Bosphorus tech blues

Istanbul: a heaving mega-city of 20 million people – and growing every day.

You’d think with all these people it’d be easy to find a good programming group. But it’s not. There are a few on Meetup.com, my usual go-to venue, but they are largely populated by local guys, speaking in Turkish mainly. There’s a need for an internationally focused tech meetup group in Istanbul, but that’s a subject for another post.

Also contributing to the ever-growing Istanbul population is a steady influx of refugees from troubled countries in the region, mainly Syria. They are allowed to enter Turkey freely, but often compelled to live in refugee camps far from the amenities of the city centre.

Those that do come to the city are often faced with high rent prices, crowded living conditions and visa rules that prevent them from finding legal employment. This no-win situation forces people to beg on the streets. Those who don’t beg will eke out a small living by selling bottles of water or packs of pocket tissues to passersby.

This gave me an idea. Because they work online, not in a physical office, independent digital nomads tend to traverse a grey area in worldwide visa regulations. They may receive payments into bank accounts in their home country, while working with a client base from all over the world. This means they are not taking work away from local people, nor are they (necessarily) providing services to people in the country where they reside. All their work is conducted in the virtual space.

Web development is one of the most sought-after skills for any aspiring digital nomad. It’s also work that can be done with non-native English language skills. As long as you know the programming language, and enough English ability to understand the client’s basic needs, then you can produce the website as required.

What about creating a website to help Istanbul’s Syrian refugees to learn coding skills and find their way into digital nomad-style employment? It could include a jobs board where employers would post jobs, and a section where job-seekers could study things like HTML, CSS, Javascript and WordPress. After acquiring a range of skills, they could then apply for web development jobs.

The site could also be useful for refugees who have already qualified in I.T. back home in Syria, but are still seeking employment after becoming displaced. Ideally, I’d like to seek funding to make this happen, so that I could devote time to building and promoting it myself. If realised, this project could benefit many people. It would empower them to bring in additional money to help them through this time of crisis, and restore some of their feeling of autonomy, which has no doubt been stripped away almost completely.