This months interviewee Zeynep, a woman, mother, wife, teacher, refugee, student and developer. Always pushing the boundaries to be the best version of herself.
Her story is touching and shows us a glimpse of a harsh reality, but also shows signs of someone who is determined to fight for a better future.
Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
My name is Zeynep. I was living in my home country Turkey and working as a computer teacher in a private school until a political turmoil hit the country and my family. My husband was falsely convicted due to our political view against the current government so we had to leave the country. We fled illegally with our daughter since our documents were confiscated.
We came to Belgium at the end of 2018 without any money, resources and such. We had to stay at the Red Cross Refugee camp. While I was staying there I applied to HackYourFuture, coding schools for refugees in Brussels and took an intense 7-month coding course. It helped me to build a profile in Belgium. I was hired as a full-stack developer by Cronos afterwards. Now here I am.
What is your specialisation and what does a typical day look like for you?
I am a full-stack developer specialised in ReactJS, Node.js with SQL. I also have a huge passion for UX/UI design. On a typical day I mainly work with React and with other JS libraries. Everyday I am learning new things such as new libraries. It’s like taking a dive in a vast sea.
Do you have any hobbies or interests you’d like to tell us about?
I really like reading newspapers. It is almost an addiction. Every morning, I read at least three different newspapers. I am also interested in cultivating super foods at home, especially fermented foods. I did a good amount of research on the subject.
What or who got you initially interested in coding and / or pursuing a career in tech?
There is actually a story about what helped me to pursue becoming a developer. During my time in college, just before my C# finals, I got sick and couldn’t take the test. After recovery, when it was time to take the test, the assistant lecturer who prepared the test just assumed I was retaking the test because I failed. That’s when I heard him saying the following:
“Programming is not meant for women, do not push yourself too much.”
I felt the anger burning my ears and decided to teach him a lesson; by completing the challenge in five minutes and leaving the class acing the class with an A, while nobody else did. I have never forgotten what he said even now. Even while I was teaching I was always developing, programming etc.
I can’t imagine how tough it must be to start over again in such circumstances. How can we (as a colleague, classmate, boss, or community member) make someone who has been through a difficult time feel more welcome?
So far in Belgium, I have been receiving nothing but help. People who had heard my story helped me with everything. Colleagues, my HackYourFuture classmates and coaches, my bosses at work, or community members, I have seen and experienced kindness at top level over the past 2 years. Some organizations gave me a chance to raise my voice and tell my story like women.code(be), for which I am thankful.
Can you tell us a bit more about the HackYourFuture program?
HackYourFuture is a free 7-month web development program for talented refugees. It also encourages women to participate in it and has women demo class to show the taste of coding experience.
When I first arrived in Belgium, I was clueless, had no idea how to build a life from scratch. No contact, network, language, no home. I had to do something and one of my refugee friends sent me the application link for HackYourFuture. I remember it as yesterday, when I first read it I just knew I had a chance especially after reading the sentence saying “Women are strongly recommended to apply”.
It really gave me all the chances, opportunity, most of all hope that I could hold onto. On top of all these, I learned tons, became a part of amazing projects, met many amazing people, coaches and fellow peers who were experiencing the same thing. I can’t say nice things enough for HackYourFuture. I appreciate it and I am thankful to people who are behind it.
If you compare your college education experience to the bootcamp training. What do you like better about the one vs the other?
I couldn’t value the bootcamp training well enough until I was part of it. My bootcamp experience was top. I can’t compare it with my education in college. First of all, I felt like I was learning things just for passing or acing the classes in the college. This kept me going further into deep. We were just assigned small projects by lecturers who were not actually willing to check our work in detail. In bootcamp training, because of limited time students need to be part of the learning process more than in college. It means that in bootcamp training you are learning how to learn on your own and this is the most valuable asset for the IT sector.
Are there any particular women in tech who have inspired you?
Cassidy Williams who is a rock star React developer out there inspires me a lot. I follow her online courses, broadcasts and twitter too. She points out gender imbalance in tech and difficulties she has experienced in her career in every chance.
Do you have any favourite resources or projects you like to follow?
I am a huge fan of “code with Mosh”. I learned a lot from him.
What is your favourite way to learn about new technologies? And how do you apply the knowledge that you’ve gained?
I like learning things with a partner or coworker. It gives me the opportunity to ask them questions when I get stuck. And it’s also a great way to discuss the technical, the good and the bad aspects of that technology with someone who has an opinion about it. When I start studying something new, I will always try to find someone who can partner up with me. After studying, I apply the newly gained knowledge on a project. Currently, I am working on a project about mapping, data visualization with a friend from HackYourFuture.
On your Twitter there were some adorable pics of your daughter in an open summer of code t-shirt. Have you introduced her to coding already?
Not yet.🙂 I would be a happy and proud mother if she would like coding. I will probably introduce her to coding with lego robots that you can program. When I was still teaching in primary school, I was a robotic coach and part of big robotics competitions with my team. I just loved it, just like my students did and I think my daughter will enjoy it too.
How could the tech industry be more inclusive for women and minorities?
We need to tear down all the prejudice towards women in tech, especially the opinion that women are not capable of taking roles in tech.
In my opinion this prejudice starts from early ages. When I was teaching as a computer teacher in middle and high school I observed this prejudice is actually built in young ages by society for example the peers, family, teachers etc. Girls who are good at things related to IT, who enjoy producing things in this field, are often overlooked or bullied by their peers, from the opposite or even from the same sex, family and sadly sometimes by teachers.
My approach to fix this would be to encourage young women who are interested in this field, start programs for them or educate computer teachers about the gender imbalance issues. And if I were a business owner, I would sponsor training programs or schools who are good at supporting young women who are willing to go this path, and of course I would try to avoid gender imbalance while hiring people.
What made you join the women.code(be) community?
I wanted to see strong women in tech. I wanted to meet them and hear their experiences.
I have met many strong women at women.code(be) meetups. Remembering my first meetup, after a small introduction I just tried to be part of any circle in the room and just listened to those amazing women just talking about their work experiences and asked a bunch of questions to them how they found their positions and how they were dealing with the job.
If you look back on when you first started out. What advice would you give yourself?
If I count my pursuing to become a full-stack developer as a starting out, I would advise to have patience and have more confidence in myself. When I look back I mostly see my low self esteem.
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