Han tog techbranschen till förorten

Zakaria Hersi
Zakaria Hersi
Zakaria Hersi talar på
Zakaria Hersi talar på

#GETblog har träffat Zakaria Hersi, som inte fick några svenska jobberbjudanden förrän han ansökte i annat namn. Nu leder han techeventet; satsningen på talangerna som inte smälter in.


Hi folks! The blog is on again, after a small break. Alice, Serge and NyTeknik. Same setup, slightly more mature authors… but not by much! To kick it off this week, we’ll talk about is a brand new initiative founded by Zakaria Hersi to increase inclusion and diversity in tech in Sweden by building a more diverse pipeline of talent.

Currently, Orten is focusing on hosting events in Stockholm, Malmö and Gothenburg in the suburbs, and is planning on launching its first “Orten Academy” in January 2017.

Orten Academy is a 12-week long programming bootcamp for candidates who have typically been excluded in the tech industry, followed by an internship at a tech company. The Orten initiative is similar to the wildly successful Code 2040 in the US.

GETBlog had a chance to catch up with Orten’s founder, Zakaria Hersi:

When did get started, and where did the idea come from?

– It was around 2011 that I came back to Sweden from Kenya. I had founded a company in Kenya, but I thought it would be nice to get a 9-5 job back in Sweden. I applied for a bunch of jobs, and all I got were auto-replies. No one was responding, and it just got worse and worse. After 4 months, I started applying to trainee jobs just to find a job. I got depressed, and I thought I’d try out a test. I changed my email accounts to a different name – Hersi instead of my longer last name. I sent out my applications under my shortened, more neutral-sounding name, Zakaria Hersi, and after sending out two applications, I got two interviews. I couldn’t do the traditional type of market, so I had to find a different way.

I appreciate the start-up attitude where anyone is an asset and the focus is on the global market. In Sweden, the focus is often on how you blend with the rest of the team. I was away until recently in Nigeria, but when I came back to the tech scene in Stockholm, I saw that founders and tech event participants often have very similar profiles – white males between the ages of 25-35, often from the same universities. I began to feel that there’s a division within the startup scene.

I gave a talk at Webbdagarna in March 2016 telling my story. It was really well-received, but the people who need this, the people who can relate, weren’t there. I thought, “I can’t be the only one.”

I figured that if I could take tech events to the suburbs, and bring all the people who normally go to tech events with me, it would be a meeting of two different types of groups. It’s very important to us that 50% of our speakers are women and 50% are men. We try to have first and second generation immigrants from the area. For the first event on September 28 in Stockholm, we had the Founder of ServiceFinder, Jeffrey, who’s from Tensta. We also had one of the founders of Backing Minds, from Rinkeby, Susanne Najafi. We had Paradox’s COO Susana Meza Graham, who’s from Rinkeby.

Where are you getting funding?

– We’ve been self-financed from the start. Usually other tech events have big sponsors. People haven’t figured out where we fit in yet. But one of the speakers from the last event in Stockholm, who wishes to remain anonymous, actually sponsored the full event. In Malmö, we have one sponsor, tretton37, who’s sponsoring the food and event itself. At the moment, we’re very lean.

Our events are always going to be free. We put them in different locations around Sweden to make sure that they’re accessible to the widest group possible. We’re really grateful for the immense support we’ve received.

Right now, we’re looking for funding from angels and other sources to help us fund the Bootcamp. We hope to launch in Spring 2017. It’s our goal to build something sustainable, that’s not dependent on funding in the long-term.

Can you give us some more details about the Academy and how it’s going to work?

– The Academy is running in the Spring of 2017, from the end of January. We’re going to run it for 3 months in 3 locations. It will be a teacher-led program, with help from volunteers. We’re working with different partners to ensure a curriculum that works.

In the internship portion, it’s essential that the students are able to work in groups and deliver. We want them to get hands-on experience. Our goal is to deliver a strong first batch of candidates.

Who can apply?

– We’re looking for people ages 18-35 who: identify as female, and/or are first or second generation immigrants, (either women or men), and/or are from areas in Stockholm, Malmö or Gothenburg that are suburbs or “förorter.”

Are you a coder by background?

– No, I’m not. I do marketing and operations, but wherever I’ve worked in tech, it’s always been the same issue of a lack of candidates. At the same time, I’m of Somali background, which is a group that often faces discrimination. I’m trying to bridge these two gaps. It was a crazy idea just a few months ago, but the support that we’ve received has been incredible. Lots of people are engaged and trying to help us out.

We really appreciate all the help we get – whether it’s introductions, volunteers, or financial help. If you’d like to get involved, just send us a message on our website. We’re open for anything.