For these women, computer science and learning to code were life-changers

For these women, computer science and learning to code were life-changers

For much of her life, Heba Nayef, 23, planned to go into medicine. The youngest in a family of five siblings, she lost a brother and her father to cancer.

“My sister is a doctor and it’s noble work. I was exposed to these experiences, and realized how impactful working in medicine could be,” Nayef says. “But I realized another way to give back to people is through information technology. It can have even more impact.”

Nayef, whose high marks landed her in computer engineering courses, soon found coding to be her new passion.

“My idea going in was to give computer science a chance, then continue to medical school, but when I took these classes, I was like, I’m sticking here,” she says. “When I had to leave Syria in 2012, I told my mom, I’m studying computer science, which shocked the family. For me, what I find fascinating is how zeros and ones build up to something complex. Coding also teaches you about teamwork, logical thinking and how you can create something out of nothing. I learned this from just a basic course, but it had a huge impact on me. What if I had been exposed to this earlier?” 

The fourth annual Hour of Code gives millions of young people around the world the opportunity and skills to discover coding. Students who pursue coding and computer science education learn how to think critically and to solve problems, along with getting essential tools needed to innovate, pursue in demand careers and better understand the world. Created by Code.org, an hour of code provides first steps into the world of coding and computer science.

Woman in a white hijab in an audience listens to a session

Nayef says working on software gives her constant experience to grow her thinking – and to face the future without fear.

“You learn how to push through the unknown. Nothing is too big to tackle,” she says. “When you do coding, you break a problem into modules, and you can do anything. Everything is do-able. Take a deep breath and have patience. It can be scary figuring out what to do next. I’ve learned to take it day by day. Start small and the pieces come together.”

A 2015 university graduate, she is now a project manager for a creative agency on apps and websites. One of the projects she is working on is Kwn.education, which provides well-rounded digital entrepreneurial programs online in Arabic, at affordable prices. Nayef says it was created with refugees in mind who don’t speak English, and gives them digital and entrepreneurial skills that enable them to change their situation and do more.

“It’s a long list of skills coding teaches you. Unlike other fields, it’s something that dramatically changes you,” Nayef says. “No one can ignore the impact of great software and coding. It’s life changing. It’s not an easy journey, but it’s taught me a lot about myself and empowered me to do more.”

When you do coding, you break a problem into modules, and you can do anything. Everything is do-able.

Close up portrait of a woman's face, taken outside in a park

Ulviyya Rustamova, 19, is from a small city in Azerbaijan, where computer science was not a popular choice for studies in general, but especially for young women, when she was attending school. But she was very interested in math.

“I was very fond of the fact that you can solve problems and apply it practically everywhere,” she says. “However, I felt like the ubiquity of technology and computer science seemed much more useful overall. Not to mention, technology and the future of it fascinated me. So, although I did not have a clear picture of what it was, it was calling my name and I knew it was something I would be interested in doing.”

For her, nothing is more satisfying than seeing what she had in mind coming to life, especially when she’s been working on it for hours. Earlier this year, during Microsoft’s annual Imagine Cup competition, she and her sister Fidan created Spinal, which makes good posture second nature using an app and sensors worn across a person’s shoulders.

“For me, the proudest moment was to see all the pieces come together, seeing the algorithms work, the sensors give the values, the applications respond in the way they should,” Rustamova says. “When you see the technology work for other people and help them overcome health issues, it’s the best.”

She also enjoys the process of coming up with different ways to solve issues, designing the solution and coding it, creating algorithms, and even dealing with errors. Her immersion into the developer world through computer science has given her opportunities she doesn’t think she would have gotten otherwise.

“What started as a software/hardware project became my passion and emerged into something that is much bigger than I ever imagined,” Rustamova says. “Being involved in the development of a startup not only allowed me to visit other countries, see inspiring people and startups, but also taught me how to build my own business and a team and maintain it in the way that allows the company to prosper. Without computer science, everything that has happened over the past several years would not have happened.”

Ulviyya is currently a student at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and recently, took part in a three-month acceleration program called High Tech XL with the Spinal startup, one of just 10 teams participating.

All young people should have access to a computer science education and the opportunity to create with code. Help your student get started with an hour of code. Microsoft is a founding supporter of Code.org, as part of its global YouthSpark initiative to increase access to computer science education for all youth worldwide, especially those from under-represented groups like girls and minorities.