Passerelles Numériques: Finding Adventure with Meaning

View website
Jan 2019 - Jul 2019
Passerelles numériques is a non-profit organization that provides education and training in the field of information technology to underprivileged youths in Southeast Asia, with a particular focus on Vietnam.


Before starting my professional career, I had never done Erasmus or traveled extensively. It wasn't until I started my first job at Skwarel and had some extra money to spend that I tasted the thrill of adventure. Every year, I took 15 out of my 20 days of vacation to travel alone to the other side of the world. In 2016, I visited South Africa, and in 2017, Colombia. Every time I returned from these trips, I was amazed by the vastness of the world and the diversity of its inhabitants, as well as the diversity of experiences that are possible in life. I also began to realize the privilege that came with being a white male computer scientist and living in a European country like Belgium.

Although my work at Skwarel was going well, I felt the call of adventure - adventure with meaning. After some research online to find opportunities to do volunteering work in the field of computer science, I stumbled upon the website of Passerelles Numériques. It's an organization that helps young students on the path to employability by teaching them computer skills. They have three schools, one in Cambodia, one in the Philippines, and another in Vietnam, and they happened to be looking for volunteers! After a quick call with Noémie, the HR manager at Passerelles Numériques, she put me in touch with Arthur, the training manager at Passerelles Numériques Vietnam. He needed someone with field experience, and we quickly arranged the dates.

I quit my job at Skwarel and left my flat in Brussels. I packed my bags and headed for a one-way flight to Da Nang, Vietnam.

It was so exciting. I had never been to Asia before, and it was a true cultural shock. But I quickly got used to the ambient cacophony. I lost my suitcase on arrival (it didn't take the right flight), but I stayed in a hotel not far from the school, and Arthur lent me some clothes while the airline company found my luggage.

The project for the next three months was to mentor the third-year students, who had to work on their final project before graduating. They would be grouped into teams of 5 to 7 students and would have to work together to create a project of their choice using their preferred technology. This IT Business project would allow them to put into practice all the technical skills they had learned over the past two years, including full-stack development, mobile development, Aglie project management, and time management. They had exactly seven weeks to present an MVP at a large ceremony attended by the entire school, and the school would rank the projects to motivate the students to surpass themselves. It was such a cool project.

No items found.


My role was to be the mentor for all these students, to follow each group and see how they were doing, both technically and in terms of time management. I would follow them every week and see their progress, guide them toward acceptable technical solutions, challenge their project ideas, or even have good old debug sessions or hosting issues. It was honestly super cool, and the students were really into it. Some of them developed a dog grooming solution, others a platform for exchanging supplies between neighbors, or even a system for renting apartments. In short, so many interesting projects in the eyes of these Vietnamese students. I helped a lot of students with JavaScript, mainly in React and Node.js, as well as design with the Figma tool. Several groups also created cross-platform applications with React Native.

Despite being from vastly different cultural backgrounds, we all struggled with the same debugging issues and bugs that exist in any programming language. Their enthusiasm was contagious, and it was inspiring to see them work tirelessly despite the complexity of their lives. Many of them had stories that would break anyone's heart, yet they persevered with unwavering determination.

The presentation day, also known as the "Moment of Truth," was the most significant moment of pride for all of us. Each group presented their project, and the students, teachers, and staff members were all proud. The assembly was filled with tech industry experts from Da Nang, and some of them were even on the jury. PN maintains a close professional relationship with industry players, making it easier to place students in internships.

After the third-year students went on their internships, I continued with the second-year students to help them learn PHP using Laravel. It was a language barrier challenge, as they struggled with English. I participated in many conversation groups to help them practice their English. It was a fantastic opportunity to get to know the students personally and learn about the best street food places in Da Nang.

This experience was life-changing both professionally and personally. I stayed in a beautiful home with a South African couple who worked in the area and met many expatriates living in Da Nang. I learned how to ride a scooter and discovered Vietnamese cuisine, as well as their fabulous coffee culture, which is often overlooked worldwide.

Overall, this was an incredible multicultural experience, and I would recommend it to any developer seeking to find meaning in their work while also wanting to help people thirsty for knowledge. I am grateful to PN Vietnam for their warm welcome and to the entire staff of PN Asia for this incredible adventure.

No items found.