On the day of her graduation, as crowds of festive students and their families celebrated around her, Sarra Ghribi quietly slipped her diploma into her bag and left the university premises alone. She had just graduated in Physics, but her experience in higher education had been deeply frustrating.
“I wanted to do Software Engineering, not Physics,” she says today, with conviction. “Ever since school, that’s what I’d always wanted. But things didn’t work out for me, and it would be many, many years before I got the opportunity.”
Born in the small village of Bengerden in southern Tunisia, Sarra’s first brush with coding took place in high school. Twice a week, in a tiny lab filled with old computers, she would be put in a group with other girls and asked to resolve a problem using the very old programming language Pascal.
“The exhilaration I felt when the first line of code I wrote returned a result was like nothing I’d experienced before,” says Sarra. “It was like finding my ‘happiness hormone’! I knew then that this was what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to code.”
Sarra signed up with a Preparatory Institute for Engineering after school, and passed their exam. But the choice of specialisation after that was down to the examiners, not to her. As she sat at home entertaining high hopes for her future, she received an email from the institute offering her a place in either textile or agricultural engineering.
It was a blow to her ambitions, and things only went downhill from there. After getting a degree in Physics, she attempted to find a way back into coding through a Masters degree, only to encounter a man at the application office who demanded she give him her phone number and meet him for a coffee.
“At that point I thought to myself, ‘It’s not working, Sarra, just give up’.” So she ended up teaching Physics to kids in high school.
Summers turned into winters, the years flew away. Sarra married, moved to Germany with her husband Nidhal, became a mother of two children. She experienced the joy of motherhood, but also came to know the deepest grief and loss. Yet her dream never died inside of her. It clung on, waiting for its time like a seed under snow.
Eventually, that time came. “After my second child went to kindergarten and I didn’t have to look after her all day, I knew it was my moment. I went straight to the employment agency and in my first meeting with my advisor, I said it straight: I want to code. They suggested I teach Physics instead, like I’d done in the past. So I repeated myself: I. Want. To. Code!”
Seeing her determination, her advisor suggested a coding bootcamp, that new, intensive way into the world of professional programming. For Sarra, it was a revelation. “When I found WBS CODING SCHOOL and saw all the things their curriculum for Data Science taught – and in only four months! – it looked like a dream. I applied for financial sponsorship from the employment agency, and when I got it – I was jumping for joy around the house all day with my husband!”
Many who take a coding bootcamp find it exhausting, have trouble keeping up. Sarra, on the other hand, found the whole thing light on the heart and on the mind.
“I didn’t just take the teachings I was given, I went deeper in my own spare time. I always wanted more, and so I learned very fast! The other students asked me if I had already studied this language or that library before, and I always said ‘no, I learned how to do this two weeks ago’.”
Now that the bootcamp is finished, Sarra’s satisfaction sounds almost poetic. “A struggle that was inside of me has settled into peace. When you fight with a problem your whole life and then find the solution to it – that’s what learning to code felt like to me. Now I can start applying for jobs in Data Science, and from there the future remains to be discovered.”
My final question to Sarra relates to one of the most common anxieties about programming – what would she say, to people like her who studied something else at university, but now feel they are too old to learn to code?
“I don’t know about other places,” she says, after thinking it over for a moment, “but at WBS CODING SCHOOL the teaching method takes you step by step, and does not assume any prior knowledge. The way it’s taught here, you can learn to code even if you are 80. Honestly, if anybody feels their chance has come and gone, I’d say go for it. Go for it now.”
Sarra Ghribi graduated from the WBS CODING SCHOOL Data Science bootcamp in June 2023.