Each month we have the honour of interviewing one role model that shares her story of how she became part of the tech industry with us as well as what she learned a long the way. This month we had the great pleasure to sit together with Bettina Hirsig, co-founder of Powercoders – a coding academy and job integration program for people with a refugee or a migrant background.
Tell us where you’re from and what your background is!
I grew up in Bolligen, which is a small village close to Bern. Later on, I studied economics at the University of Applied Science. In my first years after study, I gained experience in branding, innovation, communication as a Marketing Manager of Ovomaltine at Wander AG. After a 3- months market entry camp of Swissnex in San Francisco, I was fully fascinated by the startup world. Classery had been my first own entrepreneurial project I then launched.
You and your husband co-founded Powercoders. Tell us a bit more about this organization, what is it all about?
With Powercoders, we solve two challenges: the integration of people with a different cultural background and the lack of talents in the IT industry.
Powercoders is a coding academy and job integration program for people with a refugee or a migrant background.
After a 3-months bootcamp, they start a 6- to 12-months internship in the IT industry. The goal is that they are hired and therefore regain their financial independence.
What’s the founding story of Powercoders?
Chris and I already founded a company before, where we on one hand offered innovation consulting and on the other hand started our own projects. Powercoders has been one of these own incubation projects. Therefore we didn’t have to quit a job and were able to launch within our company.
At We Shape Tech we are all about diversity and inclusion in tech, powercoders as well – why do you think this is important?
It is nowadays no secret anymore, that diverse teams perform better.
When do you see or feel that your work has the most impact?
When our participants reach their goals. For example when Jamila, a young Afghani mother, after a very tough one year internship signed a contract as a DevOps Engineer at Swisscom. For me the most emotional moments are always during the graduation which take place after the 3-months bootcamp. This moment, when the students receive their diploma, is very touching, because for most of them, it is one of the first achievements since a long time – and it marks the moment when the doors to a new future are opened.
What valuable advice did you get from your parents or the people closest to you during childhood?
That a “no” can evolve to a “yes”, you just have to convince with arguments. This hasn’t been advice, but more a habit from my father: his answer to my requests was always first a no. So I had to find arguments to convince him and to get what I want.
How did you become interested in tech?
My father has been self-employed in IT. I therefore got in touch very early on with this industry. And despite choosing a different study, my interest for technology (in terms of usage, interaction and communication) stayed strong.
What aspects of your work are you proudest of?
I would mention three aspects. First, I have the privilege to work in a team with great and very motivated people. Second, we can rely on a wide community of volunteers and engaged companies, which are supporting our cause. And third, I am proud of all the success our participants are achieving every day.
What drives you at work?
Our purpose: To promote equal opportunities in the digital world.
Is there a prejudice you come across often in your work in tech that you would like people to be aware of and think differently about?
The prejudice of people with a different cultural background – that is one of the reasons why Powercoders exists, to promote equal opportunities.
What has been your toughest challenge you faced while working in tech? And what did you learn from it?
I would not say working in tech, but in general, the toughest challenges always had to do with people more specifically in communication and interaction with people. I had to learn that radical candor (being kind and clear at the same time) is a good thing if you can convey it in a respectful way.
Is there anything l you wish you had known earlier or would advice your younger self?
That not everyone has to like you (-;
What advice would you give other women in tech?
Not to specifically women in tech, but generally:
Are there any books, podcasts or other resources that you enjoy or recommend?
Who is your role model and why? And if you had the chance what question would you ask her?
There are many people who inspire me. It is often an inspiration in a very unique moment. Lately, the story of Ruth Ginsburg inspired me on how someone can stand up for a cause. One of my most important “role models” is my oldest friend (since Kindergarten) with whom I am still deeply connected and who shows me what true friendship means.