By Aljohara Zarea
JEDDAH — During our journey and quest in life, we do not know what the days hold for us in terms of tremendous successes and radical changes that happen to us day and night.
And this can be summed up by the famous dialogue by the great American actor Tom Hanks in the movie Forrest Gump: “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.”.
That is exactly what happened to the first 103 trainees of Apple Women’s Developer Academy, who took decisive and risky steps to achieve their ambitious dreams.
The Apple Women’s Developer Academy is Apple’s only Developer Academy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and it’s the first-ever women-only academy by Apple in the world. It was opened in June of 2021, as part of a strategic partnership between Saudi Arabia and the Apple Developer Academy following the visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the headquarters of Apple in San Francisco during his visit to the United States of America in 2018.
The Apple Women Developer Academy celebrated the graduation of the first batch at a ceremony held in Riyadh on 7 August, honoring several ambitious women who persevered to achieve their dreams.
Each of the trainees has a story and a dream, and it is strange and distinctive at the same time that they all have different backgrounds, and some of them are university students or employees in companies that are not even related to software development.
In recent years, we hardly talk about anything without mentioning the Covid-19 pandemic and its huge impact on everyone, but in Lina Al-Samaili’s story, we may say that the pandemic has affected her positively in an indirect way.
Lina Al-Samaili is a graduate of Apple Academy, and a student at the university studying computer science. She said it all started when she felt a lot of emptiness and boredom during the pandemic. She did not want to waste her time without learning something new or making a positive change in herself or the people around her.
Since she loves programming, Lina decided to use her time, learn and develop herself in this field, as she began researching and applying for several remote courses via YouTube.
Lina said she heard that the Apple Academy will open in Riyadh and that it is the first in the Middle East and Africa. She was very excited about the great change that is taking place in Saudi Arabia in the field of technology, as it will be a great opportunity for women to participate in.
“I had a great desire to be among the first batch of women in the academy,” Lina said. “But at the same time, I was hesitant because the program lasts for nine months and I am still a student at the university and in another city.”
Lina said she spoke with her friend Maryam Al-Fadhli about the academy, and after consultations, their decision was “let’s try”, and then they were accepted.
They took time off from the university to make arrangements for their move to Riyadh and to join the academy and then, after settling in, they completed the semester at the university.
Through Lina’s experience between her studies at the university and her training at the Academy, she said in the Apple Academy, there is no curriculum, but rather a space for thinking and creativity.
“As a computer science student, our projects were limited because we had to not deviate from the curriculum,” Lina said, stressing that she had the desire to be more creative by working on new ideas that she wanted to share with people.
Lina indicated that the Apple Academy gave her the opportunity to make her dreams a reality in front of her, as she had the freedom to choose the idea of the application that she dreams of and wants to work on, and which people can benefit by using.
She also added that the diversity in the academy, the different university majors and the age gaps was a challenge while working in the projects, but at the same time it was fun and helped them learn and benefit by exchanging their experiences.
“We work with a team on challenges and compete with each other with love,” Lina said, noting that when the challenge is completed, they present it at the academy, and through this method, they discover the mistakes they made while working on the application and then fix the errors.
“The most thing I learned from my journey in the academy is my mistakes. We tried, developed, and made mistakes again, but we didn’t give up, we got up and tried over and over again,” she said.
It is noteworthy that Lina was employed in the Saudi Telecom Company (STC) and she is still a student.
One of the biggest difficulties that Lina faced during her training period at the academy was time. She had to balance her time between training at the STC in the morning, and in the evening she used to go to the Apple Academy.
She said that the difficulty in balancing her time taught her how to organize better, as it contributed greatly to do her best even under pressure.
Lina confirmed that the Apple Academy had changed her life, and it was the beginning of the many successes she achieved during this period.
“Through my journey in the academy, it made me feel special, and that I am able to make my positive mark in this life,” she noted.
She added that the academy not only teaches application development, but also teaches trainees how to start from a problem and then come up with a solution that facilitates life by programming.
“It teaches us that nothing is impossible and everything we can learn by ourselves if we have a passion and love for learning and a dream that we want to achieve,” Lina pointed out.
Lina said during her stay in Riyadh and during her training at the academy, many opportunities were opened to her, including her participation in hackathons and programming competitions, in addition to her employment with the largest telecom company in Saudi Arabia while she was still a student.
Lina mentioned that the biggest success for her and her team is the opportunity they received as their application was presented at a large business accelerator, “The Garage”.
The Garage was launched to help entrepreneurs to innovate, in addition to establishing their technology companies by combining business incubators and accelerators with modern workspaces with integrated services.
Lina said that before entering the academy, she did not have any knowledge in the field of application development, while today she is one of the graduates of the Apple Academy, and she is proud that she has worked on the design, programming and development of more than five applications and two of them are already on her phone.
Lina said that the best moment for her in the academy was when she downloaded her first application on her mobile phone. She said, “I was very happy and I was walking and saying to everyone I saw, ‘Look at this app and try it’.”
Lina added, “I was very happy when people responded to me by trying the application. It also made me grateful when I saw their facial expressions while they were surprised and happy, telling me: “Wow, you made this?!”
Lina said Saudi Arabia’s efforts to empower women in the field of technology are very great because of the wise leadership of the Kingdom.
Lina sent a message to all girls who have a passion and love like her for the world of technology, to pursue their dreams.
She said: “Today, neither your university major nor your age stops you from achieving your dream, and the support from the Saudi authorities is greater than what you can imagine.”
From her side Maryam Al-Fadhli, who confirmed that she and Lina had dropped out a semester from the university in order to move to Riyadh and join the academy because they believed that it would give them a positive addition in their lives and it will boost their career, while emphasizing that the experience made a huge difference for them.
Maryam indicated that at the beginning of her admission to the academy, she wanted to delve into developing applications to help her learn business, not just to learn programming.
“I had a great opportunity to join the academy and learn,” she said, while noting the study atmosphere was very comfortable, and the duration of training per day was only 4 hours.
She explained that the system of study in the academy is that they classify the trainees as groups, and every two months they join different groups to enhance and increase their educational experience.
The academy does not commit the groups to a specific application idea, but the options are open to all of them in sailing toward unique ideas, she confirmed, adding that the academy was keen on them that they only have to follow the steps that they teach them, which include: researching; designing; testing and programming, and among these they also teach them business.
“Everyone can simply become an expert if they devote their time to learning, especially since the Academy’s method of teaching was very clear and easy,” Maryam noted.
Regarding studying, Maryam’s opinion was like what Lina said about the difference between their experience of studying at the university and studying at the Apple Academy. Maryam said the university had a bit of limitations and restrictions, but the Academy helps you to be more creative.
One of the things that help in further expanding knowledge is diversity, as Maryam indicated that the female students in the academy were of various nationalities and different backgrounds.
Some of the trainees’ university majors were Islamic law, some were art, and some were medicine. Even in their age, there was a big difference. There were trainees in the academy from the age of 18 to those about 40 years old, which confirms that there are no limits to learning and discovering new things in ourselves.
Maryam said that the academy has greatly raised her level in business and app development, as it helped her join investors and facilitated her understanding of business and software development.
“Apple Academy helped me become a good programmer, plus it built an excellent reputation around me,” she added.
The field of technology currently has a great demand from both sexes and in all fields, whether educational, medicine, engineering and even game development, Maryam indicated, noting, “We all have the desire to learn something and to get to know how to find solutions and fix it.”.
Maryam indicated that her experience in the academy gave her the priority to enter several places, such as hackathons, which helped her to participate in them more and more widely, because it is known that hackathons give acceptance to preference. She stressed that after joining the academy, she had the opportunity to gain great experience that helps her to join anywhere she wants.
Another example of priority, Maryam said that when she applies for a job, she will have priority in being accepted because of the experience she gained during her journey through the academy.
Speaking about experiences and priorities, Maryam said the biggest success she achieved after entering the academy was her appointment as an ambassador for student developers at Huawei.
Lina and Maryam explained the idea of their application to their team, saying that its name is “StepBy”, which is a guide to discover the tourist and entertainment places in the city of the people who download the application.
StepBy app aims to use technology to facilitate the customer’s journey and connect them to places and adventures that they dream of to get the opportunity to experience it.
Lina said: “One of our team’s goals is to let everyone enjoy the same great experience whether you like cozy places, crazy adventures, StepBy will help you reach where you belong.”