WOW: Women Only Wednesdays Ft. Data Engineer Sidra Aziz

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WOW is an acronym for Women Only Wednesdays. The idea is to cover famous and lesser known women who belong to a diverse variety of professional backgrounds. From fashion, marketing, blogging, and engineering, to designing, cooking, science, and photography. What binds them are their stories of struggle and success.

Featuring Sidra Aziz

In the last decade, digital technology and innovation have transformed our societies, impacting how we interact, how we approach situations, how we tackle problems and how we communicate with each other. However, women are predominantly underrepresented in the field of technology. Currently, only 24% of jobs in the digital economy are held by women. Although the number of women in the tech world has been growing, progress still needs to be made. Diversity in the workforce contributes to creativity, productivity, and innovation. Women’s experiences – as well as men’s experiences – should inform the direction of digital innovation.

So the question is: what can we do to inspire more girls to pursue careers in tech? 

In today’s WOW interview we sat down to speak with the lovely Sidra Aziz. a data engineer and product owner based out of Germany, to learn about her journey and professional roadmap.

Tell us about yourself.

I was born and raised in Karachi. My father passed away in 2009 and a lot changed for me and my family. My father was in Saudia for the first 10 years of my life. He came back when I was 10 and I got to spend only 7 years with him. I lost my father when I was 17 and after that, it was a constant roller coaster for survival. 

The bond that I share with my mother and sister helped me sail through those trying times. My mother was a house-wife turned salon worker due to the financial circumstances. I gave tuitions and took a gap year after 12th grade till I was able to afford further studies. My sister continued studying and our mother worked. Today, their achievements make me even stronger and my heart swells with pride.

After a lot of struggle with part time jobs and night shifts, I completed my Bachelors in Computer Science. I was offered a job in Malaysia before my convocation and I left Pakistan in 2015.

How did you become interested in data engineering? Do you feel that there are any downsides?

At my workplace in Malaysia I was expected to work with data quite a lot, and that made me curious to pursue a Masters and specialisation in this field. I don’t think there is ever a downside to using data, provided you access that data ethically.

Looking back on your career and the challenges you’ve faced being a woman in tech, has it been worth it to get where you are?

I have been in the tech industry for about 10 years. I am not a programmer, but I know data – I know how to use it to tell a story or for a cause. I have managed projects and launched products. But the fear of not knowing enough, not experiencing enough is constantly there. However, I try to work on constantly reading and learning more, and not having fear of speaking my mind in meetings. I attended a Google workshop (I am Remarkable) and it helped me have more empathy for myself, more gratitude for who I am and to be able to document whatever small or big victories I have had personally and professionally. I have seen my fair share of imposter syndrome (I still do) and feeling as though I don’t deserve a seat on the table, but I try to counter that with constant learning. To all the women out there – please speak up. Do not think that you don’t know enough, if you feel in your gut to initiate, then do so! 

Men bond in multiple ways and many may feel exclusionary for women. How do you navigate and participate in these relationships at the workplace? 

I have always been very kind and communicative with others at my workplace but most of the time they are unfortunately not aware and fail to encourage and strengthen women in this regard, and that is disappointing. In my own professional experience, I have made sure that any discomfort is brought to the immediate attention of the company and the person alleged should be called out and trust me it has not been easy. So when I hear people saying “she is coming out with allegations after so many years, what is the proof”, it’s extremely upsetting. Maybe all women should have a necklace with a built-in real-time camera to record everything and then pull up the recording as evidence, right? We as society need massive reforms, and men need to keep their jokes and unwarranted frankness to themselves. It’s not how women should navigate workspaces, it is actually how men should.

What advice do you have for those who want to be advocates for women empowerment and diversity but aren’t sure how to start? 

I have invested a lot of time and energy into growing as a woman who believes in equality. Jihad bil qalam is my answer. Do not underestimate the power of your writing; write and raise your voice. We have social media platforms, we should use them for constructive reasons. I continue to speak out against child marriages, sex trafficking, rape, emotional abuse, honour killings and pay disparity. The first step is to educate yourself and read about the issues. Find the cases, stats and how the women are going through horrendous trials in their life, and do not negate their experiences.

What do we need to do to inspire more young girls, to move things forward and accelerate change within the tech field?

Do not doubt yourself or think that this is difficult – work on your ideas, sign up for online courses, read more, find your niche and work on it. Never let anyone tell you that your sole purpose in life is to be a wife and a mother (it is one of the many things you are destined to be, not the only thing). And, believe in yourself, always! 

Do you have any advice for women entering the tech industry?

Do not hesitate to show off your achievements, there are men around you that fake it till they make it, so don’t be shy! Be proud of every project, every task you work on and highlight it to others in the company. Do not think being humble is the key – it is not.

Where are you focusing your energy now, and where do you hope to make an impact next?

I am finishing my Masters degree and currently searching for a thesis topic to work on. However two of my personal passion projects were successfully turned into research projects at my university. One of them is studying twitter user’s tweets and finding a pattern which could indicate traces of depression. For example, how do they write, express, how often do they tweet etc. Another project is studying the mental wellbeing of students in Germany in the lockdown induced by COVID for the past year or so. I wish to make this world a better place, using my knowledge and degree. I strongly feel that if technology can be used in the right way, it could save lives and that is what I want to do.

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