Refugees get free training for tech careers in pilot program launched by Coding Dojo and partners

The first cohort of students participating in a pilot program to provide tech training for recent refugees, and their home country, from left to right: Valery Shema, Rwanda; Denys Glukhovskyi, Ukraine; Binta Diallo, Guinea; Samson Alemayehu, Ethiopia; and Lutteur Ngengwa, Democratic Republic of Congo. (Coding Dojo Photo / Luke Lappala)

Among the flood of headlines about policies discouraging immigration to the U.S., a program launched in the greater Seattle area aims to give refugees a hand up.

Bellevue, Wash.-based engineering boot camp Coding Dojo has started a pilot program to train refugees for careers in technology. An initial cohort of five students is receiving scholarships covering the nearly $15,000 price tag for the 14-week training, and the company has partnered with Jewish Family Service and Community Credit Lab to provide stipends and other support for the students.

Some of the students worked in technology and other skilled roles in their native countries, but haven’t been able to convert that experience into jobs in the U.S.

Richard Wang
Coding Dojo CEO Richard Wang.

“We have a whole bunch of under-employed people in this country,” said Richard Wang, co-founder and CEO of Coding Dojo. That includes immigrants and refugees. “This is a great program where we can make a difference.”

The students are receiving instruction in web programming including HTML and CSS, plus training in Python, MEAN and C#/.NET. They will also get support in creating resumes and practicing for job interviews in the digital sector.

Valery Shema is a 30-year-old student in the program who used to practice law in his native Rwanda. After immigrating to the U.S. in December 2017 he considered continuing in the field, but found there was not a clear path for doing so.

“I evaluated my options, and I felt like technology was a good way to go,” he said. “The world is evolving toward technology, and I want to be part of it.”

Shema worked for a time as a receptionist, then learned about the education program from Jewish Family Services, which provides support for vulnerable people and refugees irrespective of their religion, race or ethnicity.

An important feature of the training is the stipend that covers some living and food costs. Students receive $3,000-4,000 a month depending on their needs. Given how intense the program is — between the instruction and out-of-class course work — it would have been too challenging to manage a job on top of the bootcamp, participants said.

The students began taking classes in mid-February at Coding Dojo’s Bellevue location.

“I’m very excited,” said 29-year-old Denys Glukhovskyi, who immigrated from the Ukraine. “I’m certain 100% that I’ll benefit from it. The material is fundamental.”

Glukhovskyi had an uncle living in the Seattle area when he arrived with his family in October 2018. While he worked as a content developer in the Ukraine, he was unable to find a comparable job in the U.S. and took a job assessing the condition of vehicles for used auto seller CarMax.

Wang is eager to expand the program assisting refugees to all 10 of Coding Dojo’s locations nationally. His goal is to run 12 cohorts of five students each year, totaling 600 trainees. The education company will need to recruit additional organizations willing to provide living-expense stipends and other support for the students.

Binta Diallo working with Coding Dojo lead instructor Bryanna Savelesky. (Coding Dojo Photo / Luke Lappala)

Jewish Family Services is excited about the partnership. “The program aligns with our goal of helping refugees gain greater self-sufficiency as they make a new home in this country,” said Rabbi Will Berkovitz, CEO of the nonprofit.

In addition to the stipends funded by Jewish Family Services, the Community Credit Lab is providing 0% interest loans to the students to help cover additional living expenses and help them build credit. Jewish Family Services is also helping students connect with mentors.

Coding Dojo tried to launch a bootcamp program for refugees in 2016, but when the Trump administration took office the following year, its funding was slashed. The organization realized it needed to be self-reliant in financing the effort.

Wang is himself an immigrant, coming to the U.S. from China when he was 13.

“My parents wanted me to have a better education, a better life,” he said. “It was all about education.”

With increased automation and the resulting loss of jobs, training for technology careers becomes even more important, said Wang, who is a leader in ed-tech at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship. People with mid-level training are slipping to low-skill jobs, he said, instead of transitioning to highly skilled careers.

“This is really a big problem,” Wang said. “We have to do something now or we are going to face an income inequality problem that’s even worse.”

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