How did you become interested in computer science?
When my family and I moved to Herat, Afghanistan in 2002, one year after the fall of Taliban, I participated in Afghanistan’s general university entrance exam. I was accepted to Computer Science based on my test results. It was a very new field of study at that time and I didn’t know anything about it.
The very first class that I had was Math, and then we had some introductory courses to programing and algorithms. I really liked the algorithms and problem solving part of it, which is what made me interested in programming and computer science.
What was your experience like as a woman studying computer science at Herat University in Afghanistan? How did you overcome bias?
My four year faculty experience was very pleasant but challenging. The Afghan patriarchy did not make it easy for women to pursue an education, let alone an entire career in education. The very first issue I faced was related to my “Iranian accent”, many of my classmates didn’t like it, some called me a foreigner. I wasn’t wearing a Burqa or Chador outside, in a place where the Taliban had left a year earlier. Because I could speak English better than my classmates, I was able to really stand out amongst my classmates - Iranian accent or none!
I became one of the first female mentors in the faculty teaching Java programming. Finally, I finished my bachelors in Computer Science, and later on through a scholarship program, I went to the Technical University of Berlin in Germany for two years. I got my master’s in Information Technology.
When I returned to Afghanistan, I started my career as a computer science professor at the Herat University Computer Science Faculty. I always wanted to give back to my community and be an advocate for women’s education and equal access to resources. That’s why when I returned to Afghanistan I continued my passion for women’s empowerment through technology by supporting my female students.
What has been most rewarding about founding Code To Inspire?
My hope and dream is to foster a generation of young, female, digitally literate leaders and entrepreneurs. Women have a critical role to play in strengthening global and national economies. Technology allows for borderless communication so that young Afghan girls can share their stories and provide for their families. I hope that, instead of war, women’s empowerment will become the new image of Afghanistan.
As one of our high school students, Samira Ansari, recently told us, “I feel more powerful from my very first day that I started writing code.” Code to Inspire serves 80 female students, ranging in ages from 14 to 25 in Herat, Afghanistan. CTI operates in a war zone where literacy rates are 38% across the entire population and less than 20% among women. We’re able to provide a safe and secure learning environment that includes modern computers and internet access for our students with in-person professional mentors available everyday. We are offering a job driven curriculum consisting of Web Development, Mobile Application Development, Gaming, Graphics and Designs. This gives our students access to the millions of available jobs on the online global marketplace.
Our goal is to graduate every student and help all of them find employment while creating a strong community where our students learn important skills. Our graduates stay in close contact with the organization, sharing their stories and professional experiences with current and potential future students. We prepare our students for the job market with the professional skills they need to succeed. We teach them to navigate freelance platforms and how to develop a social media presence, write resumes, compile portfolios, and work in a professional setting. Our goal is to prepare CTI students to be competitive in the job market and to hold their own economically.
What is your favorite thing about technology and coding?
Coding is a language like any other language and a great tool for communicating. I love the creativity and problem solving aspect of technology, which improves critical thinking skills.
Knowledge is power and technology is the tool for this empowerment. That’s what made me become a citizen of the world without considering geographical boundaries. I founded Code to Inspire as the first coding school for girls in Afghanistan and made everything we needed to get up and running. I did everything literally online from my laptop in Brooklyn: starting from the fundraiser, shipping equipments, recruiting mentors, registering applicants, curriculum development, etc. This is the power and connectivity I am talking about, which enabled a born refugee who was deprived access to education makes her dream come true and give free access of technical and digital literacy to her hometown women!
Why do you think more girls should be involved in tech?
When you start learning how to code, it really becomes enjoyable and fun. Meanwhile, it’s also empowering and helpful. You can create and design what you like, and you can change many people’s lives with your work.
If there is a higher male population in certain field of study, it doesn’t mean that women are not capable of doing that. Unfortunately, there are many societal, cultural and family issues that are holding women back to join tech world. But don’t be afraid of challenges– they make you stronger and give you perspective in life.
Thank you Fereshteh for sharing your story with us! Follow Fereshteh on Twitter! 🌟