Konexio, a new bootcamp in France, is aiming to promote and support the integration of refugees into communities through innovation and technology.
We had the chance to sit down with co-founder Jean Guo. As a Stanford graduate and Fulbright fellow, Jean brings an evidence-based and analytical approach to Konexio. As a health economics researcher focused on migrant health, she developed Konexio in response to real-world needs she saw in conversation and interaction with these individuals. She realizes the importance of investing in human capital, and the long-term ramifications it can have for the future of an individual.
Read on to learn how Konexio is building a supportive community of individuals passionate about code and engaged in the tech community.
What motivated you to start Konexio?
I first came to Paris, France as an economics researcher studying migrant health policy. In order to really understand the needs and experiences of these individuals, I got fairly involved in the community. I came to hear again and again from refugees who had successfully obtained asylum status that economic barriers were the most worrying for them.
I saw digital access and code as ways to break out of the key obstacles they faced, which included language and education—not speaking fluent French and not having a French diploma. Code is a universal language based on ability rather than the credential, and anyone can learn these skills—regardless of age, background, etc.—a true motivation and persistence for problem-solving are instead the requirements to succeeding in this field.
How were the first Konexio bootcamps launched?
We started on a small scale—we launched a partnership with a computer lab financed by the Mairie de Paris (municipal government of Paris) and recruited students through partner organizations, with sign-ups filling up within the first few days.
Our first instructors included developers who had 6+ years’ teaching experience with a top US coding school and who had graduated from a leading women’s bootcamp in the Bay Area, respectively. Since then, we have had 2 more cohorts of students, with 40+ students who have completed our code workshops.
That's awesome! Can you tell us about the challenges you have overcome while starting Konexio?
One of the key missions of Konexio is to break down stereotypes about refugees and highlight their potential for contributing to their host community. At the outset, we decided that we wanted to make our programs open to all, including local students, to tackle the question of integration in a double sense—empowering our students with the digital skills to integrate professionally, and also connecting them with local students so there’s also an exchange of cultures and friendships to accelerate their inclusion. As a result, we have a diverse student pool—aged 20-69, from 15 different countries, from a wide range of previous educational and professional backgrounds.
One of our initial challenges was to cater our curriculum to the heterogeneity of our students—but we’ve found that developing exercises employing different skills (design, debugging, etc.) has worked well. Plus, our pair programming activities have been incredibly beneficial for our students—enabling them to learn from each other and resolve their questions on their own.
What successes have you had with your first few cohorts?
Our students have taken different paths following our program—some have gotten internships as junior web developers, others have decided to enroll in Master’s programs in multimedia or business, and some have decided to pursue entrepreneurship (including one who is now working on an app called RefuHelp after winning a Hackathon dedicated to tech solutions for refugees).
Any advice for students looking to join a bootcamp?
Based on what we have seen, a persistence to continue despite roadblocks, and a curiosity to ask questions and understand are key to enabling a student to advance well.
More specific to our context, we also had students who were very excited to learn code, but actually had difficulty navigating on a computer as it was their first time using one. In response, we have also created a digital skills program to cater to individuals who are in need of acquiring these competencies, allowing them to gain key computer literacy skills before advancing to the next step.
What sets your curriculum apart from other bootcamps?
Given that we have a strong social mission to tackle the integration of refugees via empowerment and connection through digital access, our front-end web development curriculum draws upon more instruction at the outset—we take more time to explain concepts and mix in interactive exercises to illustrate them.
Our courses are also bilingually taught in English/French, reinforcing the importance of each language for French/non-French students. Finally, rather than a focus on the languages and newest developments, we aim to provide our students with a solid foundation and equip them with the ability to troubleshoot and learn new skills on their own—which is critical in a domain where frameworks and languages can wan and fade in a matter of a year or two.
What is the job market like where your bootcamp is based?
The French job market for code skills is growing very rapidly – with an estimated need of an additional 140,000 developers by the year 2020. From startups to larger enterprises and companies, there is a real need for developers to meet labor market demands in France. Languages vary—Ruby on rails is increasingly used in the startup community, whereas companies are more likely to use Java—but this is not dissimilar to the situation in other countries.