The refugee crisis — can we hack it?

GUEST ENTRY: Hack Your Future Copenhagen teaches refugees how to code, integrating meaningful opportunities for both refugees and Danish tech startups.

Hi, I’m Christopher Klueter, Director of Hack Your Future Copenhagen. We teach refugees how to code to the benefit of everyone. Here’s our story.

Maria* had just finished her bachelor degree in IT when she was forced to flee as the war reached her doorstep. Reunited with her husband in Denmark, she was lucky to receive refugee status relatively quickly and thus a permit to work.

But finding work in a new country isn’t easy and gets even more difficult if you don’t speak the language and come from a different cultural background — let alone with a negative stigma attached, too.

At Hack Your Future we want to do something about this.

Despite having disappeared from the front pages of most newspapers, there are today just as many people fleeing their home countries as there were in 2015.

Back then, we saw pictures of people wandering along highways to reach Denmark and Sweden. Some were met with distrust, and many more with a willingness to help. This is what I want to focus on.

So what does all this have to do with tech anyway?

In the midst of all this, a group of people in Amsterdam observed a high demand for developers in the labour market. They also observed that job vacancies couldn’t even be filled with homegrown talent. The situation is the same in Denmark. And we ask ourselves the question, can refugees provide a solution?

Thus Hack Your Future was born, an initiative that teaches refugees and asylum seekers with an interest in tech how to code and closing the employment gap in the tech sector, while building cultural bridges and aiding integration.

A win-win-win if you will.

Since the beginning of the refugee crisis, Hack Your Future has spread to 6 countries. In Holland alone, 35 of the 75 graduates got hired as developers so far.

The students in Copenhagen haven’t finished the entire curriculum yet, but they are showing similar promise. Take Maria. She now knows how to build websites in React, use NODEjs and work with version control systems like GitHub in the process.

And what’s more essential: she feels the empowerment and perspective that coding provides.

Classroom situation af Hack Your Future Copenhagen— the mentors are volunteer IT professionals.

So how is it possible?
We teach the students the fundamentals of software development over the course of about 6 months, letting the students build a portfolio on GitHub and guide them towards work via our network.

IT professionals act as volunteer teachers and mentors, sharing their knowledge and passion for coding. They get to help people in need, doing what they’re really good at. And at the same time taking the opportunity to scout for talent. All with passionate students who are eager to learn.

It’s of course all easier said than done — learning programming is a tremendously challenging endeavour if you’re starting from scratch — but it is possible as many autodidact senior developers can attest to.

Teching the refugee crisis serious

For the Danish tech community, this is a great opportunity to step in and really make a difference in integrating newcomers into Danish society. The tech industry needs work force and the openness I have encountered in the environment tells me that this is possible.

Integration is most easily achieved through the workplace — and the workplace doesn’t have to be a kitchen or a moving truck by default.

Now Danish tech startups can meet refugees at eye level, respecting their specific back story and, when time allows, offer them an internship. All while being aware that what they are doing is not an act of charity, but just a smart way to gain really motivated new talent.

Not just in Maria’s case, but for all our students we hope that once they enter the workforce they can leave a chapter of their lives behind and stop identifying themselves as refugees, but focus on what they are becoming:

Developers.

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*Maria’s real was changed due to privacy reasons

Get in touch with Christopher at cph@hackfyourfuture.net

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