My Career: From Start to Finnish
Blen believes programming skills can help solve societal problems
Get to know more about Blen via LinkedIn.Blen Hailu
Blen Hailu, Ethiopia. Entrepreneur, Human Rights Lawyer, Aspiring full-stack developer.
High-quality education attracted Blen Hailu, originally from Ethiopia, to Finland. Her then boyfriend, now husband, was studying at the Turku University of Applied Sciences, and his positive stories inspired Blen to explore similar options. As a result, she was accepted to do a master’s degree in international human rights law at Åbo Akademi University, also in Turku.
But that was just the start. After graduating and becoming a mother, Blen was accepted to another master’s programme at the University of Helsinki. She supported herself by working in the NGO sector and doing part-time cleaning jobs. Then Blen found an entrepreneurship and marketing programme at Spark Academy, which became a defining experience for her. She realised she could create a job instead of looking for one and, most importantly, found a passion for coding.
Today, Blen lives in Helsinki and is busy building a home service business, writing her master’s thesis and working on her full-stack programming skills. Blen’s goal? To create a business with a positive impact on our society.
Blen has travelled less since having kids but hopes to return to it soon. Here she is visiting the Eiffel Tower in ParisBlen Hailu
How I landed my current job is… before joining Spark Academy, I had never had exposure to doing business or studying coding. After taking the course there, I shifted my mindset from looking for a job to creating one. Instead of focusing on a single career path, I combined my education, experience, skills and drive into a passion project.
What helped me initially was to get out of my comfort zone and be willing to try different things, especially if the things you are trying are not working. I never knew I liked coding or that I could start my own business. I was so focused on finding a job in a very specific sector.
In addition, I leveraged existing support from peers and organisations. So don’t do everything alone. Find a community of like-minded people, contact different organisations, leverage their resources, programs and events, and, most importantly, network. You never know who you will end up meeting and how that person or organisation can change your life for the better. Or maybe you find you already possess the solution to your problem. You just need a different perspective or a new set of skills to see it.
I wanted to start a company in Finland because… I know first-hand how difficult it is for foreigners to find a job here. They may need to study the language more or upskill themselves to meet the labour market needs. At the same time, I saw a market gap in the home services sector. As a result, I wanted to start a company that offers an alternative source of income for people but also the flexibility they need to chase their dreams.
“I like the sense of community and collaboration in the tech community.”
So far, the process has been great. I have gotten a lot of support from institutions, mentors and groups dedicated to helping women founders, such as Tech Nordic Advocates, The Shortcut, and Newco Helsinki [nowBusiness Helsinki].
I decided to jump from law and human rights to the tech sector because… I have always been interested in coding but never tried it before. You don’t need to code to become a lawyer.
After studying the Finnish labour market for a while, I noticed the increasing need for digital skills in every sector. So I wanted to familiarise myself with the basics of programming. And I found that I really enjoy coding. I’m still beginning my journey, but I want to continue to study and develop my skills more. Now I see the potential of using programming to solve societal problems. Hopefully, I will build exciting projects in the future.
What I enjoy most about being a software developer is… the creative problem-solving aspect. Especially taking a complex problem and breaking it into smaller and more manageable parts, and the sense of accomplishment I feel from building a solution.
I also like the sense of community and collaboration in the tech community. Everyone is ready to help you debug or teach you a trick or two.
Turku was Blen’s first home in Finland. She has fond memories of spending summer days strolling on the banks of Aurajoki.Blen Hailu
The Finnish startup ecosystem is… I have had a very positive experience so far. I’ve found it easy to meet founders and coaches, and ask for mentorship or discuss ideas with them.
In addition, the fact that many public services and institutions are ready to help you get set up makes the process manageable and smoother.
The main difference in working life in Finland compared to other countries where I have worked is…the horizontal hierarchy structure. Bosses are treated as employees with just different responsibilities. They are easily accessible and ready to listen even if you are just an intern.
Another thing I like about Finland is that people get to show their whole personality since people don’t care as much about formal attire.
On top of that, there are saunas in offices and the amount of coffee consumed at workplaces is crazy even for me, who comes from the country where coffee originated. We Ethiopians have a great coffee culture, but coffee is consumed more and is a big part of office culture here in Finland.
Doing forest walks is one of the hobbies Blen has started in Finland.Blen Hailu
The organisations that have been helpful for my professional growth in Finland include… the universities I’ve attended, such as Åbo Akademi and the University of Helsinki. They have been helpful by providing me with an opportunity to study in their programmes and gain quality education. I have also been using free online resources by taking courses from FI Tech and MOOC.
In addition, organisations such as The Shortcut (beneficial courses, career support, awesome staff to support you and a fantastic community), Nice Hearts (provided me with an opportunity to volunteer and give back to the community), Tech Nordic Advocates (business workshops, amazing mentors, great staff and inspiring female founder community) and World Vision Finland (best workplace, passionate teammates changing the world for the better) have been instrumental in my journey in Finland.
What I enjoy most about where I live is… Before moving to Helsinki, I lived in Turku near the river Aura [Aurajoki]. My fondest memory is spending summer days having a picnic by the river. Or having a coffee at one of the riverside cafes or walking along the Aurajoki walking path and enjoying the breeze from the river and the view.
Even after moving to Helsinki, I live near the sea, and I always try to recreate that feeling I had in Turku by finding similar walking paths here. I plan to finish the Helsinki walking path along the shoreline next summer.
The hobbies that I have really enjoyed practising in Finland are… I started forest walks and sea swimming – no avanto [ice swimming] yet – here, and I’m getting more into them by the year. I like taking long walks alone or with my kids and exploring the forest together.
Living in Finland has also opened the door for me to participate in different activities, travel and explore different cultures. I haven’t travelled much after having kids, but I hope to continue soon.