An Afghan Coding Bootcamp Becomes a Lifeline Under Taliban Rule

Four months after the Afghan government fell to the Taliban, 22-year-old Asad Asadullah settled into a new routine.

A former computer science student from his hometown in Afghanistan’s northern Samangan province began and finished sticking to his laptop screen every day.

Since the end of October, Asadullah has been participating in the Virtual Coding Bootcamp organized by Codeweekend, a volunteer-run community of Afghan tech enthusiasts, with materials donated by the Norwegian company Scrimba, which offers online programming workshops.

In a few days, Asadullah took a screen break for the game of pickup soccer, but usually he didn’t see his friends that much anymore. He explains that under the Taliban regime, “old friends are getting very frustrated,” and that was all he could handle. Instead, he tells me, “My life is on my computer.”

Asadullah is one of millions of young Afghans whose plans for life and future were turned upside down last August when the Taliban recaptured Afghanistan. Asadullah had two semesters of college left when the capital fell and he was thinking about his post-graduation plans. He wasn’t picky about his first job; Anything that lets him save some money will do. But he had big plans: Asadullah wanted to start his own software company and share his love for computer science by teaching university and high school students. “When I start coding, I forget everything,” he says.

Today, those plans are on hold – and no one knows for how long. The country’s economy is in free collapse, the United Nations warns of a drought, and in the meantime, Afghanistan’s new rulers have offered its citizens little to solve.

In such dire circumstances, coding seems to be a short-term remnant of techno-optimism in bootcamp-Afghanistan. But for its participants, it offers hope for a better future – although it remains to be seen whether such a future is still possible in Afghanistan.

Virtual learning

When the Taliban came to power in August, it was unclear what their rule would mean for the Internet in Afghanistan. Will they cut off internet access? Use social media posts અથવા or government databases ઓળખ to identify and target their former enemies? Continue to run their own increasingly effective public affairs campaign?

As it turned out, the Taliban have not cut off access to the Internet – at least not yet. Instead, online education has become one of the primary sources of education for Afghan students who can afford the Internet at home ખાસ especially women and girls whose regimes have officially banned secondary and higher education.

Some of these are streamlined with encrypted virtual classrooms by international supporters, while some are completely self-directed – learning through YouTube videos, maybe, or TED conversation playlists. And often it falls somewhere in between using a free or discounted online learning platform.

Afghan women attend the 2018 event. Photo courtesy Codeweekend.

Codeweekend’s virtual bootcamp falls into this next category. The 75 participants were accepted into the group and are working their way through Scrimba’s frontend developer career path, a series of 13 interactive video learning modules that handle everything from HTML and CSS basics to handling job interview questions about JavaScript or GitHub. Is.

Participants can complete the module on their own time and at their own home, with weekly checkups to answer Codeweekend volunteer guiding questions, make sure they stay on track and help with logistics as needed – including internet to keep participants online. Includes providing top-up. . According to the organizers, about 50 members of the original group are active.

Ensuring internet connectivity is one of the logistical and financial challenges of running a bootcamp in Afghanistan, even virtually. Another is struggling with power outages, which occur more frequently each winter. In an effort to address both of these issues, Codeweekend is trying to crowdfund the cost of 3G credit and backup electricity through generator and battery storage units.

But there is another issue that worries organizers: “What do the Taliban think,” says Jamshid Hashimi, a software engineer who started Codeweekend with friends seven years ago. Group does not want to search. “So far, we have avoided communicating with them,” he says.

In a way, the bootcamp’s virtual, asynchronous format helps Codeweekend stay under the radar. It makes it easier for women whose freedom of movement has been severely curtailed under the Taliban’s extreme interpretation of Islam to participate without leaving their homes અથવા or even to communicate with male participants, which also provokes Taliban anger.

Zarifa Sherzoi, 19, is one of the female participants in the boot camp. A recent high school graduate, she hoped to take the college entrance exam this semester and start university classes, but instead, she and her seven siblings spend most of their days at home. Between household chores, power outages, and her limited access to the Internet, she spends just an hour or two coding at bootcamp. But even so, it has given its days a new structure and meaning. “After the Taliban came,” she recalls, “I was very tired at home every day thinking about how to end this.” But since the coding bootcamp began in late October, she says, while her problems have not disappeared, “my days are good.”

The virtual format has another added benefit: it allows coders outside the Afghan capital, such as Asad Asadullah, to participate.

Codeweekend bootcamp

Jamshid Hashimi in the 2015 event. Photo courtesy Codeweekend.

When Jamshid Hashimi, a 23-year-old software architect at Afghan tech company Netlinks, launched Codeweekend in June 2014 to bring Afghan programmers together, he was inspired by the techno-optimism that pervaded Kabul.

A fast company profile on the country’s growing startup scene, published in 2012, describes widespread optimism as follows: In their land. ”

And it wasn’t just tech companies that were optimistic. CodeWeekend was part of a series of initiatives aimed at promoting youth innovation, entrepreneurship and, ultimately, engagement and leadership in building a more prosperous Afghanistan કેટલાક some funded by international donors with this clear purpose.

Other examples include the TEDxKabul program, which first arrived in Kabul in 2012 with its “spreadable ideas” (TEDx tagline), as well as other entrepreneur-centric global franchises such as the founding organization Kabul, which ran from 2014 to 2017. (Hashimi played a role in both of these programs, as I did at different times.) By 2016, Google had also come to town, and launched Google, an ambitious community for startup founders, a startup grind of entrepreneurs.

But even after some members of his own leadership team, including Hashimi, left Afghanistan, Codeweekend surpassed all these initiatives. In the seven years since its inception, the volunteer-organized group has held nearly 100 individual meetings in the offices of universities, incubators and leading Afghan technology companies. During the epidemic, like most of the world, it lasted. Virtual

Participants met to learn everything from the basics of WordPress design and JavaScript languages ​​to data collection tools for the field. (Afghanistan’s aid-driven economy had a great appetite for surveys and employed a large number of ICT workers.) They heard from local startups and engineering teams who came to present their new applications. They discussed popular books in the global tech community, such as The Passionate Programmer (Presented by Hashimi). And once, in an all-night event, open-source enthusiasts came together to stream Laracon Online, the global conference for the open-source Laravel Web Development Framework.

Then, in 2019, after years of these mostly weekend events, Codweekend decided to get bigger: the group started coding bootcamp individually. The first group ran with a pilot program of 15 developers, 12 of whom graduated from the four-month program. According to Hashimi, some got jobs as a result of their participation.

Elias Afghan, 24, hopes to become one of them after completing bootcamp. His two older brothers are also in the field-a Hashemite company working for Rapid Iteration-and partly because of their influence, he says, he never wanted to work with computers. More specifically, he hopes to find a job at a global tech company.

After a successful pilot, Codweekend organizers planned for another group, but the coronavirus slowed their efforts. Then, in late August last year, the Afghan government collapsed પરંતુ but instead of ending its plans, it gave them momentum.

“A lot of dreams were shattered when the government fell,” recalls Hashimi, who by then had relocated to Vancouver, Canada. Like many Afghans in the diaspora, they had a deep “desire to do something.” And what he settled on, he says, continued to help in a way he knew well: to support the Afghan coders. “People need hope,” he said અને and since previous events have focused on tech or innovation, he hoped the coding boot camp would do the same.

Hashimi’s goal for the bootcamp is to “provide a more sustainable way for Afghan youth to learn new and market-oriented skills,” he wrote in our initial email correspondence, and with those skills to “start earning a living for himself and his family.” “

For many bootcamp participants, all of whom share these goals, the prospect of online work may be their only option. In the 19-year-old Sherzoy’s family, only her father currently works-and what she makes is barely enough to support her and her six siblings. After the bootcamp, she says, she hopes to “help my family and do something for my future.” She adds, “I don’t want to be illiterate [uneducated],

CodeWeekend participant works on the application at an event in 2018. Photo courtesy CodeWeekend.

However, most of the revenue opportunities are coming through Hashimi’s other endeavors: in addition to Codeweekend, he also runs a software development company that works or contracts with more than 20 Afghan programmers, most of whom are still in Afghanistan. As well as an online freelancing platform for Afghan freelancers, Yagan Kar (Dari means “some work”).

It is an adjustment to its original, pre-Taliban plans. Even after Hashimi left Afghanistan in 2016 for a master’s degree in innovation management in the UK, he spent three or four months in his hometown each year supporting the growing tech community. “My dream,” he says, “was the largest software house in Afghanistan.”

In a way, it is still his goal. “I want to bring 1,000 jobs by 2023,” he says, which will “help many freelancers and young people and developers and the economy as well.”

He says “all Afghans want to leave,” but the reality is that most of them are unfit for resettlement and relocation efforts. They will stay in Afghanistan and they will need a new source of income. Hashimi sees the international tech community as a potential provider of that revenue, through both remote and freelance work.

But all this will take time, and the country will face more urgent challenges.

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