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Author: Hana Grgić

As a clothing lover myself, everything that includes fashion catches my eye. I’m not interested in typical (mainstream) clothing companies, we all know that ultra-fast fashion is eating the world and people are often buying clothes they don’t need. My special interest in clothing lies in a story that a piece of clothing can have, whether this is a unique piece produced in a textile factory that no longer exists, or if it belonged to someone else in the past. I love worn clothes, as long as they remain in good shape and condition. That being said, it’s hard to imagine how excited I was when I saw a pitch about the Worn Stories project during the last Expo Day at CODE in December. I immediately thought “OMG this project needs to be spotlighted”.

Since I’m into worn clothes with a story, I was so delighted to find out what motivated them for their project.

“Our initial idea was something like a blog where you could write stories about your piece of clothing to make people aware of this fast-fashion and to engage with their clothes a little more. Instead of saying ‘this is a really expensive sweater’, saying something like ‘this is my grandmother’s sweater,’” says Hannah Rau, an Interaction Design student and the initiator of the project. Erm, this was everything I ever wanted to know – what kind of a life my now favorite sweater had before it belonged to me!

“Our initial idea was something like a blog where you could write stories about your piece of clothing to make people aware of this fast-fashion and to engage with their clothes a little more. Instead of saying ‘this is a really expensive sweater’, saying something like ‘this is my grandmother’s sweater,’”

How did they start to develop their idea? “Hannah and I started to work on this project last semester as part of the Screen Design foundations module, mostly focused on a design brief from our lecturer Natalía Papadopoúlou. Then we got curious to trace exactly where donated clothes go,” explains Marie Spreitzer, Interaction Design student. Then they came to an idea of having a platform where you can swap clothes, and there you can say what kind of an experience someone had with that piece of clothing. “Then the other person you swap the clothes with will also see what you’ve experienced with it and can add their own story to it,” adds Marie.

Worn Stories team
Worn Stories team

Since this was a design idea rather than a technical one, they still need to think about how this will work in practice, but back to that Expo Day, they’ve received an “Investment Ready Award” (meaning ‘you would bet money on this succeeding now’) from Product Management lecturer Chris Bonau Schmidt. This was a nice push, but also led them to the conclusion that the two designers, Hannah and Marie, really needed that Product Management perspective in the team. This is where another fashion lover came into play.

After Worn Stories gave talks to find a PM, there she was, a perfect PM. Mia McCarthy elaborates on her motivation to join the team: “I remember Marie and Hannah working on the project a little last semester because we did the PM module ‘Communication and Presentation’, and the project caught my eye right there. I am into fashion, and I wanted to go into fashion professionally. One thing I really wished for was some kind of project in the fashion industry.” Having done market research beforehand on other projects, she was convinced that she would be able to help them with Worn Stories.

So, now that you know more about their motivation for the project, I asked them to tell me more about some of their hurdles and teamwork. I also wanted to especially underline the fact that they were an all-female project crew. It’s 2021 yet women in tech are still seen as a minority. That’s a rather sad fact, and while CODE hopes every year to see more and more women, we are aware that the problem is systematic.

Photo by Duy Hoang on Unsplash
Photo by Duy Hoang on Unsplash

In one form or another, women still hear “You’d be better off doing something else” on an everyday basis. 2020 showed us once again that Covid-19 has, in many ways, “exacerbated existing inequalities” for women in tech. It was a natural moment to ask how they feel about the label “Women in Tech”.

“CODE is a very safe space that gives us a lot of opportunities, especially for women, like the ‘Women at CODE’ Slack channel and special events organized for female-identifying individuals,” explains Hannah.

“As a student, I don’t consider myself a woman in tech yet, and I think a big part of that learning journey is also how to navigate as a minority in such a big field like tech,” says Hannah. Her experience at CODE was so far really positive and she never thought of herself as a minority. “CODE is a very safe space that gives us a lot of opportunities, especially for women, like the ‘Women at CODE’ Slack channel and special events organized for female-identifying individuals,” explains Hannah.

Here at CODE, our students are familiar with working in teams from (almost) day one. Having several experiences working on teams already in her studies, Mia wanted to comment on the dynamic in an all-female team. “The beginning of last year, I just worked with my project partner, James. The second half I was with him and three other white, male students. I feel now – also because we have a history of friendship together – it’s something definitely much more comfortable and easy to work with someone like-minded. I enjoy working in an all-female team. We know how to communicate with each other and there are certain things that you just get as a woman.”

All three identify as strong-willed, confident women. “I try not to label things when I’m doing them, as in ‘I’m doing this because I am a woman of color from xyz background’. I just want to be doing the best I can at what I’m trying to do, and we should be confident in what we are doing,” says Mia.

Although I used the term “all-female” a couple of times in this article, Marie is careful about labeling the project as “all-female”. Her aim is not to be celebrated (only) because they are a female team, but because of what they deliver with this project. This is a legitimate concern, but it’s great not to forget about the power that role models can have. They agree. “Some younger girls will know that they can achieve things by seeing others do it, and we need to be at the stage to make that happen,” they say.

I’d be more than excited to use their app and read all those (always) amazing stories that a piece of clothing might have. Fashion industry desperately needs some fresh minds, fostering change to fashion products. Hannah, Marie, and Mia’s ideas are exactly what we need.

Cover photo: Photo by Caleb Lucas on Unsplash


 

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Author: ReBecca Compton 

“I might be addicted to cannabis. I do it a bit too often, maybe I should cut down? Lemme check the internet for what’s out there…Hey! There’s a way for me to practice therapy on my own first.” This is the thought process Jan Brebaum, #thirdparty Interaction Design student, is prepared for…and why he wants his and Dr. Milosz Paul Rosinski’s app Leaf to be at the top of the search results. Jan and Milosz’s goal is to bring addiction therapy into the 21st century. 

Your question is probably: why is an app necessary for addiction therapy? Why not just choose the typical/traditional channels? According to Jan and Milosz, there’s a couple reasons. “Cannabis is the most popular illegal drug. Its users are on average younger than those of other drugs – to combat addiction, therapy must adapt to the needs of young people.” Typical addiction therapy “starts after weeks or months of waiting for a therapist to be available and then follows a weekly schedule of meetings. But what is there apart from this? Patients are basically on their own; it’s not really effective.” 

This is where Leaf comes in! “Leaf is developing a system for patients to reflect on themselves. It integrates modules from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Motivation Enhancement Therapy, and then gives them the opportunity to do interactive therapy with their phone. So they have time decentralized therapy over the week (or therapy on demand, whatever you want to call it).”

A lot to break down there, in the best way! Let’s look at Leaf’s role in the sector of digital health first. Jan explains that Leaf creates “the opportunity for health products that really suit the individual, and not only come from a doctor’s or professional’s perspective.” Seeing the individual as exactly that – an individual – allows Leaf to address more nuanced patient needs. “It’s more intimate than normal doctor/patient relationships.” And one of the best parts: it lowers the threshold to go into therapy for digital natives. 

Leaf is developing a system for patients to reflect on themselves. It integrates modules from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Motivation Enhancement Therapy, and then gives them the opportunity to do interactive therapy with their phone.

Leaf’s still growing and developing, so we asked Jan about one of the team’s next big hurdles. You won’t be surprised to learn that overcoming this hurdle would add another big advantage to Leaf: The team is getting in touch with various addiction counseling programs to find out what self-reflection really means in addiction therapy. Since self-reflection is one of the strongest weapons in dealing with addiction, speaking with people who are in addiction therapy now is the best way to gain insights into effective techniques. 

Milosz Jan Leaf article

And here’s one of our favorite questions to ask any startup: What’s your end goal? “To be a Digitale Gesundheitsanwendung: if patients go to a therapist, they have the opportunity to get the app prescribed, and health insurance covers it.”

Of course we can’t forget that Jan is working on Leaf while studying, so let’s hear about some of his learnings! We asked him about some of the ways he’s grown professionally through his work on Leaf. “It’s great to build my own project. I’ve learned a lot about startups and social startups and how to build them. Working together with a co-founder and being accountable to each other because there is not a classic ‘boss’ who watches us, but rather we are building it on our own. I learned how to talk to users or potential users. Still learning of course.”

Professional growth is incredibly valuable, but it’s only one side of the coin. What about his personal growth? He says, “I’ve been learning a lot in terms of motivation. I’m really driven by great ideas, I love to explore them, elaborate on them, work on them. It’s a form of self-discovery, to build this thing. It’s an amazing experience to work on a project that also might help people in the future. This might be what I really love to do in life.”

It’s great to build my own project. I’ve learned a lot about startups and social startups and how to build them. Working together with a co-founder and being accountable to each other because there is not a classic ‘boss’ who watches us, but rather we are building it on our own. I learned how to talk to users or potential users. Still learning of course.”

Recovering from addiction isn’t a journey that’s typically associated with the idea of “joy”, but the way Jan talks about it, these ideas can go hand in hand. We asked him an interesting question: if you had a magic microphone to broadcast a message directly into the brain of a potential Leaf user, what would you say? “Every small step matters. Improve the small things. Addiction is something to do with self-judgement, so many people who struggle with addiction are not happy with parts of themselves. If they learn to see addiction not as a bad personal trait, but what it is: a psychological condition, they can then accept that, accept themselves, and build on that.” 

We as a society can do even better than “just” acceptance. Leaf offers something even beyond medical support: a change in perspective. “It’s important to see the effects of the societal stigma of addiction. Today, it’s kind of taboo, ‘Oh, you’re addicted!’ It’s something really bad or you must be a bad person. But addiction is something normal, it is something very human. Many people struggle with addiction in their lives at some point. It would be beautiful to see a societal change there.”

Cover image: photo by Bence Sandor Sztrecska on Unsplash.


 

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Author: ReBecca Compton

Hey you, come closer! I have something super secret to tell you: what it’s really like inside one of CODE’s Admission Days! Don’t tell anyone I’m telling you this…

I know you’ve been nervous about the application process, and I totally understand, but you don’t need to be! Let me give you a peek into what your Admission Day (AD) will look like to show you what I mean. Keep in mind: by then you’ll already have done your written application, submitted a challenge and had a call with our amazing Admissions Team. Now it’s time for your AD!

“If you’re excited about the unique program that CODE is offering then you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that the rest of the applicants in your Admission Day will be similarly excited. Having a room full of passionate people can be an electric experience.” -Nicholas R, Software Engineering, #4thDimension

The ADs are great because 1. You get to meet members of the team and current students 2. You find out all about our learning concept 3. You learn more about CODE’s culture and 4. It’s just super fun. It’s an intense day, but the kind of day where at the end, you take a deep, satisfying breath and say, “Wow, I did a lot. I deserve some cake.”

Until after the pandemic is over, the ADs are all remote, so bonus: you get to do the whole day from your home desk – very comfy. At 9 AM CEST, you’ll tune in, along with the Admissions Team and the members of the team (meaning staff and faculty) and current students who are helping out that day.

And this is where it really gets good. Oh, if the Admissions Team knew I was telling you this, I’d be so busted, so let’s keep this between us. 

Icebreakers? Pft, the Admissions Team knows them all. Let’s just say that I’m #VideoGames, #Diversity and #KidsAreCoolerThanAdults 😉 After the ice is sufficiently broken, you’ll jump into your first activity. I can’t tell you what it is, BUT I can tell you that it’s really fun. Just check out these pics of the team when they tried it out earlier this year!

Student Lifecycle team
The Student Lifecycle team

Next you’ll have some info rounds! You’ll learn about our curriculum and about our community – all the best CODE-y stuff. I’ll be in one of the info rounds, but don’t worry: when I see you, I’ll pretend this conversation never happened. 

On to the meat and potatoes of the day: your second activity! This one’s more of a structured task. I can’t…*looks over shoulder* I can’t tell you what it is, but it’s the kind of thing you’ll have a few hours to work on. This part’s amazing because you get to work with the other applicants, making it the perfect practice for the group-working-on-a-project stuff that happens every day at CODE. It’s also just…awesome to spend time with the other applicants, laughing with them while you work together on something cool. 

“On the Admission Day we found ourselves in an environment which was a lot like what CODE turned out to be. The people I met there were both driven to do their best and supportive of one another. The air resonated with cooperation rather than competition. The people I worked with payed so much attention to help each other’s work, so we could rely on our teammates right away. My first friendships at CODE formed at the Admission Day.” -Péter W, Software Engineering, #ThirdParty

You’ll have time for an interview then too. I know what you’re thinking, but don’t freak out! It’s really just a way to spend time with the team one-on-one. It’s hard to get to know everyone well when we’re all in a bigger group, so this is your chance to have the team’s undivided attention to talk about the coolest person ever: you!

After that’s all finished, all the applicants come together to talk about what you did in your task, get some feedback from the team and students and settle in for your last info session (all your questions about payments: answered!). Last, but not least for the day: the team and students will come back to wish everyone a fantastic evening, and you can leave the Zoom call to go sleep for 15 hours straight.

“Scary as it may seem, don’t panic. It’s kind of fun actually. Try to enjoy it.” -Sijia T, Software Engineering, #4thDimension

See? Not so scary! You’ll even find out if you got accepted by the end of that same day! I didn’t mention earlier, but of course there’s also some breaks sprinkled in there, so you’ll have time to catch your breath now and then.

Oh…oh no, some team members are headed this way, I gotta go. Remember, I never told you all this insider information! 🤫 See you at your AD! Apply here


 

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Author: ReBecca Compton

Say you’re putting together a panel for an entrepreneurship event. You want your panel to feature people from diverse backgrounds…but your pool of potential panelists doesn’t reflect the diversity you’re shooting for. Because the lack-of-representation problem started long before any single panel’s selection process, how do we know where to even begin to make things better? We have CODE Catalyst to save the day! More specifically, one of our #thirdparty PM students, Aya Douba, works with Catalyst to add a layer of support targeting female founders. 

Now we have to ask the nitty-gritty questions: Why isn’t female representation where we want it to be? What can we do about it?

For CODE students who want to found or grow their startup, Catalyst is our entrepreneurial hub: a springboard for founders.

Forgive the cliffhanger, but let’s give some context first: CODE Catalyst isn’t only for female founders, but all founders! For CODE students who want to found or grow their startup, Catalyst is our entrepreneurial hub: a springboard for founders. Since CODE and entrepreneurship go together like peanut butter and jelly (a reference for the Americans in the house), CODE Catalyst’s existence was a natural continuation of many of the attitudes found at CODE. 

Catalyst Graduation
CODE Catalyst Graduation Day, August 2020, photo by: Tobias Wittekindt

Ok, back to the burning questions. Let’s dive into Aya’s wisdom by directing some of our questions to her: Why is female representation in entrepreneurial spaces something that needs attention? Her answer is simple: “From research and surveys we know that women want to be there founding companies. It’s not like CODE Catalyst is forcing hopes and dreams on women. They want to start something.”

Well great! So…why don’t they? Let’s return to the idea of panelist selection at the start of the article. How can you select women when there’s no women to select from? Aya’s advice: ask different questions. “Did we really ‘just’ not select any women or was the event not appealing to women? How can we make it appealing to women? 

“The instinctual decision might be ‘let’s just find a woman, any woman, so we save face and fill in a quota’. This would be putting a stick in the wheel instead of fixing the problem. Underrepresentation will keep happening over and over until we find the real reason why there aren’t women in that space. It’s a circle that feeds itself: there’s so few women in the business world, we don’t see ourselves represented, so now we’re producing even fewer, and it goes on…”

PM student and a founder Mia McCarthy
PM student and a founder Mia McCarthy working in the Catalyst workspace on our campus, photo by: Carina König

Making your call for panelists more appealing to women is a great first step, so let’s keep the momentum going for another step: giving support to female founders while they’re founding their company. Looking at CODE’s student body, women are in the minority, and the entrepreneurship and startup world reflects that imbalance. 

Underrepresentation will keep happening over and over until we find the real reason why there aren’t women in that space.

However, CODE Calalyst’s research found that the best time to found a startup is while studying. Even further, “When we did studies in the CODE community, we realized that the average female student already is entrepreneurial by nature because this is one of the values of CODE. Instead of having 2-3% of the founders women, we wanted to support more women starting their journey to get all the support that they need. That’s why we try to fill in all the gaps that are posing issues for women of CODE.”

Every founder has gaps to fill and hurdles to overcome, but the thing is: the gaps and hurdles facing female founders are unique and almost always gender-based. “In the business world, women are held at such higher standards. Because there is much less female representation, the few of us who make it are always watched. Because they represent the whole group, they’re not able to fail as much: the failure of one represents the failure of many.”

Are there other factors that play into women being nudged away from founding? Unfortunately: of course! And some of it has to do with the way we understand what entrepreneurship asks of us. “We have so many people who still believe in ‘gender roles’. The way entreprepreneurship is sold to us is that you can’t start a company, to bring this baby – this company – to life, when you are ‘actually’ supposed to bring real babies to this world.

Campus Catalyst space
Catalyst space on our campus, photo by: Carina König

“It’s sold to us like it’s something you have to do every hour of every day, which is wrong: you can of course do it part time, beside your life. We’re told we have the jobs we can never quit, which is our care job, our home job. Even if we are career women, we can’t be flexible.” Then let’s all take Aya’s lead and forget everything we thought we knew about entrepreneurship! We hear you though, it’s easier said than done, and it’s a process that takes time and mistakes. That’s ok. 

In the business world, women are held at such higher standards. Because there is much less female representation, the few of us who make it are always watched.

So let’s get started taking that time and making those mistakes! What do you do if you have an idea for a company; you’re ready to take the first step, but you don’t know where to place your feet? “Believe in yourself first and don’t be afraid of what would happen ‘if’. Don’t think about the ‘future us’ who failed and how she is dealing with her failure, with the crowd. I really believe if you never try, you will regret way more than if you tried and failed.” CODE sees learning as productive failing, so even as we realize this is an oversimplification…founding your startup is a win-win!


 

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Author: ReBecca Compton

Think of the expanding number of CODE’s graduates like a dam breaking. First we had 2, then only a few weeks later 5, suddenly 9, with handfuls and handfuls more turning in their Capstone Projects (final projects) every month. CODE alumni leave these hallowed, tech-y halls with trajectories so incredibly different that it’s impossible not to find someone who’s doing something that you (yes, you) are interested in.

But since we can’t talk to everyone in a short article, we sat down (with distance 😉) with three of these alumni. They’re a mix of alumni and students who aren’t technically finished, but come on, they’re one CODE-issued document away from having graduated. 

Who are they? Glad you asked. We have:

Jean Hernández Meze (Piero), who is a Software Development Engineer for Amazon Web Services (AWS).

“AWS CloudWatch has the biggest time stream database on the planet right now.”

Darleen Zumbruch, who designs for two companies: Ergosign and the non-profit organization Between the Lines. 

“We worked on the project with 5 CODE students, and now we’re an organization with 16 team members and more than 60 supporters. I’m very proud to be here.”

Constantin Schreiber, who co-founded Blair and takes care of the product and tech side of the company.

“Keep the spirit and pay it forward, whatever that means for you.”

The community of CODE is intricate and intimate, and after getting their diploma, the connections former students have with their Alma Mater don’t just dissolve. But before focusing in on the future, let’s take a quick glance back. Is there something about CODE that helped them move forward after they finished studying?

Constantin: “I think it’s just the CODE platform. So before CODE, I was already registered for Computer Science at another traditional university. I knew Tom Bachem [our chancellor] and thought, ‘Eh, why not take a look at the Admission Day’. Already then, I felt that there was a different type of person interested in CODE than there was at the other university, and that’s what got me to kick my registration for them and join CODE. 

Constantin Alumni
Constantin Schreiber

Another thing that really helped in the process was CODE’s cooperation with 42, just getting the opportunity to go to Silicon Valley for a couple months. 

And then, the whole working in small teams on products. There’s very little difference between doing it in a CODE setting and doing it in the real world, so the transition is very smooth. At Blair, we found that our employees coming from a more traditional university setting have a much harder time adjusting than CODE people. They basically sit down and get to work from day one, they’re familiar with all the processes.”

I mean, wow, that sounds great! What about advice? Let’s say you, dear reader, are about to start studying at CODE, or maybe you’re already here (hi!), but you still have plenty of time to go. What should you be considering when you think about how to make your time at CODE really count?

Darleen: “Just make what you want to what you’re interested in. What’s important for you and what do you want to change? Then tackle this. Think about what makes you happy in your studies and what you want to do in the future. For example, for me, it is a pleasure to work for Between the Lines, and only with CODE did I get the mindset to engage in a non-profit organization as a designer. It’s important that you think about what motivates you.”

Each of our alumni mentioned that one of the great things about CODE was how the work you do here makes for a natural transition into the workforce. So let’s look into that even deeper. How did CODE help you transition into the working world?

Piero: “If you already have a job offer, adapt to the company environment because it’s probably going to be very different from what you were experiencing in university. It’s not as different as at other universities that are mostly theoretical and the shock going to a company is very high. That’s a benefit of CODE, that you actually do the practical stuff during your 3 years there. There is still an adaptation process, but what I learned helped me in my previous job, which in turn helped me in my Amazon interview. The module on distributed processing was particularly special for me.”

Piero Alumni
Jean Hernández Meze (Piero)

As the crack in the dam gets bigger every semester, what else could we say except that CODE is a unique place to get your Bachelor’s for a thousand reasons. We’ll let Constantin sum up our feelings as we close: “At CODE, you turn around and you have 20 people sitting there, very helpful and wanting to get you forward. I think that’s really what CODE is about.”

To learn more about Piero, Darleen and Constantin and what they’re doing now, click on their names.


 

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Author: ReBecca Compton 

Yoav Weber is CODE’s first student to do a study exchange at Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). We had originally conceptualized NTNU as first-and-foremost for Interaction Design students, but Yoav is there studying Software Engineering (why only be the first when you can also do things differently than expected?).

Within the (digital) walls of the uni, Yoav’s been a bit of a unicorn. “It’s funny, every person I had the chance to interact with, I tell them, ‘ya, I come from a university that has no exams,’ and they’re like, ‘What?!’ And everyone’s really shocked and really curious about me.” While we think part of this reaction is due to Yoav’s sparkling personality, the curiosity about his home university doesn’t just come from his peers. Yoav also has professors asking how learning works at CODE, even looking for feedback on NTNU courses.

Yoav Weber - Norway
Photo by: Yoav Weber

While we think part of this reaction is due to Yoav’s sparkling personality, the curiosity about his home university doesn’t just come from his peers. Yoav also has professors asking how learning works at CODE, even looking for feedback on NTNU courses.

Noticing the learning differences between CODE and NTNU, Yoav says, “I’m not used to people explaining and going every step…It’s challenging, but it’s not very hard. I feel like I’m being walked, hand in hand.” He says that CODE has taught him to think more independently, outside of the boundaries of the specific learning goals for the courses. Not everything has been wine and roses though, and he’s also found a gap in knowledge: his theoretical math foundation isn’t where he wishes it was. But! If CODE has taught him anything, it’s to approach the lecturers when he’s unsure about his progress (our lectures’ office hours rival any vacation to Cancun, after all).

Yoav Weber
Photo by: Yoav Weber

On to more goodies: what is the exchange like culturally? Well, the pandemic has a hand in everything, because of course it does. After his 10-day quarantine, he’s been more-than-a-bit separated from other students, even though as we write this, NTNU has begun offering a hybrid of online/in-person sessions. “I feel like I’m missing quite much. We did have a social activity 2 weeks ago, we met exchange students, it was super nice! But I still don’t know people here.” On the other hand (a mitten-ed hand, because it was -18C the day we talked to him), he has no regrets; doing an exchange now was what fit into his academic timeline. Besides, NTNU has lots of resources for exchange students: getting together with other exchange-ers, providing assistance finding a local doctor, and in Yoav’s case, a super cool landlord who already took him hiking a few times.

On to more goodies: what is the exchange like culturally? Well, the pandemic has a hand in everything, because of course it does.

The city of Gjøvik itself is amazing. “I feel like I’m in the middle of nowhere. It’s really beautiful here. It’s freezing, it’s snowing, I’m going snowboarding on Sunday.” He and his girlfriend were gearing up to travel to a Norwiegan island that’s only reachable by plane; they’ll watch the Northern lights and hopefully see some polar bears — which is very easy on the island as there’re more polar bears than people. (And cue the request to take a selfie with one. (Kidding! Please respect wildlife 😉 ))

Yoav Weber Norway
Photo by: Yoav Weber

To students still deciding on the exchange, he says, “Why not? You have the opportunity to go to a beautiful place and experience a different lifestyle and type of studying. Honestly, it’s easy! Everything is made [ready] for you (shout out to CODE’s amazing internationalization team!). You just need to pack your stuff, organize a few minor things”. Other bits of advice? Try to rent a car to get around the, let’s just say, not-quite-Berlin-level public transport, eat fish if you aren’t vegetarian or vegan because it’s cheap, dress warm!, talk to other students to understand your courses better, and save your money. “I’m after a shower, so you can’t see my hair in its full glory, but I haven’t had a haircut for a long time because it’s 30EUR, and I’m trying to postpone this painful moment.” We thought his hair was fabulous that day, but we see his point: pretty much everything is more expensive than what Berliners are used to.

Yoav Weber Norway
Photo by: Yoav Weber

To students still deciding on the exchange, he says, “Why not? You have the opportunity to go to a beautiful place and experience a different lifestyle and type of studying. Honestly, it’s easy!

Is it old news that 64% of employers think that having international experience is important when hiring and in giving greater responsibility down the road? Probably, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting to talk about! After Corona, things will be even “more alive”, and NTNU has an organization specifically for exchange students. “Talk, don’t be shy,” Yoav says. “[You’ll] enjoy seeing a different type of studies.”


 

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It’s no secret that the first semester at every university is usually the most exciting and very challenging. This year, however, something completely new occurred. Nobody could predict, not even in the wildest dreams, that this year will bring the COVID-19 pandemic except maybe Bill Gates.

Last year, a #thirdparty student Suad Kamardeen wrote an article explaining how the first semester, orientation semester (OS), at CODE looks like outlining the most important yet challenging aspects. But when we announced at some point in summer that the fourth generation of CODE students will start their studies remotely, the challenging semester became ever more challenging.

“In my own experience with remote setup, I can say that remote setup is not only a challenge in itself but also an additional burden when you are just starting your studies. Social activities, in particular, suffer from this, as many things are not possible to the normal extent or are not possible at all,” says Barb Iverson, orientation semester coordinator and a lecturer for Interpersonal Skills. The main idea behind the orientation semester is to try to get students to do a step back from the old way of education. “In that semester we try to get students to let go of the old ways they thought about education and learning and how to show it (tests!), and embrace a different style that values showing acquired knowledge differently (no tests!) and understanding and reflecting on it,” she explains.

The main idea behind the orientation semester is to try to get students to do a step back from the old way of education.

Although she and the OS team worked hard to make the remote OS the best possible, we wanted to hear reflections from the student’s perspective.

This generation of CODE students joined together to find ways to grow as a community, even though they span 13 time zones. Four CODE students from the #fourthdimension are sharing their perspectives.

Katerina Zafeiri went back to university at the age of 27 in this madness of a year, as she calls it. She’s not questioning the challenging aspect of studying in a remote-first context and through a screen, without real connections with her peers. However, “not all is bad,” she points out. She shared her takeaways on studying remotely:

  1. There is never a perfect time for anything in life. If we keep waiting for one to come around, we will spend the rest of our lives waiting. This is the time we have. Let’s make it count right here, right now.
  2. Enjoy your moments in lectures, group works, and events. This might seem weird to some but bear with me – whether we are aware of it or not, moments are incredibly fleeting. So, take it one lecture at a time and try to be more aware that being in the same time and space with everyone from the fourth generation is extremely precious.
  3. Yes, it is restrictive not to move freely, hug, kiss, and party around, but it is a minimal price to pay, especially considering that people have paid with their lives in this pandemic. One sentence keeps resounding by Eva Menasse I read a while back. Roughly translated she says: “As long as we live, every disaster can be turned into its opposite. As long as we live, the best [outcome] is always possible”.
  4. Human connection is possible under any circumstance. We simply have to take action. We cannot wait for others if we are not brave enough to open up, even through a screen.
  5. These vastly cursed screens – screens that I see more as a blessing than a curse by now. They make it possible in times like these that we can sit around together and see each other. Our reactions as humans have not changed. If anything, our reactions are amplified. So be brave and show yourself on camera because chances are you are missing out on connecting with others. Also just let yourself react how you usually would and don’t try to control yourself in front of the screen all the time.
  6. Community is not built through physical proximity. It is built through your actions every day. Showing up, speaking up, and making yourself heard. I am deeply in awe of the people I study with, their drive, their ideas and their poise, and I am a decade older than many of my fellow students. I can’t wait to see them grow and to grow alongside of them.
  7. I got overwhelmed quite a few times during this semester and had bursts of frustration, anger, sorrow, and anything along these lines. Luckily, I have many proven ways to cope with them: whether by re-reading some favorite books of mine, watching a fun episode of New Girl, doing some yoga, or dancing wildly through my apartment until a neighbor starts hammering against the wall. And on the rare occasion, my countermeasures do not work, and I just let myself be. The diversity of emotions that we feel throughout this time has its place and its validity, and without the bad, how would we recognize the good.
CODE Campus without students
CODE Campus without students

Nicholas Romeo is doing his lectures from the other part of the world, Seattle:

“It’s hard to imagine what an onsite OS would be like after about six months of remote admissions and courses, but even if everything didn’t go as smoothly as I expected, I was always surprised by just how much effort everyone put in. The teachers really tried to connect with and motivate students, and the students arranged remote social gatherings and kept Slack lively. The tools sometimes failed us but I do feel like I’ve made meaningful connections and trust that those will help me keep up with my learning.”

Corona hit all of us and brought many changes: how we interact with people, how we approach work and studies, and how to prioritize things in life.

Luca M. Roth initiated CODE Mixer – a Virtual Campus on Discord to host a series of events where students can play online games, watch movies together or just have a chat with fellow students and team:

“In my own experience with remote setup, I can say that remote setup is not only a challenge in itself, but also an additional burden when you are just starting your studies. In particular, social activities suffer from this, as many things are not possible to the normal extent or are not possible at all. Unfortunately, digital meetings cannot compensate or replace this. I believe that the 4D was unable to gain some experience as a result, which is not unimportant for the coming core semesters. Nevertheless, I also had many very positive experiences, and the CODE team did a great job to make the remote semester the best possible success.”

Thais Correia sees CODE’s orientation semester as an experimental laboratory to train various things:

“Corona hit all of us and brought many changes: how we interact with people, how we approach work and studies, and how to prioritize things in life. The first thing was to get used to watching online classes. How to interact with students and professors in this environment? That is a subjective answer. I believe each person approached the problem differently. I decided always to have office hours with someone from each course every week. Sometimes we will talk about the project and other times about life, the present and future or any other thing. So I did what was possible with the tools I had and it works pretty well. I’ve got to know the professors, the students and tried to simulate the real interaction. Is it perfect? No, but it was the best we could do to face this weird situation. I learn a lot this semester; be more flexible, patient, and learn when and how to ask for help, which can be a real challenge if you are not used to it.”

These and similar examples are showing us how students embraced the projects and goals that we have put in front of them. “Even though we wouldn’t choose to do a remote orientation semester again, #fourthdimension showed us it was possible to do it well,” Barb concludes.


 

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Virtual Demo Day was a perfect opportunity to finally introduce our first graduate, Oluwatobi (Tobi) Adeyinka. CODE chancellor and founder, Thomas Bachem, remembered Tobi’s first day at CODE and the moment when we asked students to come up with three hashtags that describe them. Tobi’s hashtags were #empathy #existentialism and #positivity. Three years later, with our first graduate, we want to reflect on this journey.

We’ve said this time and time again: founding a university is not easy. Just having an idea about creating one is already crazy.

But hey, we had the vision to offer something different than traditional universities. By no means did we want to teach just software development or programming. We wanted to move away from frontal teaching and instead offer project-based learning. Then we found a perfect place for the university, the Factory – at that point, soon-to-be a meeting point and vibrant community for many startups and companies in Berlin. But what the heck is all that without students? 

They were mad enough to trust our experiment, our efforts, and eagerness to disrupt the education system, and persistent enough to push us to work more, to improve, and to challenge us, every day.

In the beginning, we went to many student fairs. We’ve seen many halls throughout Germany, carrying large white CODE letters with us, rebuilding our booth every time, wanting to answer every single question and to make ourselves visible.

Onboarding Days #firstclass
The first onboarding days back in 2017.

And then the students came. We always refer to our first generation of around 70 students as the “crazy” ones. Or crazy enough to be guinea pigs to the new way of learning and studying. They were mad enough to trust our experiment, our efforts, and eagerness to disrupt the education system, and persistent enough to push us to work more, to improve, and to challenge us, every day. The very first days and months were hectic. The Factory was still under a lot of construction work, the dust was everywhere, and to be frank, we did a lot of lectures wearing jackets hoping that the sunny and warm days were just around the corner. 

But dreaming about starting a university means that we’ve dreamt about seeing all those students leaving CODE with a lifelong, beneficial relationship between CODE and its community of students, graduates, and partners. It was hard to imagine, back in 2017 – the day will eventually come, and we will have our first graduate(s). And here we are, after existing for three years we have our two graduates, our first alumni: Oluwatobi (Tobi) Adeyinka, who studied Software Engineering, and Elias Khattar, who studied Product Management. 

Originally from Nigeria, in August 7, 2017 Tobi had his first admission day at CODE. September 1, Tobi’s first day at CODE. Three years later, our Tobi is now a successful software engineer developing his career in Berlin. 

A software engineering student and our first graduate, #firstclass, Oluwatobi (Tobi) Adeyinka, is one of the crazy ones, and we hope he doesn’t mind us saying that. Originally from Nigeria, on August 7, 2017, Tobi had his first admission day at CODE. September 1, Tobi’s first day at CODE. Three years later, our Tobi is now a successful software engineer developing his career in Berlin. 

When asked about the attraction he felt towards CODE, Tobi remembers an “efficient approach to studying Software Engineering and the opportunity to jump into real-world projects from the start of your studies.”

Jonathan and Tobi
Tobi, our first graduate and CODE co-founder Jonathan Rüth

At CODE, students start with the Orientation Semester seen not only as a transitional period but also to introduce students to the interdisciplinary study concept of CODE. Our Orientation Semester helps students to choose what they really want to study at CODE, by focusing on a combination of hard and soft skills, which we deem to be essential to study, in particular, to join a project group in a core semester — in any role. We offer them guidance, courses, personal and interpersonal workshops, and project check-ins. After Orientation Semester, comes Core Semester, this is the time when our students acquire new skills, master key concepts, and gain state-of-the-art expert knowledge by working on challenging projects with your fellow students from all three study programs. Our competence framework ensures students to work on projects that challenge them in the fields that they are currently prioritizing. Together with our partners and student teams, Tobi worked on several student projects, Tripme with Trivago and Event-Driven Warehouse with METRO, to name a couple.

Finally, in the Synthesis Semester– we challenge students to apply all the skills and competencies that they have acquired during their time at CODE. Students then create their own project from scratch and put together a team of fellow students. This capstone project will be the final stage of their learning journey at CODE – Bachelor thesis will be the theoretical reflection on a key aspect of the capstone project.

The same way we wanted to have a different university, we also wanted to have a diverse community – to build a community far away from a distanced and alienated group of people that occasionally meets in front of the lecturing rooms. Our students come from more than 60 different countries from all around the world and different walks of life. What brings the community together is a shared passion for digital product development, collaboration, and a drive to disrupt the status quo. Tobi was a big part of that community, too. “People learn in different ways, and at CODE, you are given a high-level framework of the things you need to learn for your degree. Beyond that, the way you learn these things is completely up to you. This creates an environment where people with widely varying ways of learning can still study together and also learn from differing perspectives,” says Tobi. 

Our community is growing, now counting 365 students. Still, it sounds surreal to think where we were (just) three years before. 

Today CODE looks different. We are stretching across around 1300m2, don’t have any issues with the heating, and soon will be getting airconditioning to help us get through the warm summer days (which is an unusual thing for Germany!). Our community is growing, now counting 365 students. Still, it sounds surreal to think where we were (just) three years before. 

Tobi submitted his thesis in November 2019. At the end of December, he spent five semesters at CODE altogether.

CODE campus in construction
Co-founder Jonathan Rüth during the campus construction back in 2017.

And for Tobi, things are going smoothly. He’s now establishing his career under the dynamic Berlin fintech sky. What started as a part-time student job, turned into a full-time position after graduation. Tobi’s perspective on studying at CODE resonates well with what we want to point out to future generations. There’s always a lot of things happening at CODE: new learning opportunities, talks from professionals, and networking events within the industry. As a student, he suggests being vocal about what the most valuable for an individual learning experience is. That way, students shouldn’t lose the primary goal at CODE. “I think what helped me the most was carving out a specific path of exactly what I wanted from CODE right from the start, and sticking to that path throughout my studies,” he concludes. 

We don’t want Tobi to walk away from the CODE community, and we do know for sure, graduation doesn’t mean goodbye, and just to make this official: he’s not wearing that damn academic gown! 

Lead Photo: our first graduate, Oluwatobi (Tobi) Adeyinka. Photo by: Lukas Schramm

 

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There are so many things we do every day that we take for granted: browsing the internet, texting our friends, scrolling our Instagram feeds, opening the Spotify playlist. But many technology-related actions we do are not accessible to millions of people with disabilities and impairments worldwide. 

Back in 2012, Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) was launched and it has been marked annually every third Thursday of May in order to highlight the need for increased digital accessibility. 

Two CODE students, Maya Alroy, an Interaction Design student, and Tetiana Boliukh, a Product Management student, are definitely the leaders in steering the conversation about accessibility at CODE. 

Along with many efforts within the field, the day promotes real improvements that are helping many people to overcome obstacles when using technology. But despite the improvements and finally opening conversations on the importance of inclusion amongst designers, developers, and tech leaders, there is still a lot of work to do. Here at CODE, we recognize the importance of these conversations, and our students are actively encouraged to co-design more accessible learning journeys that address their individual requirements. We know we could do more. 

CODE students Tetiana and Maya
CODE students Maya (right) and Tetiana (left)

Two CODE students, Maya Alroy, an Interaction Design student, and Tetiana Boliukh, a Product Management student, are definitely the leaders in steering the conversation about accessibility at CODE. 

Maya’s interest in the topic comes from a personal perspective; because of her own deafness in one ear she was always more aware of the barriers that technology users might face, but she additionally has the notion to support people through technology. “Through a UX course I started a couple of years ago, I was made aware of the problems that people with disabilities are facing with technology. I started to work on my own sign language app idea, and I continued to work on it during my orientation semester at CODE,” says Maya.

“I always strived for maximum inclusion – every person should be included and feel comfortable in society. That seemed to me like the only fair base,” explains Tetiana. At CODE she met Maya and, learning about her hearing disabilities, she just started to try to observe the world through her perspective. “And then I was thinking: as a product manager, I’m building the product. How can I continue to sleep tight at night knowing that somebody out there is struggling to use that product?” she asked herself.

Maya and Tetiana went together to the A11y Accessibility conference on the accessibility topic last year in Berlin. They both described the event as an inspiring breaking point and warn that there are a lot of disabilities on the spectrum that need to be taken into account. Not all disabilities are visible. For instance, there are also cognitive disabilities/impairments, and simple solutions like a consistent layout and the use of plain language would enable people with different learning disabilities/impairments. 

I was thinking: as a product manager, I’m building the product. How can I continue to sleep tight at night knowing that somebody out there is struggling to use that product?

When she is doing some design work, Maya says that she has a checklist. “I’m checking 1000 times if the colors that I’m using are accessible. I check the contrast and how all this will perform in the screen reader.” 

Maya worked on a research project at CODE to understand more about visual impairments and technology, with support from Tetiana. “I wanted to learn how the eye works… about blindness and color blindness, and how the screen reader works… I went back home to Israel to visit Migdal Or, a multi-service center dedicated to advancing people with blindness or visual impairment towards independent functioning and inclusion in the workplace.” She collected a lot of data, went to many meetups in Berlin, and talked with many inspiring people. She met Matt May, the Head of Inclusion at Adobe at the accessibility conference in Scotland, who talked about how design thinking and empathy aren’t the most effective tools when designing for disabled people – disabled people need to be co-creators of our products and not only our inspiration. 

Expo 2020
Maya’s project during Expo 2019

During the Expo Day in December 2019, Maya showcased the results of her work. “I arranged different posters with quotes, darkened my screen and I opened the screen reader and encouraged people to try it out. It was interesting to see how many people were afraid of leaving their comfort zone. Some students were hesitating. I know I can’t change all of their minds but I just always want to point out a very practical approach: ‘Building a website, it’s like a house. If you build it with no accessibility from the beginning, it will be much harder to fix it.’”

Disabled people need to be co-creators of our products and not only our inspiration. 

Tetiana thinks that the key aspect is to normalize the topic of disability and raise awareness of what is actually happening around us. “You might not know that the person sitting right next to you is facing obstacles you have no idea about.” 

Following Visability93, a design project to raise awareness for invisible disabilities, Maya placed posters on the wall next to the CODE kitchen area with many icons for some of the most common invisible disabilities. Next to the posters, there were stickers so that everybody could put a sticker on the icon they identify with. 

Visability 93 posters at CODE
Visability 93 posters at CODE

We asked Maya and Tetiana to share a few pieces of advice on how we could all be more aware of accessibility features. “If you are a designer, check the color contrasts. There is so much information online to educate yourself with, so many tutorials for how to execute accessibility tests, and many different plugins that can screen the website and tell you what can be improved. In general, discover the world of accessibility.”

“I often say to Maya, with your hearing aid, you have a superpower… you can make the world louder, quieter, or even completely mute it.” Tetiana makes a final remark and reminds us all that, as a community, we could and should do more.


 

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With the spread of COVID-19 reaching the level of a global pandemic, it was inevitable for CODE University of Applied Sciences and the digital pioneers that we needed to make some changes. That’s why we decided very early to take action and are now happy to announce that almost all our learning formats take place as usual, but remotely.⁣ It is our responsibility to contribute as much as we can to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Although this poses a big challenge and opportunity to the CODE community, students, faculty and staff, we are working every day on a range of support measures for everyone individually and CODE as a whole to ensure that we maintain a community despite being remote.

So, how are we doing this?

Much more than in physical classrooms – all of a sudden there is an awkward silence. With only one click, students can leave the call without explanation. In-person, students think twice before walking without explanation.

Like many others in this situation, we didn’t have time to plan, but we are aware that, as digital pioneers, we do have an advantage that many other universities and companies don’t have. Earlier in March, from the point when the whole situation started to seem inevitable, we started to think about the equipment. Knowing that our professors will need our full support for the upcoming weeks, we asked them to write down the equipment they need in order to create the best possible learning experience in a remote teaching setup. It seems it’s all about the mic! And, of course, remote conferencing tools.

Online teaching definitely poses a challenge and we do know that through the screen everything fundamentally changes. Our Software Engineering professor Peter Ruppel writes extensively about his experience here on the blog. Even with perfect equipment and tools (and we know that perfection doesn’t exist), there are still obstacles. Much more than in physical classrooms – all of a sudden there is an awkward silence. With only one click, students can leave the call without explanation. In-person, students think twice before walking without explanation. But most importantly, our task now is to create a participatory environment and nurture engaging discussions – there is a moment when sticky notes turn into chat lines.

Students agree that learning units are working really well for now and are mostly positively surprised how smoothly everything has gone in the first few days, while professors and lecturers are giving their best to keep it interactive and engaging. Software Engineering student Maurice says that the learning units were “great and well prepared,” and what was especially valuable for him was the access to different virtual rooms for working in pairs.

Selma, also a Software Engineering student, shared her thoughts on remote teamwork: “We will try out different tools: Google Meet, Tandem, using Notion for documentation; and evaluate each week if it is working for us. Even though we actually did remote meetings before, it still takes quite some time to adjust to the new full remote set up.”

We are helping our students with a few clever tips like staying away from the couch but also super useful ones about the tools they are using, to help them to keep up with the routine, to stay in touch with the team members, and help them to cope with physical distancing.

Julia, a Product Management student, is a team coach and she feared it would be difficult to continue with team coaching remotely, but it turned out to be quite the opposite. “So far our calls seem more efficient than when we meet in person. These calls also reinforced the value of having a moderator or one person who leads the session. However, we are still experimenting with how many (and how long) sessions are required for us to stay aligned and move forward together,” she explains.

Our chancellor Tom created a virtual CODE cap augmented reality lens for video calls

We’ve been following many useful resources with practical guides for remote setups. Rule number one: be transparent with our community and give regular updates. Throughout the media, the news is dominated by paranoia, horrifying numbers, and negativity. “CODE has set itself apart from the negativity”, says Graham, an Interaction design student. “Taking decisive and science-based action, creating a support network for all, setting benchmarks for the following weeks, and being transparent all the way throughout. The way that faculty, staff, and a handful of students have taken action to put our campus online is inspiring. The effort to preserve our culture as it is another aspect of our learning experience has reminded me why I study at CODE,” he wrote in a Slack message.

We are helping our students with a few clever tips like staying away from the couch but also super useful ones about the tools they are using, to help them to keep up with the routine, to stay in touch with the team members, and help them to cope with physical distancing.

Our president Manuel with a virtual CODE campus background during a video call

Strongly believing that nothing can keep the CODE community apart, not even being remote, we do our best to stay connected and keep the CODE spirit up. Every morning, we start the day by sharing helpful ideas and tips for remote working, learning, and living. On Mondays at 5 pm, we have a CODE Spirit Day, during which we do something fun together.

In the meantime, students and staff members are offering different activities to the community: yoga sessions on Wednesdays, daily coffee and lunch breaks, deep-dive sessions where students can focus on their goals and support each other, weekly chess tournaments, and much more. Since that we all miss our campus piano, a couple of students and professors initiated the CODE Italian Balconies project to allow community members to make music together.

We will all get through this together – #CODEremote #staypositive #stayconnected #staymotivated #stayhealthy