photo of Iqra with graffiti in the background

Student spotlight: Iqra

When the Egyptian revolution of 2011 erupted on the 25th of January, I witnessed millions of Egyptians from different religious and socio-economic backgrounds call Tahrir Square home for 18 days. The uprising was driven by poverty, unemployment, anger and despair at police brutality and the relentless repression of basic freedoms. People took to the streets, occupied squares, fought off attacks by security forces, while forming street committees to defend their neighbourhoods, and ultimately overthrew a ruler who for decades had seemed unassailable.

After returning to the U.K, I wrote a 5-year plan. I had to find a way to help those people. I also had to find a way to help people, like me, who have been displaced due to war, famine and other disasters. I’d join United Nations or Amnesty International. I convinced myself I belonged to the field of policy making, aid and development.

The thought of getting into technology never crossed my mind. I mean, I’m not even the ‘technical’ type, lol. Nothing about me looks like I could fall somewhere in between Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.

So, what has changed?

After interning and working for a few organisations in the international development sector, something just didn’t feel right. If my lifelong dream was to help people, surely this was the right choice for me? So, why is it that I’m not happy? Why did the thought of having to work in this sector for the rest of my life give me anxiety?

Questions would keep me up at night. Has the non-profit sector helped my country, Somalia? Does aid work? Would I be creating an impact? Why does this sector lack innovation? Why is frugality praised? How come I can’t be creative? Is this the only way I can help change the lives of people and create an impact? I felt lost.

a young boy crying gif

Then I came across start-ups like Eneza Education — an EdTech Startup transforming the lives of over 2 million learners in rural areas in Africa by making education more accessible and affordable to them through the use of mobile phones.

Zipline — a robotics company that use drones to deliver blood to remote villages in Rwanda.

Moni — a FinTech company whose digital debit and pre-paid cards have allowed 4,000 refugees in Finland, who are denied bank accounts, to receive the government’s monthly allowance.

‘Developers are architects of the future, with just the electricity at our fingerprints we have the power to influence the globe’

— Sage Franch

The more I read about technology being used for social good, the more I was interested in a career in technology. I started to attend tech meet-ups and began to self-teach myself how to code. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed it. It was challenging, but nothing could beat how I felt after solving a problem. I also loved how I could use the left and right side of my brain at the same time.

Me writing my first line of code (loooool)

After a few weeks, I hit a roadblock. I felt overwhelmed and confused by the amount of information and advice I’d get on learning to code. Being the only Black or Muslim person at most tech meet-ups and learning that women account for less than 5% of software engineers in the U.K didn’t help very much either (couldn’t find statistics on BAME women and that said a lot). Self-doubt started to kick in. Questions started to keep me up at night again.

Thankfully, I came across and applied to the Amaliah × 23 Code Street: Learn to Code Scholarship for Muslim Women and got in! It’s a 12-week web development course. We are currently half way through and I couldn’t be any happier.

The squad (and me hiding in the corner, lol!)

 

Not only am I learning the technical skills needed to become a software engineer, but also, important skills such as teamwork/collaboration. After all, no great code was written by just one person. I’m no longer confused or overwhelmed by the amount of information on the Internet and things are starting to click. I now know where I want to be within the next year.

Knowing that I’d be in a field where I might be the ‘only black or Muslim girl in a room’ especially in a society that sometimes devalues you on the basis of your race, ethnicity, or religion is frightening, but there is something about having a great support network in a positive and uplifting environment like 23 Code Street that makes it less frightening.

Something about being surrounded by likeminded individuals that look like you that helps you reaffirm the belief you have in yourself and your slay!

Something about being armed with lots of confidence, knowledge and insight, that makes you want to go after your dreams.

Model cries and then struts

me: before and after enrolling at 23 Code Street, loool.

For me, that dream is to become a software engineer and social entrepreneur sometime in the (hopefully near) future and I don’t know of any better way of starting this journey than with 23 Code Street.

The icing on the cake? For every paying student, one disadvantaged woman in India is given the opportunity to learn to digital skills.