LONDON – One by one the students walk down the staircase, lit by colorful hanging lightbulbs and decorated with abstract oil paintings, into the basement of one of London’s technology startups. As they take their seats and pull their laptops out of their bags, there is a palatable sense of relief in the room.
German Bencci, a Venezuelan-born engineer based in London, was inspired by the success of a similar program launched in Amsterdam called HackYourFuture, after which 13 out of 20 refugees found developer jobs, according to Gijs Corstens, one of the group’s founders.
The program aims to help refugees find employment, as well as giving refugees themselves the tools to work on technology projects that could help tackle the refugee crisis. It could also help enrich the technology sector, Bencci says.
“The tech industry is facing a huge challenge to find developers to fill the ever-increasing number of vacancies and, at the same time, to increase the diversity of their workforce to help serve their customers better,” he explains. “Training refugees to become developers represents a great opportunity to address both issues.”
Mindful of the tech sector’s efforts to encourage women to code, Bencci made sure 40 percent of the first group of students are female. “We want refugees to become role models in our society,” he said.
The course was advertised on social media, and some students were referred by organizations such as the Helen Bamber Foundation, which supports trafficking and torture survivors. Applicants were not required to have any coding experience, but had to demonstrate intermediate English and complete a coding exercise before being accepted onto the course.Bencci has been rallying the technology sector for support in recent months. He received donations of free office space from Cititec, a technology recruitment company, and recruited 10 volunteers – some of them refugees themselves – to be mentor developers.
They meet for several hours every Sunday and are expected to work for between 20 and 30 hours each week on their assignments. At the end of the course, CodeYourFuture promises to do its best to place the students in full-time employment.
As the course began, London’s first cohort of refugee coding students reflected on their journeys from war and trafficking to London’s tech scene.