Polish non-profit’s project, “Link to the Future”, aims to give young people from small towns and villages the same opportunities to discover and pursue computer science careers as their city counterparts.
Karol Olczak, telecommunications engineer and entrepreneur, is just one of many inspirational individuals keen to show young people from rural areas the opportunities that come with STEM careers. Growing up in a rural community himself, opening more eyes to the benefits of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects is a personal mission for Karol. As an aspiring engineer as a kid, Karol identified that in order to pursue a career in technology, he would need raise the finances to move from his small village outside of Warsaw to get a more relevant education. It was this drive that led to him to start his own eCommerce business at just fifteen, pursuing something he was madly passionate about. Currently based in Warsaw, Karol is developing his own IoT consulting services business alongside his full-time job as a DevOps Engineer for mBank.
The “Link to the Future” project aims to tackle the barriers often faced by young people living in more remote areas. Collaborating with the team behind Microsoft’s YouthSpark initiative, the Information Society Development Foundation (FRSI) exposes young Poles to the possibilities offered by new technologies, and helps them to develop their IT skills. But at the heart of the project, participants are given the opportunity to build relationships with those already working in the technology industry.
Grateful for the opportunity he was given as a teenager, Karol now uses these workshops as a way of inspiring others. He looks to show younger kids that it is possible to succeed in the IT industry, even if you’re from a small town or village.
“In my opinion, rural kids have limited access to IT knowledge, equipment and the internet, especially in comparison to their peers from cities”, says Karol, now a Link to the Future professional. “In today’s job market, IT skills are a must have. It is very important to show these kids “a light at the end of the tunnel” by proving opportunities and success are within everyone’s grasp.”
There is a significant gap in digital skills between those living in Poland’s cities and suburbs. Young Poles living in rural areas have a ruefully limited access to computer science education, and a lack of mentors who are able to provide much-needed guidance on job opportunities. Typically this is due to the fact that many potential role models have moved away to other cities in pursuit of work. With a limited range of mentors, pupils’ choices for school subjects are often random or repeat choices, meaning many young individuals are missing out on the fundamental digital skills expected from today’s employers.
“Link to the Future” aims to redress this imbalance. Already, the project has organized over 1100 workshops throughout Poland, attended by around 29,000 young people, 90% of whom are living in villages or small towns. Not only do they organise workshops, the project also hosts local meetings, webinars, lectures and social projects as well as participate in campaigns such as Hour of Code, EU Code Week and Get Online Week resulting in a total of 40,000 participants across all of these activities. With the aim of improving young individuals’ understanding of coding and computer science, these activities are a great way of demonstrating how these skills can be applied to their future.
It was at one of these meetings that Karol’s personal story gave another participant – now a Microsoft.NET programmer – the incentive to pursue an education in computer science.
It is stories like these which spur FRSI on to help more young Poles. By ensuring that every young person in Poland is given access to a computer science education and mentors – regardless of their address – the organization is helping Poland to become a natural hub for supporting digital skills and turning more young people on to the possibilities offered by STEM careers.