After immersing herself in computer programming languages for the past 16 weeks in London, Shireen Zoaby is eager to transfer her newly honed skills to up-and-coming coders in her hometown of Nazareth.
“I have gained so much knowledge,” she told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. “Every week we would learn something new.”
Zoaby just returned to Israel from a full-time course hosted by Founders & Coders, a London- based nonprofit organization that has been operating a coding boot camp in England’s capital since 2014. As a graduate of the tuition-free, peer-led academy, she is now about to serve as a mentor for the organization’s first international boot camp, which will open in Nazareth this Sunday.
“After the course you would be qualified to be work as a software developer,” Zoaby said.
Founders & Coders sent Zoaby, along with her peer Esraa Jbara from Taiba, to complete the course in London, giving them the experience necessary to guide trainees in the first session of the Nazareth boot camp. Zoaby and Jbara will be working with developer- in-residence Eoin McCarthy, also a London program graduate, along with a rotating group of Founders & Coders alumni who will visit for two-to-fourweek periods.
Held in partnership with the British Embassy’s UK-Israel Tech Hub and the Nazareth Cultural Tourism Association, the Nazareth-based boot camp will aim to make hi-tech jobs more accessible to Galilee area residents and boost the number of skilled workers in the field, according to the program. Founders & Coders sustains itself financially from recruitment fees paid by employees that hire boot camp graduates.
“Nazareth is an opportunity for us to test the replicability of a democratic, organized learning community in parts of the world where entire segments of population have struggled to access employment,” Rebecca Radding, director of international development for Founders & Coders, told the Post
For Dan Sofer, the organization’s founding director, establishing the initial program in London was not only about launching that boot camp itself, but also about creating a replicable community that promotes the “democratization of learning” and provides increased access to jobs in technology.
“We have gotten to the point in London where we think we have proven the model,” Sofer said on Tuesday.
By running a largely volunteer community and recruiting teachers from the organization’s expanding alumni network, Founders & Coders is able to provide an inexpensive solution that attracts self-motivated individuals to study together, he explained.
For both Sofer and Radding, Israel was the next logical spot when they were thinking about expanding the program internationally, as they both have personal connections to the country. With the support of the UK-Israel Tech Hub and the Nazareth Cultural Tourism Association – which, respectively, provided some financial backing and classroom space – they ultimately settled on Nazareth.
“We wanted to try to make this sustainable in an environment that maybe wasn’t quite so obvious and where young people were really hungry for opportunities,” Sofer said. “We were very keen to see what we could do for the more peripheral communities of Israel.”
The inaugural boot camp in Nazareth will include 12 students – six from Israel and six from abroad, Radding explained. While alumni will be coming in from London to teach the course, some local Israeli hi-tech entrepreneurs will be giving workshops and talks for the boot camp participants, she said.
“Our number one priority is to build a community here in Nazareth,” Sofer added.
Immediately following the upcoming course, plans are already in the works for summer and fall boot camps, he said. As more and more local alumni graduate from the program, the UK-based team members are expected to withdraw from their guiding role at the boot camp in Nazareth.
“We’re hitting the ground running,” Sofer said. “We plan to have a permanent presence here.”
The launch of the Founders & Coders boot camp in Nazareth comes at a time when the Israeli hi-tech sector is in critical need of skilled manpower.
Due to the increasing shortage of competent workers in the sector, in parallel with the escalating demands of the industry, the Israeli government approved a plan in mid-January to invest hundreds of millions of shekels in the sector’s work force.
As part of the government’s program, efforts will focus on boosting the number of university students focusing on hi-tech fields by 40% within the next six years. In addition, the state investments will go toward training hundreds of young people each year in coding boot camps, according to the plans.
Coding boot camps originated in Silicon Valley about six years ago, in response to a worldwide shortage of programmers.
Such courses provide intensive technical training for people with little or no coding experience, adapted to current market needs.
“It doesn’t matter what part of the world you’re in,” Sofer said. “The gap is large and growing between the available job vacancies and the people who have the skills to take them up.”
When the Founders & Coders boot camp decided to expand to Israel, the UK-Israel Tech Hub was looking for such an organization to support, according to the latter’s deputy director, Dona Haj. Operating within the British Embassy, the UK-Israel Tech Hub works to build technology partnerships between the two countries. In the past four years specifically, the Tech Hub has been running programs to accelerate Arab-Israeli technology talent specifically, she explained.
One particular challenge facing the Arab-Israeli hi-tech community is the lack of exposure to international professional opportunities – a reality that has created a gap in the acquisition of necessary skills, Haj said.
“We wanted to bring a cosmopolitan experience to Nazareth’s tech scene,” she continued.
Not only will the participants be able to improve their coding and technical abilities at the boot camp, but they will also be able to hone their communication and leadership skills, Haj added.
“Founders & Coders sees Nazareth as a first stop and wants to replicate this model to other places in Israel,” she said. “We hope to see even more Israeli and foreign students and mentors joining its journey.”
For Haj, the impact of the program was evident when she saw Zoaby’s progress during her London boot camp course.
“When I saw her in London it was really inspiring,” Haj said, stressing that program pushed her to take on more leadership roles and initiate creative projects.
“We see them as the tech leaders of tomorrow, the next entrepreneurs and want them to get exposed to this international experience,” Haj said.
While Zoaby studied computer science at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, she did not focus on web development and associated languages during her time there.
Rather, she said she learned to think about problems and how to solve them.
But after 16 weeks of learning these languages for eight hours a day, Zoaby now will be able to teach them to her peers.
“Someone teaches you and then you have to teach the next cohort,” she said.
Zoaby will not only be serving as a mentor to the boot camp students over the next 16 weeks, but she will also be making contacts with businesses and companies that might need developers in the future. Voicing her support for the peer-to-peer structure of the program, she stressed the importance of implementing such a model in Israel.
“It’s a value that you actually pass on to those people,” Zoaby said. “It’s not just that you learn something and get out. You actually build a community of people who will help you have a career in hi-tech.”
“The way you see people so passionate about the code, it makes you want to stay and teach,” she added.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.
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