Could ultra-Orthodox women be the solution Israeli technology seeks?

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Battling the scarcity of human capital, the Adva program trains ultra-Orthodox women as developers and helps them enter the local ecosystem

Daniel Farber-Ball 09:3708.09.21

“In my daily life, I have tasks to do, a lot of coding, debugging sessions, daily meetings, interactions with the team. It’s a lot of fun, ”said Debbie Alter, junior backend developer at XM Cyber. Pretty trite and common comment, until you factor in that Debbie Alter is a 21-year-old ultra-Orthodox woman from Jerusalem.

“A lot of women in my community these days are doing high tech and computer programming,” Alter explained. “It has become a very popular activity. It’s a very interesting job, a very well paid job, it’s a place to grow up, something the world needs now, so it’s a very popular thing.

Ultra-Orthodox women participate in the Adva program. Photo: Scaling speed

Alter joined XM Cyber, a risk-based vulnerability management company, which developed a platform for businesses to respond to risks on their systems, nearly six months ago. And so far, despite the great change of scenery, she feels at home. “They had nothing special to do for us, but they were very, very respectful. They knew we had certain limits and that we would not participate in certain events, ”she said. “In XM it was new, me and my two friends from Scale-Up were new to them.”

“More than 90% of jobs”

The mentioned Alter “Scale-Up” is the abbreviation of Scale-Up Velocity by Start-Up Nation Central – a non-profit organization that was started to develop impactful initiatives and solutions for the human capital shortage of high tech industry. He runs several successful programs targeting groups less represented in tech, including ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arab men and women. Alter has participated in the Adva program, which is celebrating its third year this month. This is a two-year program, targeting ultra-Orthodox women and providing them with the same education, sometimes even the same professors, as the main computer science program at Israeli universities, training them as fullstack developers and backend. Her first class graduated almost a year ago while her second will be this month.

“Our program offers two years, with the same academic requirements as Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University,” said Anat Greemland, vice president of strategy at Scale-Up Velocity and head of the Adva program. “The industry cares about us because the workplace moves from college degrees to knowledge and experience. It’s a slow transformation, but at the end of the day recruiters, or at least those we work with, want to find those who can meet industry standards and survive the first year on the job.

“The Adva program was born about three years ago,” said Greemland. “Start-Up Nation Central has its annual report which usually says there is a labor shortage, and the idea was not to go back to the same well but to find new resources, including women, ultra-Orthodox and Arabs. ”

“The program was created in cooperation with the Haredi Institute for Public Affairs, with the idea that on the one hand, our clients are the tech companies and how do we deliver quality graduates to them in droves. On the other hand, we wanted to make sure that the program adapts to the ultra-Orthodox community, ”she added, not forgetting to mention the contribution of the local ecosystem to the project. “We brought in the industry, which means we have a steering committee with people from Google, IBM, Apple and Mobileye, to define the profile of graduates they would like to have. ”

Anat Greemland, VP of Strategy at Scale-Up Velocity and Head of the Adva Program.  Photo: Miri Davidovitz Anat Greemland, VP of Strategy at Scale-Up Velocity and Head of the Adva Program. Photo: Miri Davidovitz

And this cooperation between all the unlikely partners seems to be working very well so far. “So the first cohort of the program graduated last October, we have over 90% of jobs with salaries as high as three times the average salary of a software seminar graduate,” he said. said Greemland. “I think everyone is impressed with how we have done something different and new, in just two years while all of our colleagues have done it in three or four years,” Alter added of the way she thinks her new colleagues see her and her friends.

Just like a college graduate

“They do it all, develop, troubleshoot, deepen an infrastructure with a significant legacy of code that you need to be able to understand, and they do it all,” said Gera Drofman, vice president of network security products at Check Point about of the two Adva graduates that his department employs. “They are not shy, they ask questions and participate, which is very important in our work. ”

Dorfman learned of the program by accident, after someone posted a message to a WhatsApp group saying that Adva was looking for technical recruiters for help. “Originally I was asked to help with interview training for the program, but I told them if I saw someone I like I would like them to interview for us. “, did he declare. And in fact, Check Point was so happy with the women that Dorfman asked the program to test all of its current students and see if they could join the cybersecurity company.

“They have a great attitude, and we see them, with their tasks and assignments, like we see all other college graduates,” he concluded.

English and math for ultra-Orthodox girls

The involvement and inclusion of the ultra-Orthodox in Israeli society in general and in the workforce in particular is a hot topic for many Israelis. According to the Israel Democracy Institute’s annual report on the ultra-Orthodox community in 2020, 77% of ultra-Orthodox women aged 25 to 64 are employed, compared to 53% of men of the same age. And while the number of working women is steadily increasing, both numbers are lower than those of non-ultra-Orthodox Jewish Israelis.

“The ultra-Orthodox sector and more specifically the ultra-Orthodox women, is a group that, once we find the right role model, we will reach a growing mass of quality people in no time,” Greemland said about the potential of the project and the community, stressing that this is not just about the best interests of the tech industry. “Along with this understanding came the need within ultra-Orthodox schools and the community to find employment for girls, who struggled to find well-paying jobs. ”

Building such a program for a population that often rejects technology and secular education has not been easy, and Greemland and his team have encountered several obstacles. “In our first class, we realized there was a need to review math and English, so this class had to put everyone on the same level on the go. So they covered advanced math and studied English throughout the program. What we did for the second cohort is that we opened a summer math course before the start of the program.

“Due to the understanding within the ultra-Orthodox community that there is a real need for mathematics and English studies, thanks to the Adva program, girls in ultra-Orthodox high schools study these subjects from the Grade 10 is a by -product of the program “, she explained, while stressing that” our program does not ask any of the girls to change their way of life, we offer them the chance to find a place. in the tech industry by choosing their path.

Covid presented other challenges for the remote work force program, in a society in which many do not own computers or smartphones. “We had to get a special permit from the rabbis to use Zoom. The whole program went to Zoom, online, with cameras open, ”said Greemland proudly. “We rented 81 computers with ‘kosher’ network keys, which filter out unwanted content, and in about a week we were back there. ”

And for those who fear that this growing connection to the Israeli mainstream will weaken the faith and conviction of Adva participants, Alter offers his confident point of view. “I think our priority as an ultra-Orthodox remains the same, which is important for us, what we keep, there is no change. But I think we are more ready, more able to we adapt to other circles and work and interact with other circles, and know how to do it, without affecting our priorities.


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