Only a year ago, Fasika Abera was nowhere near tech.
Fasika was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She studied civil engineering at Wolkite University, about 160 kilometers from Addis Ababa, for just over a year, but found that she did not care for it. When she entered the Diversity Visa Lottery, seeking to live and work in the United States, it was practically a whim—Fasika had no idea what she would do in the USA.
In March 2016, Fasika—a new Green Card holder—moved to the Bay Area. Her relocation to a hub of the tech industry was purely coincidental. Fasika had no plans to work in tech. In fact, she had had relatively little contact with computers before coming to the United States. In Fasika’s computer classes in Ethiopia, resources had been limited. A single computer was generally shared among a large group of students; one student would type, while the others watched.
The Bay Area was a different matter. Fasika was looking for job opportunities in her neighborhood, when she was directed to the Vietnamese Youth Development Center (VYDC). In collaboration with Oakland’s Hack the Hood, VYDC was offering a free, six-week web development boot camp. There, Fasika discovered—in her words—her “passion” for tech. At VYDC’s boot camp, Fasika learned to create websites using Weebly, a drag-and-drop website builder. But she wanted to know what lay behind the tool—the code—so, after completing her first boot camp, she moved on to another, Code Ramp. Fasika’s skill and determination at Code Ramp helped her secure a scholarship for yet another boot camp, Reactor Prep.
Fasika is soft-spoken and self-effacing, but she lights up when the conversation turns toward coding. She likes practically everything about it. Even debugging (that is, identifying errors—sometimes, “just a little comma or semicolon”—that prevent software from working) yields rewards. When you’ve located and corrected the errors in your code, says Fasika, “Oh, my God! You have no idea how it feels!”
Fasika maintains close ties to her country of origin. She is the only member of her immediate family in the United States; her parents and siblings still live in Ethiopia. She keeps up with them via social media—“Facebook, Skype, Viber,” she says—as well as by phone. At the same time, Fasika is creating a community for herself in tech. At VYDC and Hack the Hood, she has found role models who inspire her to direct her burgeoning engineering skills toward helping others. And she’s found friends among her fellow coders, too. It was after getting into tech that Fasika, a native speaker of Amharic, learned the English phrase “meet up.”
With the support of her communities in Ethiopia and the USA, then, Fasika presses onward. She’d like to return to college someday—this time, to study computer science.
--Thea De Armond