From Amador Dropout to Employed Software Engineer: Matthew Zhao talks about his journey in Computer Science and Cybersecurity classes


Matthew Zhao

Independent of the forma education system, Matthew Zhao continues to pursue his passion as a software engineer.

Andrew Xiao, Staff Writer

Last Friday, Richard Hanson’s AP Computer Science and Cybersecurity classes welcomed guest speaker Zhixiang (Matthew) Zhao to talk about his experience as an employed software engineer and developer at Amazon Web Services. While anyone working in this field would be a great speaker for a computer-based class, Matthew’s story is unique: he’s only 18 years old.

As a former Amador student, Zhao dropped out of high school near the end of the remote 2020-2021 school year. While opting out of school usually has a negative connotation for most, dropping out finally gave Matthew the time to pursue his true passion: software engineering, something he’s held onto since ninth grade.

“I got obsessed with technology when I was around 9th grade, and took it more seriously in 10th grade. During Covid, I slacked off school to upskill myself in software engineering and infrastructure engineering, which taught me marketable technical skills in this field. Since I slacked off during school, I was not on track to graduate, So I decided to drop out via the CHSPE certificate. However, I networked with many people in the industry, [and] one of them eventually offering me a job within their organization,” said Zhao.

Despite not having any college experience, Matthew shared his inspiring story in how he gained the necessary certifications in order to be a valid candidate for employment. With his current job focusing on AWS infrastructure and general operations, Matthew talked about his path self-studying and acquiring nine different software certifications, including Certified Solutions Architect (SAA) and Certified Compensation Professional (CCP).

“My experience helps me to first, build out new infrastructure as the organization builds new capabilities to the software platform. This mostly involves infrastructure within Amazon Web Services. The second is building out various capabilities within the platform, things like the capability of integrating with remote SaaS systems like zoom, slack, discord, and pagerduty,” said Zhao.

While Matthew talked about his journey and where he is as of today, he also had an overall message. He advised that chasing a profession, like becoming an engineer can be achieved through a variety of paths, not just the collegiate route. For him, the path to success isn’t a one-way street, but rather an interconnected web of roads that anyone can travel through.

“I want to stress that to become an engineer, there are multiple paths, such as self-teaching, boot camp, and college, and that self-teaching can very much be a valid path for many. In more detail, it is important to build up networking channels with your peers. I wouldn’t recommend anyone to go this route if they don’t dislike college, as self-teaching tends to require some luck and has a higher chance of not working out than going through college. However, if you despise college, it is definitely an option to be successful,” said Zhao.

Overall, the students enjoyed Zhao’s presentation and were inspired by his journey. With many students in the Cybersecurity and computer science classes planning on, or are already set to enter a field relating to computer or software engineering, Matthew’s story gave them new insights in how their future can pan out, even if some things don’t quite work out.

“I learned that the traditional education system isn’t as required for a good education and future, but as long as you put in the work, you can still achieve something as good as landing a software engineering position.” said Computer Science Major at University of Maryland Nitish Vobilisetti (‘22).