Photographic portrait of Koma Gandy

Koma Gandy: the thrill of lifelong learning

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A veteran of the corporate, military and athletic worlds, Koma Gandy is applying her skills to help people gain better opportunities.

A conversation with Koma Gandy is an energizing and enthralling experience. As Vice President and Head of Curriculum for Codecademy, the New York-based organization dedicated to changing the way the world learns to write software code, she radiates enthusiasm about the company’s focus on helping people broaden their opportunities and better themselves. As a US Navy veteran, she exudes discipline and dedication. As a rugby coach, she looks to provide the best environment that can help her players succeed. She also has experience in the world of finance, including a six-year stint in the Wealth & Asset Management practice of Ernst & Young LLP’s (EY US) Financial Services Organization that she recalls fondly. Koma spoke with us recently about the importance of mission-driven work, continuous growth and lifelong learning.

What attracted you to Codecademy, and what drives your passion for working there?

When I was working at Morgan Stanley, a friend told me about the shift he had made from financial services to Codecademy. I was very content where I was, but then I learned more about Codecademy’s mission: connecting people to economic opportunity by teaching them new things. The organization aims to upskill people by using technology to make their lives better. A lot of things resonated with me: being part of a close-knit team, being mission-driven, being unified toward accomplishing a specific, purposeful goal. I decided I did not want to look back five years from now and say, “I wish I had taken that leap.”

How does the learning program work?

It’s completely self-paced, and we present material in an interactive way. Your hands are on the keyboard; you’re learning to code as early as possible. It’s geared toward both the person who is thinking about coding and somebody who may just need to brush up on something. People can go to our website and take an intake quiz about things they might want to try. We have kids from high school all the way up to people in their 70s who are learning with us, from all over the world. Someone who wants to be a front-end software developer, for example, can start from a place of zero topical knowledge, follow our career path program and gain the entry-level job skills in that space. Or a high school student taking AP Computer Science can get help preparing for the AP test.  

It’s gratifying to hear stories from our learners. We have some people who gave up a career for a few years to stay home with the kids, and then through our program gained the confidence to reinvent themselves as a programmer. We have one learner who quit a job driving a cab in the Czech Republic and utilized our program to gain the skills to become a web designer.  

How has society’s heightened focus on imbalances in American life – including the digital divide – affected your approach?

It’s just solidified why we’re here. We want to level that playing field and provide access to opportunity for people, wherever they are. We present our material in a friendly, inviting way. Tech once had a reputation of: “Are you smart enough to be part of this club?” Everybody is smart enough. We’re not about weeding people out; we’re about bringing people in.

You’ve had a wide array of experiences in your professional life. Are there some common threads? 

I’ve always liked figuring out how to make things work better, and I’ve always been a sucker for a challenge. The Navy was a challenge. Shifting careers has always been a challenge. But I feel if I’m not a little scared when I make a move, then I haven’t done it right. Growing is a little uncomfortable. I would never want anybody to shy away from an opportunity because they feel like they’re afraid to fail. That’s part of the learning process.

What motivated you to join the Navy, and how did it shape you? 

When I was a senior in high school, I got invitations from West Point and the Naval Academy to attend a summer seminar. West Point looked great, but Annapolis was a beacon right by the water. I spent a week in Annapolis, and I was hooked. I returned home with an application to the Naval Academy. This was during the summer of the Gulf War, and my parents asked, “Are you sure?” And yes, I was.

My 17th birthday didn’t fall in time for me to join the Class of ’95, so I pursued Naval ROTC instead while at Harvard. During that time, the combat moratorium that had prohibited women from serving on combat ships and in certain squadrons was lifted. The first ship I went to did not have any women on board until I showed up. I found that out on my way there!

Joining was really about the opportunity to be part of something bigger than myself and serve my country. And it’s true what they say: join the Navy, see the world. I met so many people from different walks of life that I never would have had the opportunity to meet. It offered me leadership and management opportunities that I probably would not have gotten as a 22-year-old in any other industry.

How and when did rugby become a passion?

At Harvard, I saw a friend who was on her way to rugby practice, and she encouraged me to try it. I fell in love with the camaraderie, the physicality, and the fact that there’s a space on a rugby team for pretty much any body type. I loved its inclusiveness and the fact that it’s very empowering. For that 80 minutes that you’re on the pitch, nothing else matters but being there for yourself and your teammates.

I spent my last two years at Harvard playing rugby, then continued on to play at the club level, the territorial level – and I’ve had a couple of opportunities to go to the US National Team camps. I married a rugby player, so he understands my brand of crazy. When I hung up the boots as a player, I wanted to be a coach who could have a positive effect on others.

You visited the Irish province of Connacht to hone your coaching. How did that come about?

Somebody in my current rugby club had a connection with the Connacht provincial staff and asked whether they would be interested in hosting an American coach. I visited, and it may have been the best two weeks of my life. I could “see” rugby before, but going to Connacht was like having somebody take my glasses off and give me a different prescription – because now I can see it differently. The amount of kindness, openness and knowledge that they dropped on me was just phenomenal. I’m a Connacht fan for life.

What does it mean to you to be an EY alumna? 

The professionalism of EY people is unparalleled. When I came back from my active duty recall back in 2003, during the early part of the conflict in Iraq, a lot of companies didn’t know what to do with veterans. To see how EY has thrown its weight behind its Veterans Network and supported transitioning veterans in so many different ways is very special.

Who stands out to you from your time at EY?

Ginger Kelly and I have remained close; it’s been awesome to see her career progress, and she’s always been a leader in the Veterans Network. Anthony Caterino was a leader in our growing practice back in the day, and I could not be more excited to know that he’s now the executive sponsor of the Veterans Network. Nalika Nanayakkara, who came in to lead the Wealth & Asset Management practice when I was there, was such a strong leader. I’ve stayed in contact with Faith Schwartz, Courtney Murray and Julia Tzeng, and I also talk with other EY alumni, like Marvena St. Agathe, Ilicia Silverman, Rosemarie Sullivan, Bradford Wilson Cook, Nelson McNeil, Annette Morris, David Elman and Ryan Berger – a bunch of us who were in the same practice. We all care about each other and are invested in each other’s careers.

EY has a strong focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. How do you view that subject?

One thing that sometimes gets overlooked is the power of mentorship. Unfortunately, sometimes mentoring happens with people who are looking for people who are like them. If an organization doesn’t have people in senior leadership who come from diverse backgrounds, then it's harder for people who come from diverse backgrounds to find people who will reach out and be mentors. It’s important, especially for people of color, to be able to find good mentors – and for people who have the capacity to be mentors to reach out and find folks from underrepresented communities who could benefit.

Tell us about some of your philanthropic work.

Many of the boards I serve on are geared toward equality-related issues. One, Play Rugby USA, uses rugby in character development and goal setting to help kids in underserved communities. Another is called A Leg to Stand On, which helps children in developing countries who have limb disabilities. We work to find them medical treatment and prosthetic devices. It’s important for me to give back, to find time to learn, and hopefully work on myself, as well – because I know I’m a work in progress.

More about Koma Gandy

International connections: Koma grew up in the Philadelphia area but also has family in the UK and Sierra Leone. Her father, who grew up in the West African nation and later attended university in New Zealand, met her Philadelphia-born mother when he moved to the US. 

Academic matters: Koma received her bachelor’s degree in Government from Harvard and later earned an MBA in International Business from Georgetown.

Leisure time: When she’s not attending to her “tiny boss” (her 5-month-old son), Koma enjoys running, reading and the occasional round of golf.


EY alumna Koma Gandy, Vice President and Head of Curriculum for Codecademy, spoke with us recently about the importance of mission-driven work, continuous growth and lifelong learning.

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