November 5, 2018

Meet The Software Engineer Teaching Syrian Refugees In Iraq How To Code

We hear the story of Shereen Messi, the technical lead of Re: Coded Iraq [a program that creates future tech leaders of Iraq and Turkey], 
She coaches fellows to become incredible Android and full-stack developers in class and throughout their client projects.

“I always loved science and math, but when I was a kid I didn’t know that one day I would go to college. None of my family members went to university or even high school. As a kid, I thought that people only go to middle school and that’s it. My family supported me in going to college, despite our culture where girls don’t have the right to study or work. I was accepted to the Software Engineering program. I didn’t think about what I want to be, I just wanted to learn everything, I feel so lucky that it happened this way.”

“I grew up in Zeheria, a tiny village in Syria, where I didn’t have Internet, a computer or a phone before college. I got my first PC and phone when I started college. I didn’t have an internet connection in my home and used to go to an Internet cafe to do research or homework. I learned how to code for the first time in university at Al-Baath University in Homs, Syria where I studied Software Engineering for five years. In my first class, the teacher was explaining the algorithm to find the maximum number in the array of integers. I was impressed. From that day, I loved coding.”

“I graduated in 2011 the same year the revolution started in Syria…

I lived in a bad situation for two years with not enough power and no Internet. I was thinking I don’t understand politics and I don’t belong to this war. I came with my family to Erbil in Iraq in 2013 where I started working as a programmer in a local software company, SoftMax.”

“Making people’s lives easier and saving their time, work and resources have always motivated me. I have built lots of applications using many programming languages and technologies. We don’t have good software market in Erbil and people still fear using technology. My goal was to encourage people to use software and see how engaging technology in our daily life will help to develop our community. I built an Android application for WHO (World Health Organization) to collect some statistical information to detect epidemic-prone diseases before they spread. I built software for the Ministry of Education to help manage students. I built an accounting Android application to be used by salespeople to help them sync their data with a centralized server. I built a project management system for the Ministry of Electricity.”

“Now I am working as a tech trainer for Re:Coded. We have an amazing project based in Erbil, teaching Syrian Refugees and Iraqi internally displaced people (IDPs) how to code and match them later with international companies. For the first time since the war in Syria, I could do something for my people. I hated the refugee camps. I didn’t like how NGO usually go to the camp, distribute some food and clothes among the poor people, take pictures of them, and tell the world look how miserable the victims of war are. Being a refugee myself and self-taught makes me so passionate to help our group of students learn and love coding.”

“My advice is to do what you love and don’t be afraid of trying new things. It may take you a long time to be well paid but you will end up being paid for enjoying your life. And for the young people from my country who have been through the worst war in the history, don’t give up and try to take every possible chance to learn, coding is a very powerful skill we can use it to change our future.”

Re:Coded is an immersive English language and computer coding boot camp, and provides a path toward previously unavailable stable employment for Syrian refugees and internally displaced youth in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and is supported by United Nations Development Programme — UNDP. “This project is born out of the passionate belief that every person, regardless of his or her circumstances, deserves the opportunity to gain dignified employment,” said project founder and director Alexandra Clare, a research scientist at the NYU School of Professional Studies Center for Global Affairs, through which the project is administered. Fellows complete eight weeks of English training, followed by six months of a coding boot camp and are subsequently linked to employment.


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