Dr. Kwame Johnson has all the education and knowledge to pursue a career as a neurosurgeon. Instead, he’s chosen to become a product manager at Google’s DeepMind Health, where he now affects millions of lives with his passion for health tech.
“Coming to Google represents, literally, the culmination of everything I’ve been working towards,” says Johnson. “Currently working at an intersection of software and medicine is exactly my dream job.” From med school at Duke, to Google’s campus in Mountain View, Johnson attributes the shift toward a life-fulfilling trajectory to his 14-weeks at Coding Dojo Seattle’s bootcamp in April 2016. It took him just two short years to jump from bootcamp, to Microsoft, to his current dream job at Google where’s he’s been since 2018.
We caught up with Johnson to check in on his career, and understand how his roots in med school, and our bootcamp, are now changing the world in a very real way for the patients and families he’s always wanted to help. From Doctorate to Dojo, he proves that the power to make a big difference in the lives of others can come from a simple choice, and utilizing the skills and capabilities can bring opportunities to life.
Becoming a Neuroscientist
While growing up in Trinidad, he determined early on that his life’s work would be to study neurological diseases. He watched his grandmother struggle with Alzheimer’s at 10 years old, and lose her life to the disease just a few short years later. Yet, while at Duke University School of Medicine, his plan of becoming a practicing surgeon changed drastically. He realized that treatment plans for patients affected by brain injuries or disorders still relied on somewhat archaic knowledge, and this needed to change.
“There’s not much you could actually offer a patient,” he explains. “Most times, when you have any kind of neurological injury — whether it’s a stroke, or a gunshot wound to the head, or a subarachnoid hemorrhage — the treatment plan is, essentially, stabilize all the organs and you wait and hope. That’s literally what you tell the family, and there’s not much else we can actually do to intervene.”
Through a startup challenge, and business plan competition at his University, he heard ideas that could transform the entire industry if they only had the right momentum. Johnson realized that pushing boundaries of what is offered to patients was where he needed to be; so he finished his doctorate, and moved in that direction, working as a medical editor for a handful of years.
Yet, his dream of taking a hands-on approach in changing the health industry wasn’t actualized. Johnson realized he “wanted to be working on the actual technology instead of just writing about it.” And that’s when he started researching coding bootcamps. “I had the healthcare background and I needed the tech.”
Johnson first considered getting a masters in computer science but knew that bootcamps were a much faster, and more direct way to add the tech knowledge he needed. He figured that once he had a background in both areas, the jobs would follow — and he was right.
After graduating Coding Dojo’s 14-week bootcamp at our Seattle location, he was able to leverage our partnership with Microsoft to enroll in the Microsoft LEAP program. “Coding Dojo was absolutely instrumental in me getting into that [LEAP] program. I knew once I got into that program, it would be a game changer, and that’s exactly what happened.”
“From a networking aspect, Coding Dojo was very important in actually enabling me to talk to alums that were doing things I wanted to do.” Johnson was able to lean on Dojo alums to leverage the program, and realize his dream of entering the tech industry. After the LEAP program, in which he worked with iOS and Bing, he was hired on at Microsoft as a Program Manager. From there, the move to Google to work as a Product Manager at Google Health was a no-brainer — the job corresponded perfectly with what he’d envisioned spending his life doing.
Buckling Down in the Bootcamp Changed Johnson’s Life
“Essentially [Coding Dojo] got me on the path to what I’m doing now — where I would literally do this for free — and I don’t look forward to Fridays or hate Mondays,” reflects Johnson. “Those types of things were things I’d always been working towards in my career but was not able to actually achieve until I got into technology.
Johnson spent months learning the in’s and out’s of full-stack development, front-end, and back-end languages and databases through the onsite coding bootcamp — and ultimately the rigorous content, daily algorithm exercises like white-boarding, and the specialized career services offered to grads gave him the expertise and backing to get into his current job, which he considers the pinnacle of his career.
“The actual content of the bootcamp itself was obviously very helpful to understand how the technology works, specifically, the white-boarding of the algorithms which a lot of bootcamps don’t do,” says Johnson. “For me, it’s one of the biggest selling points of Coding Dojo. It was absolutely important, being comfortable working through algorithms on a whiteboard. It’s the bread and butter of tech interviewing.”
And now, as one of our alumni, the Dojo is never far from his heart. Last summer he gave a tech talk at our Seattle campus about product management — a surreal experience for him because just two years before he’d been sitting in the audience as a student, with little tech experience, only dreaming of what his future reality could be.
“Now, I can actually say that if — I’m only six months into my new role — but, if I was to do this for the next six to ten years, I could actually say that I’ve had a positive impact on expanding and advancing what doctors can actually offer patients,” says Johnson. “It’s pretty much like really achieving a life dream in a lot of ways, so it’s crazy. It’s been an incredible journey. Since I started at Coding Dojo, it’s just been insane. The stuff that has happened and the pieces falling into place from my time at bootcamp.”
Coding Dojo’s Philosophy
Stories like Johnson’s is why the dedicated instructors, support staff, and leaders at Coding Dojo do what they do. Coding Dojo believes anyone can learn to code, and that every single Coding Dojo alumni, no matter their background, is able to change the world. Beginning coders from all walks of life step through Coding Dojo’s doors on a daily basis: truck drivers, veterans, computer science graduates, English teachers, single moms, even neuroscientists. Our bootcamp levels the playing field opens doors and injects remarkable diversity into the tech landscape.
Since our start in 2013, Coding Dojo’s bootcamps have propelled the career of thousands of students, and similar to Johnson, our grads occupy coveted developer roles at companies like Google, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft. Our self-sufficient alumni are out in the world, carving the pathway for what’s next in technology.
Johnson has plans to host a Tech Talk in one of our Bay Area Dojos — he’s never been and wants to visit, inspire students, and express his gratitude for the places bootcamp was able to get him.