by Jessie Arora, Wogrammer.org
Originally published on Medium.
When asked about her early interest in STEM, Huma Hamid’s mind flashes back to being a young girl, intrigued by a 386DX computer owned by her cousin who encouraged her to use the machine to explore and play games. That simple exposure to typing games sparked a life-long curiosity.
“I loved playing Atari video games at a very young age,” said Huma. “None of these things were common, especially where I lived, and they were typically only provided to men. I always had to find a male figure who owned video games, cars, bicycles, etc., in order to access them.”
This wasn’t always an easy feat for Huma because she grew up an only child with a single mom. On the positive side, this meant that Huma was not exposed to traditional gender roles in her house. Her mom, one of Huma’s key role models, demonstrated how women’s work was valuable both inside and outside of the home.
“Inside the house, if anything was broken we would get it fixed,” Huma explained. “I grew up with an understanding that there were no limitations to what I could pursue. I think that made me eager to get my hands dirty.”
During her senior year in high school, Huma finally got her first computer, which led to her pursue a degree in technology. Huma was a bright child that matured into a smart student who focused on learning for the sake of learning rather than getting top grades — even though that sometimes angered her traditional Pakistani mom. Although Huma was motivated to defy some gender stereotypes, she wasn’t able to escape others. In Pakistan, doing well in school often translated to becoming a doctor.
“I started out studying pre-med, but within two weeks, I switched to engineering,” Huma said. “I realized I was a hands-on person and I wanted to build things.”
Making that switch set Huma off on the right path. She went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology from the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), one of the top engineering schools in Pakistan. Later, she received a master’s degree in Information Systems Management from Brunel University in London, which built her understanding of a global tech space while focusing on the challenges of technology adoption in a local setting. Although Huma knew engineering was the right choice for her, she had to overcome a myriad of challenges along the way.
“Even though I and my other female classmates had basic engineering backgrounds, we didn’t have a lot of exposure to computers,” Huma explained. “I started to notice that we all were losing confidence in our abilities, especially in writing code.”
Since graduating from NUST 15 years ago, Huma’s peer group of around 20 women in her STEM class dwindled down to four. Women leave STEM for a variety of reasons, but the biggest challenge for Huma was the job search process.
“Finding my first job as a young woman in the tech industry, that was heavily dominated by men, where women were not expected to be career-driven, was tough,” Huma admitted. “I had to learn a lot from my experiences, from getting my first internship to the various roles I’ve held over the years.”
Then, moving from Pakistan to the UK and later to America presented its own issues.
“I also had to re-launch my career more than once, which exposed me to another set of challenges around intersectionality in tech,” Huma said. “With every step I took and every mistake I made, I gained a lot of perspective about navigating my career in the tech industry and overcoming a variety of challenges related to switching roles, transitioning teams, learning new technologies, and later balancing my demanding job with my family responsibilities as a mother.”
Huma’s curiosity to learn new things allowed her to wear many hats as she transitioned into multiple roles in software engineering. In computing, she has worked in several R&D engineering groups focused on building digital platforms to serve industries such as infrastructure and construction engineering, network and communication engineering, and eLearning. It was not uncommon for her to be the only female engineer on the team, which created a sense of isolation.
In addition to building digital platforms and solving complex engineering problems, Huma’s clear point of pride is creating the nonprofit Pakistani Women in Computing (PWiC), an AnitaB.org affiliated community designed to provide the mentorship and guidance that she was looking for during her own STEM journey. Recognizing the lack of an available support network for female technologists fueled Huma’s passion to partner with Farah Ali to build a global community that empowers and lifts its members up. This community centers on providing important guidance to help women persist through difficult times in their careers.
“I’m proud of how PWiC allows people to take care of the group’s collective learning and growth, create opportunities for one another and celebrate the successes of members,” Huma stated.
Several mentors played key roles in guiding Huma along her journey, including Ather Imran Nawaz and Carlene Kyte. In reflecting on advising other young women in STEM, Huma credits her persistence and grit for making all her successes possible.
“Many people tell me that I’m very persistent,” she said. “I’m never short on ideas because I always go back and rework on a problem until I find a solution that works. It’s important not to get intimidated by failure or not finding the right answer on the first try.”
In the future, Huma looks forward to using her knowledge of building products, diverse teams, and thriving communities in support of creating a more inclusive world.