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In this latest series of articles, we are publishing interviews of women working as a professional or a student in the technology sector. The objective is to highlight their work and contribution to the industry and the community.

In these interviews, you will find women working in technology to solve real-world problems, break stereotypes, and 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 many smart women who are creating and using technology to work wonders.

Today, we are featuring Zehra Shahid. Read on to learn more about her work and get inspired.

Industry Academia Gap Fulfilment Certificate

1, Tell us a little about yourself, your background, your education, and your work.

Been a Karachiite by birth (and by heart), I got all my education from here. Coming from a family where everyone around was either associated with Medicine field or the Business industry, I was the first one to step into the Engineering & IT industry and that too, quite as a coincidence. I always had the passion to join the medical field, much of it owing to the fact that I had grown up hearing that Zehra would be our next doctor in the family. The only conflicting passion for Medicine was my love for Mathematics which ultimately made me change my path in high school from pre-medical to pre-engineering just a minute before submitting the admission form.

I hold a bachelor’s degree in Computer and Information System Engineering from NED University of Engineering and Technology. As of now, I’m a seasoned professional with more than 15 years of experience in Business Analysis, Requirements Management, Quality Assurance, and Project Management

On a personal end, I am inspired by nature and love to travel. Another thing I love to do is talk and connect to people, so I can often be seen in my workplace chatting with a mug of tea/coffee.  🙂

2. What are your future plans/aspirations? How will it impact the community/society/your team/your project?

I’m now known by my managers and leadership for my communication and negotiation skills, but there has been a huge struggle behind it, and that spanning across years. A little background to it is that I had always been the egghead and a topper kid, with studies being the only focus, and I lacked the confidence and skills to interact with people. And this was the biggest hurdle which I faced when I stepped into the professional world.

Over the years, I learned through my mistakes, and bad experiences but above all, through my few good mentors. I strongly believe in good & effective leadership and mentoring and what amazing wonders it can do and leave an amazing impact on the people around me. So, this is where I want to be more involved going forward in addition to my tech passion for business analysis and program management; one such step in this direction was the opportunity that I received through the TechLift boot camp program by being the technical mentor and soft skills trainer, guiding the fresh graduates with the industry needs. This enlightening experience added to my realization, of the impact that your understanding, guidance, and motivation can impart on the youth and society overall. 

3. Please brag about your career accomplishments. What are the things you are proud of? 

“I learned how to care about my team and my resources from you Zehra!” – I think this is one of the best acknowledgments I’ve ever received; this was given to me by one of my onshore managers.

Additionally, my leadership considered me to mentor other resources on the group and get to know them, guide them, and empower them.

If I look back at my career path, there had been ups and downs, even a few compromises, but one thing which worked for me was continuous & persistent effort to grow toward my passion. When I became the first ‘Program Manager’ in my current company, that was a huge accomplishment but, more than that, an honor as this was the first time our parent company offered this role to its local subsidiary. I must say, there were high expectations to strive hard, and I’m happy to share that now, we have a number of people working in this role in my company4.

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4. What has been your best education/career decision, and why?

I’d say sticking to my abrupt decision of switching to engineering and then continuing to move ahead in that direction (though even years after my graduation, I was being persuaded by few to move to medicine ????). 

Moving forward, there had been a few instances where things did not turn out for me as I dreamt or planned, but every time, relying on the fact that what happens, happens for the best, eventually landed me closer to my goals.

The decision to volunteer for the industry-academia gap facilitation services (as mentioned earlier) is another significant one as that gave me a chance to connect more with our youth and not only help them flourish from technical and soft skills perspectives but also learn along with them.

5. What’re the best lessons you’ve learned?

I once read somewhere that the values we uphold define us as a human, who we are, and how we interact with the world around us, and I personally believe in this. It may get difficult at times both in your personal and professional world, but it is important to align things and relations with your values. And in my honest opinion, these values go down to something as basic and crucial as Respect and Honesty.

Some lessons I’ve learned the harder way – one of them is that you’ve to be patient and persevere with things, work, and even with people & company. No one would listen to you on your first day, and success DOES NOT come overnight; it takes time. But your hard work would pay off.

Lastly and supremely, try to give back to the ecosystem in any possible means and help those who are stuck; not everyone around you may be a self-starter and may need a slight pull or push. You may be their only support, so do not give up on the people around you.

6. Which woman inspires you and why?

I’ve a tremendous respect and admiration for all the women out there who are trying to pave and carve ways for others; be it for their own family or, at a broader level, for the community, so whether she is a stay-at-home lady, a working woman or a working mother; each one is inspirational in their own means.

My first inspiration came from my home. I’ve always seen my mother constantly support others around, consistently being on their back (specifically in difficult times). I’ve seen people leaning and relying on her, and that is the attribute I yearn. 

Additionally, now we also have a few leading women in our tech industry who are breaking the stereotypes and glass ceilings, empowering others (specifically women), and bringing change through their work. They are a huge source of inspiration.

Dinner with Team and Leadership

7. 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?

Yes, our society has become more accepting of working women, and there has been quite an improvement in the last decade and so. When I started my career, there used to be a handful of women in a company amongst hundreds of employees. This has improved much, and now there is a comparatively better ratio. 

Although the narrative has changed, I believe we still have a long way to go. I think we need to work on our education and mindset. We need to teach both our sons and daughters the same values. Educate and encourage them to grow, learn, and support each other. 

It is no hidden fact that family support is crucial in a woman’s life, and it becomes easier for her to pursue her career if she has this support. Women can achieve wonders when their families believe in them. So, we need to teach our people to be more supportive at home and in the workplace. And this will only come with proper education and mindset.

Women should also learn to be more supportive of others (specifically other women). And I’d love to see such women winning leadership roles and power positions within the industry.

8. What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?

The technology sector is growing steadily, and the upcoming generation will face the corresponding daunting pressure of making an impact in highly competitive realms such as AI, robotics, data analytics, etc. and so we need more girls to induct in these fields and upgrade their skills. They should attempt to eliminate classic stereotypes emanating from patriarchal cultures and make their own way into the emerging world. This would require perseverance and consistent effort but it is achievable. 

9. What would it be if you could change one thing about the tech industry/business?

I’ll not exactly call it a change as this has already started around the globe and in Pakistan too, that industry should put more focus on how they can bridge the gap between them and the academia. This can start at the university level or in schools at the primary or higher level, where the subject is usually taught without context, and so becomes boring and un-relatable to the student. Industry can put in more effort on its own in this regard. 

10. How can WomenInTechPK help you and other women?

WomenInTechPK is doing an amazing job of providing a platform where women from the industry can connect with each other, share their experiences, and seek advice. 

This community can further provide greater visibility to women from the industry who can serve as role models for other women and especially young girls, those who can be a source of inspiration for them. This can help the youth learn from what women in various tech fields are doing today and give them an opportunity to connect with them.

Lastly, WomenInTechPK can help me fulfill my desire to support and empower others by bringing me closer to people who need guidance (tech or non-tech). As I truly believe in this simple thought: Just a little guidance is sometimes, ALL that is needed.

You can follow Zehra Shahid using her profile(s) below, and please do not hesitate to hire her for your next project.