I have started volunteering at CodeYourFuture, an organisation that helps refugees and disadvantaged people to become Software Developers. This is my background and why giving someone a life-changing opportunity is important to me.
I grew up in Budapest, Hungary in a family that I wish I could say was ideal but it wasn't. My mum with severe hearing loss is to date the most loving person I’ve ever known but unfortunately she's also very vulnerable. My father, who I've never known, didn’t want to be part of our life from the day I was born.
My mum with a disability had to look after and provide for me and my elderly grandmother, alone.
The man my mum met when I was six turned out to be an aggressive and abusive person to say the least. Unfortunately he stayed in our life. He wasn’t at home often (only he knows where he spent his late nights) but I remember well how I felt every time I heard the key turn in the lock. I pretty much spent my teens in fear or feeling guilty for my mum and two young sisters when I managed to escape from home.
On top of it, we also struggled with money most of the time.
The first thing I'm extremely grateful for in life is Hungary's free education. Fortunately I was good at studying and had good enough grades which made me able to go to a prestigious university for free while also working part-time. I got an Economics degree and started working as a trainee accountant at an international hotel chain.
I got into a whole different world. I worked with people from different countries and Hungarians who studied/lived abroad previously. This was the first time it seemed like a true possibility to go abroad. I couldn't have afforded to take part in expensive student-exchange programs before (Erasmus remained a dream) but I could now get a job and make a living. I wanted to leave Hungary to be away from my stepfather and to be independent. I wanted to leave for better opportunities.
After applying all across the globe within the hotel chain from Canada to Singapore, I ended up getting a flight for an interview to Scotland. This was my second time on a flight, and the first time ever I travelled alone. I was 24, I haven't seen much of the world before and my English wasn't great. The whole experience was exciting but also nerve-wracking. But I got the job.
My first boss and later mentor was a Pakistani man. He arrived in the UK with poor English and had to climb that ladder from the very bottom. Twenty years later he was working as the Finance Director of a cluster of hotels in Scotland. He saw something in me and he gave me an opportunity.
2010 was the year I moved countries and changed my life. It was hard. I came with my boyfriend at the time so I wasn't alone but it was still very hard leaving my mum and sisters as well as my friends behind. The first couple of months were exciting but then home-sickness kicked in and I was also fighting guilt and I really really missed my friends and family. It was also rainy and cold all the time, I didn't really know anyone and found it hard to make friends. But I did what I was good at and worked hard and learned as much as I could. I also earned enough money to be able to visit home regularly and bring nice presents for my sisters. I was standing on my own feet and although I felt lonely I was free.
In the coming nine years I built a successful career as an accountant and I was earning a salary I'd never known I could.
After so many years, however, I just had enough of accounting. I wanted to do something different and get into tech but I didn't have the guts to just quit my job. Not having enough savings was not an issue, I had enough saved up to not have to work for a few months. Over the years I had created the opportunity myself to do whatever the hell I wanted but my brain just wasn't wired like that. To consider quitting a well paying job without having a next job secured? It genuinely never even crossed my mind.
In 2018 I met my partner. He is a Software Developer and I very quickly started playing with the thought of learning to code. I already wrote a whole other blog about my journey into software development so I won't get into that but what he taught me was to not be afraid to change. It is so important to have someone in your life who supports you all the way (and also tells you when you are being unreasonable). Sometimes that's all you need: encouragement and someone to believe in you - and continuously remind you of that.
This was the first time in my life I quit a job without knowing when and where I'd be earning my next salary and spent a big chunk of money on a coding bootcamp at the beginning of 2020. It wasn't easy but I genuinely loved every second of it. My only regret is that I didn't start it much earlier. In May 2020, two weeks after my graduation I landed my first developer job.
I know that for most people 2020 won't be a year of fond memories but for me it will always be the year when I changed my life - for the second time.
I love doing what I'm doing and I'm so happy I finally made this choice. I am at the beginning of a new career but am ever so eager to learn and progress as fast as I can.
CodeYourFuture is an organisation that helps refugees, asylum seekers, single parents with low income, people struggling with mental health issues, learning or physical disabilities and anyone else experiencing problems getting the education needed to find meaningful work. 71% of the students are refugees or asylum-seekers, 78% of the students are part of BAME communities and 75% live below the poverty line.
The organisation helps them by giving the opportunity to study for free on a full-stack coding course where the students also develop their soft skills. They give financial support on travel cost, internet, childcare, also loan laptops to students where needed and a lot more. They also provide support for graduates by helping them find employment in the tech industry.
The students at the end of the course participate in delivering a real life project that is used by either other charities or CodeYourFuture itself. They gain experience in working as part of a tech squad with a volunteer project manager and a couple of volunteer tech assistants to guide them. My team has just started their final project last weekend and will have 4 weeks in total to deliver a full-stack web application with an SQL database, Express server and React frontend.
Given that 71% of the students fall into the refugee/asylum-seeker category, I feel it's important to talk about what these terms actually mean.
According to The UN Refugee Agency: "Refugees are people who have fled war, violence, conflict or persecution and have crossed an international border to find safety in another country." An asylum-seeker is a person that has initiated the legal process to be recognised as a refugee but their claim is still in progress.
Part of the reason I wanted to volunteer at CodeYourFuture is because I know how happy my career change makes me and helping to give a similar opportunity to others not so fortunate feels like a duty.
I would like to clarify that I am not a refugee and have no intention of making any comparisons between my experience and theirs. However I do recognise the importance of getting an opportunity and how life-changing it can be.
I found it hard to find my feet in a new country where I had language problems, had no friends and family and I had to start over building my social circle. I found it hard even though it was my decision, I didn't have to move countries.
These people will have gone through a very difficult period of their life which might have caused mental health issues. They might not have social circles to support them with these issues when they arrive. They might struggle with language and cultural differences. They might find it hard to fit in.
Some might have good education but find it hard to get back to work after unwanted long breaks. Some might have family difficulties. Some can't use the skills they learnt due to differences in their field between countries. Some might just have never had the chance to study new skills that the market needs.
Some might just need help with their CV and to improve their interviewing skills.
Some might just need encouragement to learn new skills, be it coding and/or soft skills such as communication and teamwork. Some might just need a little push and to be reminded that they can do it, that they can learn new skills, get a job and change their lives for the better.
They might just need the opportunity to become part of a supportive community where they are understood.
All the above is what CodeYourFuture offers.
The organisation has 4 locations in the UK (London, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow), also in Rome and in CapeTown.
- If you want to volunteer, you don't have to have any coding experience. They are also looking for people to promote the organisation or help with the students' personal development (including improving their English and employability skills) and are ALWAYS looking for more volunteers. You could apply here.
- If you are an employer looking for Junior Software Developers, you could consider hiring a graduate.
- If you have a spare laptop you don't use, you could donate it to them.
- If you can't help with any of the above, you could help by just sharing this blog.
If you got this far - thank you for reading!