Meet Fatbardha Dallku Bajrami, a computer engineer who was born in 1990 in the oldest town in Kosovo – Vushtrri. A town where computers were only found in Internet Cafes.
She was always interested in exploring computers and surfing the internet. As a child, Fatbardha excelled in math and science. She was part of many math competitions where she was always ranked on top of the winners’ list. At that time, it was very unusual for women to study computer sciences, thus she almost changed her mind to pursue architecture. However, with the support of her family, Fatbardha decided to enroll at the University of Pristina, and major in Computer Science and Engineering. She graduated in 2011.
Being one of the best students, in her third year of studies, among other students Fatbardha was chosen to go for a six months internship in Robert Bosch – department of software engineering in Stuttgart. After finishing this wonderful experience, she was graded with the highest grades. Fatbardha decided to come back to her country where she started her career as a web developer. Currently, she works as a programming teacher in Innovation Academy, of which she is also a co-founder.
What does Innovation mean to you and what inspires you to seek innovative educational approaches?
Innovation has a very important place in education. Innovation in education is about more than just technology. It’s about how you use technology to empower students to become lifelong learners. Innovation in education encourages teachers and students to explore, research and use all the tools to uncover something new. It involves a different way of looking at problems and solving them. The thinking process that goes into it will help students develop their creativity and problem-solving skills. Creating an atmosphere in the classroom where students want to learn and teachers want to teach inspires me to seek innovative approaches.
Tell us how you came up with the idea of having an “Innovation Academy” in Kosovo? What were some of the challenges you faced? Were you afraid of risks?
ICT is the fastest growing sector in our country. A lot of outsourcing companies are opening throughout the country seeking young talented programmers. Taking into consideration that coding is not taught in our schools and the ICT sector is growing fast, through our academy we are looking forward to guiding students to the right path which we believe is the ICT industry. It is also proved that students who learn to code perform better in other subjects as well. Together with coding, we are trying to integrate other 21st century skills into our school by bringing innovative programs to our Academy.
At first, while creating our business plan, we faced different challenges, such as financial issues, location, and adapting our curricula to the needs of the students after we opened it. As in all other countries, we faced Covid’s outspread challenges which were shifting to online classes, but with commitment, passion and determination we managed to overcome those challenges.
Before this, I had a well-paid job as a programmer and for sure it was risky giving up on everything and focusing my whole energy on building something from the beginning. But now I am truly happy about my decisions.
Why did you come back to Kosovo and why choose Vushtrria in the first place to open the Academy? What were your expectations? How did youngsters and parents respond to it? What about the young girls and women of Vushtrria?
In our country, around 70% of people are under 30 but in recent years a number of them emigrated or are looking to emigrate in the future in order to find a better life, which I think is wrong. When I finished my internship in Germany, the company offered me a well-paid job, a place to stay but I wanted to come back and through the experience that I gained there, I wanted to help my country which is one of the youngest in Europe.
I chose Vushtrria because it is my hometown and I wanted to start from there.
I based my expectations on several pieces of research before opening the Innovation Academy’s doors, which were very promising. The high interest of youngsters and their parents was high since day one, but later on, it went beyond our expectations.
I am very happy that the majority of our staff is women, when it comes to the students around 40% of them are girls.
What is your perception of the wrong idea throughout our region that the ICT sector is made for men only? Were there any gender barriers that you faced or stereotypes that tried to hinder your success?
When I came back from Germany I was being interviewed by the companies that I applied to. Some of them didn’t give me the opportunity to work for them just because I am a woman and they thought that I wouldn’t be capable of fulfilling the company’s needs. I still remember the interjection and facial expression of one of the interviewers when he said “Do you really think that you can do all of these things mentioned in your CV?”, but I never gave up and I was convinced that one day I will have the opportunity to show them that I can really do all the things that I mentioned in my CV.
Since then, things have moved forward, nowadays you can see a lot of young girls pursuing their careers in these directions and a lot of very successful CEOs of the programming companies.
What is the message you would give to women around the world facing such difficulties?
Generally speaking, women are way better off than they were 100 years ago and are better off than they were 20 years ago. Some women have a lot more access to rights and opportunities, such as education, work options, reproductive health, and more, but that is not consistent everywhere.
Overall, more and more women are earning educational degrees, avoiding early marriages, getting necessary healthcare, and building economic self-reliance. This is a promising and encouraging fact that if you work hard, you will be successful in whatever you do.
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