In this latest series of articles, we are publishing interviews of women who are working as a professional or a student in the technology sector. The objective is to highlight their work and contribution to the industry as well as to the community.
In these interviews, you will find women working in technology to solve real-world problems, to break stereotypes and to create the next big impact on the tech industry. This series of interviews shows that even with the lowest rate of women participation in the labor market in Pakistan, there are still lots of smart women who are creating and using technology to work wonders.
Today, we are featuring Dr. Humera Noor Minhas. Read on to know more about her work and get inspired.
Tell us a little about yourself, your background, your education, and your work.
I was a trouble-maker as a kid: always looking for tricks to dodge the homework and splitting open the electronic devices to see what’s inside. Growing up, sandwiched between two sensible sisters and under the supervision of a Civil Engr. Father and a lawyer mom, it was crystal clear right from the beginning that education will be our superpower.
The four years at Computer Systems Engineering at NED University not only helped me build my foundation but also uncovered my love for Artificial Intelligence (AI) and teaching – the two have remained with me ever since. I started my teaching career, at my alma mater, right after final year exams, and stayed almost 12 years full-time in the field – as Assoc. Prof. and departmental Co-chairperson in the last few years.
In parallel, I continued my journey of Masters (Sir Syed University), then Ph.D. (NED + University of Central Florida) and finally postdoc (Technische Universität München) going more in-depth into AI, machine learning and computer vision. A lot happened during that journey, including me landing in Germany after getting married (interesting stories there ☺) and finally moving from Academia to Industry where I get to find my new love – Big Data.
What are your plans/aspirations? What impact will it have on the community/society/your team/your project?
I love what I do – teaching and working with big data and AI systems. Embracing the digital transformation, I’ve remained involved in spreading knowledge by conducting offline and online seminars/webinars, video lecture series, and supervising our younger generation in diverse technical and non-technical topics. My webinar topics include data science, machine learning, how to get started with Ph.D. research, Healing from Failures, etc.
The lockdown all over the world due to Coronavirus has been a compelling reason to strengthen online communication further and establish an online presence. My goal is straightforward – Empowerment! I believe that “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime”. And, I believe that spreading knowledge is the most significant form of Empowerment that you can do for anyone.
Please brag about your career accomplishments, what are the things you are proud of?
“Ms. Humera Noor, we congratulate you on becoming Dr. Humera Noor” – my most prized achievement, which never gets old, is getting my doctorate. It gave me a rock-solid foundation not only in my further academic research life but also in my transition to the industry. Moreover, it taught me the lessons of resilience, power of being focused & dedicated, not being afraid of exploring the uncharted territories, etc.
Most of the achievements that make me feel proud of myself are related to my overall goal of making people empowered. The 3-year joint German-Pakistani research project that got us 100k € funding from DAAD Germany and enabled many Pakistani scholars to do their Masters thesis, attend workshops, travel to Germany as exchange scholars are one of such examples. Winning the MyCliqztar 2019 award for living the company values and making a difference to teammates, is yet another one.
It’s the little things in life that make a significant impact. Every thank you message that I get from my students, and every time I see my teammates flourishing because of the technical and non-technical guidance, I gave them, makes it all worthwhile.
What has been your best education/career decision, and why?
The decision to quit my job at NED University and settle down in Germany as a housewife is one of the most significant career decisions that I took. At that time, in 2012, it felt like burning bridges and was a tough call (I’ll be happy to talk about it if you want to know more ☺.
Working part-time and remotely on the DAAD, as mentioned earlier, the German-Pakistani Research project gave me enough time to think and prepare for my next career move – the most prominent decision being staying in academia vs. moving to industry. It was then that I decided to give the industry a shot and was fortunate to land into my dream company – Cliqz.
Here, in addition to developing my technical skills, I learned a lot about soft skills, including communication and leadership. My academic experience, combined with industrial exposure, helped me grow further, and I see myself as a combination of the best of both the Worlds.
What’re the best lessons you’ve learned?
The best lessons that I learned are connected to the transition from academia to the industry that I mentioned above. It was an enlightening episode. It taught me that to fly higher; you have to lift your feet off the ground. When I left my job in academia, it felt like having no ground under my feet. But that was the primary reason that led me to open my wings and fly towards the new, unexplored avenue of industry.
Some lessons, I had learned the harder way – one of them being that you cannot be kind and forgiving at all times. We want leaders who can stand up for themselves and their teams; leaders who don’t just accept everything that’s thrown their way; and leaders who speak up and fight when dealt with unjustly.
Finally, I’ve learned that when you can be anything, be kind.
Which woman inspires you and why?
My mom – is my role model, the one who taught me that education empowers you in several ways. She taught me that getting your idea is not always the right one. Educating yourself doesn’t mean you have to go out of the house and work in an office to make a difference. She left her flourishing law career to support my papa with his highly mobile job moving from city-to-city and across countries.
My mom taught me through her actions. She taught me how to be present, support the family without being at the forefront, and without expecting any credits. She has always been there, helping me through my struggles, picking me up whenever I fell, and cheering on me when no one else did. She is my inspiration and the best antidepressant that I could have ever wanted.
Do you think Pakistan has changed as a society, in terms of accepting career-oriented women? What needs to change to help more women come forward?
I want to quote a friend of mine, who said that the ladies of today are in a difficult phase because we are the “sandwich generation.” Our moms were mostly housewives and expected a woman to give full attention to the house and family. Our daughters, on the other hand, are growing up with more awareness. They are aware of their rights and what is happening in the outside world. This clearly shows that we have indeed moved ahead in terms of acceptance of career-oriented women – though they have to go many extra miles to prove themselves from different walks of life.
And, we still have a long way to go. I think we need to work on our mindset. We need to teach both our sons and daughters the same values. Encourage them to grow, learn, and support each other.
It is no hidden fact that it becomes easier for a woman to pursue her career if she has support from her family. And we need to teach our society to be more supportive – at home and in the workplace. This will only come with proper education and mindset.
What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?
I think it’s going to be maintaining the balance between personal values and professional lives. With the advancement in technologies and progress that we’ve made so far, the expectations of “putting in more” will be higher for our younger generation. And they need to make clear boundaries there.
More importantly, I want to remind them that in all this tug-off war and juggling between responsibilities, taking care of themselves will be challenging, and they need to take special care to do that.
If you could change one thing about the tech industry/business, what would it be?
I think one good thing that Corona did for us is to invalidate the excuses against working from home. We’ve seen that, especially in IT, working remotely works pretty nicely and as effectively as in-office. This is something that I would want NOT to CHANGE. ☺
How can WomenInTechPK help you and other women?
WomenInTechPK is a fantastic platform that gives the feeling of being part of a community. We have originated from the same roots, and typically have the same challenges, struggles, and opportunities. I think it is valuable to be part of a group where you can learn from others and connect with like-minded people going through the same journey. I see that WomenInTechPK can help me live my dream of empowering others by bringing me closer to the people who need technical or non-technical guidance.
You can follow Dr. Humera Noor Minhas using her profiles below, and please do not hesitate in hiring her for your next project.