Meet Fereshteh Forough, Founder of Code To Inspire

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MEET Fereshteh Forough[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]H[/dropcap]ow many times have you heard or read the phrase ‘women in tech’ over the past year or so? It’s become a buzz worthy phrase, and for good reason– it’s 2016 and the tech industry is still wildly male-dominated. But for all the coverage the issue gets, the conversation is generally West-centric. Meanwhile, women and girls in Afghanistan who want to break into the industry are facing some unimaginable hurdles. That’s why Fereshteh Forough founded Code to Inspire, an organization that’s teaching females in Afghanistan coding skills, enabling them to pursue their dreams and careers in the tech industry. In a culture where women’s education is still controversial, Fereshteh’s work is subversive, fearless, and undeniably important. This week, we talked to Fereshteh to find out more about what compels her to do what she does.[divider type="dashed" spacing="10"]

Introduce yourself! Tell us who you are and what you do.

[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]M[/dropcap]y name is Fereshteh Forough. I am from Herat, Afghanistan. I was born in Iran as an Afghan refugee. I moved to Afghanistan with my family one year after the fall of Taliban. I got my Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Herat University and later my Master’s from Technical University of Berlin in Germany. Currently, I am based in New York City and I founded Code to Inspire in January 2015.

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Why did you decide to found Code to Inspire? And how does feminism play a part in what you do?

[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]D[/dropcap]uring my life journey in education, there were many ups and downs which led me to think about how to improve the status quo of education for women in Afghanistan and specifically in technology. Most of the time when a female student graduated from Computer Science, she couldn’t find the job related to what she studied. Unfortunately there are many factors as to why. Familial and societal limitations towards women’s employment are one aspect. Many families prefer their daughter become a teacher because it is a well respected job in the community– you get paid well, and you only deal with women.

As a female graduate in computer science, if you get a job offer outside of your hometown, many families won’t let you leave the city. Safety and security is one reason. Young women can’t travel by ground even if they have a male companion. Not many families can afford to purchase plane tickets for their daughters and it is not part of our culture for a girl to live in another city by herself, unless she has a close and trusted family member to live with her.

The above reasons and many others made me establish a social good enterprise called,  “Code to Inspire” during January of 2015.

In November of 2015, we opened the first coding school in Herat, Afghanistan, where we are hosting 50 girls from high school and Computer Science backgrounds to learn coding in a very safe and joyful educational environment. We are teaching elementary web design as well as developing mobile applications. We are not only going to close the gender gap but also find job employment for our girls online so they’ll no longer need to be worried about any constraints keeping them away from pursuing what they love.

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What have been the most challenging and best parts of your work?

[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]T[/dropcap]here are many challenges that I have faced, starting from the first day I thought about how to make this happen to opening the first coding school that female students in Afghanistan can join without worrying about security and cultural issues. Preparing the right papers and documents here in NYC to operate as a legit 501 (c)(3) nonprofit, and to raise the needed funds for our coding school are also big challenges.

Image Credit: www.codetoinspire.org

The best part of my work is that everyday, I learn something new and meet inspiring people who share their knowledge with me. It feels great to know that there are 50 female students who are learning how to code daily to change their lives and Afghanistan’s future.

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What advice would you have for girls who want to go into programming, but are intimidated by the fact that it's still so male-dominated, or any other cultural constraints?

[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]J[/dropcap]ust give it a try first. Sometimes as an outsider, it can be scary to think about programming and coding as potential careers, but when you start learning about it, it really becomes enjoyable and fun. You will understand how it can be so empowering and helpful. You can create and design what you like, and you can change many people’s lives with your work.

If there is a higher male population in certain field of study, it doesn’t mean that women are not capable of doing that. Unfortunately, there are many societal, cultural and family issues that are holding women back to join tech world. But don’t be afraid of challenges– they make you stronger and give you perspective in life.

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Any upcoming Code to Inspire initiatives our readers should know about? Or ways we can get involved and support your amazing organization?

We recently organized the first Codefest of women in Afghanistan starting from March 1st through March 8th. Students were being challenged to use what they have learned so far (from education through Code to Inspire) to design websites (using HTML and CSS) and develop a simple game (using Unity technology). There will be a group of judges in Afghanistan and NYC who will select the best projects and the students will be awarded. We are also looking for partners who can help us with designing our curriculum, providing educational and technical consultations to our mentors in Afghanistan, or helping us to raise more awareness and achieve our financial goal to keep our coding school running.

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♥Visit codetoinspire.org to find out how you can support Fereshteh’s mission!

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