My Coding Journey in Gaza

Khaled writes about his transformative experience in Anera’s career acceleration program

It all started when my job ended, late in 2019. I was a mechanical engineer by trade, but I ran across a Facebook ad for Anera’s Palestinians Leveling Up Skills (PLUS). The program promised high-demand tech and professional job skills training for Palestinian youth in Gaza. To be honest, I ignored the ad at first. But it kept reappearing. I decided there must be a purpose behind this.

Khaled enjoys a break during the program.

PLUS is a four-month, immersive, full-stack software engineering program based on the Hack Reactor curriculum. After I read the application form, I was on board. It sounded like a great adventure. I knew that this would give me an advantage in the accelerating IT industry.

You don’t have to have any special background to join PLUS. Good English language skills and commitment are the most important prerequisites. I had no background in programming, so learning about it got me out of my comfort zone. 

They asked me to complete some tasks to demonstrate my passion to learn. I will never forget the entry interview with Rania and Jack (Anera Palestine’s communications manager and country director). They are such beautiful souls! One of the things that enticed me was the value the program puts on developing students’ interpersonal skills. After the interview I was even more excited to join.

The program was stressful at the beginning. Occasionally, I felt like I was way behind and that I wouldn’t be able to do it. I saw experienced students who were creative, smart, and pretty good at what they were doing.

The very first meeting of my lovely cohort family, online via Zoom.

The first phase of the program is the bootstrap period: six weeks of eight-hour days, six days a week of online learning covering the fundamentals of programming and JavaScript syntax. You wouldn’t believe how lost I felt! 

Fortunately, we had an incredible team to guide us. I am grateful for the people who kept encouraging me. One of the best pieces of advice I received was to stop comparing myself to anyone else. “It’s not a competition,” they said. “Just compare where you are now to where you were at the start.” 

So, I kept going. And guess what? I made it through!

Anera PLUS uses a very modern method of autonomous learning and promotes critical thinking techniques by not offering direct answers. “Google it!” becomes part of your daily vocabulary.

The course forces you to learn quickly and efficiently. We were having three sprints each week, which means that you have to learn something totally new in just two days. Learning in this case does not mean ‘master,’ of course.

The second phase is the immersive portion. Learning was divided into two parts — online and on-site. Our hours of study increased. We were working 12-to-16-hour days, even Fridays during the last three months. There were days when we didn’t sleep. But that’s okay. It was designed to be like this. The course was very intense, but pressure makes diamonds and that’s what made the experience special.

Full of excitement on the first day of our in-person coursework.

In the last six weeks, we had to work as teams to create projects using what we learned.

Initially I was really worried. “How are we as a team supposed to build a full-stack web app in such a short time?” I thought. But I came to trust the process. At some point you begin to connect the dots of everything you’ve learned.

Students work together during the in-person second phase of the program.

The group projects also gave me a chance to play the scrum master role. I wanted to be a boss — I believed that the easiest and fastest way to complete a project was to give your team orders and wait for them to carry them out. But our program manager, Tamara Majali, advised me on how to become a leader rather than a boss.

As a result, I shifted my attitude. I become a lot more open to alternative ideas. I realized that the mix of ideas and mentalities is exactly what enriches the creativity of a team. And through that I also learned conflict-resolution skills.

Our group also had a range of non-technical activities that made the whole experience memorable. For instance, one of us would give a lightning talk, giving a brief presentation on a chosen topic to the rest of us, and then inviting feedback. We also learned how to keep tabs on the latest developments in the software development industry, and how to stand out in job interviews.

And we had fun too. On some Thursdays we had social nights in which we gathered outdoors and got to know each other better.  

The cohort takes a moment to celebrate all their hard work.

I want to express my sincere gratitude to every single person who has had a hand in creating such a fabulous experience. And to all of my cohort colleagues: I can’t thank you enough. I have learned tons of things through our time together, both technical and non-tech. I am grateful for everyone in our family.



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