Syrian programmer Samer Malatialy got an IT job after just over a year in Sweden. His new homeland has all the ingredients to be a global startub hub, he believes, but it needs to embrace more foreign talent and fix a couple of serious bottlenecks.
The Aleppo native left Syria in 2013 and worked for a while in Egypt before making his way to Sweden in July 2014. The computer systems engineer soon found himself plonked in rural Dalarna, with not a whole lot going on in his life.
“I hate staying home and having nothing to do,” he tells The Local Voices.
“My only option was to visit a newly opened asylum centre in Garpenberg.”
He didn’t expect to find himself networking, but that’s exactly what happened. He got talking to one of the investors behind the camp and one thing led to another.
“I told him I am an engineer. He was interested and offered me the opportunity to work at his company, Billhop.”
Malatialy went for an interview, took an online test, and got the job as a software developer with the payment service. Just eight weeks had passed since Sweden had granted him asylum in October 2015.
“The good thing in this company is that we have people from different backgrounds, we are a multicultural company. The company is aiming to expand internationally, and to do so Billhop welcomes foreign expertise.”
In Syria he had worked as a programmer for three years before moving to Egypt, where he got a job developing software for staff working with ATMs.
He could hardly have anticipated that he would end up in Sweden when he graduated back in 2009, and he thinks there’s “no comparison” between Syria and Sweden when it comes to tech jobs.
“In Sweden there’s a high level of professionalism, while in Syria it was still raw, we were just starting to build our market.
“However, don’t underestimate Syrians' expertise. There are many talents who actually have the skills. I, for example, had the potential to work in Stockholm.”
Sweden is increasingly a beacon for tech startups, and the fact almost everyone speaks great English is a huge plus. But two things in particular risk hampering growth, Malatially believes.
One is the dysfunctional housing market, an issue addressed in the past by the leading figures in the tech industry.
The other is a “skepticism towards change, and to adopting foreign expertise especially when it comes to refugees.”
He thinks employers would be surprised by the quality on offer if they gave more refugees a chance to prove themselves.
“Embrace these talents, there’s nothing to fear.”
Sweden has done a lot to help newcomers, he says, but also acknowledges that not everyone is so welcoming.
“There are Swedes who yearn to make their country a multicultural arena, but one hand isn’t clapping.”