Paving The Way To An Equitable Tech-sector in Nepal- TEJ Center

3 August 2023 - kathmandu

At Impact Hub Kathmandu we share our working space with numerous innovative entrepreneurs working in different sectors, making our space diverse and lively! One of these organizations using our Co-Working space is the TEJ Center – Technology for Equity and Justice. Last week I got the chance to talk with their board member Rushil Shakya who gave me some insights on TEJ’s work, the obstacles on the path to achieving equity in the Tech-sector, and the organization’s future plans. 

Tell us about the story of TEJ Center?

TEJ stands for Technology for Equity and Justice. At TEJ Center, we have started our TEJ Fellowship program in May 2022 after a few years of ideation and preparation. The fellowship program is a full-time, full-stack coding bootcamp for nine months which will train our candidates from the beginner level or no coding experience all the way to world-class software engineers. There is a story of why and how we established TEJ. When I was working as CTO at Fuse Machines five to ten years ago, I saw a difference when we were hiring people in Nepal versus in New York. We saw that candidates in Nepal were just as competent, had just the same potential as the candidates as in New York but they were not trained yet. On other hand, the candidates we’re getting in the US even though they didn’t have a computer science background, came ready for the industry. Based on our research, we figured out that a lot of these candidates were coming out of coding bootcamps. That is what seeded the idea of starting a coding bootcamp here in Nepal!

To learn about bootcamps I took part in boot camps in the USA both as a student and as a teaching fellow. Building on my experience together with the board and advisory group of TEJ Center, we have built the curriculum for the TEJ fellowship, considering the technical but also soft skills necessary for software engineers. Coding bootcamps have been around for many years because they fill the void in the demand vs. supply of software engineers. Compared to 4 year computer science degrees they boil everything you need to know down to the bare essentials and prepare participants in a very practical way. 

The first cohort of the TEJ fellowship completed the program at the end of 2022. So far we have achieved 100% job placement with an average starting salary of about 40,000 NPR.

What is the vision of TEJ Center?

Our main vision is to use technology for equity and justice. We have this amazing resource available now for everyone who wants to become a software engineer but there is a limited number of seats. So we want to use it for equity and justice to create the maximum impact.

Software engineering is one of the professions which provides the fastest path to at least class equity but along with that also comes the power to cross caste barriers too. On top of that it is not just the success of the one individual whom we will grant the fellowship, which is nine months full time coding training including technical soft skills and an internship, but we also provide a stipend so that this resource can be accessed even by people with no resources.

For all of these reasons, we thought that making this resource equitable so that it can be accessed by people from marginalized communities is what is going to bring some level of justice.

We have also been very clear about wanting gender parity in the technology industry which is a worldwide problem, not just in Nepal. We have been trying to get at least 50% women candidates. We have not fully succeeded, last year we had about 45 % women candidates, this year too it is about 45% but then I think we are doing pretty good with the gender parity here. Along with that we also do gender and caste as our lenses when we are looking at equity and justice.

Plans for the future

As far as programs go, the bootcamp is at an advanced stage because it is conducted at a really fast pace. Therefore it would be really good if the candidates getting in could have some level of programming experience. As far as getting male candidates that isn’t that difficult due to the opportunities men are given and because they are driven towards science and technology.

But with women it is a whole different story. The female candidates have potential but the way they have been trained not to ask questions and not to experiment is an obstacle for them.   

So, to get them ready we are looking at starting a pre-bootcamp session, specifically for women. We are looking at partnering with the Samanatha Foundation which is another amazing, wonderful organization. To get some of their candidates studying at Bachelors level, especially their female candidates and give them an introduction to coding. That way they can start practicing coding ahead of time.

We believe in doing one thing and doing it really well rather than spreading ourselves thin. That’s where we have and are further developing our expertise. We don’t want to do anything besides that. Our programs will be centered around our area of expertise with the main goal being producing world class software engineers from marginalized communities with gender parity in Nepal. 

 

Co-Working at Impact Hub

Towards the end of the learning phase of the first cohort which was around September last year our last office space was flooded so we had to leave the space. We’re looking for an office space this year and an acquaintance of mine who has had her office here at Impact Hub suggested Impact Hub. I really liked the place from when I visited her here before. We checked with Aarati and were lucky enough to get started with the co-working space in the container and later shifted to the office we have now.

Beyond the physical space what has been really amazing for TEJ Center coming to Impact Hub has been the wonderful welcoming environment.

 

Starting this as a shared working space, we felt really comfortable with our fellow co-workers and the Impact Hub staff, who made a special effort that we felt welcome. And that for me really made all the difference, really feeling at home at Impact Hub and that’s why we also invested in making sure that our office space is a good, nice working environment and we are looking at being here for a longer time.

How can we get involved or support?

TEJ Center is looking for different partners for collaborating with them on their path to an inclusive and equitable Tech-sector in Nepal. We are open to collaborating with:

        Businesses interested in hiring their fellowship students after completion of the program

        Investors who can support their projects

        Networks and organizations who can help finding interested candidates from marginalized communities for the TEJ fellowship.

To find out more about the work of TEJ Center visit their website:

https://www.tejcenter.org/

Or contact them directly via EMail: 

tej.fellowship@gmail.com

By Mathis Rauland