Oozy Bitew thought other Ethiopian-Israelis deserve the same chance he got when he started working at Wix. So he came up with an initiative to allow more people from his community to have the same opportunities
Not long after he started to work at Wix around 5 years ago, Oozy Bitew felt a strong urge to help other Israeli-Ethiopians enter the local high-tech industry. And so, he took action.
Today, thanks to Oozy’s initiatives which were supported by his team leader and then embraced and sponsored by Wix, 10 more Ethiopian-Israeli employees joined Wix, and the numbers will continue to grow.
In a recent Wix meetup around “The Power of Diversity in High-Tech”, Oozy shared his vision and experience with industry leaders, recruiters and many Israeli-Ethiopians students looking to make their first step in the industry. We saw it as a good opportunity to chat with him about leading projects at Wix, the need for diversity and the ways to achieve it.
“The real reason I wanted to do it is because I wanted others from the community I came from to experience what I felt. I started out in Wix at Email Marketing and later became a Frontend Developer; I love what I do and professionally I’m constantly growing and improving; I live in Tel Aviv which is a big city. I want others to have the same possibilities that I have”.
Oozy’s path to being a software developer wasn’t trivial. He was born to immigrant parents who came to a country very different from the one they've left behind, but he had “a thing for computers” since he was a kid, and started to study software development at Tech-Career - a small organization dedicated to integrating Israelis from Ethiopian descent into the local high-tech industry.
Making the Dream Approachable
During the 10-month-long program, students learn the fundamentals of software development, network administration, cyber and QA in order to prepare themselves for jobs at leading tech companies in Israel's bustling high-tech scene. The problem, however, was that even after successfully completing their studies, many graduates found themselves facing a harsh reality when they started looking for jobs.
As someone who experienced this reality himself, Oozy wanted to help. He started to volunteer at Tech-Career and began thinking about creative ways to assist graduates to find jobs.
Oozy says that one of the main obstacles in the integration of Ethiopian-Israelis into the local tech industry is the genuine disbelief some of the graduates have in their chance of being hired by a leading tech company. “They don’t know anyone who works in these types of companies, so those companies seem to them as if they’re behind a great big wall - completely unapproachable to them. I understand that state of mind because I’ve been there myself. Six years ago, the idea of working at a company like Wix seemed to me like a dream”.
Another significant obstacle, Oozy says, is the competition. “When you’re looking for a job, you’re competing against people who might have studied at better known colleges and who definitely have better connections. They might even know people from the inside who can push their CVs forward. Unfortunately, people from our community don’t have those advantages, so I thought about ways of getting Wix to collaborate with Tech-Career in order to increase the number of Ethiopian-Israelis in it and to encourage more diversity in the company”.
Meeting Wix Through a Hackathon
After one of his team members at Wix heard about Oozy’s volunteering, he wanted to join the initiative. When their manager, Shai Cohen, heard about it, he wanted to help too. “I took him with me to a hackathon the students were participating in, and he instantly clicked with them. When we drove back to Tel Aviv, he told me that it doesn’t make sense that while Wix was recruiting many people in Israel, we were not reaching enough Ethiopian-Israelis”.
Shortly afterwards, Shai brought the issue to Wix’s management, got its endorsement and the two decided to move forward and hold a hackathon. The idea: to enable team leaders from Wix to meet Tech-Career students and assess their skills in a life-like environment. “The hackathon environment loosened them and at the same time enabled the team leaders to see who’s good at what, who’s a team-player and who can think outside the box”, Oozy explains. The result: 4 of the students were hired as full-time Wix employees.
In the beginning of 2020, the initiative received 5 more positions to be filled by Ethiopian-Israelis, but since the pandemic broke out, Oozy suggested a different path to help the students land a job at Wix. “I looked at the needed skills for those positions and mentored the students in technologies like React, Node.js and others. Then, they got a regular home assignment from Wix and the ones who reviewed them were myself and the students who were hired following the hackathon a year earlier. At the end, 4 more were hired”.
From your perspective, why is diversity important for a company and for the society it operates in?
“First, diversity is good for business. If all your employees come from the same background, the way they’ll think will be quite similar. However, if you diversify your workforce and hire people from different backgrounds, you’ll get people who look at things from multiple angles and will create a kind of melting pot that balances points of view.
“On the macro level, companies operate within societies, and they can use their power to create a positive change and to make them more equal. And finally, just think about these people who are looking for their chance. In the future, those students may become the first Ethiopian-Israeli CTO or CEO. As they progress in their careers, they’ll become role models. People will see them and start to believe in themselves because they’ll see that it’s possible.
“Look, I’ll be able to give my kids things that my parents weren’t able to give me: education, enrichment classes, things like that. Those are the things that can close socioeconomic gaps in the next generations. Some of the Ethiopian-Israelis who already work at Wix, have told me about the influence it has on their families. All of sudden their siblings and friends look at a career in high-tech as a possibility. These circles expand as more and more people join. It’s like a positive ripple effect”.
What’s your vision for the future?
“I want other companies in Israel to copy & paste this model within them. They don’t have to be high-tech companies. This change is needed in other sectors too: government, lawyers, accounting, universities etc. In Israel, Ethiopian-Israelis are 2% of the population and I want to see them represented at this ratio at every workplace. I don’t want my children to require a unique path. I want them to be like anyone else”.