Goodbye, gender stereotypes: How 3 women got their dream tech jobs even after 10-20 years of career break – India Today

Goodbye, gender stereotypes: How 3 women got their dream tech jobs even after 10-20 years of career break  India Today

With false notions of women not being good at science still going strong, the chances of women getting a tech job after a career break goes down a lot if they …

The idea of women not being good at tech jobs is nothing new. Technology was considered a man’s game almost entirely till the IT boom in the late nineties. Today, despite the high number of female engineering graduates, there are very few women in STEM fields. Gender bias is still rampant here as qualified women face doubtful looks in tech job interviews and are chosen much less often than their male counterparts.

According to a survey conducted by HackerEarth, only one-third of all tech teams are comprised of women and almost 86% of the survey respondents have a degree in computer science. The report said that there is a constant rise in the number of women graduating but due to lack of right skills, they lack behind in the game.

But women nursing a love for science and technology are hardly likely to give up the chance of making a career in something they love. And many online education websites are picking up on this demand and providing certificate courses for all the new technology fields that are coming up now such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, big data, web development, programming etc. which can up-skill women and new tech learners for better job opportunities.

We spoke to three such women who took the remarkable step of educating themselves with online courses and crossing decades-long career gaps to finally land a tech job they won’t get tired of. Here’s how they did it.

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Mariam Fatima: From a middle-school teacher to a web developer

Mariam Fatima

Why did she switch her career?

Mariam Fatima had a keen interest in Geography and acquired a BA and MA in the same. She aimed to form a career delving deeper into the GIS (Geographical Information System) but quickly realized she lacked the scientific background for this goal.

Working in education was her secondary interest. So, she joined a private school in Delhi as a social science teacher. After one and a half years, she realized it was losing the charm for her.

“I soon realised that every woman does not have to be a teacher just because of her gender. Since I had some experience with GIS, I decided to take a chance with coding. It did not take me long to realize that programming is something I can see myself doing for the rest of my life,” says 28-year-old Mariam.

How did she switch her career?

Mariam got married and moved to Bangalore, and the ‘Silicon City of India’ had a big hand in making her who she is now.

“The fact that Bangalore exhibits an accepting character when it comes to talent and how it encourages people to use and develop technology is mesmerizing. There is a peculiar vibe in this city that inspires you to flow in the same direction as everyone else is moving,” she says.

She realized that today, technology is a much-needed skill even within a traditional skill-set.

“Being computer illiterate is seen as a great disadvantage in any profession. Programming is beautiful because you can build something of your own and solve real-life problems.”

Mariam wanted to make life easier for teachers by making an app to generate lesson plans. And this is when she decided to dive deeper into programming.

“Then it was time to take it to the next level and be serious about it. I looked for boot camps, certificate courses, even diplomas available in Bangalore. But despite all the technical hype in the city, there exists an unfortunate gap when one looks for avenues to learn.”

Playing around with the online courses available for the in-demand tech skills, she came upon Udacity and liking the structured courses, she opted to study Front-end Web Development.

Mariam Fatima with other Google scholars.

How did the online course help her?

“The best part about Udacity is that they acknowledge the fact that people from the non-technical background can take up programming as a profession. And they work extensively towards this goal,” says Mariam.

After her course, she got hired for her internship as a front-end developer through a job fair conducted by Udacity for their students.

“There are plenty of advantages to learning through online courses. I had the leverage to choose my own time to learn. I could replay a lesson a hundred times if I wanted to, and I did not have to waste time in travelling,” she says.

Mariam is currently working as a lecturer on web development in Berlin, Germany, and her job is to help refugees and locals build a career in programming.

“I attain great satisfaction in the work I am currently doing. It is a unique combination of both the skills I have learned and enjoyed over the years: teaching and programming,” Mariam says.

Does she feel women in tech face gender bias?

Mariam notes her discouraging experiences in several job interviews after completing the online course.

“Women are not seen as a fit for the software industry. It is a popular belief that women cannot work for long hours, cannot maintain a professional-personal balance and, not to forget, women are not competent enough for a career as technical as programming,” says Mariam, adding that she was fortunate to finally work in a company where there was a lot of respect for women employees.

Why should women not be scared of a technology career?

“Learning to program is extremely empowering. Today, the most powerful companies in the world are software companies. Women should be provided with scholarships and other opportunities to pursue a career in software development,” says Mariam.

Read: Here’s how one homemaker went back to her career, thanks to a tutoring app

Arshi Saleh: From engineering to web development after a 10-year gap

Arshi Saleh

Why did she switch her career?

Arshi Saleh qualified as an electronics and communication engineer and worked for Dell Bangalore and Wipro Kolkata before she got married. After being a homemaker for 10 years, she wanted to get back to her career, and attempted to do so multiple times — in 2008, she did her MBA in Finance, and enrolled to become a CA in 2012. However, things didn’t work out at first.

“The biggest challenge was to maintain the work-home balance because one of the main challenges I face — I can only work remotely,” she says.

Then, her husband introduced her to web development. “I felt a pull and a passion which made me realize that things were different this time,” says 38-year-old Arshi.

She wanted to learn how to code, but doing it alone isn’t easy. Soon, she found the solution in the Udacity-Google scholarship programme which provided her with a group of supporters who could give her step-by-step structured help while she tackled online courses to get the tech skills she needed. The first course she chose was Front-End Web Developer Nanodegree.

How did the online course help her?

“When I joined the course, my main motivation was to belong to a community where I had other learners who were facing similar issues and also to benefit from their knowledge and share mine,” says Arshi.

“The learning experience is very hands-on and doing the projects gives us a chance to build an effective portfolio,” she adds.

While working on her first course, Arshi also developed an interest in digital marketing and now, she has completed two Nanodegrees with Udacity.

She was later approached by the Jeevan Rakht team to work with them where she got a hold of UI design and realized she loved doing it.

“I am presently doing an internship with AirStrike Systems which is a sporting goods company located in California. I am also working on launching my own company Happy Clouding where we will be providing digital services,” she says.

Does she feel women in tech face gender bias?

“There are a few people who are biased and there are those who feel that the lack of support being offered to women in tech is not fair. A few years back, there was no support, but now things are changing for the better. I don’t know if we can change the perspective of all the people around us but what we can do is to help each other and support all the women we know,” says Arshi.

Read: Does online education really work? 14 online learners share their experiences

Rajani MP: Learning technology skills after a 20-year gap

Why did she switch her career?

Rajani MP got a BE in Electrical Engineering and taught in a private engineering college before her sabbatical. She made a decision to focus on raising her child rather than pursue a full-time tech career. It was 20 whole years before she felt the time was ripe for her to step back in the field.

“Though I feel the pinch of not having a successful career all these years, I feel that a tech-educated, full-time mother is a boon for a child in his/her growing years! So, it was more of a conscious decision for me, rather than giving in to conventional ideas or prejudices,” she says.

“Armed with an insight into the bias against women in tech, and a heightened self-awareness, I now think that I can not only personally overcome any such gender bias and perform well, but help others overcome them too,” says 43-year-old Rajani, confident about her decision to step back in a tech career now.

The 20-year gap was a scary obstacle especially in the field of technology which is ever-changing, and Rajani wasn’t sure she would be able to bridge it. She took a course in technical writing for a start, got good grades, secured an internship, but then decided to shift to software development.

Rajani was familiar with the concept of programming since college and loved it too, but building a career in it after a 20-year gap was a different ballgame altogether. But when her childhood friend’s husband who owns a software company in the US told her to go for a career in software development, starting with Android, she grabbed on to the promising idea.

How did she switch her career?

Rajani took the suggestions of her friend’s husband as an endorsement of her capabilities rather than as mere suggestions. Motivated and positive, she ploughed through her fears and enrolled for a 1.5 month course in Java and Android from a well-known establishment and learned quickly.

“I was happy to discover there that my mind was still good at problem solving. I also made it a point to learn from and interact with fellow students, all of whom were half my age, so that I could get a feel of how students approached tech nowadays,” she says.

Empowered with the support from her grown-up son and mother, Rajani brushed aside the warnings from people who thought joining a tech career now might be too hard for her.

From interacting with the other students, she realised that constantly up-skilling oneself in latest technology was very important in this day and age. Not letting it get to her, she decided to take it one step at a time, and after her course, got a year-long internship at the same establishment.

How did the online course help her?

It was during her internship that Rajani came across the Nanodegree courses on the Udacity website and discovered that she couldn’t afford them. Nevertheless, she joined the free Android course with all the learning material but no projects.

“The courses are designed in such a way that you have fun and gain knowledge at the same time. It was a new and fresh way of learning programming from the comforts of my home on my home computer,” she says, positive about her new-found tech skills.

Rajani next applied for the Udacity-Google India Scholarship and qualified — this meant that on completing her online course, she would receive a nanodegree certificate that would help her apply for technology jobs.

Interacting with the online community during studying the online course gave Rajani an idea of how her career will shape up in the future.

“It made me feel as if I was working alongside them. It was very enriching in that I learnt many new things like the use and importance of version control systems like GitHub apart from the basic Android course.”

The Android Basics Nanodegree online course helped Rajani understand how she can easily build the skills she needs for a full fledged career in software development no matter her age and no matter the career gap.

“I felt that after all, my age is not going to play much of a spoilsport in my pursuing a tech career!” says a self-confident Rajani.

Why should women not be scared of a technology career?

A tech job is a very fulfilling one in that it continually challenges the mind. The vast amount of diverse applications that it has presents endless possibilities for creativity for everybody. The earning potential in the tech field is undoubtedly high. All in all, a tech career offers the kind of fulfilment that one desires from one’s work,” says Rajani.

Read: Getting mothers, homemakers back on the job circuit: Experts speak on online courses re-skilling women for the leap

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