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Stefan Steinberger

What are you leading?

refugees{code} is a nine-month full time program in Vienna, Austria for refugees to learn programming free of charge with the ultimate goal of integration into the job market.

We started refugees{code} in the autumn of 2016 with our first trial run and, following a second trial run radically changed our program and launched it in the form it is today in the summer of 2017. In October 2017 we started our current intake with 21 participants and currently have a 0% dropout rate. During our two trial runs we already placed four people in jobs, and in May 2018 we plan to place our 21 participants in internships.

I had the idea for refugees{code} when I realized that companies are looking for programmers, and refugees are looking for jobs. Some similar initiatives to teach refugees to code already existed in Austria at that time, but none of them incorporated what as my key focus - the goal of integration. I also did not want to be dependent on fundraising alone, but also work to create a self-sustaining social business.

As Initiator and Co-Founder I am leading a team of 10 people (employees and volunteers) at refugees{code} and am responsible for funding, strategic partnerships, and placement. We are partnering with the Technical University of Vienna, the Vienna Business Agency and several companies as  including Shpock, Microsoft, and Paysafe.

refugees{code} has won the HR Award 2017 in the category “Best Newcomer,”  the Austria Social Impact Award 2017, and were recently recognized on the Europe Forbes 30 Under 30 list.

How did your experiences as a fellow inspire or prepare you for what you’re doing now?

One of first experiences in the classroom came when I introduced myself, I was talking for a few minutes when I realizing something was wrong - no one could actually follow me because my students did not speak German at that time.

As a Teach For Austria Fellow, I spend most of my time teaching in two classes where the majority of students were refugees, some of whom had even fled their countries alone, without their parents. In December 2015, some months after I started teaching, I visited my students' homes to see how they live. It was overwhelming. Everyone was so nice and welcoming although they had so little. My students insisted on inviting me for a tea and also people I have never met before invited me to try specialties from their countries. Some weeks later I organized an event where former refugees told their stories to the refugees about how they managed to learn the language and what helped them with integration. We actually did this event twice – once in Arabic and once in Farsi – because the people in this big refugee home did not speak German very well. After the event so many came to me and to ask if I could help finding a job. The motivation I felt after this event I also felt at school every day - they were just so eager to learn. This really inspired me.

Another source of inspiration were my fellow colleagues. Every day so many great things happen and no matter with whom you talk – you will hear a great inspiring story. You can learn so much from each and every one – including the kids we are teaching.

I started refugees{code} already in my second year of my fellowship and tried to keep it away from Teach for Austria because refugees{code} targets adults and I was afraid that people would think I was not paying enough attention to school and my students. In the beginning only my colleagues at my school knew about it but later on when I asked for advice regarding our recruiting system, preparing a speech, or using a room for meetings I always was supported by Teach for Austria.

To sum it up, the last two years changed my life. I learned so many things, tools and a lot about myself. I am now doing things I would have never imagined being capable of before joining Teach for Austria and met so many incredible people I probably would have never met. For me Teach for Austria was also the path to discover what I really want to do in life: “Do what you love, love what you do.”

What's next?

Our next step is to place all 20 current participants in internships by May 2018. In October 2018 we will start our fourth intake where we want to increase the general number of participants but also the number of women (currently 3/21) in our program. For this purpose in the beginning of 2019 we plan to also launch a program only for women.

For the next year regional expansion will be a key goal. In 2018 we will start working on a guide how to replicate our model in other countries. The recent visit of Teach For All CEO Wendy Kopp to Vienna inspired me a lot and I think we will follow the model of having motivated local entrepreneurs as the main prerequisite for regional expansion.

Long-term I am thinking of extending our target group (currently 18-40) and offering programming courses also for displaced teenagers. This would then be the bridge to close the circle and partner with Teach For Austria. But it’s a long way and for now we want to be the best in what we are doing now: teaching refugees programming and integrating them into the job market
and society.

Alumni info

Alumni Cohort


Current Home

Vienna, Austria

Subject(s) Taught

Sports, Mathematics, English, Chemistry, Physics, Geography, “Berufsorientierung” (future career orientation)

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Leadership Journey

June 2016

had the idea for refugees{code} when I put together that every company is looking for programmers and refugees are looking for jobs. So why don’t we teach programming to refugees…?

Summer 2016

Convinced a professor from the Technical University Vienna to partner with us.

September 2016

Our idea made it into the found! accelerator (Deloitte & Impact Hub Vienna)

October 2016

refugees{code} started our first intake with 22 participants

January 2017

We finished our first intake with 5 participants

February 2017

refugees{code} started our second intake with 40 participants

June 2017

23/40 participants finished our second intake

September 2017

Within a week refugees{code} won the HR Award 2017 (Best Newcomer) and the Social Impact Award 2017 (Austria)

October 2017

refugees{code} started our third intake. Over the summer we radically changed the program to what it is today (nine month, full time, including an internship, our own learning space, our own learning management system, new teaching methods such as flipped classroom and blended learning)

November 2017

Again within a week: First I was representing Austria in Tallin (Estonia) at the Ideas for Europe ( competition (organized by the European Commission) and the we were on national television (Friday evening, prime time) as one of 10 social ventures that could change Austria and event got a personal thank you from our former President.

December 2017

We started our second program “DevelopMe_” in partnership with the Vienna Business Agency. Within this 12 week program refugees should learn skills which enable them to work as a freelancer. This cooperation is within an EU-project where Vienna as only of four cities in Europe was chosen to show best practices – and refugees{code} is one of three execution partners chosen by the Vienna Business Agency.

January 2018

refugees{code} is listed on Forbes 30 under 30 (Social Entrepreneurs)

January 2018

20/21 participants are still with us. One participant already found a job and started working on January 1st 2018. This leaves us with a 0% dropout rate we are extremely proud of.


Summer 2016

The professor was very skeptical and wanted to talk with the CEO of my current employer – which was Teach for Austria. Gebhard Ottacher was so kind to take time and meet him. It helped a lot by that time to convince the professor.

October 2016

We were allowed to meet once a week at 7pm at the Teach for Austria office for our weekly team meetings.