Fighting inequality one line of code at a time

By Anna Doyle. Posted

CYF trainees in class. ©CodeYourFuture

Harnessing the talent and passion of people from disadvantaged and refugee backgrounds to create a more diverse tech workforce, CodeYourFuture should be on everyone’s radar

Triggered by the refugee crisis of 2015, Germán Bencci founded CodeYourFuture (CYF) in 2016 to train refugees and disadvantaged people to become web developers and support them with finding work in the tech industry. Drawing upon his own experience as an immigrant who has a successful career in tech, he saw a route to deliver positive futures for refugees while simultaneously addressing the dire need for more diverse talent across the industry. With the tech industry also having the lowest barrier to entry of any professional career — as a degree is not required — CYF seemed to be a no-brainer.

CYF now has hubs across the UK, as well as in Italy and South Africa. It is led by a small team and works with a vast and diverse network of volunteers. The focus now extends beyond refugees to reach people from all underrepresented backgrounds, including the long-term unemployed, ex-offenders, and women. CYF provides them with a warm and welcoming environment, delivering rigorous free courses in programming and employability.

The courses

There are three courses available, and coding is the base on which everything is built. The vast majority of trainees embark on the CYF programme with no previous programming experience. It really starts at the beginning, and there are no shortcuts. Participants begin with an introduction to coding, a self-paced programme with online support and workshops, in which they learn the basics of coding, build web projects, and discover relevant opportunities in the local tech industry. They can then move onto a fundamentals course, learning about the building blocks of coding and soft skills over a month. Finally, trainees can participate in an eight-month programme, learning everything they need to get a job as a full-stack web developer. It teaches a technology stack to build anything from a simple website to a powerful database-driven web application, and covers HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and front- and back-end development. Strong programming practices such as agile development, pair programming, and collaboration are introduced from day one.

The course syllabuses are a huge asset, and they are constantly evolving. The CYF team of volunteers across the country collaborates to update and improve them as the programme grows. The content is freely available for anyone to use as a teaching and learning resource, and we welcome feedback from educators and industry professionals.

Class cohorts currently run to 30 trainees, and each class has around three mentors at any time. There are career mentors to help trainees prepare for the working world, personal development mentors to help them improve their confidence and other soft skills, and a technical mentor for the coding. Since its founding, 165 people have graduated from CYF, and many have since gone on to work at the BBC, Capgemini, and the UK charity Comic Relief. The result of CYF’s work, though, has been much more than creating a new pool of software developers. 

The power of community

Listening to volunteers and trainees, the power of the community shines through. It is a welcoming and inclusive environment where everyone is always learning, and ‘building confidence’ is a key phrase that’s repeated by both volunteers and students. Volunteers and graduates emerge having learnt something new, made new friends, and made a positive change in their lives. What’s more, graduates of CYF often come back to be teachers later on. 

©CodeYourFuture

In the words of CYF graduate Madiha, who went from juggling many unfulfilling jobs to a career with Capgemini, “CYF was a boost of confidence for many of us. During my time at CYF, where I now volunteer, one of the most important things I learnt is that there will be times when life will bring you down, but you just need to [get] back up.”

 Ahmed, a Syrian refugee, was on the very first CYF programme. He had been accepted to study economics at university, but civil war forced him to flee his home country and seek sanctuary in the UK. He spent the next few years simply surviving and unable to follow his ambitions. He applied to CYF in August 2016, stating, “I don’t see myself better at anything except being a developer.” He completed the course in six months and within a few weeks of graduation was recruited by tech start-up We Got POP as a junior developer. Ahmed was the first person to complete the CYF circle, finishing the course and getting a job.

 With so many incredible people to meet and so many ways to get involved, volunteers also gain huge benefits from the programme. Beth, a volunteer on the personal development team in London, shared: “Volunteering with CYF has massively increased my confidence with both public speaking and leadership skills.” Volunteers can develop IT and presentation skills, gain mentoring and leadership experience, and learn to be a teacher.

With such innovative and dynamic programmes for both volunteers and trainees, CYF is a great place to work or learn, and is helping to make a big difference to society: fighting inequality, one line of code at a time.

CYF trainees in numbers

  • 91 percent have no prior coding experience

  • 78 percent are from minority ethnic backgrounds

  • 40 percent are female

  • 75 percent are from households below the UK poverty line


Get involved

Around 60 volunteers are involved per cohort, and there is always demand for more volunteers. Whether you want to teach code, be an ambassador, provide personal development and mentoring, lead on tech projects, or advise on the CYF syllabus, there is a place for you.


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