Raghad al-Abboodi | She Codes Too
Raghad is someone who has followed her dream of becoming a software engineer, but not only that, she’s also helped other women follow that same dream.
Whilst completing a business course in 2020, Raghad got the inspiration for ‘She Codes Too’, a bootcamp that supports women in Iraq with their goal of having a career in the tech industry.
Having started as an idea, this has now transformed into fully-fledged in-person bootcamp that is expanding to other locations across Iraq, changing multiple lives! Raghad, you’re an inspiration!
Can you give us a brief overview of your own background and how you qualified as a Computer Scientist?
I am originally from Iraq and grew up in a small town near the ancient city of Babylon. I completed my undergraduate degree in computer science at the University of Babylon. After that, I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship to study for a Master's degree in computer science at the University of Bristol in the UK. As a requirement of my scholarship, I had to return to Iraq and work for five years as a lecturer at a university in Baghdad.
You mentioned that you’re originally from Iraq – can you share with us what some of the barriers are that women in Iraq face when looking to get into the tech industry?
Women in Iraq often face many barriers when considering a career in tech. Beginning with societal norms and expectations that usually steer them towards professions like medicine or teaching, rather than encouraging them to explore tech-related careers. Similarly, these norms and expectations may require women to stay at home, restricting their movement freely and travelling around the country, which can limit their ability to attend events like tech bootcamps or coding workshops.
Can you tell us a bit about the She Codes Too initiative that you created & how it works?
I started She Codes Too (SCT) after participating in a UN program in Japan that taught about business development. Instead of starting a for-profit business, I chose to create She Codes Too as a charitable initiative. SCT started its journey in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, by providing online coding courses for women. Initially, I taught programming courses myself but soon formed a team of volunteers to assist me.
Last year, SCT received funding from the UN Development Programme and this year we received funding from the US Embassy in Iraq. We also collaborate with Meta – formerly Facebook – and Baghdad Business School.
Now SCT has funding, we can employ full-time staff members to help run 6-month-long front-end web development programs in person in Baghdad. The programs not only focus on programming but also develop a programmer's mindset. Participants learn both the skills required by industry but also communication and team skills to ensure they are ready for tech careers after graduating.
Was there a particular event or moment that inspired you to create She Codes Too?
During my previous job as a lecturer in Iraq, I was keenly aware of female students being discouraged from developing their tech skills. This made me want to create a space for them to feel comfortable and empowered to become software engineers; hence, I started the She Codes Too initiative. I believed that creating such a supportive environment could refocus and empower women, providing them with a sense of belonging and encouragement within the tech industry.
Can you share any success stories from She Codes Too so far?
She Codes Too were able to connect its graduates with employers in tech companies in Iraq. Two of our graduates secured internships as junior web developers in a tech company in Baghdad, while another two received job offers as web developers in another tech firm. Several other graduates are currently in the interview process, and we believe that many more will soon secure jobs with our support.
What is the long-term vision for She Codes Too?
We aim to expand She Codes Too to reach other cities in Iraq; however, other cities (e.g. Mosul) pose an even greater challenge due to a lack of resources and other external factors.
Beyond that, we also have an ambition to take She Codes Too to even more countries. It is important however to ensure the sustainability of She Codes Too. We aim to build an organisation that can run stably in terms of resources and funding, allowing us to continue our mission and impact for years to come.
What advice would you have for anyone else who’s interested in setting up something like She Codes Too?
My advice is to start with a genuine passion because this will be the driving force. One needs to understand the specific needs of the target audience and to design the programs accordingly.
When thinking about sustainability for a charity like She Codes Too, it is important to know how to seek funds, form partnerships, and build a committed team. One needs to be prepared to take on any required role to make it work. And lastly, remain patient. Initiatives like this require determination and patience, but the impact and fulfilment they provide make the journey truly rewarding.
What’s next for you personally Raghad?
I recently got married and settled in the UK. I would personally love to continue building a life here and enjoy seeing more of this country and the rest of Europe with my husband.
On a professional level, I would like to continue my path in technology and develop my skills to reach a senior level in my career. What motivates me the most is the opportunity to inspire and empower women to challenge societal norms, break barriers, and pursue their aspirations fearlessly.
It’s tradition on Women Rock to finish with a motto or inspirational quote – have you got one you would like to sign-off with?
We have this famous quote in Arabic that I often think about when I need motivation. A translation would be:
“Whoever fears the ascent of the mountains, shall dwell forever in the abyss.”