Digital Skills for Today, an SAP initiative

Forced to Flee, Some Refugees Are Rebooting Their Lives as Software Engineers

On World Refugee Day, June 20, SAP honors the plights as well as the successes of refugees as they rebuild their lives with courage and perseverance.

Ahmad Alzubi is among the 6.3 million refugees who have fled Syria. As a young student in 2015, he had planned to finish his final year of high school and attend university to study computer science. But his plans for a stable, self-sufficient future fell apart when the war arrived in his hometown of Dara’a, Syria. He and his father were detained and tortured, with only Ahmad surviving.

His family made the difficult decision to temporarily relocate to a refugee facility, first in Za’atari and later in Irbid, Jordan. Determined to finish his education, Ahmad carried his books with him across the border into Jordan. “I still remember the bad time I had on the border while I am carrying my books,” he says. “I was holding my books because I was planning to go back for the exam to continue my education.”

As the chief provider for his 11-member family, Ahmad took a job as a construction worker for US$300 a month, but the work was exhausting and drained him of energy for his studies. Having not finished his studies in Syria, he was unable to find placement in the local education system.

From Constuction Worker to Sofware Engineer in Four Months 

Finally, in 2018, Ahmad was accepted into a software engineering boot camp managed by ReBootKamp (RBK), a career accelerator that partners with SAP through its Digital Skills for Today (DSFT) initiative to digitally empower youth, refugees, and minority populations around conflict zones. For Ahmad, the training marked a turning point in his life. He now earns US$3,500 per month working as a full stack software engineer for a U.S.-based insurance company. Where before he was living hand to mouth, he is now able to support a much higher standard of living for his family.

In his non-working hours, he tutors his sisters to also qualify for RBK’s training program. Ahmad writes of his experiences in the RBK boot camp, “I’m a new Ahmad with bigger dreams, bigger hopes, and bigger vision. I can tell you that here I found myself and I am now a better human being.”

Coding for a Better Future

Maisaa Alkhedr is another Syrian refugee who, similar to Ahmad, found gainful employment as a software engineer after graduating from a boot camp managed by RBK. Forced to flee Syria with her parents and five brothers, Maisaa traveled from Homs to Palmyra and onto Damascus under constant terror from bombings. In 2014, she and her family finally settled in Jordan, where she was able to finish her final year of university. However, she was unable to find a job.

At an RBK boot camp, Maisaa found a welcoming place where she quickly became everyone’s favorite pairing partner. She now works in Jordan for a Canadian-based healthcare IT company. In her new environment, Maisaa has been able to exercise her intellectual gifts and potential to rebuild her life with dignity. She is now in a better position to provide for her family and integrate into her new environment with a positive perspective for the future.

Some boot camp graduates favor an entrepreneurial track into the job market to best leverage their new skills, professional contacts, and creativity by bringing innovative products and services onto the hungry market. Yusuf, originally from Syria, is among a new breed of entrepreneurs in the region.

Yusuf graduated from a coding boot camp managed by Re:Coded, a nonprofit organization that partners with SAP through the DSFT initiative. In the boot camp, he learned technical and business skills for mobile development. Following graduation, Yusuf founded Torever, a startup with the mission of making travel easier and more enjoyable through the Torever mobile app. He now works together with other boot camp graduates in the business.

“Re:Coded was so much more than a boot camp,” says Yusuf. “I learned more about teamwork, presentation skills, and entrepreneurship than I’ve ever had before. I was able to meet new people, grow my network, and, most importantly, I feel more confident about myself.”

World Refugee Day

The stories of Ahmad, Maisaa, and Yusuf highlight the plight of refugees on this World Refugee Day, observed on June 20 to commemorate the strength, courage, and perseverance of people forced to flee their homes as a result of conflict or persecution. There are 68.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. Of those, 25.4 million are classified as refugees, half of whom are under age 18, according to UNHCR, the United Nations (UN) Refugee Agency. The agency reports that the majority of refugees come from Afghanistan, Syria, and South Sudan.

Amid the disruption and chaos of displacement, these people experience the trauma and uncertainty that comes from having their lives abruptly thrown into turmoil, human bonds broken, and plans for the future derailed. Forced to resettle to temporary camps, refugees must quickly navigate a new environment to provide basic necessities for their families.

Solving Youth Employment Crisis with ICT Readiness  

By fostering digital literacy and expertise that leads to job placement, DSFT seeks to open a path for young people, including refugees, to rebuild their identities and secure a better future in a region rife with conflict and war. There are more than 700 newly skilled IT professionals like Ahmad, Maisaa, and Yusuf, who have found gainful employment in Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq because of DSFT.

Introduced at the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016 as Refugee Code Week, the initiative aims to shape the next generation of technology experts through job relevant training and employment opportunities. DSFT is implemented in partnership with organizations like UNHCR, Injaz Al Arab, RBK, and Re:Coded. It is a contributor to the One Million Arab Coders initiative. The broader initiative, which also includes digital skills for school children, has introduced coding to more than 36,777 young refugees and nationals across 10 countries in the Middle-East North Africa (MENA) region.

While providing digital skills and training for refugees and youths, DSFT also strives to train local nationals to meet the current market demand for skilled professionals in information and communications technology (ICT), the fastest growing sector of the economy. Economists forecast that 1 million ICT jobs will be added to the economy in the MENA region in the next five years. However, the current reality in the job market is economically unsustainable. In Jordan alone, there are 30,000 unemployed ICT professionals, despite there being 20,000 vacant tech job postings within a 60-mile radius of the capital city of Amman.

“Bringing about new skills and expertise in conflict-affected areas is essential to the development and reconstruction of those regions,” says Batoul Husseini, director of Digital Government and Corporate Social Responsibility and global lead for DSFT at SAP MENA. “We aim to unveil the many potential coding heroes that only lack the opportunity to improve their lives and build their own future. Our hands-on learning material and training sessions allow a quick insertion in the workforce, thus shaping an entire generation of tech-savvy professionals.”

Boot Camps to Reboot Lives

Candidates undergo a screening process before attending one of the software engineering boot camps organized by RBK and Re:Coded. The boot camps run 16 to 18 weeks and equip participants with both hard and soft skills to become entry-level engineers.

A typical cohort comprises 50 percent local nationals and 50 percent refugees, internally displaced people, or asylum seekers, with ages ranging from 16 to 55. In the boot camps, local nationals are matched with a refugee or asylum seeker as their work partner. This pairing concept facilitates integration into the local community for refugees and asylum seekers. Each cohort is gender-balanced so that participation is split evenly among men and women. In 2018, female participation in the boot camps was 56 percent.

“We believe that intensive trainings are a great way to improve our capacity to work with close deadlines at high stakes,” explains Husseini. “They also empower many youths in short periods of time, which makes them efficient in the long run. We can then instill those freshly learned skills into the marketplace and keep on training more youths.”

Re:Coded: Transforming Conflict-Affected Youths into Technology Leaders

Registered in the U.S. as a nonprofit organization, Re:Coded operates in Iraq, Turkey, and Yemen. Its mission is to prepare conflict-affected and under-served youth to enter the digital economy as software developers, entrepreneurs, and tech leaders in their communities. Its activities include coding boot camps, entrepreneurship training, a co-working space, and tech workshops and events.

In April 2019, Re:Coded organized the first nationwide hackathon in Iraq, with 731 youths participating in five cities across Iraq. Re:Coded has graduated 192 developers from its coding boot camps, with more than 85 percent of graduates finding technical work within six months in 2018.

RBK: eXtreme Learning for an Extreme Environment

Based in Amman, Jordan, RBK uses a concept called “eXtreme Learning” (XL) to accelerate the learning process and embed new skills, so that participants are ready for employment at the end of their four-month training period. A career accelerator with deep connections to the region’s tech community, RBK delivers on its mission to produce market-ready software engineers who find gainful employment to provide stability for their families and contribute to the local economy.

RBK’s job placement rate for graduates is 98 percnet, with an average starting salary of US$1,130, as verified by the World Bank. In 2018 alone, the program produced 67 graduate software engineers, for a combined lifetime GDP contribution of more than US$268 million.

Join the Movement

The UNHCR StepWithRefugees movement is a global challenge to walk 2 billion kilometers in solidarity with families who have been forced to flee their homes. SAP has committed one kilometer per employee toward the goal, for a total of 98,000 kilometers. SAP employees and their families can to log their kilometers here.


Top image via Re:Coded