Seven female coders from Iran got scholarships and graduated from a bootcamp of ConsenSys Academy, Ethereum startup incubator’s educational branch.
The scholarships, a part of ConsenSys’ global program to help developers start coding on the Ethereum blockchain, might provide additional opportunities for people in the country largely cut off from the international tech community.
Women account for 70% of university graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in Iran – more than in many developed countries around the world. But tech professionals in Iran are struggling with more roadblocks building their career than their peers in Europe and the U.S.
Iran is subject to heavy international sanctions aimed at preventing the country’s leadership from developing nuclear weapons, and this impacts ordinary people’s ability to send and receive money from abroad. At the same time, Iran is a big contributor to the bitcoin network, providing around 4% of global hashpower. The country is a lucrative spot for miners and the blockchain community is active.
Sahar Rahbari, an IT manager by training and a 38-year old mother of two, was one of the participants in the class of 2020. She first saw an announcement of the scholarships on Twitter, she told CoinDesk via direct messages on the platform. At the time she was working at a university in her town of Yasouj and maintaining her website for selling local agricultural produce.
Rahbari became curious about blockchain tech after a friend asked her to translate an article about it. She then decided to study and work in the field.
After finishing the course, Rahbari started freelancing for local blockchain projects, she said. She doesn’t currently see a lot of demand for such work in Iran, but there are only a handful of projects that would give her the experience she needs to try to get employed by an international company in the future, she added.
“In international projects, I know we can get crypto as a salary, and this is the most important thing in this field,” Rahbari said. “Because, as you know, we are in a strange and bad political condition in Iran. And even personally, I can’t have any financial transaction with other countries. But we can send and receive crypto in small amounts without any barriers. And this is one factor for me to choose this field.”
A training like the ConsenSys Academy offers could help Iranians learn new skills, perhaps increasing the chances for a Iranian dev to get a work visa and emigrate. This, unfortunately, is not enough to solve the geopolitical challenges that many ordinary Iranians face.
U.S. and European companies are often reluctant to employ Iranian nationals or send money to locals due to concerns about potential sanctions violations.
“Many work and study positions [abroad] (like system security) are banned for Iranians,” said Sanaz, another graduate of ConsenSys Academy’s 2020 class, who is now working toward her Ph.D. in IT at the University of Oslo, Norway.
Read also: Inside Iran’s Onslaught on Bitcoin Mining
“I have seen people being rejected [by companies in Europe] because there are some American contractors working with that European company,” Sanaz said, adding that she heard such stories from people she knows. She asked that her last name not be published.
Sanctions make even freelance work for Western companies difficult or impossible, said another alumna, software engineer Aysha Amin.
Coogan Brennan, head of developer relations at ConsenSys Academy, told CoinDesk that Iranian workers indeed experience more roadblocks when trying to build a global career. He noted that Iranian students were particularly strong in last year’s class.
But still, “you have to do a dance to suggest such candidates to companies. And being an Iranian is equivalent to a record scratch for some folks,” Brennan said via a call.
One hundred students around the world received grants last year from ConsenSys Academy, Brennan said. The class of 2020, which lasted from September through December, included both students who paid to learn blockchain skills and those who received grants via local NGOs, mostly in developing countries, and could attend online classes for free.
Students who got scholarships also included developers from Haiti, South Africa, Nigeria, the U.S., England and some other countries, Brennan said. There were $100,000 worth of grants this year, he said, and the program has been on for five years now. Brennan declined to name the overall amount of money spent on grants over five years.
Iranian students received $900 grants each, but not in a form of money. Rather, they were able to attend online courses and get mentorship for free.
“We’re not actually giving money to them, we’re feeling like it’s more a diplomatic mission to give this opportunity to folks who need it,” Brennan said.
ConsenSys Academy chose the students with the help of the local blockchain organization CoinIran and ConsenSys’ Thessy Mehrain, who is half-Iranian. Alums are going to host an online forum in Farsi to help more Ethereum-curious developers in Iran with their work.
“Hopefully, it could be a good start point for passionate developers in this field. And we want to extend the site to turn it to a place where developers can exchange knowledge, ask their questions and discuss their issues,” Sanaz said.
For her, the new skills are a chance to get additional income, Sanaz said, but also a hope to “create systems that are unstoppable.”