Grab yourself a hot drink & settle down for a catch-up with Lella, an IBM Z Ambassador & 2021 Champion all while being a 16 y/o student! We rewind back to her initial memories of venturing into technology as well as reflecting upon her 2020 with IBM Z.
Who is Lella Violet Halloum?
I'm Lella Violet, I'm 16 years old and a student based in the UK. I've been an IBM Z Global Student Hub Senator & Ambassador for the past year and, as a result of my participation have had the opportunity to work on several impactful and resonating projects surrounding 'tech for good' and closing the digital divide.
What do you study?
I am currently studying my A-Levels in English Literature, History & Politics, before heading to University at the start of the 2022 academic term. Despite not studying Computer Science at A-Level (having studied it up to GCSE level in 2020), I actively seek 'real-time' skills-building opportunities, with the zAmbassador programme being one of my most influential and eye-opening learning journeys thus far.
What first got you interested in Computer Science?
That's quite a long story, but here's a taster...I was knee-high to my professional parents, who were forever armed with a laptop; with a determined stomp of my feet, I was keen to start exploring this 'digital world' they interacted with daily. Sooner rather than later, I was more comfortable playing around with the keyboard than I could read or write. I would make entertaining PowerPoints for my parents on fun topics that ranged from my role models to my favourite sweets. Tech was as normal for me to play with as it was for my friends to play with Barbie dolls. I didn't know I was 'different' until I noticeably stood out in the classroom with my skills. I vividly remember my first memory of coding when I viewed source code on the web. I still remember my eyes filling with wonderment when I could see that code was behind everything. From this, my father introduced me to Khan Academy. I was six years old and made an attempt to quench my thirst for new technology. I was so passionate about their Pixar Academy animation course. Since then, I've continued to pick up skills that are in growing demand from employers through actively learning at hackathons, workshops, tech-related events, networking, and by having the privilege of being guided by motivational female mentors. I'm naturally curious and still continue to explore the many divisions of IBM and wider technology, having previously ventured into Cloud Computing, IoT, Design, and am currently strutting my wares in Enterprise Computing. There’s so much to learn and explore within the world of IBM, and I have developed a meaningful connection to the technology that sits behind the many things that make the world work - IBM Z.
Tell me about your experience as an IBM zAmbassador.
My whole life changed when my GCSE exams were cancelled in Spring 2020, the twelve years of my school career all led up to these exams, so it wasn't easy to just stop revising and working. Revision was my new normal. That's where reconnecting with tech came to my rescue. I found out about the zAmbassador programme after having e-met my mentor, Melissa Sassi, through an event promoting the IBM Z student initiative and from there I have engaged with such a tight-knit network of like-minded students from across the globe. I had the opportunity to lead initiatives with IBM such as the IBMZ4Good Ideathon, The Human Code, and the Call For Code Beirut Spot Challenge. Everything I do is driven by my personal mission to work towards diversifying the tech industry by creating more opportunities for young people, particularly minority groups and those with non-traditional academic backgrounds. I strive to highlight the important role young people play in tech and our wider society. Throughout the past twelve months, IBM has been incredibly supportive of my goals, heard my voice, and elevated my thoughts and recommendations by enabling me to start initiatives of my own, including zStudents event series I founded with fellow zAmbassador, Chloë. zStudents was designed to help close the digital skills gap & motivate fellow students through these anomalous times. We hosted bi-weekly discussions with a range of subject matter experts throughout the summer. After engaging with thousands of zStudents, we went on to create the zStudents Committee — a group of young technologists from across the world who are united by a desire to create content that is entirely for, with, and by students, further enabling young people to speak with industry thought leaders rather than be spoken to — something we ALWAYS see at traditional ‘webinars.’ Now, post-2020 I reflect upon my overall experience, and can say that I am truly overwhelmed with gratitude and the pride of knowing that I have overcome adversity and created opportunities not only for myself but for other students in similar positions. I hope to carry this mission forward with me into my next projects, particularly after being named a 2021 IBM Champion — the youngest Z Champion ever!!
What about IBM Z & the student initiative excites you?
So much! Enterprise Computing plays such an integral role in our day-to-day lives and welcomes the opportunity to learn at a 'real-time pace' whilst simultaneously interacting with the same machines being used by Fortune 500 companies truly baffles me! I have cherished having access to so many incredible opportunities over the past year, and discovering platforms like Open PTECH has enabled me to continue learning whilst 'traditional academia’ has been on hold. Through the Student Hub & zAmbassador programme, I have been able to attend/host webinars and in which I discovered a new community where I have felt valued, included, and that my voice counts. Yes, at sixteen years old, my voice counts and is heard by tech-giant IBM! Overall, IBM's entire mission to ensure that content for students is designed with students and/or by students — that's a demonstration of true youth inclusion & I hope others take note and join us in our quest to empower the world with access to enterprise computing skills!
What's next, Lella?
Now that is a big question! In addition to my work with IBM, I've been actively seeking the chance to work with smaller businesses with synergies that are in line with my areas of interest. I hope to do more with such companies and will continue to share my newly acquired skills forward with my peers, inspiring them to see 'tech beyond the textbooks', and enable them to benefit from similar resources and communities that I have been blessed with discovering. As cheesy as it sounds, life is a never-ending learning curve for me and I am far from having 'mastered' any area of technology. I hope to continue experimenting with different technologies and saying 'yes' to further experiences. I attended a talk commemorating Women's History Month at the start of March, and I loved what one of the executives said: "Be disruptive of your well-made plans, ask 'why?!' & seek uncomfortable excitement." — so I think I'll do just that!
Also, I cannot wait to share with you some of the projects the Student Initiative team have been cooking up for the Student Hub. I'll leave it to our Chief Penguin to share the news, in her latest article here
See ya on the Hub!
Global Student Hub Senator