Joanna and Hatem didn’t know each other before CodeBuddies. Born in Romania but living in Spain for many years, 38-year-old Joanna decided to follow her passion and change careers from administration to software development. She started learning from scratch, and the Web Development course from MigraCode – which she applied for last February – was one of her first steps.
On his side, 30-year-old Hatem has been working in the IT industry for nine years and got to know MigraCode’s projects in the company he works for. According to him, it seemed “a good opportunity to give back to the community”. Being a migrant himself, he is more than aware of the struggles that MigraCode students face, which gave him the motivation to start helping out, and to join the CodeBuddies project.
This project within the MigraCode program aims to support and encourage students from the Web Development course, allowing them to work towards their successful graduation as Junior Web Developer. The project consists of pairing a student with a volunteer buddy, who provides one-to-one technical support, motivational encouragement and personal guidance to the student, as well as being the first contact person for coding-related questions. Henriette Hettinga is the volunteer and current project manager who designed CodeBuddies.
The Web Development course is demanding, deals with technical concepts, and is only taught in English and Spanish. In consequence, students can face various difficulties: he or she may have no background in coding at all and think that everyone else is understanding, or it might be difficult to ask the right question because of the many new concepts. And, in these situations, it becomes difficult to interrupt the instructor. That is also what happened to Joanna, who needed extra help to solve the questions she had. In addition to all these challenges, students are expected to work around 20 hours on their own, in parallel with the eight hours of class every week.
Thus, for students who are in need of extra support, Henriette explains that CodeBuddies “creates a safe space for questions”. The personal relationship between the student and the buddy is key and, once linked following mainly language criteria, flexibility is prioritized as much as possible so they can build a strong relationship. The only requirement is that they must work together a minimum of two hours a week. As Henriette points, “at least some time investment should be made to really build towards something”. However, they are free to decide the distribution of the meetings and whether they increase the hours or not, as well as when and where they meet, if in person or remote.
Henriette defines CodeBuddies as “a safe space”. / Photo: Open Cultural Center
The process of linking a student to a volunteer instructor is easy. Henriette organizes an initial meeting to introduce each other, explain the project, and answer questions. Then, a private Slack channel is created, so the first meeting can be immediately set. However, both Henriette and Vincent (the Program Manager) can always be contacted, for example if the student feels that he or she needs much more support than the buddy can offer, or in case psychological support is desired.
At the same time, the guidance that the code buddies offer goes even beyond the course. Henriette explains that “some volunteers continue with the students after graduation, and still support them with their job search, for example”. Hatem feels this is especially useful, because “the IT industry is very big, and you can get easily lost”. As he adds, after the course “most students don’t know in which direction to go … so whoever is helping them can guide them through the experience”.
The project started last August and, until now, around 60 students have participated in a CodeBuddy Team. According to Henriette, right now “at least half of the students from the English and Spanish classes have a code buddy”, a number that clearly reveals the success of the initiative. Of course, the main challenge is finding enough volunteers, although so far this hasn’t been a problem. As Henriette points out, “the capital of MigraCode is the volunteers”.
“Without Hatem and CoddeBuddies, I am sure I wouldn’t be where I am today”(Joanna, 38)
By contrast, the strengths of this initiative are multiple. “It is a very personal project, and deeply tailored to the problems students may have. And it is also a huge boost for self-confidence”, Henriette explains. Both Vincent and herself even think that “it makes the difference between dropping out or continuing with the bootcamp until graduation”. Joanna agrees because, as she says, “without Hatem and CodeBuddies, I am sure I wouldn’t be where I am today”. Today she has both a professional certificate in web development and finished a Full Stack Bootcamp successfully. Moreover and more importantly, she just landed her first job as a frontend developer through the MigraCode employability services, and Joana now works at Glovo, one of MigraCode’s close partners.
Joanna and Hatem didn’t know each other before CodeBuddies. But, besides the support during the Web Development course, they found a real friend in each other and agree that the experience made a difference for both of them. “The feeling of gratification you get when your students finally make it and find a job is awesome”. Even after Joanna’s graduation, they are still in contact. As Henriette says, “for some students, their buddy has become a friend that they invite over for dinner”.