“It’s so important to have these programs for newcomers, just to explore the possibilities and to make connections in a new country.”

After growing up as a refugee, Sylvie came to Canada for a better future. The TechWomen program helped her build on her skills and secure a job.
“It gave me exactly what I needed.”

WHEN I FIRST CAME TO CANADA, everything in my life was uncertain.

I had moved here from Kenya, but my family is originally from Rwanda. Because of the genocide and everything that happened there, my parents left and we were never able to go back to our country. I’ve lived as a refugee my whole life.

Luckily, my mom was able to get a job in Kenya that supported our family. We lived in the city, not in a refugee camp. One of my older sisters also really helped out a lot. Several years ago, she got a sponsor and came to Canada for university. She helped to pay my way through university in Kenya.

Once I finished my degree, though, there wasn’t much hope of advancement since we weren’t Kenyan citizens. So when I managed to get a sponsor to come to Canada, I moved to B.C. with my mother and middle sister.

When we arrived, I wanted to find a job related to my degree, like working in a bank or an investment firm. But when I started applying, there was that challenge of not having any Canadian work experience. And many employers were looking for people with technical skills that I didn’t have.

I also didn’t know many people here. So I started volunteering at Immigrant Services Society of BC (ISSofBC), helping children in the homework club. I really enjoyed working with the kids. It was like being a big sister.

While I was volunteering, I met one of the career facilitators at ISSofBC, and she encouraged me to apply to a new program that was starting. TechWomen, which receives funding from the Canadian Women’s Foundation, helps newcomer women get on the path to becoming a web developer and navigate the job market. Although I felt nervous about starting a tech program, I was also excited because I knew it would help build my skills.

From the first day, when I started talking to the women in class and sharing experiences, I felt like I was in the right place. My classmates came from India, Brazil, the U.S., and other countries. We collaborated and learned from each other, because some had already worked in technology jobs. I started to believe I could succeed in this field.

Through the program, I took courses in digital marketing and web design. The facilitator gave us so many opportunities to learn, from having women in tech come in as guest speakers, to sharing job opportunities, internships, and volunteering opportunities. The most rewarding part was learning about so many different platforms and resources — seeing how many different avenues exist for me this field. I also really appreciated how much it built my confidence.

Toward the end of the program, I was looking for a place to do an internship and filling out applications. One of the companies I contacted, a tech startup, offered me a full-time job. While my position is in accounting, it gives me the opportunity to build on my tech skills and move to a different role based on how my career goals develop. I’m really happy about how it worked out.

Even now, I can still call the TechWomen facilitator to get help if I need it. My former classmates and I stay in touch, sharing our experiences through a chat group. I think it’s so important to have these programs for newcomers, just to explore the possibilities and make connections in a new country.

Now, when I think about the support I have through my job and the TechWomen network, I’m more confident that I’ll reach my goals. I feel like there’s more coming for me in the future, and more I can take on. Considering where I was before the program, that positive outlook makes a huge difference. This program gave me exactly what I needed.

The TechWomen Program, delivered by Immigrant Services Society of BC, receives funding from the Canadian Women’s Foundation.

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