Visual Studio and Development Technologies MVP Asma Khalid holds a lot of great titles. She’s a technical evangelist, a blogger, a software engineer - and the first female MVP in Pakistan. Asma was award the MVP title in April 2017, and focuses her work on Human Computer Interaction (HCI) to improve user accessibility. We spoke to her about how she shares this expertise with the community, the challenges she’s faced as a woman in tech, and what she’s doing to make sure other Pakistani women succeed.
1) How are you driving community engagement in Pakistan?
In Pakistan, I am driving community engagement through local sessions [at] Microsoft Pakistan Lahore innovation center, and through online webinars with other fellow MVPs and professionals.
I conduct technical sessions for .NET technology ASP.NET Front-end development, and some on Microsoft Azure data science technology, like machine learning studio and Power BI. Most sessions are conducted with the collaboration of Microsoft Pakistan Lahore center for intern batches. Since interns are chosen from diverse background not specific to computer science... it challenges me to deliver sessions which make sense to them. I have also conducted few sessions with specific forums like SQL PASS local chapter and Microsoft Data Science Roadshow. These sessions are important because they give chance to meet community professionals, share your knowledge and learn from their knowledge.
2) In which ways are you helping other Pakistani women to be excited about tech?
I think awareness is the key. The majority of Pakistani women are unfortunately unaware about the opportunities they can have with technology, as we live in the era where white collar jobs still rule. But... the entire traditional structure of jobs is changing. I am trying my best to create a sense of awareness among women of my country through my sessions, webinars and one-on-one communication engagement with fellow professionals, which speak to...what sort of opportunities they can have with technology without leaving their houses.
Recently I was engaged in a women-only webinar on Women Empowerment in IT, [with] students from Faisalabad University. [They] were keen to know why they should pursue career in computer science domain, as there are no suitable job opportunities available in their area - so they either have to [relocate] for their choice of job or simply settle with what they have. Most of them...cannot [relocate]. So I try to answer their worries [about joining] the computer science domain. All you need is a decent computer, internet connection and equipped skills to make money while enhancing your skills. To my surprise, they were unaware of freelancing and the fact that they can earn money without leaving their house. This peeked their interest in computer science quite a bit as a career choice.
3) How has being an MVP helped your community building efforts? What MVP-specific resources have you used?
I think being an MVP gives you a bit of a sense of [authority] within the community in having both local and global community collaborative efforts in terms of knowledge sharing, training or as a skillful professional. The biggest advantage of being an MVP is having access to some of the coolest resources. I get to tap into new domains which definitely help me advance my career. My core skills are software development, and I am keen to develop experience in data science domain [like] analytics and visualization. I have educational knowledge in data science domain, but no practice, so I am fortunate to have access to Microsoft Azure as now I can develop practically.
4) What challenges have you faced as a woman in tech?
Being a woman in a tech - and a software developer on top of that - raises a lot of challenges. Especially in [a] software development niche, women are never taken seriously [because of the presumption] that women cannot do late sittings, women do not have longevity as software developer, women cannot handle the development pressure, and women cannot make good decisions in software architecture or development.
For these reasons, many women in [the] IT industry are given only the title of software developer and very few tasks that are actually development oriented [or] opportunities to grow as a professional or enhance their skills. I am no different. I have faced all of these challenges directly or indirectly by my superiors. But I have also gotten the chance to work with some very amazing superiors as well, who believe in me and encourage me to be the best in my niche.
I remember when I joined a [reputable] organization as an experienced software developer, for first 6 months I was...only [given] tasks which are either documentation related, presentation related, basic learning project development related work usually given to fresh graduates, or tasks which were very small enhancements of project, which again are normally given to fresh graduates. For [the] first month I told myself to have patience and stay calm - since the organization did not know me... they may be trying my patience.
Along with me, another male resource was also hired who was a fresh graduate with zero experience. But he was given tasks like he was an expert or something. I wasn’t concerned about him, but myself, [so] I went to my superiors and asked them to give me tasks. Every time they sent me back by saying “don’t worry, we will shortly give you the projects and [related] tasks." Six months had passed… and I started worrying that I [haven’t] done any potential project or work [so I wondered] how my performance was being judged.
Many of my peers said to me that the projects were very fast paced...and require late night sittings, so that’s why I wasn’t given any potential work as a female. At the same time [I was] exploring the market for suitable job openings, [but] I kept going to my superiors until I was finally given a potential project, which I developed from scratch. My superiors really appreciated my efforts and the client really like the project. Afterwards I got a lot of projects - 16-17 to be exact - and it got to the point that I had to [tell] my superiors that my plate [was] overflowing.
5) Do you have anything else to add?
I think women should be given training from an early age in tech, in a more interactive way. [This will] help them find their niche and explore various opportunities.
When I was engaged in the women-only webinar on Women Empowerment in IT, I realized that females in Pakistan - especially in those parts of Pakistan where opportunities are very limited - are...eager to learn about opportunities in computer science domains, but they were not aware
about different dimensions of computer science. I discussed with the organizers of the webinar that webinars like this should be conducted quite often. I do expect female only webinars in future and I am here to add my support in them as well.