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Inspiring Stories: HackYourFuture graduates Sima, Aya & Soolaf

As a society we tend to focus on titles and roles, and we forget that behind each title there is a person who has a story to tell. And truly every person’s story is unique.

In honor of International Women's day, we interview inspiring women from the community on the story of how they got into Tech, and where they are today.

In this post, I interview Sima Milli, Aya Alabrash and Soolaf Alharky, three HackYourFuture graduates who are based in the Netherlands.

Meet Sima

My name is Sima Milli, I’m from Damascus, Syria, and I’m a Front-end Engineer at Backbase (a banking platforms company), I like drawing, kayaking and making and enjoying good food :) I studied computer science at the Uni of Damascus.

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Meet Aya

I’m Aya, a 24-year-old who came to the Netherlands to live with my family in 2017. I'm originally from Syria, where I studied Information Technology Engineering. But I didn’t get a chance to finish my Bachelor Degree.

It was quite challenging for me at first in a foreign country with no friends. I wasn't sure what to do. Do I need to start my studies all over again?! Then I got an opportunity to join HackYourFuture. They help people with limited access to education and the labor market. I graduated in September 2018. In March 2019 I got my first job in Amsterdam as a front-end developer, at Backbase. I like sharing and exchanging ideas with peers, and I care about details. I am passionate about design and web development.

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Meet Soolaf

I am Soolaf Alharky. I am from Syria, and I am married. I came to the Netherlands in 2018 and I started my journey to build a new life from scratch. I started searching for a job, but my choices were limited because I don’t speak Dutch. Learning a new language as an adult takes a long time. One day while I was searching for a job on the internet, and I came across an ads for HackYourFuture, a coding school for refugees. I liked the idea and I applied for the program.

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When did you first become interested in technology and what sparked this interest?

Sima: I’ve always been interested in technology. When I played video games with my sibling I always wondered how they’re made. When I was introduced to HTML in school it felt so good to be able to create something beautiful out of nothing and turn it into something everyone everywhere could access and enjoy... I felt so powerful to be able to tell the computer what to do and have the ability to create all these amazing apps.

Aya: Since I was young, everyone in my family and circle of friends thought that I would study at a medical faculty. When the day came that I needed to choose which college to attend, I felt lost. Therefore I have decided to try a day in each collage to find out what would be right for me, not what someone else thought was right for me.
I remember the day when I entered the programming class, I got stoked about the idea of coding. I was 100% sure on that day that I want to live this adventure. When I told my family they were confused at first, and they tried to talk me out of it. “It’s not for women” , “It’s very difficult, you’ll fail”. But I was convinced. This is my life and my responsibility. I passed all my exams with the high grades because this is what I’m passioned about: details, growing, changes, logic, challenges, data and science.

Soolaf: I became interested in technology the first time I wrote some piece of code and saw the output on the screen. It was like magic! Because I studied mathematics in Syria I was familiar with algorithms, programming felt enjoyable.

Describe your way towards your first job in tech; how did you land this job?

Sima: In Syria, I didn’t get the chance to be a developer, especially because of the war. When I arrived to the Netherlands I thought: this is my chance to pursue my dream of becoming a developer. With the help of Hack Your Future where I learned the basics of JavaScript and they helped to make an internship possible which eventually led to a full-time employment contract.

Aya: I applied for a couple of jobs after I graduated from Hack Your Future, but wasn't successful. Then Wouter (HackYourFuture's Managing Director) called me and told me about an internship opportunity at Backbase. I have a dream to be a well-known developer. And since I've started at Backbase as a front-end developer, that was my first milestone in bringing me closer to my dream becoming a reality.

Soolaf: At HackYourFuture I learned to code, thanks to the help of many great mentors, who support us. After finishing the course Federico Fusco, the Partnership Manager for HackYourFuture, told me that Exact in Delft was looking to hire juniors. We began preparing for a job interview together. When they called me and told me that they’d love to have me onboard… I was just so happy

Do you have any role models that influenced you?

Sima: Sheryl Sandberg - the Chief Operating Manager at Facebook, she is the first woman in the company's board. I’m currently reading her book Lean In.

Soolaf: Since I started working at Exact I met my amazing manager Martine Van Iperen, and my team lead Grand Julivan, who are the biggest supporters in my career.

Tell us more about your current job – e.g. what do you like most about your role?

Sima: The company I work in makes platforms for banks something like content manager where banks can add widgets and align and configure them the way they want. My team builds these widgets, for example to manage transactions, allowing users to make a transaction possible and add it to category or attach a note to it.

Aya: The key thing about Backbase is the culture of the company and the people there. People at Backbase are much more than their job titles. They're just like a family willing to help each other. And every day I spend there, I learn new things about technology and people.

Soolaf: I am proud to work as a Software Engineer at Exact. It’s a great company where everyone likes to help you. My team is the user experience improvement team, and I get to work as a frontend developer, but I’m also stimulated to learn C# and VB.net and many other things that make me develop quickly.

What does your typical day look like?

Sima: On an ideal day I wake up early and go to the gym for 30 minutes. Then it’s off to work by bike, have coffee with colleagues and start working. At around 17:30, I cycle back home, make dinner, and talk about my day to my husband. Then I might watch Netflix, or read some technical article. I typically go to bed early.

Soolaf: My typical day starts with going to my work. Then I have Dutch classes in the evening. And after that I go home or meet some friends.

What do you do in your free time?

Sima: Visit friends, go out for a walk or to the movies. Sometimes I'll just relax and chill at home.

Soolaf: In my free time I try and learn some type of dance, do sports, volunteer work, shopping, I watch movies, or I watch some programming tutorial to improve my skills.

What advice will you give to womxn and girls who dream about a career in tech?

Sima: First of all I would like to highlight that the first computer programmer was Ada Lovelace. She wrote an algorithm for a computing machine in the mid-1800s, and challenges society's view of what a woman could or couldn't do.

Take your time, ask questions, and remember: you don’t need to know everything at once, just keep learning and enjoy writing code!

Aya: Don’t be afraid of any challenge you may face because this is life. If you have a dream, live for it and embrace it. There’s no impossible.

Soolaf: I’d love to tell every woman, and every girl who dreams about a career in tech, to go ahead and be strong. Believe in yourself and you too will build the future every day!

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