Ruben Gersons, co-founder of three tech start-ups, is always looking for talented programmers to work on complicated technology. Little did he know that he was able to recruit new talent through a training program for refugees.
If one was to describe a typical tech start-up environment, this is probably it. In the WeWork open workspace, located in the center of Amsterdam, offices are separated by glass walls. Inside, most people are informally dressed and focused on their screens. Fruit-infused water is served.
One of the offices is occupied by Screen6. A team of nine people is working to develop statistical models. Big monitors with lines of code. A small and adorable puppy is snoozing on the floor.
This is the third company Ruben Gersons co-founded, after successfully selling two of his previous enterprises. He speaks with lots of energy about his journey to get to this point. “Mathematics came easy to me. One day my math teacher in high school told me to write some code.” Ruben was sold and went on to study Artificial Intelligence.
He currently serves as the Chief Technology Officer of Screen6 and his co-founder, David de Jong, is the CEO. They recently opened a branch in New York, their website lists seven vacancies. Yet amidst all the success, there was this nagging feeling he needed to contribute to society a bit more.
Then, about two years ago, his wife read an article in the newspaper about HackYourFuture, a program to teach refugees and other disadvantaged groups how to code. This was in the middle of the European migrant crisis. “This is something for you”, she said.
“I sent an e-mail and asked if I could help.” While teaching for HackYourFuture Ruben quickly realized he could have direct impact by hiring a student as well. Two students applied for an internship. One of them, Samir Aleido, got an offer.
Screen6 builds highly advanced technology. Ruben explains: “Every visitor of a website or an app receives a range of different userIDs. The problem is that this data is anonymous and people use different devices such as a laptop, an Apple-watch, a mobile phone, etc. At Screen6 we produce statistical models which can predict patterns between these userIDs with high accuracy. This helps adtech companies and e-commerce websites to get a much better idea of the behavior of potential customers. An average client provides us between 2 and 20 billion lines of data per day”.
Samir did not have all of the required technical skills when he started his internship for Screen6 but Ruben noticed “his ability to learn fast. Incredibly fast”. That is in line with Screen6’s hiring policy. “For us it is important how quickly people can pick up new things, not what they know already”.
Samir started an internship of six months, but after three months was offered a contract already. “He is now more than a full member of our team. He does some of our most advanced work”, Ruben says.
After the war broke out in 2011, Samir and his family had to move four times in Syria, to escape the violence. He then made the decision to leave the country altogether. “For my family”, he says. After “a lot of walking” and crossing the Mediterranean Sea by boat, he eventually arrived in the Netherlands.
Samir said he always wanted to learn programming. “When I arrived in the Netherlands I did not have a computer. I was trying to learn from books. I read about Java and PHP and was writing down code on paper.” He started working for Screen6 while he was still in the Dutch refugee camp.
“[Scren6] is a friendly environment, not hierarchical. I share the office with Ruben (CTO) and David (CEO). I sometimes joke with David and call him boss. He does not like it”, Samir says while laughing.
Samir now teaches and supports students at HackYourFuture himself, “because I know what situation they are in”. One of his colleagues at Screen6, Bonan Zhao, a data scientist from China, has become a teacher as well.
Bonan: “I have noticed how students change during the HackYourFuture program. In the beginning, students are shy. A few months later they ask questions and work in groups. Most teachers teach in a very egalitarian manner, very Dutch. In Asia, teachers do not ask questions. Students work by themselves.”
She is grateful to have Samir as her colleague. “I am glad I am not the only person in the office who is not from a Western country.” She adds it helps to bring in other talents from abroad. “It wins over Asians to come and work here. Samir is like a bridge between Europe and Asia.”
And there are other positive spin-off effects as well. The quality of lunch has improved significantly for instance. On Monday and Thursday, Samir’s wife makes lunch for the team. Today the team is eating lachmacun. Bonan laughs: “Syrian people have very nice food. If you have a Syrian colleague and they invite you for food, it is really amazing”.
If you are a company looking for developers while making a positive impact on society just like Screen6, we can help! Check out our website for more details or contact our Partnership Manager Federico. We would like to hear from you!