Kickstarting digital careers

Kickstarting digital careers

Careers in digital and technology can be a minefield to navigate, especially if you come from a background where you have not been exposed to them. Having run a networking and mentoring platform for the last five years, called Muslamic Makers, I’ve noticed how people in the Muslim community need support to enter the world of technology.

Woman sitting with laptop on her lap typing on keyboard
"The social connectivity on the programme helped everyone through lockdown." - Arfah Farooq, Fellow

Muslamic Makers is a community of Muslim change-makers who upskill and pioneer the world of technology. We provide a safe space that is fuelled by growth mindsets, which is when people believe that they can get better at something by dedication of time, effort and energy. The aim is to facilitate collaboration by connecting change-makers who will go on to drive innovation, upskill within their community and provide opportunities by bridging cross-industry expertise.

In June 2020 I was fortunate enough to receive funding from the Churchill Fellowship’s Covid-19 Action Fund, which I was able to use to turn my idea of running a skills training programme into a reality. This served as motivation and was provided at a time when the community needed it most.

The programme was called the Digital Careers Kickstarter programme and ran over a four-month period. The aim of the programme was to provide knowledge, skills and connections to people who were looking to break into the digital world but didn’t quite know which area would be right for them.

The four-month programme included:

  • Focused introductory sessions on user-centred design, user research, UX design, product management, data science and marketing.
  • Tasks set by start-ups to get practical real-life experience.
  • A personal coach throughout the programme to guide and hold them accountable.
  • Community support and introductions.

We launched applications back in August 2020 and had over 130 applications. After a very difficult selection process, we took 54 people through to the programme, with 37 of them sticking to the end.

The participants on the programme were a really diverse bunch, from people who recently graduated and those who had been made redundant due to the pandemic, to those who had been long-term unemployed. Every fortnight we hosted a workshop in a specific area relating to either digital or technology, to help participants get a better understanding of the sector. We had our cohort take a survey both before and during the programme to track our progress and capture impact.

As expected, many people had a very low level of understanding of the different technical pathways. Through our surveys we found:

  • Before the workshop, only 26% of the cohort knew what a user researcher does. After the programme, this increased to 100%.
  • Only 9% felt confident in their understanding of UX design and what a UX designer does before the workshop begun. After the workshop, this increased to 85%.
  • Before the workshop, only 15% felt confident they understood what a product manager does and what skills they need. After the workshop, this confidence increased to 90%.
  • Before the workshop, 17% could explain what data science was, before the workshop. After the workshop, this increased to 96%.
  • Before the workshop, 23% felt confident they could explain what a digital marketeer does. After the workshop, this increased to 84%.

As we can see from our data, despite having a diverse cohort, most people didn’t understand what these roles entailed and what could be possible for them as a career. Through our programme, we were able to unlock and open up people's minds to the opportunities out there. As Kashif Jelani, a programme participant, said: “I met a lot of new people and learnt things that I otherwise would never have been introduced to, opening up new career paths that I hadn't really considered before.”

As well as being given crash course workshops in these fields, the programme was also about networking, building soft skills and gaining confidence. Data from our surveys showed us that:

  • Before the programme, only 37% felt that they had a good professional network. After the programme, this has increased to 87%, thanks to the community and the connections that were made through the programme.
  • Before the programme, only 28% felt that they had access to many opportunities. After the programme, this increased to 86%, with participants feeling that they now had access to more opportunities.

These metrics demonstrate the success of the programme, which was made possible by the industry professionals who volunteered and coached our participants. We had professionals from organisations including GDS, HSBC and Idean, who were matched with participants to guide and coach them through the programme and helped them to develop confidence and soft skills. Zoe Malik, another programme participant had this to say about her coach: “He was awesome and so helpful. We went over my CV and he helped me network with others within the same field that I want to get into.”

The cohort also got to take part in a real-life work experience opportunity, where they were able to conduct user research for a business. One group’s user research was so impactful that the Muslim marriage app Muzmatch made some key changes to their app on the back of the work that our cohort did. The Muzmatch UX team said: “We found the presentation very insightful. The team had thoroughly interrogated the user experience and brought up how members, particularly women, felt overwhelmed by receiving ‘instant chats’. We immediately held an internal meeting with our UX designers and made plans to release an update to change how instant chats work. Additionally we also refocused the interactions to prompt people to look at profiles rather than using the message only function.”

The social connectivity on the programme helped everyone through lockdown, as cohort member Ridhwan Haque explained: “I became part of a community that helped me feel visible during a global pandemic.”

The programme was recommended by 100% of the participants, which is testimony to its exciting and accessible content, with participants engaging from all over the UK. The ability to learn, and to apply the skills learnt, the opportunity to connect with people in mid- and senior-level roles, and the socialising aspect, all helped to make the programme pilot a success.

We are grateful we got to finally run this pilot and gather metrics. We already have ideas on how to improve and now finally have a viable product for technology companies to sponsor and help us run future programmes.


The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.


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