It's no easy feat to snag a coveted job at a massive tech company. Doing so while blind and partially deaf is even harder. Yet that's exactly what 26-year-old Michael Forzano did in 2013 when he scored a software engineer position on Amazon's retail accessibility team.
According to The Amazon blog, Forzano has been blind since birth due to a genetic condition called Norrie disease. He also uses cochlear implants after he started losing his hearing at age five.
But these sensory impairments haven't stopped Forzano from making his mark at Amazon, where he writes code that helps other teams make the online shopping experience more accessible to those with disabilities.
The 26-year-old interviewed with Amazon immediately after graduating from Binghamton University where he majored in computer science and played sax in the university's pep band.
"I went in there not expecting much," says Forzano. "I had not told them in advance that I was blind."
Upon entering the interview, Forzano revealed that he was blind and requested to use his personal laptop, instead of a whiteboard, to write code. Amazon obliged and was so impressed by his coding skills that the company extended a job offer shortly thereafter. According to job site Glassdoor, a software engineer position at Amazon commands six figures.
"I remember when I told my mom that I got the offer, she started crying right there on the phone," recalls Forzano.
Though scoring a job at Amazon has been monumental, Forzano's entry into programming is just as unique. The engineer became interested in computers as a teenager in high school. "I knew a community of blind people online and some of them were developers, really just as a hobby not as a career," says Forzano.
One of those developers introduced him to programming games. However, Forzano was more interested in programming audio games, which use sound effects and are keyboard-controlled so blind people can play them. "I just took it from there and taught myself," says Forzano.
Years later, the engineer is once again using these technical skills to help people with disabilities.
To write code at Amazon, Forzano uses a laptop with a screen reader software, which allows blind or visually impaired users to "read" text through audio cues.
The 26-year-old also collaborates across teams and notes that he's able to provide quality feedback because he has a "pretty good mental map of the structure of the code."
Now living in Seattle with his guide dog Delta, the engineer relishes just how far he's come. "I feel really lucky to be here at Amazon," says Forzano. "Just being able to live the same kind of life that anyone else would."
He continues, "Not letting my blindness hold me back is really empowering."
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