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Changing Futures with Code

17th January 2019
By Katy Alexander

Ali Smith is a web developer working for Overleaf and interested in science and how it gets out into the world. He enjoys finding mountains and climbing up them!



Can you talk about what Code Your Future does?

Code Your Future is a non-profit organisation that teaches refugees, asylum seekers and other underrepresented groups how to code. We have active groups in London, Glasgow and Manchester, with a few more groups on the way. Our syllabus is about six months, covering everything you need to know about becoming a junior web developer. Everything from the basic if/else statement up to websites built with React and Node.

We meet up on Sundays to introduce new topics and work on exercises and during the rest of the week students study their homework. All of the mentors are developers who volunteer their time and expertise to help teach the students.

How did you get involved with the non-profit? Can you talk about your journey over the past few years working for Code Your Future?

Thanks to Overleaf, I attended the React London 2017 conference. Code Your Future had a stand there to talk to developers and it sounded like fun, so I decided to volunteer.

I’ve learned a lot while helping with Code Your Future, particularly about teaching and JavaScript which is the primary language that we teach. I’ve taken the lead on developing parts of our syllabus, mostly working on our React module.

I really enjoy being part of our friendly community. Our students volunteer to make lunch for everybody on our Sunday teaching sessions, so I’ve had some amazingly varied and delicious food from all over the world – it’s one of the reasons I keep coming back!

I’ve had the pleasure of watching our students grow and become more confident. And the best of all, congratulate them on getting jobs in the industry!

Can you talk about a story of someone who was helped by the skills learned at Code Your Future?

I’m lucky to have got to know many of our students. Ameer is from Sudan and graduated with our third cohort in London in May 2018. It’s amazing to think back on how far he’s come since the beginning of the class thanks to the incredible effort he’s put in.

While searching for a job, he’s been working on some of our internal systems, including improving our application process for new students joining the programme and everything from developing the user experience to working on the database.

Progress throughout a career – especially today – is a path that is not always straightforward. What can a good mentor do to make the journey a little more comfortable?

The most important – but most difficult – thing is to have is empathy. Trying to put yourself in the student’s shoes is hard but helps with every other aspect of being a mentor. By having some expertise in an area, a mentor can jump from A to Z.

A novice must take it step-by-step and identifying these steps is crucial to helping a student’s learning. Listening and understanding the student’s point of view is very important so that we can adapt to what they need.

Why is it important to pay it forward and give something back?

From a personal perspective, it is very rewarding to help people learn and achieve their goals.

I also wanted to do something to balance the largely white and male demographics of the software industry. As software increases in importance, it is crucial that we hear from all perspectives. Code Your Future is a small part of that work, but I think it is valuable.

We’re currently looking for more people working in the tech industry (not necessarily developers!) to become part of our 1-to-1 mentorship programme. If you’re interested, there are more details here.


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