The words Unleash Your Potential is the first thing that greets you when you visit the TeensWhoCode website. Working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology MIT Enterprise Forum, Lebanon’s first coding academy allows kids and teenagers aged 12 to 18 to do just that, unleash their potential.
During the summer camp, students participate in courses of their choice, do sports, visit tech companies, meet CEOs and take part in a start-up competition. There is a follow-up internship for a select number of students with a solid programming base. These students learn how to build games, mobile apps, websites, software, and more. The one-month internship gives them a taste of what it’s like to work in the tech industry and provides them with an edge for their college application, as they get to experience first-hand what is going on in the tech scene, ask questions, make connections, and plan their future career.
Crypto Heroes caught up with Nour Atrissi, founder and CEO of TeensWhoCode, to ask her some questions about the academy, the diversity of the participants, and the introduction of a cryptocurrency course.
Tell me a little about TeensWhoCode.
“Since 2016, TeensWhoCode organizes a cutting edge tech summer camp for teenagers in the Beirut Digital District. During the 4-week long program, students enroll in the courses of their choice from building a robot to flying a drone, engage in physical activities like parkour and self-defense, visit tech companies and learn from founders. Students also participate in a full day start-up competition with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology MIT Enterprise Forum. The cherry on top is the graduation ceremony, held under the patronage of the Prime Minister of Lebanon. We wrap up the summer camp with a beautiful celebration whereby all students receive a certificate, acknowledged by us.
“TeensWhoCode wants to play a crucial role in unleashing the untapped potential these students have and direct them towards successful careers.”
When and how was TeensWhoCode established?
“TeensWhoCode has had quite the journey. The first event was held for the public in October 2014 where students and parents were invited to build the game Flappy Bird in one hour! It was a kick-off event to raise awareness about coding and the importance of getting into this field, both for parents and students.
“Initially, we wanted to offer after-school coding courses. However, after some failed attempts, we pivoted our offer and decided to create what’s currently known as the Unleash Your Potential Summer Camp by TeensWhoCode.”
How many students usually join your summer program?
“15 students have joined the very first “Unleash Your Potential” Summer Camp by TeensWhoCode back in 2016. Three years later, the 2019 cohort consisted of 120 students! We’ve had students enroll for three summers in a row. The only reason some of these students don’t return is that they’re 18 years old and going off to college. Since 2016, more than 250 students have graduated from our camp.”
How diverse are your students in ethnicity, gender, and economic status?
“The most beautiful aspect of TeensWhoCode is the diversity of its participants. We welcome students between 12 and 18 years old and they are split into classes based on their skill level and not their age. This interaction with older and younger peers contributes greatly to shaping their personality. One is rarely in a group activity with different ages before 18 years old.
“Another diverse aspect of the camp is the nationalities it attracts. Although the vast majority of the students are Lebanese, some of them live abroad. They come and spend their summer here which creates interactions with the locals. Our students come from different areas, schools, and backgrounds all over the country. They get to meet fellow citizens and foreign individuals who are completely different than them. Apart from the Lebanese nationality, we’ve had students from India, Jordan, and Russia this year.
“The number of girls has been increasing year after year (22.5% in 2019). It is wonderful to see more females being encouraged to pursue tech-related activities.
“Our only prerequisite is gusto and enthusiasm!”
Can students “fail” the program?
“Absolutely not. The TeensWhoCode Summer Camp is a life-changing experience where we work on the soft skills and personalities of the students along with the technical skills. It is challenging to measure the immediate impact of how the mindset is changing. Sometimes a speaker might inspire a student, but the result of that can’t be materialized until a few years later.”
Are you thinking of implementing programs in other Middle Eastern countries?
“Yes, definitely. We’ve had four successful editions so far and we would like to extend the impact to other countries. Not just in the Middle East, but maybe even in Europe or the United States.”
This year you have added a crypto/blockchain course in your program. Was this the first time?
“Every year we add a variety of new courses based on what’s happening in the market. Yes, this was the first time we offered a blockchain and cryptocurrency course.”
What was the students’ reaction to it?
“Surprisingly, the class was full and the students’ interest was higher than we expected. After all, they’re keeping up with tech much faster than the educational system. Our job at TeensWhoCode is to cater to that and provide the necessary knowledge to guide their curiosity in the right direction.”
Read this article for the full interview with Randa Al Rifai, the instructor of the cryptocurrency course. Or visit this link to watch it. And stay tuned for the video interview with Nour Atrissi.