Anouthinh Pangthong discovered coding in prison. He never graduated from high school after joining a gang at age 12. By age 15, he received a conviction that would put him in prison for decades. “Education was the last thing on my mind,” he said in an interview. “I wasn’t a student.”
Behind bars, he grew fascinated with the potential of computer software. But the few coding courses available in prison were often shut down without warning. Instructors taught COBOL, an outdated programming language from the 1960s. Without internet access, Pangthong wrote down functions on scraps of paper in his cell, and returned to class the next day to see if they worked. It wasn’t until age 38, more than two decades after entering prison, that Pangthong was released from San Quentin maximum-security prison.
It was his first chance to attend a coding class outside of confinement. The bootcamp General Assembly accepted Pangthong in its 2019 class. He enrolled in a user experience design course and said he thrived on learning the fundamentals of technology and design. He interned at Adobe before finding a steady job after graduation at the criminal justice reform non-profit, Restore Justice. “I really felt I had an obligation to show what a formerly incarcerated person looks like,” Pangthon said in an interview.