Empathy & Diversity, ingredients for a better web

July 13, 2019

What follows is a description of my experience teaching Introduction to Javascript at the ReDI school in Berlin.

My grandparents traveled across 4 continents, the last 3 with my mother and her siblings, to finally call Canada home. That story of immigration is something that I have always been curious about growing up. As countries around the world continue to debate the role of immigration, and immigrants, I've wondered if at some point on my family's journey, if things had been different, what would their outcome have been. I feel lucky to have grown up in Canada, largely unaware of the ultimate effort made by many to call it home.

One thing that struck me about moving to Berlin is how international it felt. Berlin isn't just a German city, it has an extremely complicated history, and today it belongs to an even bigger community of people with various backgrounds and stories from around the world. For expectectations Germany builds up in people's imaginations, Berlin seems to rebel against it in some way. And while Berlin has a special energy, in its complexity finding your place isn't always easy. Many of the people I've met at work came to Berlin for a better opportunity, financial security, to leave behind political instability, but some had not chosen to move here at all. When I learned about ReDI from a friend, and with these challenges in mind, I saw an opportunity to contribute.

In a nutshell, ReDI was created to provide free technical education to immigrants. One of the reasons ReDI is such a great idea lies in the fact that Germany needs technically skilled workers, and many of these skills don't require a formal degree. Often the investment in terms of capital is relatively low when compared to other specialized skillsets, as all you really need is a computer and an internet connection. With motivation, mentorship, and self-learning, these skills can be obtained potentially leading to a new career and other exciting possibilties. Of course, the amount of effort cannot be overstated here.

As I didn't finish my Computer Science degree, opting instead for one in Accounting, I relied on the wisdom of mentors, countless hours of hacking, and was eventually able to find a career I love on the web. I have now volunteered at ReDI for a year (three semesters) introducing people to javascript. I've appreciated the variety of cultures and backgrounds coming together to make something, with imaginations at work, something truly aspirational. Often starting with an understanding of HTML and CSS, in three months it's incredible to see people learn their first programming language and translate their ideas into the code, the instructions required for the computer to follow. The students at ReDI are an incredible group and if anyone is going to have the courage to break through boundaries and into the world of web development it's them.

One of the best parts of ReDI I need to mention is its community which extends past the classroom and creates friendships amongst the ReDI staff, teachers and students alike. Somehow outside of organizing the educational and program aspects ReDI also manages to hold events including workshops, parties, industry meet and greet's. Having a mix of people from all the over world ends up creating a fun, welcoming atmosphere where everyone is constantly learning from each other. This common understanding is what it means to make Berlin, and Germany, a place to call home. Together, everyone celebrates the effort and contributions made by these newcomers both inside the classroom and out. That empathy is ultimately as important as the technical skills themselves.

Our society and the web are both manmade constructs built on connections. They rely on a distributed network of ideas and imaginations, a mesh of dependencies, in order to grow. We've learned that to strengthen this fabric we must remove barriers between each other, share experiences, allow equal participation, grow, and ultimately give back. Empowering efforts to improve diversity and inclusion only amplifies what is possible. It's through communities like ReDI that I am inspired and reminded of what we all have the opportunity to be a part of. It's through our differences that we're able to build something better and in the end become better ourselves.