In her own words: Dalia Awad on her coding journey
It all started when I was in high school. I really enjoyed our technology classes and wanted to know more about programming. I began with a C language online course. I still remember the feeling when I built my first “Hello World!” project. I knew for sure that this is what I’ll be doing for the rest of my life.
I joined university to study computer engineering. At the end of my first year, my friend sent me an ad he found for a scholarship from Anera to join a ReBootKamp course in Jordan — a four month immersive full-stack software engineering program based on the Hack Reactor curriculum. I wanted to join because I knew that this would give me an advantage in the tech industry. I had a little background in programming so I expected it to be hard for me to get accepted. You don’t need to have any background at all though. You just have to finish all the tasks they ask you to do when you apply and demonstrate a passion to learn. So I applied and passed both the exam and the interview. I was ready to leave for Jordan.
In Anera+RBK we learned that soft skills come first. It doesn’t matter how technically strong you are if you don’t know how to talk or deal with people around you.
It took us Gazans three months to make it to Jordan. You wouldn’t believe what we had to go through to make it happen! So we missed the first month, which is the prep phase where we learn the fundamentals of programming. When we finally arrived, I expected it to be hard and to be lost. Luckily, we had our kind peers from the West Bank. They helped us catch up on what we missed. They shared everything they knew and explained it to us. One of the first things I learned in the course is that sharing is caring.
As we moved forward in the course, we had to increase our working hours. The last three months we were working 12-16 hour days — even Fridays. There were even days when we didn’t sleep at night. So, yeah, the course was pretty intense, but we know that pressure makes diamonds and that’s what made Anera+RBK special. I had tried to take online courses before and made slow progress, unlike this four-month program.
In Anera+RBK, I learned what professionalism means and how to be professional. I learned the importance of time management and of being on time. There is no such thing as “I don’t have time.” You always have time for anything if you manage it well. For example, we used to have one of the students give a lightning talk and the rest of us gave feedback. And then we would attend a lecture about a new technology. All in just half an hour.
I used to spend at least three hours scrolling through my phone on social media or watching YouTube and call it a break. Isn’t that crazy?! I learned how to use every minute in the day. Now, a 15-minute nap is enough of a break for me.
That leads me to talk about how important the breaks and meditation were. Every day we had 10 minutes of meditation and we used a time-management technique that required us to take a five-minute break after every 25 minutes of working. That was my favorite part of the day. All the students left their machines to go out to have a little break, chatting and making jokes about how difficult the tasks were and making fun of the errors they made. These moments actually helped me to get through the stressful days.
As the youngest in the group, it was stressful for me at the beginning. I got to know experienced students that were creative, smart and pretty good at what they were doing. For a while, I felt like I was way behind and I wouldn’t be able to do it. And then one day one of my classmates said to me, “You can’t compare yourself with other people who have more experience. They all have been in the same situation at some point in their lives. Noone was born knowing everything and no one actually can know everything. ‘It’s not a competition. It’s not a race. It’s a marathon.’” The only one you should compare yourself to is yourself, by observing how much you have changed and how much progress you have made.” That day I decided to redouble my efforts and to try to learn from everyone. I realized then how amazing everyone around me was. I learned from every single one of my colleagues, either about technical skills or social life.
Anera+RBK uses the Socratic method for learning. This means not offering the direct answer, but instead a process of asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas. In the end, we’d always just say “Google it!” I remember begging someone just to give me the answer. I didn’t want to waste my time looking for something they already knew. But the idea was not just to finish the tasks and move to the next sprint. You find that while you are searching and reading about specific things, you run into important things you thought you understood. Things become clearer and make more sense. Also, the method enhances self-learning and research skills. By the end of the program you know how to write your question and find useful resources.
We were learning something new every two days. That averages to three sprints in knowledge a week. So, we were learning something totally new in two days and, after we finished, we had to create a project using the technologies we learned. At first, I didn’t get it. How was I supposed to build a full-stack project using something I only learned in two days? The staff always told us just “trust the system,” the curriculum is designed to be that way and to make us feel lost. When we got to the projects phase it turned out that I could actually make a full working app, because projects help to organize ideas and make things clear and connected. So, practice makes perfect.
Before reboot camp, I didn’t know about the working environment for software engineers and how to stand out in a workplace or when to apply for jobs. Anera+RBK helped me understand the industry processes. It also helped me to be a great team member. I always preferred to work solo, since I believed that I could get stuff done easier and faster alone. But, at the end of the course, I understand that everyone has a different way of thinking and there is no wrong way as long as it solves the problem. Working with teams fosters creativity and learning, as well as teaches conflict resolution skills.
If I am comparing my life before and after, it is obviously not the same, I have become more creative, productive, organized, collaborative and more self-aware.
In the end I want to thank everyone who made this journey so special to me: my family, friends, cohort members, and Anera+RBK staff. I’ll be forever grateful for this opportunity.
I remember the last days in Jordan when I was so sad to leave it all behind and one of my colleagues said, “Don’t be! Now you’re finishing this, but there is another thing waiting for you. You’re going to have many more experiences in your life, it’s just the beginning…”
Dalia Awad was one the first cohort of students from Palestine who graduated from the Anera+RBK coding academy in December 2019.
2021 update: Dalia recently accepted an internship at Google.
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