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Meet the New Creators / Lella Halloum
Portrait of New Creator Lella Violet Halloum

Lella Violet Halloum

Lella
Halloum

Student, technologist and humanitarian

Lella is just 17 but already making change on a global scale. She taught herself to code at eight, started participating in hackathons at 11, and in 2021 received a Diana Award recognizing her work as a co-founder of Al-Wasl.Connect, an open-source platform to coordinate humanitarian aid. She is a frequent speaker at the UN and the youngest ever IBM zSystems Champion.

How would you describe your work?

I’m taking big ideas and making them happen. Every day I think back to little Lella and her dreams, aspirations and pain points — struggling to keep motivated as her computer science (CS) lessons lagged far behind the real world of technology. I want to change the perception of the field as entirely maths-driven and data-heavy, and instead have CS seen as an art, as fun and interactive. Most importantly, I strive daily to make IT a catalyst to fulfil the purpose and passion of my peers, rather than allowing technology to negatively consume them.

What do you want to achieve that no one else has done before?

We may think that the world is digital, but 50% of the world remains offline. We simply cannot continue to innovate and grow until everyone has equitable access to technology and equality of opportunity when breaking into tech careers.

My goal is to continue to expand the IBM Global Student Hub, already home to thousands of students worldwide, and really push to connect the unconnected.

Already, I’ve been delighted to highlight the intersections between STEM and the arts, hosting The Human Code, a day-long event filled with accomplished and celebrated global artists and technologists, including Terence Lewis (Bollywood choreographer) and Ty Roberts (Head of Strategic Partnerships for the TIDAL streaming service). Not only did we have some big names and incredible activities for students to develop vital habitudes (habits+attitudes), but we collaborated with organizations across the Global South to extend our celebration of technology to those traditionally disconnected.

What makes you excited to get up in the morning?

The things that truly wake me up in the morning are the UN Sustainable Development Goals: quality education, gender equality, decent work and economic growth, and reduced inequality. It is integral that we have these goals as an urgent call to action to show us that much more must be done. Just this week I read that The World Economic Forum estimates that on the current trajectory, it will take 135.6 years for the economic gender gap to close, and this must change.

What do you think of as your first big success and how did you feel when you hit that mark?

For me, my biggest achievement or moment, in addition to overcoming this adversity as a young person living through a global pandemic, has been how I channeled this uncertainty into positivity and connected students in a similar position. I now recognize the power my generation can have by simply being proactive and not reactive — sharing ideas and making them a reality. I went from being a member of the audience desperate to connect with the pioneering leader who is now my mentor, Melissa Sassi, to co-founding zStudents with her in the Summer of 2020 to keep fellow students motivated through these anomalous times. We went on to create the zStudents Committee — a group of young technologists from across the world who are united by a desire to create content that is entirely for, with and by students, enabling young people to speak with industry thought leaders rather than be spoken to — as is often the case with traditional webinars.

Who inspires you?

Throughout my life, I’ve been surrounded by so many incredibly strong women — starting within my own family, with my mama and my grandmother being true Yorkshire women, filled with grit and resilience — and being surrounded by a strong crowd. I feel like that’s something that has always been instilled and encouraged within my family life.

Also, I believe my greatest inspiration lies in the underserved and underrepresented communities I have had the privilege of engaging with — from Cambodia to Lebanon, the individuals in these communities are innovating and applying creative approaches to the challenges they face in their daily lives.

What helps you stay creative?

I’m an avid chorist and have sung as an alto in numerous choirs. Singing and being part of a choir requires a real sense of teamwork and collaboration. The importance of listening is crucial. You could be thinking that you’re singing all the right notes, but then you take time to listen to the people around you and you realize: “I’m completely out of tune!”

In any decision-making process, and this is especially true in my work at IBM, not solely listening to the loudest voices at the decision-making table, but instead broadening that out through processes such as design thinking allows you to reflect and grow in the right direction.

This is a tough question for some young people, but where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I’ll hopefully continue to be driven by aspirations for an equitable, youth-centered and future-focused digital tomorrow. While I am a proud woman in STEM, I hope inequalities within our industry have been reduced 10 years from now, and that we’ve moved to a more equitable industry, and access to technology is far improved.

My generation wants our achievements to be valued for what they are, rather than seeing them for who we are. I’m not “good at coding for a girl my age,” I’m simply good at coding.

Is there anything else that you might want to add?

Be brave not perfect, and unapologetically you. By bringing our most authentic selves to work, school and community life we can connect the disconnected and create a cognitively diverse society for all to flourish and lead careers driven by purpose and passion.

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