Social Hackers Academy: What Makes Inclusion Possible?
By 2020 there will be a 20 million software engineers deficiency in the job market. Meanwhile, 50% of all displaced people are children that will grow up to be the workforce of tomorrow and 40% of the Greek youth are unemployed.
Social Hackers Academy aims to connect these needs and turn these challenges into opportunities by giving a second chance to vulnerable groups. They launched in September of 2017 after realizing that no real, sustainable solutions are offered for the integration of refugees in Greece, but that there could be one hiding in plain sight. The solution for the founders of Social Hackers Academy is education in Software Engineering, the demand for which keeps increasing.
Here, we explore how they have structured their course and activities to ensure engaged participants and better future prospects.
THE BASICS: WHAT THEY DO
Social Hackers Academy offers two types of programs:
the computer literacy course, for people who want to become acquainted with the basics of computers
the coding course, for those who wish to learn how to program
Their students consist of refugees, asylum seekers, and people who have been unemployed for more than a year. All classes are mixed, which contributes to a diverse student experience. Developing hard skills is important, but doing so in an environment that enhances one’s soft skills is essential.
All course material is created by a collective of coders across Europe and is then shared with multiple coding schools through GitHub, a platform for developers. The programs last 20 hours and 7 months respectively and are more demanding than one would think since classes consist of 10 to 15 people.
MOTIVATION STARTS WITH COMMITMENT
As Aggelina Mila—the managing director—told us, the reality of offering services for free is that some people will show up out of pure intrigue and who are not ready to commit to such a demanding program. Social Hackers Academy has apparently found an effective solution around that: an application process that tests people’s skills and creativity but also presents them with challenges to test their commitment and get them excited about what comes next. The first step of the application process consists of a motivation letter written in English. Applicants then have to follow a Khan Academy course to learn the basics of coding, and with this knowledge, they then have to create a website introducing themselves. The final step is the interview, which helps the coordinators distinguish between those who will be engaged with the program and its demands and those who won’t.
LEARNING IS ALL ABOUT ENGAGEMENT
Interestingly, the teachers at Social Hackers Academy are also expert local web developers, volunteering as mentors in their free time after work. Students have a professional developer doing live coding in front of them and then they have to follow the process on the laptops they are provided with. What is fascinating about this model is that it does not simply offer dry knowledge, but also direct access to experienced industry professionals. All courses are conducted in-person to allow for the cultivation of relationships between participants and mentors, but live streaming is also an option for those who cannot make it. In the spirit of familiarizing themselves with technology, participants also communicate via Slack, where the teachers are always available to answer questions and provide further direction.
Former students and team members of similar backgrounds as the students act as community managers, as they are better able to understand the needs of participants and provide them with guidance.
Ultimately, it’s not just about knowledge, it’s about community.
SUCCESS IS ABOUT OPPORTUNITIES
There are many programs that offer skills development. Social Hackers Academy is now going a step further by building links to the industry to improve the chances of their participants in finding a job. This is the connecting link other educational organizations are missing.
One of the most valuable services offered by Social Hackers Academy is the facilitation of thematic monthly meet-ups for both students and non-students, where tech companies are invited and encouraged to contribute. This allows for the creation of a sense of equality and proximity between the companies and the students who might become their employees in the future. These events, but also the personal meetings arranged between companies and participants, are what drive the program forward. Students are given the opportunity to interact and network with people from the industry and maybe even pitch themselves for a position.
Aggelina says they have found that companies do not come to them just because they want to be socially conscious but because they see the level of skill and sophistication of the students and want to integrate them in their teams as valuable members.
This holistic approach to learning is what makes Social Hackers Academy stand out. By cultivating their students’ digital skills, not only in theory but also in practice, and by giving them the opportunity to interact with industry professionals, they are achieving the improbable: they are making social integration possible.
If you wish to support the inspiring work Social Hackers Academy is doing, you can either: