IT in the Occupied Territories

Software developers at coding boot camp in Silicon Wadi

A German IT company has started an academy to train Palestinians in software development. Despite the pandemic's challenges, it has managed to run its first boot camp in Ramallah in the West Bank. Tania Kraemer reports

Small teams are stretched out over the entire space to maintain a safe distance from each other. Face masks are obligatory. But this doesn't deter the students from having lively discussions while learning and trying to solve algorithm problems.

"I am so glad that we don't have to take this course online because of coronavirus," says Tala Qawasmi. "It's challenging working in a team; everybody has their own ideas. But it is so important to work together and to pool all our thoughts and ideas in order to eventually come up with a solution." The 25-year-old female trainee is part of the first "cohort" of the new Axsos Academy, an intensive coding boot camp for aspiring software developers in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

The original four-month traineeship had to be postponed several times due to the coronavirus pandemic. Among the 2,500 people who applied from all over the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, only 43 made it into the first cohort.

"It's a huge challenge. We have to make sure that the place is not crowded, to push for wearing masks and to keep a safe distance. This is the new normal we are living in," says Shirin Toffaha, Axsos' human resources manager.

Two students from Axsos' first boot camp: Ghada Qaraeen (left) and Tala Qawasmi
Twenty-two year-old business administration graduate Ghada Qaraeen recently lost her job in customer relations because of the coronavirus pandemic. She sees the academy as an opportunity to widen her professional horizons: "The first two days, I was like, what am I doing to myself? This is way too hard. But then, step by step, with all the time you put into it, you learn the languages and the algorithms. It's good"

For now, the programme, which is funded by the Palestinian Authority, is using one floor at the Ministry of Telecommunications. Plans to move into the academy's building in Ramallah, which will offer room and board facilities to the participants, have been postponed until 2021.

Academy open to non-IT backgrounds

What makes the academy special is that it is open to professionals and graduates from all different fields. Only about half of the participants have a background in information technology. The ages of those attending ranges from 18 to 51. This shows how for many among them, the programme serves as professional re-orientation.

"Our aim was either to find people from a range of different backgrounds, yet with the commitment and passion to change their career path, or new graduates," says Toffaha. "They are expected to commit to four months, six days a week and hard work for 10 to 12 hours a day."

Another essential recruitment criterion are English language skills. The boot camp is held in English and students are encouraged to practice it among themselves. Applicants who lack adequate language skills are encouraged to study and to apply again at a later stage.

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