Published: 02nd August 2022
Andhra Pradesh's JTD Foundation is on a mission to train girl students in software development. This is their plan
Join The Dots (JTD) Foundation works with students of three mandals: Palamaner, Gangavaram and Baireddipalle in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh
Madhavi Latha had a dream. The final year Bachelor of Science student, who is majoring in Math and Physics, wants to become a software developer. Join the Dots (JTD) Foundation has helped her keep the dream alive. How? "JTD along with training us on software skills, makes us feel in control of our own career," reveals the student who is studying at Government Degree College, Palamaner, Andhra Pradesh. Now, Madhavi Latha has two new dreams. The first one, to get a job and the second, to help more girls by supporting their dreams.
Sumithra M had a dream too. But with her mother away due to work, all household chores plus the responsibility of her own education fell on the tender shoulders of this final-year Bachelor of Science student, majoring in Math and Physics. Enter JTD. From someone who hasn't ever touched a laptop, the foundation got her one on loan and she spends four hours a day coding. "I even received the student of the month award for solving 19 algorithm problems in under two hours," shared the student of Vani Degree College, Gangavaram.
The common link between the dream of these two girls, and many others, is JTD. Dreams of 30 students have already been enabled as they are being trained in software development while another 70 of them will start training on October 2. But laptops could prove to be an impediment. Dhananjay Ramakrishnappa from JTD tells us about how they plan to overcome this speedbump in this journey towards women empowerment. Excerpts from a conversation:
Why laptops, why rural girls and why software developers?
JTD works with students of three mandals: Palamaner, Gangavaram and Baireddipalle in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh. These mandals have a population of three lakh and more than 30 per cent (around one lakh) of them are students. Of these, ~50,000 of them are girls and ~20,000 of them are studying undergrad courses. A good 75 per cent of these girls are married right after their education; most of them before their completion of education.
At JTD, we believe India’s prosperity cannot be attained without gender equality and financial independence is one of its most important needs. Rural girls suffer most from this inequality and hence, the focus on rural girls.
Software development as a career option is one of the very few options that provide a level playing field for the entire country. Especially with billions poured into start-ups, there is a need for quality talent. Most start-up companies today do not ask for any pedigree or grades. Educational background isn’t the most important factor and that gives us the most flexibility in choosing this as a profession for these girls. Whether they are studying Science, Commerce or Arts is of no importance.
In fact, one of our students was a Class XII pass out and had dropped out eight years ago and was married. Today she takes home a salary of Rs 7 lakh per annum. These software companies rely on pure skill. So it is worthwhile to upskill anyone to become a software developer today.
To become a software developer, one needs a powerful laptop so that they can load the software required for upskilling themselves. These laptops cost anywhere from Rs 50,000 to Rs 60,000.
Who are the girls taking training from and what does their training schedule look like?
The cycle takes roughly 24 months.
Month 1 - 2 (Selection)
All these girls learn and pass these tests using their parents' smartphones. Coding on smartphones is very painful and enduring the same is what makes a student ready for what comes next. Some of them don’t even have smartphones. They borrow their neighbours' phones for this purpose. After passing these tests we conduct the JTD value fit interview. The interview will test the student's ownership ability along with integrity and commitment. Most students are in their second-year undergraduate (UG) course at this time.
Month 3 - 15 (Pre Bootcamp)
Month 16 - 24 (Bootcamp)
By this time students would have graduated from their undergraduate courses. Now they will enter a bootcamp (Masai, DevsNest, Newton, and so on) which follows the 9-9-6 model (9 am to 9 pm, six days a week). What JTD trains students in the pre bootcamp stage, these boot camps will train students in depth.
These boot camps last for seven months where students will develop real-world like software projects which help them showcase their skills in job interviews. Though the bootcamps are 12 hours a day most students spend over 15 hours a day. It's very difficult for anyone to sustain the rigour of bootcamps. And the ones that do are real achievers.
Tell us about how you made the decision to take an interest-free loan as opposed to just donating the laptops to them.
A donor ships a laptop to the JTD office or sends money to the JTD account. JTD will send a document that talks about a three-way contract between donor, student and JTD. After 24 months if the student is unable to pay the loan back, JTD will pay it back.
JTD thrives on building a cooperative community that will sustain its growth after getting a jumpstart from external donors' support. Any cooperative community is built on peership for which honouring self-esteem is key. If you do not honour self-esteem, the community will have a superior/inferior mentality which is not conducive to self-sustaining growth. And this is the reason why we decided to get laptops as loans rather than donations.
Also, loans will help girls develop a greater sense of ownership and accountability. It would have been super easy for JTD to get these 100 laptops as donations from a CSR programme. This would have come in the way of our girls' self-esteem and more importantly, JTD wants to build this programme in a way that could be emulated by any NGO in the country.
Can you tell us about the girls? Where are they primarily from? How did you select these 100 girls?
They are all from Palamner, Gangavaram and Baireddipalle mandal of Chittoor district. The majority of them have studied in government schools and in colleges where one could complete education from state-provided scholarships.
We have selected 30/100 girls from six different degree colleges in and around the above-mentioned mandals. The selection process for the remaining 70 girls will start in August, once their degree exams are over. We will finish selecting these girls by the end of August. JTD has already received 150 + applications.
What can we expect next from JTD?
So far, 10 girls have secured jobs as software developers with an average salary of Rs 7.5 lakh per annum. This took us two years of time with many trials and errors. Now, we have taken our 10x goal of 100 girls becoming software developers by April 2024.
By 2027, we would like to take this number to jump to 1,000 girls. For the 1,000 target, we would involve girls from neighbouring mandals such as Bangarupalem as well. Once we hit 100 software developers' targets we would like to publish a case study that could help other organisations emulate the same.