantage of the resources at Buffalo State.”