by Quincy Larson

Inside Afghanistan’s friendliest coding club

Shakour Ghafarzay teaches adult learners in Afghanistan how to code, using freeCodeCamp.org’s learning platform

When you think of Afghanistan, you may think of the ongoing 17-year war that has claimed the lives of thousands of people.

But amid all the turmoil, a generation of software developers is working to redefine Kabul — Afghanistan’s capital city and home to 5 million people — as a global technology hub.

Every weekend, dozens of ambitious developers meet in offices around Kabul to code together and share their knowledge with one another.

Enter CodeWeekend — a grass-roots organization that’s expanding Kabul’s tech scene

More than 3,000 Afghan developers and developers-in-training are part of CodeWeekend.

CodeWeekend hosts coding events around Kabul each weekend.

To date, they’ve hosted more than 100 events.

One participant helps another with their code.

CodeWeekend absorbed the freeCodeCamp Kabul study group, and has now become its own nonprofit organization. It focuses on helping Kabul locals improve their programming skills and build their professional networks.

They achieve this by running free programming workshops, providing networking opportunities, and helping make technology more accessible.

“We have 2 types of sessions. Our weekly sessions teach people who are new to programming. And our monthly events bring software developers and other tech professionals together under one roof so they can share knowledge and provide an opportunity for networking.” — Jawed Mansoor, CodeWeekend organizer

The CodeWeekend community goes to great lengths to be as inclusive as possible.

It has a strictly-enforced code of conduct that would be right at home at a Silicon Valley tech conference.

The code of conduct encourages behaviors like:

  • Using welcoming and inclusive language
  • Being respectful of differing viewpoints and experiences
  • Gracefully accepting constructive criticism
  • Focusing on what is best for the community
  • Showing empathy towards other community members
Milad Mehraban gives a tech talk at Kardan university in Kabul

CodeWeekend is broken down into neighborhood-level chapters — each with chapter leaders. These chapter leaders reach out to local companies and organizations to secure sponsors and venues for events.

“We don’t spend a lot on our events. We need a venue and some refreshments, maybe a projector. Whenever we want to have an event, we contact a private sector organization so they can provide us with space and internet. We’re looking forward to always having at least small room where we can have a dedicated venue.” — Mustafa Ehsan, CodeWeekend mentor

Each event is around 3 hours long. First the teachers start by giving a high-level introduction to a topic. Then everybody starts working through freeCodeCamp.org’s curriculum. 3 or 4 mentors will float around helping people when they get stuck or have a question.

“We have people consistently coming each week, with a high level of passion. Whenever we don’t have an event, people call and ask us why not. They really want this.” — Mustafa Ehsan, CodeWeekend mentor

And their volunteer efforts are working. People from the CodeWeekend community are getting jobs as developers.

Many of the jobs that their community members are getting involve building services for the Afghanistan government and local and international startups and companies.

For example, their teams build and maintains web apps for Human Resources departments and other back office functions.

And in the process, they get to work with exciting new tools like Vue.js and Laravel.

The people behind CodeWeekend and freeCodeCamp Kabul

freeCodeCamp Kabul teacher Mustafa Ehsan leads many of the CodeWeekend events.

Jamshid Hashimi is the founder of CodeWeekend. At age 13, he started a football club in the rural village where he grew up.

He went on to study at Dokuz Eylul University in Turkey before working at companies like Rumie and Alidrivers.

CodeWeekend was the perfect intersection of his two passions — technology and community building — so he created the organization in 2014.

Shaheen Naikpay isn’t a developer by profession. He has a background in educational psychology. He works as a project manager on the military side of the industry.

But Shaheen says he likes to contribute to society, and CodeWeekend is a big part of that. He volunteers as CodeWeekend’s event management coordinator.

Some of the events are sponsored by Netlinks, Mustafa’s employer. The CEO of Netlinks actively encourages CodeWeekend to host the event there in the company’s large hall.

Jawed Mansoor completed his computer science degree in India. He works as a database engineer. He helps organize CodeWeekend events in Kabul.

Fazila Nazary is an experienced database developer and instructor. She is the CodeWeekend director for Mazar-i Sharif, another city in Afghanistan.

The organization also has a broad roster of regular event mentors, including Mustafa Ehsan, Jalal Saidi, Sediq Khan, Mohammad Ali Abbasi, and Akmal Arzhang.

If you’re traveling to Kabul, be sure to join the CodeWeekend Facebook group so you can attend one of their events.

And you can also support millions of people around the world who are learning to code. Make a tax-deductible donation to freeCodeCamp.org.

Together, we can create more free education resources. We can support communities like CodeWeekend, and the impact they’re making on the lives of people in their community.