“The biggest thing we have in Africa is a young generation. So if we train the young generation in tech, we’ll be able to build something that is everlasting.” — Betelhem Dessie
Born to do this!
At age 10, Dessie, led by curiosity and the quest to make wealth found path as a Coder, at age 19, the young teen had already established herself as an internationally certified software developer.
She is currently a Founder and CEO of iCog- Anyone Can Code (ACC) and amazingly, Betelhem, who owns four patented projects individually and an additional three in collaboration and has been named “the youngest pioneer in Ethiopia’s fast emerging tech scene” by CNN is not just keeping all the knowledge to self, she is passionate about empowering girls with the necessary skills to build up successful careers in her country’s tech space and beyond.
Betelhem unofficially began her delve by sourcing for knowledge in Google, books, local computer repair and video editing shops in Harar, Ethiopian. In no distant time she had begun her side hustle, earning an income from her after-school tech jobs, which required video editing and installing cellphone software. Loving the thrill of feeling very confident and independent, this drove her to want to build even more.
At age 10, she had already garnered national recognition, then Prime Minister of Ethiopia Meles Zenawi even sent out an invite for her together with her family to live in the capital of Addis Ababa, with the government going even further to pay for her education as well on trainings on confidential software development projects. Betelhem was employed as a developer for the government at the age of twelve by the Ethiopian Information Network Security Agency (INSA) from 2011 to 2012.
With four software programs copyrighted solely to her name, more recently, Dessie as Project Manager can be seen coordinating a number of nationwide programs run by robotics lab iCog, Ethopia’s first artificial intelligence (AI) lab which launched in 2013 and was involved in developing the world famous Sophia the robot.
“I believe the next big thing for Africa is technology,” she shares. “The biggest thing we have in Africa is a young generation. So if we train the young generation in tech, we’ll be able to build something that is everlasting” Betelhem Dessie says.
Through Girls Can Code, an initiative by U.S. Embassy, Betelhem actively participates by teaching young women how to build websites and apps. “It inspired me to learn and to do more,” Betelhem says.
iCog’s Anyone Can Code programme, aimed at children ages 8 to 18 runs after school programmes and summer camps, where Betelhem and her colleagues teach students the basics of coding and robotics.
“When they learn these coding or robotics skills, they are very excited,” Betelhem says of the girls who participate in Anyone Can Code. “But the sad thing is, even if they want to, they won’t be able to apply it after they finish their high school education.”
But there’s a problem, According to Betelhem, although girls in Ethiopia excel in STEM subjects in primary and secondary school, pursuing these fields professionally doesn’t happen due to lack of encouragement from their parents. “Parents have an expectation of what you should be — if you’re a good student, you’re a doctor, you’re not an engineer or in the computer science field,” she shares. “They haven’t seen any female being in STEM and being successful.”
“Parents have an expectation of what you should be — if you’re a good student, you’re a doctor, you’re not an engineer or in the computer science field… They haven’t seen any female being in STEM and being successful.”
Amongst her latest project is The Sophia School Bus which would go around Ethiopia equipped with a laptop amongst other electronic devices such as 3D printers to raise awareness on technology in hopes of inspiring the next generation of game changers in the tech space, particularly girls. ” Who can solve the problem of a female if she cannot tell you the problem, and find her own solution?”
The 22 year old was recently named one of the young African innovators to watch in 2019 by Quartz Africa.