‘In this day and age, it’s nonsensical that children aren’t taught coding in elementary school. Let’s face it: it is the language of the future.’ It’s this shared vision and conviction that led to Dick van Egmond and Jasper Kuller forming a strong bond when they launched CodeMasters in 2015.

CodeMasters seeks to introduce future generations to the world of coding. The idea to involve not only elementary school students, but also refugees, came at a later stage. It made all the sense in the world, and so CodeMasters 4 Refugee Talent was born. ‘There is a massive shortage of good programmers; not just in the Netherlands, but in many countries around the globe. Whether refugees end up staying in the Netherlands, move back to where they came from or move elsewhere, they can use their coding skills anytime, anywhere,’ says Dick, Consultant Technology Strategy.

Image: Dick van Egmond and Jasper Küller launched to CodeMasters to help out refugees to use and improve their talents

‘Technology is the DNA of Accenture, a very meritocratic company where our talents are considered our greatest assets. The mission of finding new talent among refugees and teaching them technological skills suits us perfectly,’ Dick continues. ‘Accenture promotes the idea of knowledge and technology thriving and working hand-in-hand, and ultimately how that relationship can help make the world a better place. This became more evident when we presented our idea to our colleagues: everybody was extremely enthusiastic to join in and become a tutor.’

‘It was definitely one of the most rewarding moments.’

The CodeMasters 4 Refugee Talent initiative is a 12-week program that started in 2016. The 20 young participating refugees comprise mostly boys and a few girls, who all have varying levels of IT experience, some none whatsoever. ‘It made for one of the most interesting and intense programs,’ says Jasper, Digital Strategy Consultant. ‘Seeing so many unique personalities go through different stages of learning was fascinating. The transformation from the somewhat shy, timid group of people they were on day one to the outgoing, confident people they were on the final day they presented their projects was, to say the least, impressive. Dick and I stood watching them, bursting with pride.It was definitely one of the most rewarding moments.’

Meet ‘The Odd One Out’, Osama

One of said "outgoing, confident people” is 24-year-old Osama Najjar from Syria. He arrived in the Netherlands in December 2015, after having studied Informatic Engineering in Latakia, a middle-sized city in Syria. Just the fact that he had already studied computer science - majoring in Software Engineering and Network Systems - made him the so-called "odd one out” when compared to the other students. ‘At the start of the course, he was probably already a better programmer than a lot of us,’ smiles Jasper. However, due to the situation in Syria, Osama didn’t finish his studies and came to the Netherlands instead.

Image: Osama, one of the the refugees who tremendously benefited from CodeMasters

‘It was always my dream to finish my studies and to live in Damascus one day,’ says Osama. ‘While studying Medicine was my number one choice, I didn’t get in and chose to study IT instead. Not necessarily, because I was fascinated by it, on the contrary, getting through the first year was a real struggle. It was only during our weekly programming classes where my enthusiasm was born: I really liked the concept of creating something. Essentially, that is what programming is all about: making something out of thin air that can, ideally, solve a problem.’

‘The more time I spent on programming, the more passionate I became about IT. I passed the programming classes with flying colors. When the crisis in Aleppo started, many students transferred from the University of Aleppo to our university, which had to deal with this sudden "overload” of students. It resulted in many delays; for instance, in the examination and assessment processes. The lack of electricity and fuel made things even harder. I developed a system that would be efficient, which helped both the university and the students and, moreover, needed less resources. My solution only needed a LAN network to run and could operate without an internet connection and electricity, the latter of which is not always available to the public in Syria. It made me quite a popular guy at university. Despite people thinking that everything in Syria was heavily influenced by the war, I find it important to highlight that it was also possible to lead a "normal”, successful life there. And that’s exactly what I was doing.’

Always Be Productive

‘A stark contrast to my life at the asylum center, where I housed upon my arrival in this country. It was like falling from the top of the mountain, downwards, very quickly. In an asylum center, every day is the same - yesterday, tomorrow and the day after. Enduring the constant state of uncertainty was probably the worst experience. While waiting for your interviews with the IND, there’s just nothing to do. I worked as a volunteer at the COA (Centraal Orgaan Opvang Asielzoekers) and studied at night. Sometimes, I took on a cleaning job or worked in a restaurant. I was simply trying to make something of my life, like I always have. Wanting to be productive and knowing my life is going in a certain direction has always been very important for me - that didn’t change now that I was labeled “refugee”.’

‘It was via the New Dutch Connection that I heard about CodeMasters 4 Refugee Talent. At first, I wasn’t sure it was for me. After all, I studied computer science, and the syllabus contained all the course material that I was familiar with. If anything, I didn’t want to take somebody’s place who could possibly benefit more from the program than me. It was my coach at NDC - Anne van der Heide - who convinced me to enroll.’

‘Don’t get me wrong: I was very excited about the idea of a change of scenery, the chance to do something new, to connect with other people and to display my skills. Not to mention, the fact that I get to do all of this in a corporate environment. That’s one of the first things I remember about walking around the Zuidas and Accenture: looking around and realizing that I also want to work in a company like this one day.’

Happy in Rotterdam

Fast forward to six months later, and Osama has moved into an apartment in Rotterdam, a city he loves because of its cosmopolitan feel and, as he points out, the fact that he sits in the tram with the whole world. In addition to a nice apartment, he also has a full-time job at a fantastic IT company, Bizzomate. Funnily enough, it was that same Anne from NDC who offered him the job! ‘She supported me throughout the whole process, and still does. After only ten days in the job, I was sent to a client - a law firm in Amsterdam - where I am still stationed today,’ adds Osama.’

‘Even though I’m still young and there’s still a lot I need to learn, I’m proud to already be well on my way to becoming the person I envisioned that first day I walked around the Zuidas.’

Osama reflects on his time at CodeMasters with a smile on his face. ‘I may not have necessarily mastered too many new coding skills during CodeMasters, but it definitely opened doors for me. For one, it made me realize I needed to make a shift from merely executing technical tasks to cultivating a more all-round, professional mindset. “What is it like to deal with real customers? How do I manage as a scrum master? How do I deal with feedback I get and how can I apply it to my behavior?” I get to develop and implement all of this as a junior consultant in frond end development. Mastering JavaScript and NodeJS is my long-term goal. Even though I’m still young and there’s still a lot I need to learn, I’m proud to already be well on my way to becoming the person I envisioned that first day I walked around the Zuidas.’

Image: Dick van Egmond and Jasper Küller launched to CodeMasters to help out refugees to use and improve their talents

Business Cards All Around

Dick and Jasper are very eager to launch the second round of the program, which is scheduled to take place in October 2017. ‘Facilitating the CodeMasters program for refugees was a great experience. The day the students delivered their presentations was a highlight for everyone. It was held at ITO - Accenture’s headquarters - and along with students, friends and family, many companies delegates attended the ‘graduation ceremony’, too. Numerous business cards were exchanged and internships were offered. Osama: ‘It was the first time people gave me their business cards, asking me to contact them if I was interested in a position - a pretty cool experience.’ At that time Osama had already started his job at Bizzomate, but for other participants, it opened new doors.’

For Dick and Jasper, that is the essence of CodeMasters 4 Refugee Talent. ‘To see that you have laid the foundation for someone to blossom. Coding is a very self-empowering line of work, since you can get far without much assistance. The fact that through this program we truly offer people a perspective on the job and a better place in society, wherever it may be, is fantastic.’  

CodeMasters is part of the Corporate Social Responsibility program of Accenture Netherlands. We will share a number of articles that highlight our social ambitions. Next up: Empowering youth, and more specifically girls, around the world in collaboration with Plan International .