A little less than one year ago, we partnered with Refugees on Rails, a German organization that helps refugees build and expand their qualification as software developers to improve their chances in the labor market.
We’ve always believed that quality technical education bridges the gap between incredibly driven and deserving people and the amazing opportunities that await them. Needless to say, refugees experience unimaginable tragedies. They show unparalleled strength in fighting through unthinkable circumstances, and they deserve the tools and support that can help them unlock their potential. That’s why we felt this partnership was so important when it first launched. We feel even stronger about it today.
Since we launched the partnership in March 2016, hundreds of refugees have used the Firehose platform to learn programming skills that are critical to landing a job in today’s world. We plan on highlighting as many as possible, as we feel that it’s more important than ever to tell the human stories behind the refugee crisis. We’re starting with a student named Alireza, an Iranian refugee with a particularly inspiring story.
After earning a Masters in Computer Science in his home country of Iran, Alireza planned on entering the quiet and comfortable life of a programmer.
But things didn’t quite work out the way he hoped.
In winter of 2013, the Iranian government jailed Alireza for unclear reasons. He eventually was released and could live back at home, but the circumstances weren’t much better. He needed to cooperate with daily government check-ins. He had to do work against his will. If he refused, either he or members of his family would potentially be in danger.
“On the surface, I was free,” Alireza said. “But in reality, I was a still prisoner, just living in my own house.”
In fall of 2015, he decided that enough was enough.
He had to get out. So that’s what he did.
Alireza found a group that helped Iranians get to Germany.
“For me, it wasn’t as hard as it is for many other refugees. I found good resources and good friends.”
He made it to the German embassy, and he eventually reached a refugee camp of about 200 people in Munich. He waited for 4 months in the camp while the vetting process took place.
This was a successful man from a highly-achieving family in Iran. He had a Master’s Degree in Computer Science. But here he was, sleeping in a tent with 6 other strangers for almost half a year, waiting for someone else to tell him that it was ok to look for a job.
After waiting and waiting, he was finally cleared.
“It was the first moment where I started to believe that things might work out,” he said.
Alireza had never spoken English to anyone ever before. The only experience he had with the language came from watching Hollywood movies and flipping through American books at his university. But he did have his computer science background, qualified by his 10 years of experience working for a software management company in Iran.
So, just like a normal job-seeker, but with incredibly higher stakes, he began to network. He told his story to any stranger that would listen, doing so in the limited English that he knew at the time.
In March of 2016, his opportunity came along.
Refugees on Rails, a Firehose partner, is a German organization that helps refugees get the skills that will improve their chances in the labor market. They use the Firehose platform to teach Ruby and other technologies to refugees.
A few members of the organization began introducing themselves to people around Alireza’s refugee camp in Munich. They were searching for students to fill their new cohort.
“I heard that there was a group looking for refugees with computer experience. I told more and more people about my background. I knew this was my chance.”
Refugees on Rails discovered Alireza’s tent and asked him to join their cohort.
He joined, and he started building upon his CS background by learning new programming skills. He learned Ruby on the Firehose online platform, and his English began to improve as he worked with the Refugees on Rails volunteers.
A few months later, Alireza landed a job.
His mentors at Refugees on Rails introduced him to a German IT company called OpenCampus, and he landed a job as a senior developer.
He started making a good salary, began renting a house, and earned residency for 3 years.
“The German government found me a house, and we split the rent,” Alireza said. “I finally started to feel again like the person I always knew I was.”
He has since moved on to a new job at the Munich location of global software giant SAP, where he’s writing code that will impact millions of people all over the world.
Outside of work, Alireza enjoys attending automobile shows, exploring his new city, and watching soccer games. He’s a big Bayern Munich fan.
In a world that is quickly developing an inhumane and dismissive stance towards refugees, Alireza’s story is a powerful reminder that there is incredible human potential within every single one of these people. You just need to give them a chance.
“More than anything, we just need the right resources,” he said.
“Many refugees can’t read or write, and they need resources to help them learn the language. And there are refugees like me, who just need resources like The Firehose Project to help me improve my skills. Educational resources are the best way for people in big countries to help us.”
Moving forward, Alireza plans to give back to refugees like himself. He wants to teach Ruby, help expand Refugees on Rails, and spread the power of programming education to more refugees around the world.
“I want to do everything I can to build up refugees.”