On the verge of being a school drop-out doomed to a life of unskilled labor, Kirollos Magdy turned his life around to become an IT professional
By Farah Al Akkad
In the summer of 2003, 11-year-old Kirollos Magdy began searching for a job. His father had passed away only a couple of months before, and though he was only a third primary student at the time, he was struck by his hard-working mother’s struggles to support him.
“I instantly felt the change in our lifestyle and knew that my mum’s salary along with my uncle’s money were not enough,” recalls Magdy, now 21. With no father, little money and few skills, it seemed the boy was destined for a life of poverty and struggle. Yet today, he is a successful IT professional working for regional online mall souq.com. He credits the turnaround in his life to ambition, determination, hard work and some well-timed help from an NGO willing to take a chance on him.
Magdy’ father had a solid middle-class job as a manager in a state-owned company, but after he died, the family income dropped by more than half. Magdy’ mother had to take a job in another government company but still couldn’t make up the difference.
Magdy, an only child decided to lend his mother a hand after he felt the financial struggles they were facing. “I started working in different aluminum workshops and in ironing shops around Cairo, earning around LE 30 per week” he recalls.
The family lived in Imbaba, but to cut expenses, Magdy and his mother had to move to a cheaper apartment in another school district. Since he couldn’t afford transportation, he had to walk to school, which took three hours. He ended missing many classes, and eventually he started skipping school entirely to focus more on working. “I missed many lessons and unfortunately ended up receiving a dismissal note.”
He recalls how upset his mother was because he had to repeat third prep. “Seeing my mum in this state of breakdown and complete shock was a strong wake-up call for me to pull myself together,” he admits. Afterwards, Magdy decided to do his utmost to achieve the minimum score of 70%, the grade required to get into secondary school and university. As a compromise between study and work, he switched to the Home School program, only going to the classroom for exams.
He made it into high school, but despite his efforts, Magdy’ grades did not allow him to get into university, his biggest goal at the time. “Most students in my school were able to take extra lessons after school,” he explains. “I however, only had the books to study from.”
After finishing his high school business diploma, Magdy decided to devote all his energy to studying electronics, his greatest passion since he was a young boy. “Computers were always my number one interest,” he recounts. “I could easily fix anything wrong with televisions, PlayStations and all electronics devices since I was nine.”
In 2007, after landing a job as a delivery man for a pharmacy in Zamalek, Magdy started searching for a local institute to learn about programming and earn a degree in computers.
“I found out that many of the educational institutes in Egypt do not really add to any of what I learned from the internet,” he says. This is the dilemma of the educational system: “They give you books, you memorize them, you sit for an exam, you get good grades but when you go out in the real world, you know nothing at all.” What’s missing from the curriculum, he continues, is the practical application of what students learn, “in order to be able to apply their studies in the real world.”
Magdy spent four years reading books and researching online to learn about electronics, programming and IT, all the while working at the pharmacy. “Of course working as a delivery man was very far from my dream job, but I followed the motto of “Love what you do, so you do what you love.”
During that time, he also paid attention to how the pharmacy worked, learning all about the medicines and eventually becoming the owner’s top assistant. By 2011, Magdy had saved up enough money to apply to Neorizon Institute’s two-month Basics Programming course in Heliopolis. “The course cost was LE 3000, I had LE 2200 and borrowed the rest of the money from my friend’s dad whom I look upon as my second father,” he recalls. “Neorizon gave me the practical tools to help me do what I have in mind.”
What he had in mind was to specialize and work in computer programming. His real break came in June 2012 when he landed a spot in Education for Employment’s (EFE) Job Placement Program. EFE is an education-oriented NGO that teaches the specific skills sought after by local employers.
“I applied for EFE through the internet and was positive they would not accept me, as one of the fields required was to list my bachelor’s degree, which I did not have,” he recalls. When the NGO called him back, “I wanted to cry and laugh at the same time and felt that finally God opened a door for me. I was delivering an order from the pharmacy when my cell phone rang; it was EFE saying ‘you are accepted’ and that I should come at this address. I did not have anything to write with or on, I took a pen from the doorman and wrote the address on my hand”.
In addition to courses about web designing, communication, interview and presentation skills, the program also teaches students how to market themselves. “It was an intensive, six days per week course that lasted 2 months,” Magdy explains.
EFE students are given the chance to interview for positions in the fields of e-commerce, e-marketing, customer service and graphics. Magdy became interested in the website souq.com after seeing Omar Sedoudi, the company’s general manager, give a motivational speech at the EFE graduation ceremony. The young man greatly admired Sedoudi’s personality and looked upon him as a role model, so he introduced himself at the graduation ceremony.
“I talked to him about my ideas on how we can develop souq.com’s web content to meet customer’s needs and catch their attention. He really liked my ideas and said someone will call me for an interview.”
Unbeknownst to him, EFE had also identified Magdy as a potential candidate for souq.com and recommended him to the company. In February 2013, Magdy was hired as a content associate in souq.com, and by August he had been promoted to a senior web designer on souq.com global technical team. He is not content with landing his dream job, though; his goals are still growing bigger each day. He’s working on developing himself at souq.com, but he hasn’t given up on his goal to obtain his bachelor’s degree. Ultimately, he wants to start his own programming company.
And he knows exactly how to achieve his dreams: “Hard work. If you work hard, there is not any other way to do it, and trust me you will be miraculously rewarded.” et