My experience as a Gazan girl getting into Silicon Valley companies

UPDATE:

  • If you’re a software engineering student/professional in the Middle East and want to get to Google, I recommend you apply to the RBK program to get experience building fullstack projects and the Manara program to practice interviews and get referrals .
  • If you’re looking for software engineers, please reach out to Manara. The 5th cohort just started hunting for internships and jobs. Two of them are my close friends Hend and Rula, they’re just like me; similar background and experience. You can meet them by filling the form here and asking for interns.

I’m a 19-year-old girl in Gaza, Palestine studying Computer Engineering who just was selected for a summer internship at Google and Repl.it. I never imagined this is possible. I am sharing my story hoping it will help people in any way!

How I became a geek

I became passionate about programming in high school. My teacher selected me for a robotics competition. We built a line follower robot using Arduino. I totally loved the logic behind programming.

I started taking online courses to learn how to program: an Edx class called “Introduction to Computer Science” and I also joined Technovation, a coding competition for high school girls. We built an app using App Inventor which is similar to Scratch. Gaza Sky Geeks connected us to mentors to help us with building the app. It helped physically abused women reach specialists for help. I loved building something so useful.

RBK

I was really excited to study Computer Engineering in university but I was nervous about finding a job after university. In Gaza, there is such high unemployment. Even Computer Engineering graduates face unemployment.

The university program was mostly focused on theoretical fundamentals about technology and computers. I thought I needed something more practical. Lucky me I saw a Facebook post for a fullstack software development bootcamp called RBK in Jordan. It used a Silicon Valley based Hack Reactor curriculum and was focused on hands-on experience and it had a scholarship from Anera.

I applied and was thrilled to be one of 30 who were accepted with the scholarship out of an applicant pool of ~800. I don’t know if you know how unusual it is for an 18-year female to leave Gaza. Thankfully my family was supportive and we were able to get the permits.

At RBK I built 3 fullstack apps using the MERN stack using agile development. I loved working with my scrum team and I think we learned a lot about soft skills, how to work with a team and meet deadlines.

Manara

I came back to Gaza and lucky me, I saw another Facebook post in one of the tech facebook groups for Gazans. The post was about Manara which connects people in Palestine and the Middle East to jobs or internships at global tech companies. I thought “Is that even possible?”!

I got excited and applied. I had to take a test on Code Signal and do a video interview. I wasn’t nervous about the video interview but the Code Signal test made me nervous because I wasn’t used to doing coding problems like that. And I got in! We started the first two months with technical prep. Doing Leetcode, Pramp, and weekly lectures and homework on Data Structure and Algorithm assignments. I used to think that solving coding problems was torture. But I started enjoying this kind of challenge. I competed with my classmates to see who could solve more, and discussing our solutions. It was really interesting to see how different people solved the same problem.

We also got access to Educative.io course “Grokking the Coding Interview: Patterns for Coding Questions” which really helped me organize all the learning.

Here it comes the interesting part, we had the chance to e-meet with Silicon Valley engineers and practice interviews with them. That really made a difference. I practiced their advice every day. They were all so nice and supportive. Some of them even told me how difficult interviews used to be when they started practicing.

The studying was very intense but I felt motivated because of my classmates, mentors, mock interviewers, and the Manara staff. Most of my classmates got a “hire” recommendation on a mock interview before I did. That motivated me to work even harder!

Applying to internships

In October 2020 Manara provided referrals to Repl.it and Google. It was amazing. I knew I would apply to Google but I didn’t know about Repl.it. Repl.it is my best friend as a developer. I use it every day. I didn’t realize I could work there!

In November 2020, my applications for Google and Repl.it were both accepted and the interviews were scheduled soon after. I had my midterm exams with university during that time so I asked if it is possible to reschedule Google interviews for two more weeks so I have the time to prepare. The recruiters are so understanding and my interviews were rescheduled.

I still didn’t feel I was ready. I studied 10 hours a day. And that’s when I got my first “hire” recommendation on a mock interview, just a few days before my Google interview. I started feeling more confident and that motivated me to work even harder.

In December 2020, I had my interviews at both companies.

Google interviews

At Google there were interviews exactly like what Manara prepared us for: data structures & algorithms problem-solving. Each interview was an hour long and they were on the same day with an hour break between. The interviewers were super nice and that helped me through the interview. I was able to discuss the thinking process out loud while coding. I can say that I had a really fun time making the interviews.

Repl.it interviews

Repl.it’s interviews were really different. First they gave me an operational transformation homework assignment. This was completely new for me. The interviewer talked to me about the assignment and again it felt more like we were having a discussion, sharing ideas we had. I felt well-prepared for the questions I received during the interview, they were just like the homework assignment.

For my second interview, about two weeks later, I had to prepare a presentation with ideas to improve the product. Manara connected me to a mentor to practice my presentation and that gave me the confidence that I was ready.

At Repl.it the interviewer was the same person each time, and he was really smart & funny!

I got in!!!

On January 1, 2021, I received an email from Repl.it letting me know that I had been selected. That was the BEST new year’s day I’ve ever had!

Later in January I received an email from my Google recruiter to inform me that I got positive feedback on the interviews and had passed the Google hiring committee. That was a feeling that I will never forget!

At Google I still had to find a team. A few days later, my recruiter emailed me because there was a potential team interested in me. I had a 30-minute “intern placement interview call.” The call was nothing technical, it was to get to know the team’s mission and find out if the intern is interested in joining, and to let the team know about my skills.

A few days later, my recruiter informed me that I got matched with the team and that I had reached the final step of the process which is obtaining approval for my offer! HOW AMAZING — I almost couldn’t believe it!!

Making a decision

Now, here I am, with offers from two of the most famous tech companies in the world! I got a little stressed actually… I wanted to do both but they said I can’t because they’re both during the summer.

What I loved about Repl.it was the feeling that I could explore different areas: frontend, backend, infrastructure. I’m still young and I’m not really sure yet what I’ll want to do so a company that lets me explore like this would be ideal! I also really liked the recruiter and the engineer who interviewed me and felt like I fit into the team.

I chose Google because they will send me to Europe for the internship. Having the chance to spend the summer in Europe will be life-changing for me. I’ve never been on an airplane before. My only time out of Gaza was when I went to RBK in Jordan! And I think I will learn a lot at Google.

I’m also really excited about earning money. I want to help my parents pay for my younger brother’s education and maybe I can help others too.

Meeting my Palestinian friends in Europe!

I am so proud to say that 4 out of 6 people who applied to Google from my Manara cohort got offers there. We will meet for the first time in Europe this summer! The other 3 classmates (Muath, Mohammed, and Hamza) live in the West Bank. I live in Gaza. It’s not far away but I can’t go to the West Bank and they can’t come here. I can’t wait to take a selfie in front of the Google office together and share it with everyone at Manara. :-)

I traveled close to the West Bank once when I was going to Jordan for RBK but the permit I had only let me go straight to the border, I wasn’t allowed to stop on the way.

Thank you!

I am so thankful for everything and everyone that helped through this journey and especially everyone at Manara!! Thank you to all the mentors, mock interviewers, and staff!

Computer Engineering student