Faithful followers of Innovation Origins know all about the Tech Playgrounds initiative, where children in and around Eindhoven can easily get acquainted with technology. Following the example of the Molenbeek district of Brussels, Amsterdam now has a variant for young people aged 18 and over: TechGrounds. Initiator Abdelhamid Idrissi tells his story via Fastmoving Targets.

New West is a district in Amsterdam with relatively high numbers of large families, high unemployment and a lack of space.  2018 Amsterdammer of the Year Abdelhamid Idrissi knows this world very well. That’s why he started Studiezalen (Study Halls), an initiative in Amsterdam New West and North where primary and secondary school students are able to study in peace and quiet. Every week, 650 children make use of these facilities in 26 separate study halls. Idrissi is currently also working on a new initiative: TechGrounds. “Young people from a vulnerable environment will learn how to code in six months.”

This idea originates from Belgium. There, young people from the Brussels district of Molenbeek learn the principles of programming under the banner of MolenGeek. “I went to see it and fell in love with it. Young people who learn to code in six months do not need any preliminary qualifications or knowledge. Everyone is welcome. That’s why it’s accessible and that means that everyone dares to come and ask questions and its why young people are applying en masse. They are trained over a six-month period for an internship or a position in technology. That’s what it is about. It’s very simple, but that’s why it’s such a success.” The same concept is expected to start up in Amsterdam in October this year.

“A bubble in a bubble.”

Idrissi himself studied architecture. “I couldn’t even afford a laptop myself. I know that a number of teachers wanted to get me out of there as soon as possible, because I wasn’t coping very well. Mmy fellow students often didn’t understand me either. I also come from a poor family, but fortunately I do come from a small family. I had a lot of very motivating conversations with my father, like: there’s no such thing as giving up, so you just have to work harder, spend more nights at it and just borrow a laptop. Those words were enough for me so I could fully trust myself and persevere. Therefore, I know how easy it really can be to motivate people.”

That’s often what is lacking. People don’t know their way around Dutch society or have been left on the sidelines due to circumstances. “That trickles down to the children, to an entire family. It becomes a bubble in a bubble. I also know how easy it can be to break through that and give people self-confidence by paying attention, asking questions and giving them a pat on the back”.

That is also the principle behind Studiezalen. “Children have peace and safety there, but also some fun and plenty of attention. We invest in a relationship with them. On the one hand we look for dreams, goals and needs, and on the other hand we look at: what is not going well? Why is it that you’re not sleeping well? Then you get a lot of honest stories. Sometimes about bullying, sometimes about the problem of finding an internship or the lack of quiet at home. Everyone comes to one of these study places with a different motivation. They are seen and heard. They get compliments. We also hold on to them; we are really going to build on what they consider important. We do the same with the parents.”

“Need for training facilities and workplaces”.

Lately, learning to code seems to be seen as a solution more often. You may wonder if you can just as well train people to be plumbers or electricians. Idrissi is not concerned at all. “There are currently more than 10,000 job vacancies. Companies are not diverse enough. On one side you have a huge demand and on the other, there are people who are unemployed or who want to make a career switch. This has also been proven in practice. In Molenbeek, 93% end up joining a company, or go on to study, or are welcomed into a company where they continue their studies on-the-job. We offer basic knowledge.”

Furthermore, many potential participants do not have the opportunity to follow a course for several years. They already have children or regular expenses. Six months is manageable. Especially when that period is financially supported. “We are in the process of getting the government and companies to invest. A kind of Tech Edu fund – Tech me Up, is its nickname. The municipality of Amsterdam is taking part, but also De Rabobank and Booking.com. There are a number of organizations that are very much in favor of this and have invested in it.”

Idrissi believes that programming can be learned by everyone: “Last week we visited Ajax with a group of young people and I asked them if people who are going through our six-month program would also be welcome at Ajax. That turned out to be the case. There is also plenty of demand for this at Ajax at the Arena. So, even for new TechGround graduates, there are already opportunities for them with such a company. And when young people hear that, that does something to them. It appeals very much to their imagination. If you work hard and do your best, the technology world is a world where you can achieve a lot. It can really be a new start, even if you start at the bottom of the ladder.”

There are no flies on Idrissi. He is going to devote himself with heart and soul to this new mission. “I know these families well. Participating in this is a huge step in the direction of new opportunities, and we are going to help them find their way to companies. That’s what we need: companies that offer training places and workplaces. I think that we will be able to help a lot of families out of poverty.”