We are currently releasing a series of articles containing interviews with Pakistani women who are employed in the technology industry, either locally or globally. Our aim is to showcase their accomplishments and contributions to both the industry and their communities.
These remarkable women are tackling actual problems, defying stereotypes, and making significant advancements in the tech field. The interview series highlights the fact that despite Pakistan having one of the lowest rates of female participation in the job market, there is still a wealth of talented women who are utilizing technology to achieve remarkable outcomes.
Today, we are featuring Farah Zehra. Read on to learn more about her work and get inspired.
1. Tell us a little about yourself, your background, your education, and your work.
I am an XR Software Developer. I work on 3D models, their persistence, maintenance, manipulation, and interactions. I’m based in Karachi and work remotely for an Australian company, Snobal. Like other women who are mothers and primary caretakers of their families, my career journey has been full of challenges.
I graduated from the NED University of Engineering and Technology in 2007 and married 6 months later. At that time, my priority was my new home and family, but after my husband’s encouragement, I started working as a Software Developer at Mixit Technologies. Later, when I was expecting my daughter, I took a gap. This was followed by a series of gaps for different family/personal reasons till I experienced complete burnout in 2018. It was the darkest and the most transformative part of my life. After that, I would say that I reinvented myself. I worked hard to develop new technical skills as well as worked on my mental health through books, meditation, yoga, journaling, and faith. Finally, the hard work paid off. Now I get to work on cutting-edge technology, and that too from the comfort of my home, where I can also take care of my children’s needs and work on myself. This brings me both financial and personal satisfaction.
2. What are your future plans/aspirations? How will it impact the community/society/your team/your project?
My target is to gain more expertise in the field of XR and the metaverse, in general, get into some leadership role, and be able to guide my community here. The world of XR and AI is advancing at an unbelievable pace. ChatGPT has started to disrupt every field. None of the Pakistani universities are preparing us for this change. From my experience and knowledge, I want to help other businesses build their XR strategy and solutions. I’m also passionate about helping other women and want to encourage young women into this field so that they can build their understanding and explore different opportunities that it offers.
3. Please brag about your career accomplishments. What are the things you are proud of?
I’m a lifelong learner and a hard worker. When I was working on my own AR application (ZABAR), during incubation at Nest IO, and also when I was working as a freelancer, I worked on all aspects of application development: starting from learning a new platform, to designing front-end UI, to defining a backend logic, to making web requests, to cloud management. This was all new for me, and I did all that in a relatively short time while caring for my family and home needs. This was because I had an insatiable desire to prove myself. I reached out to whoever I could to help me gain knowledge. As an introverted person, this was not easy for me. Still, I put myself out of my comfort zone, stayed consistent in my efforts, worked long hours to increase my portfolio, worked almost for free on complex freelance projects, took advantage of all the resources available online (YouTube, Udemy, LinkedIn) and kept at it till I found my niche.
This all helped me get into Snobal, where I’m the only developer from outside the Australia/New Zealand region, and I work for clients like PWC, KPMG, QBE, Dulux, etc.
4. What has been your best education/career decision, and why?
My best decision, I would say, is to learn about the Unity3D platform. I call this love at first sight. As soon as I saw what this platform is capable of, I knew I must gain its skills. Through this platform, I create Augmented/Virtual/Mixed Reality applications. How could I not love it? In the real world, I cannot just pack up my bags and go anywhere I want, as I have other responsibilities. But Virtual Reality gives me the freedom to go wherever I like. E.g., if I want to tour the Louvre Museum or attend Ariana Grande’s concert, I can do it from my home only. I can meet anyone from around the world, talk to them and play golf with them as if we are actually there! It’s such an immersive experience that any 2D collaboration application like Zoom cannot come near it.
Similarly, Augmented Reality allows me to bring anything inside my home, be it the Seven Wonders of the World, the planets, or any piece of furniture as if they are actually there! Isn’t this incredible? I’m a big believer in this technology and love to see its different use cases, especially in health, culture, and education.
5. What’re the best lessons you’ve learned?
The number one lesson that I have learned in my life and constantly remind myself about is to Never Give Up On Your Dreams! No matter if you are the primary caregiver of the family, or you have other responsibilities as a wife, a mother, a daughter, or daughter-in-law, no matter if you have multiple gaps in your career or if things are not in your favor today, but keep taking tiny steps towards your dreams. Be patient and consistent, and don’t let age hinder learning new skills. Stay positive, and things will eventually turn out in your favor. Invest in yourself and take care of your mental health. Do little things that make you happy. This is important because nothing matters if you are not happy from within.
6. Which woman inspires you and why?
Among the famous ones, I love Oprah Winfrey purely for what she does for women, in general, and especially for women of her community. I listen to her audiobooks whenever I am driving. They are full of inspiration and motivation, and I highly recommend others to do so too. Then there are other women who are not famous or ‘conventionally’ successful but are fighters. They don’t pity themselves for the circumstances they are in, but they take charge and move ahead. They never lose hope, work hard to turn things around, and raise strong, confident kids. I have the privilege to know some of these women. They are the ones who gave me strength when I needed it most.
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?
Oh, yes! our society has changed a lot since I was a university student. Now I see that even girls of relatively conservative families are going abroad for higher studies. There are a lot of young women in the workforce today than ever before, which is very heart-warming. I just want these young girls to appreciate it and never take it for granted. Make better use of this freedom and help others who don’t have it.
There are still some gaps, which is only natural. To bring more women into the workforce, we must first broaden their vision and let them see that so much is possible in this global village. They can also bring value in whatever capacity they can. We must raise awareness by organizing events, conferences, and seminars in universities and institutes. In this regard, WomenInTechPK is doing an incredible job of bringing the community together. Please keep on doing this fantastic work.
8. What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?
Thankfully, things are becoming relatively more accessible for them. But some things will always be challenges, like finding the sweet spot to maintain a work-life balance or finding your true calling. With the overuse of technology, disengaging from unproductive browsing and breaking social media addiction to bring focus will also be a challenge for them.
9. What would it be if you could change one thing about the tech industry/business?
The problem with this field is that it’s very male-oriented. This is a global phenomenon but more so in Pakistan. This makes it challenging to build a network of professionals around you, which is vital for your career. Here men, to a large extent, don’t consider you an equal. Some would not talk to you only out of respect, and some would make wrong impressions about you if you reached out to them for professional reasons. Like, how stupid! Still, many good people would help you regardless of your gender/age/race, etc. Once you find them, then hold on to them.
Nevertheless, this problem would only be resolved when there are enough professional females from associate to executive levels of any company. I believe that this is not too far away.
10. How can WomenInTechPK help you and other women?
As I mentioned above, WomenInTechPK is already doing a fantastic job of being the voice of the women in this field. It’s a great platform where women can share their personal and professional problems and discuss their solutions. It allows you to connect with other women in your domain and women who face similar challenges. Keep doing what you do, and keep organizing in-person and virtual meet-ups, awareness sessions, training programs, hackathons, etc. This has greatly helped me and others. I would also encourage other women, especially those now in senior positions in their companies, to work with this platform and help countless others looking for it.
You can follow Farah Zehra using her profile(s) below, and please do not hesitate to hire her for your next project.