Inspired by tech shows that featured coding and hacking, Amir Mustafa had a passion for technology at a young age. He was inclined to pursue the field of software engineering after he finished his high school education.
Initially, the university classes were difficult for him. But when he started taking the software parts of the coursework, he knew he was on the right path.
However, he still had some issues with some of the coding work and lacked people skills. His friend saw that he was struggling and recommended he join a program called Africa to Silicon Valley (A2SV).
When Amir first applied to join A2SV, it was completely to gain confidence, learn tips on how to take an interview for high-end tech companies, and gain more knowledge in the coding world.
But after he joined, he was struck by the reach and impact the team at A2SV had. Amir was easily able to get involved in local projects like TrackSym and HakimHub, platforms that were developed to help track COVID throughout Ethiopia and provide information about healthcare facilities and professionals, respectively.
“A2SV really upskills tech students, and gives them a better opportunity and helps them gain skills in problem-solving,” said Amir.
The journey was similar for another student, Feysel Mubarek, as well. His coding interest started back in the 9th grade, and he knew he wanted to pursue a career in software ever since.
He was in one of the first groups of A2SV, and he joined because he wanted to get better at communication and was told that they would prepare him for interviews with large companies like Google, Palantir, LinkedIn, and more, which was a great opportunity for him.
Many software engineering undergraduates in Ethiopia, like Kaleab and Feysel, have a deep passion for the world of technology and their profession but are often discouraged by the lack of opportunities in Ethiopia to pursue their dreams.
However, in the midst of the technology institute at Addis Ababa University, they have found a sanctuary. A2SV has not been a place where they foster their skills but a place that opens doors and gives them opportunities to pursue paths that otherwise would have seemed unlikely.
A2SV, which was started by Emre Varol, is a program that prepares students through training, boot camps, mock interviews, and short courses.
A2SV describes itself as a social enterprise that enables high-potential university students to create digital solutions to Africa’s most pressing problems.
The program upskills Ethiopian university students and connects them with global opportunities at top tech companies. The program is free for students, making the opportunity available for young people with talent but lacking the means to use it.
The story of A2SV started when Emre, who worked at Google, Palantir, and Liftoff as software and machine learning engineers for eight years, took six months of volunteer activity in Africa.
“When I look at Africa, there are so many great people and so many great kids who don’t get the opportunity to get a high-quality education and access to opportunities at top tech companies,” Emre told Shega.
Emre, who was originally from Turkey, wanted to take the work and training experience he got from working at big tech and use it to help train and seek opportunities for these students.
At first, he was just planning to arrange just five second-year students and connect them with internship opportunities at Google. The energy and the potential he saw from them when he got here, though, had him stay and continue doing that with many more students.
Emre launched A2SV in 2019 in partnership with Addis Ababa University. The first cohort had 22 students. The second cohort had 33 students. In the third cohort, they started running three groups simultaneously, two at Addis Ababa University and one at Addis Ababa Science and Technology University, and they had 190 students in total.
A2SV upskills students with a 360° software engineering program focusing on problem-solving, effective speaking, and personal development. Students work on social projects with industry experts to address the most pressing problems in their community.
Furthermore, via A2SV, students get a chance to have interviews for an internship with top tech companies such as Google and LinkedIn. Students who pass their interviews get 3-month internships to gain experience in building scalable products that are widely used around the world.
In phase 1 of the program, Students go through a series of lectures and practice sessions on algorithms and data structures after school. This phase also includes weekly contests, Q&As, bi-weekly 1:1s, and some technical programs.
In the second phase, students go through a 3-week boot camp, six days a week, all day. On top of phase 1 programs, phase 2 also has communication skills improvements, social activities, moonwalks, and mock interviews. At the end of Phase 2, students have interviews with top tech companies.
Meanwhile, in phase 3, students and experienced mentors from top tech companies form development teams. Together, they solve a real-world problem by creating a scalable product with a social mission to improve the quality of life in Africa.
Emre says 40 students at A2SV were able to sit for interviews with top tech companies like Google, Palantir, Amazon, and LinkedIn. Out of which around 30 were placed.
“This is only counting top tech companies,” Emre added.
A2SV shares the success stories of its students on its website, and one of them is Abel Tsegaye, an incoming software engineer at Google.
“Through A2SV’s effective education and incessant support, I managed to pass Google’s internship interviews and attend a summer internship at Google in Amsterdam. After completing three remarkable months there, I was offered a full-time position at Google’s London office for 2022,” reads his testimony.
Both Emre and his students believe that the team is more like a family than a student-teacher relationship, and they want to continue to help and provide opportunities for many more students who have the potential.
“After getting into A2SV and spending time working in it, my objective shifted and became broader and more robust,” said Feysel, who also says he was accepted to intern at Google but failed due to the circumstances COVID caused.
Feysel told Shega, “Now, I am training new incoming students and working as part of A2SV and running tasks for around 120 students”.
“It’s always everyone’s dream to get into large colleges and large companies like Harvard and Google. However, that path is usually unrealistic for us because we don’t have access to advanced classes and exams like most people abroad do. A2SV has been able to give us the chance to make these dreams feel more realistic,” said Kaleab Girma, another student at the university.
All three—Kaleab, Fesyel, and Amir—are now working for A2SV as trainers and education heads, and they have been sharing the skillsets and knowledge they gained through A2SV with new recruits who want to follow in their footsteps.
Emre funded A2SV himself from all the money he had saved while working in Silicon Valley. He is now, however, looking for funding from high-tech companies as it is hard to keep A2SV running without help with funds.
He hopes that, once they get funding, they can continue their work in other African countries, starting with Ghana.