Caribbean Girls Hack and RSC collaborate with tech giant IBM to host Caribbean session during virtual global conference

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By STEM Caribbean | Posted on September 14, 2020

Caribbean Girls Hack and RSC collaborate with tech giant IBM to host Caribbean session during virtual global conference

Caribbean Girls Hack and Restore a Sense of I Can (RSC) have collaborated with tech giant IBM for the 2nd annual IBM Z Day virtual conference. Starting at 4 pm today, the conference will take place over 24 hours and is free and open to anyone around the world. A packed agenda with more than 65 sessions featuring global subject-matter experts and thought leaders will highlight innovation, the latest tech, and opportunities worldwide in IBM technology. 

During the conference, Caribbean Girls Hack and RSC will work together with IBM to engage participants in coding and hands-on activities using Master the Mainframe during the “Caribbean Takeover” session today at 8 pm to 10 pm EST.

We were delighted to hear from the Chief Penguin of IBM Hyper Protect Accelerator, Melissa Sassi, thanks to Caribbean Girls Hack, who facilitated the interview. Melissa shared her tech journey, useful tips for Caribbean nationals interested in a global tech career, and her experience as a woman in tech, highlighting advice for women and girls interested in tech. 

Below we introduce Melissa Sassi and discuss her experience in tech and the benefits of gaining the skills offered on IBM Z Day.

Who is Melissa Sassi?

Melissa Sassi, Chief Penguin of IBM Hyper Protect Accelerator

Melissa Sassi created her title, Chief Penguin. Given the amusing and creative trend in the tech world of incorporating unique names, including animals, in job titles, Melissa was inspired to craft her own title as her colleagues did.

She works with early-stage entrepreneurs on digital and business transformation, and she is a judge for IBM’s Call for Code initiative, which invites problem-solvers around the world to use technology to tackle pressing issues such as climate change. 

Before joining IBM, Melissa worked at Microsoft, where she built internet and energy access networks and introduced digital skills to the newly connected.  

In addition to working at IBM, she’s the Founder and CEO of MentorNations, a youth-led digital skills movement in Africa that has taught tens of thousands of youths to code across twelve countries. She’s also Chair of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ (IEEE) Digital Intelligence Working Group, and she’s on the Steering Committee of the Coalition for Digital Intelligence with the World Economic Forum, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, IEEE, and the DQ Institute.

Her other tech roles include being the Founding Member of broadbandpolicy.org and board positions with TAKMIL, a nonprofit with 30 informal schools across rural Pakistan, and TechWomen.Asia, a Kabul, Afghanistan-based nonprofit focused on tech skill-building for Afghani women and girls.  

Melissa holds two master’s degrees and is working toward her PhD. Her research focuses on the digital inclusion of under-represented communities. She serves on a Round Table within the United Nations (UN) and has been a speaker on more than 100 topics involving digital inclusion, community building, youth empowerment, imposter syndrome, and personal branding.

What is Master the Mainframe and IBM Z?

The various sessions during the conference are grouped into five categories known as tracks where participants learn, gain in-demand global skills, and network with speakers. There are four technical tracks and one non-technical track. During 24 hours of hands-on coding sessions in track 5, students around the world will come together and learn enterprise computing and coding skills using a newly developed platform known as Master the Mainframe, which introduces participants to mainframe technology and teaches them how to use mainframe to code and build innovations.

Mainframes are computers that can store and secure large amounts of data and process billions of calculations and transactions in real-time. They’re designed to process up to 1 trillion daily web transactions. Typically, large public and private corporations and organizations involved in enterprises such as banking, transportation, health care, and finance use mainframes in their daily operations. 

The term mainframe is not only used to refer to physical computers, but it also describes what large enterprises use to store, secure, and process data in ways that require more resources than the resources smaller computers provide. IBM uses the term IBM Z to refer to its family of mainframe systems, including physical computers and software programs. 

Given the expanding virtual environment and the importance of these enterprises worldwide, it’s no surprise that mainframes play a significant role in the world today. IBM currently boasts that its IBM Z family runs 30 billion transactions a day, which is more than the number of searches on Google each day. IBM Z skills are, therefore, in high demand. 

Benefits of Attending IBM Z Day

Participants who complete any one of the 2-hour sessions in track five during IBM Z Day will not only start gaining these in-demand skills, but they will also receive a digital badge for Master the Mainframe Level 1, which serves as proof of their newly gained qualification. In addition, participants will get to network and hear from different experts in tech.

How Can Caribbean Nationals Use the Digital Badges Earned?

The skills that participants gain on IBM Z Day and through additional free IBM resources are useful in a variety of applications. People from all over the world participate in these opportunities and use the skills gained, said Melissa Sassi. The skills are not only beneficial for getting a job at IBM but can be used in finance, insurance, healthcare, and other enterprises requiring computing skills.

“Keep in mind that this is not just about getting a job at IBM. Many of IBM’s customers require those same skillsets, whether that’s local government, banks, for example,” said Melissa.

“I would say that many of the enterprise computing skills that young people learn enable them to go into finance, insurance, and healthcare, mainly because of the solutions that they’re learning are all about data protection, privacy, security, and enabling really complex activities to be managed by their IT associates,” she added.

Melissa also highlighted the unprecedented effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on jobs across the world. 

“The majority of the world is working remote these days, and I think due to COVID-19, it’s forcing companies that were not as open to it before to embrace it, and frankly they don’t have a choice. Now they have to embrace it, or they will not have a workforce.”

Opportunities to Earn More Globally Recognized Skills after IBM Z Day

Following the completion of Master the Mainframe Level 1, students will have the opportunity to gain more digital badges through additional collaborative sessions between IBM, Caribbean Girls Hack, and RSC. Melissa reaffirmed IBM’s belief in access to digital skills for all. 

“IBM will be partnering with RSC and Caribbean Girls Hack to enable to enable the girls and boys and young people across the Caribbean to take part in additional training sessions,” Melissa expressed. 

She went on to add that “IBM believes in all people gaining access to digital skills because we know no matter what you’re going to be, no matter what you’re going to do, even if it’s filling out a job application, you need to understand the basic building blocks of technology, how to keep yourself safe online.”

The Master the Mainframe contest begins today and runs through January 17, 2021. Although this contest is open to students registered in an accredited institution, the Master the Mainframe learning platform is open to anyone. 

Melissa also described other IBM opportunities for young people – IBM Let’s Talk Safe Tech, the IBM Z Ambassador program, and the IBM Z Student Hub.

Let’s Talk Safe Tech is a program that equips participants as young as children with knowledge on how to be safe online. 

The IBM Z Ambassador program gives members access to opportunities and training to gain new skills. Also, the program goes beyond coding and provides networking and mentorship opportunities and increases members’ awareness of internship opportunities. 

“The cool thing about it is, it’s not just about coming in and learning to code or coming in and learning IBM technology. They’re learning leadership skills, they’re learning teaming, they’re learning project management, maybe even a bit of conflict resolution,” expressed Melissa. 

She further described how ambassadors gain conflict resolution skills as members of the program when working together on projects such as planning IBM Z Day. 

Another opportunity to be a part of the IBM community is through the IBM Z Student Hub, an online club for students with learning opportunities such as webinars, and even opportunities to write blogs or discuss a topic while building public speaking skills or creating a personal brand. 

Melissa’s Advice for Getting Into a Tech Career

Melissa’s passion for tech stems from the ever-changing characteristics of tech and the variety of professional and personal experiences that she had along her journey. 

“My personal journey really stems around something that I would consider kind of my worst nightmare or my tragedy if you will. My children and I are victims of parental kidnapping. And they’re safe, they’re healthy, they’re normal adjusted kids, but I never was able to get them back to my home country,” said Melissa.

“They live in a small country sandwiched between Algeria and Libya – Tunisia,” she added.

One day Melissa, found out of her daughter’s lack of access to a computer in her classroom, which is critical for becoming a part of the digital world. Melissa then realised that in addition to having a device, access to digital skills and the Internet was also critical.

“Access to the Internet and really having all those things together, including affordable Internet that would enable not only her but her classroom, the continent of Africa, the region of the Middle East and Africa, and as well as the world,” said Melissa.

“They needed access to digital skills, and for me, that started out on my journey to figure out that my life’s work is digital inclusion and that’s empowering young people, especially women and girls, who are often the minority when it comes to technologies. So that really inspired me to think about what could I individually do, and what can I do from a big tech perspective,” she said.

Melissa’s work with her nonprofit and collaborations have impacted many. She believes that tech is the most suitable career for her.

“I could not imagine myself anywhere but tech, and I feel like I’m an entrepreneur, I’m an innovator, I’m a creator. I do things that never existed before. I think of things that others haven’t even grasped could be an option,” she expressed.

“This is something that I feel is very special about tech. Things are changing all the time. Sometimes things are running fast and loose, and you got to roll with things,” she added.

Amidst the various changes, Melissa was able to shape her role and what she wanted to be while helping the world prepare for the future of work.

“But I’ve had the opportunity to create my own role to define what I wanted to be and to be the person I want to be; have a voice; be a leader; sit on UN task forces; be a judge for the World Bank;  meet famous people and all kinds of really cool things because who doesn’t want to empower the world with the skills necessary to prepare for the future of work? And for me, big tech enables me to do that, and I enjoy it,” she said.

Although she faced challenges throughout her career, especially due to being a woman in tech, she learned how to overcome those challenges and now works to empower others, particularly women and girls in the Caribbean and around the world, to pursue tech careers. Her work also involves global advocacy, including with the UN’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation chaired by Jack Ma and Melinda Gates.

In the past, she experienced situations where she felt uncomfortable or couldn’t use her voice. Today she’s thankful for her current leadership team, who, unlike previous leadership teams, allow her to voice her thoughts and opinions

Melissa’s advice for Caribbean nationals interested in pursuing a global career in tech with IBM and other tech giants is to build a personal brand, and volunteer with organisations like Caribbean Girls Hack and RSC and find ways to gain new skills and showcase those skills. 

“Volunteerism is one of the best ways to get yourself on the map of big tech companies like IBM, and that’s participating in meetups, going to meetups, even if they’re online, attending hackathons, having your own website or blog where you’re kind of writing about what you’re learning and not being afraid to be out there.”

Meet the two Caribbean Organizations Collaborating with IBM to Host a “Caribbean Takeover” on IBM Z Day

Caribbean Girls Hack is the premier project of SheLeadsIT and is a member of the International Telecommunications Union EQUALS Skills Coalition, making ‘Every day #GirlsinICTDay.’ This regional initiative provides tech training through hackathons, where girls gain hands-on tech experiences and are equipped to create relevant and responsive Information and Communications Technology (ICT) content. 

To date, students have created tech solutions that are workable in the Caribbean context and centered on climate change resilience and gender-based violence. 

In 2019, SheLeadsIT received the Global Affairs Canada (Jamaica) #FacesforEquality award in Technology and Innovation for empowering girls and women in Jamaica. This year, Caribbean Girls Hack – SheLeadsIT is a recipient of the Web Foundation’s Equals Digital Skills Fund and the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives by Global Affairs Canada in Jamaica.  

Restore a Sense of I Can (RSC) is a nonprofit organization focused on “Effecting change through technology and education”. Its projects involve primary and secondary school students. Also, RSC has overseen the development and support of technology clubs in schools (including tertiary institutions) in Trinidad, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Kitts and Nevis, Belize, and Costa Rica.

In 2015, RSC received the Community Heroes Award from the Ministry of Community Development in Trinidad and Tobago for its work on refurbishing computers and donating them to communities in need of ICT exposure. 



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