Having fled fighting, Iraqis and Syrians learn to code

Image via Reuters/Muhammad Hamed.

At a training course in northern Iraq, people displaced by the wars in Mosul and neighboring Syria are learning how to code.

Some are already being sought by global companies even though they live in sprawling, dusty camps near Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region, not far from Islamic State’s last major stronghold in Iraq.

The students come from regions seized by the Sunni militants in 2014 when they swept through parts of Iraq and Syria, and from other areas hit by Syria’s civil war.

The New York-based group overseeing the Iraq Re:Coded project has started a training course in a residential house in Erbil, funded by the United Nations Development Program.

Many students are highly educated but find no jobs in their fields as the flood of displaced people made employment scare.

“I was so sad to leave my studies and I worried about my future,” said Joory al-Aamed, 27, who fled Damascus with her family in the middle of a computer engineering degree. “Re:Coded gave me a new hope to plan for my future.”

Gabe Jackson (L), 26, software development trainer, helps one of the students during their class to teach basic and advanced coding skills at Re:Coded boot camp, in Erbil, Iraq February 1, 2017. Picture taken February 1, 2017. Image via Reuters/Muhammad Hamed.

The project teaches everything from English language and web basics to object-oriented programing. It follows the curriculum of New York’s Flatiron School and is overseen by New York University.


Re:Coded is looking to place students at foreign companies and major Iraqi firms, while some are seeking further education, including computer science degrees.

But it faces spiraling costs and is struggling to retain students who must also dedicate time to more short-term needs such as feeding their families.

“Even with the best of intentions, bringing world-class higher education to displaced people – and connecting them to meaningful employment – is a Herculean task,” said Thomas Hill, a professor of global affairs at New York University who oversees the project.

Syrian refugees and displaced Iraqis attend their class to learn basic and advanced coding skills at the Re:Coded boot camp, in Erbil, Iraq February 1, 2017. Picture taken February 1, 2017. Image via Reuters/Muhammad Hamed.

In Erbil, 26-year-old Gabe Jackson is enthusiastic about his role as a teacher.

The former legal researcher became disillusioned with the large corporations he was working for in New York and did not feel able to make any positive impact on the world.

So last year he took the Flatiron course, before heading to northern Iraq in January to pass on all he had learned.

“When you educate you allow people to create their own solutions and bring their ideas to life. It gives them power.”

By Emily Wither and Girish Gupta

Liked this? Then you’ll love these…

Want to learn Arabic, Korean or Swahili? Refugee language tutors can help

Iraqi artist recreates ancient works destroyed by Islamic State