Every October, Ada Lovelace Day is celebrated worldwide to recognize the achievements of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). In 1843, English mathematician Ada Lovelace wrote the first computer instructions to perform mathematical calculations on Charles Babbage’s not yet invented mechanical computer called the analytical engine. Women have continued to be pioneer computer programmers for many decades with names like the American admiral Dr. Grace Hopper who is credited for the development of machine-independent high level programming languages, led the innovation of COBOL and coined the phrase debugging for fixing computer glitches known as bugs. You might then contemplate the questions, “If women were pre-conditioned to be computer programmers, then what happened today?”, “Why didn’t the list of notable women in computing get sizable and expanding?” and “What attracts women to tech careers?
It is with this inquisitive mindset that I decided to converse with four area female software engineers who are actively engaged to help move the needle forward in the tech industry. “I hail from Nigeria, West Africa,” started Zillah Adahman, Software Engineer at BNG Team. “I was born in New Delhi, India,” added Ritika Gerdes, a Software Engineer at Sanford Health. “I am from Bangladesh, South Asia,” said Nazia Zaman, Senior Technical Consultant at Perficient. “And of course I am from Ethiopia, East Africa,” I concluded. I met them all when they reached out to volunteer at uCodeGirl. I witnessed their passion as they mentored the young and the curious aspire to tackle problems in tech.
What do you love most about your work?
Zillah: Learning new things every hour is what excites me most. With my level of curiosity, I enjoy working on new things. I get bored easily, so learning something new all the time is a plus.
Ritika: As a Software Engineer, I go through the entire lifecycle of software development. But, coding is my favorite as I get to solve problems in my own way. It is always evolving and I get to learn something new every day. I appreciate the challenges I get.
Zaman: I’ve found that working in tech is very collaborative and rewarding. My work allows me to make an impact in any field, as the applications of tech to today’s problems are limitless.
How did you become a Software Engineer?
Nazia: I am both inspired and influenced by my parents.They instilled in me a hard-working attitude and ways to deal with problems. My interest in problem-solving arose from the math competitions I participated while I was in high school. I used to read different sorts of books to hone my problem-solving skills. The Art and Craft of Problem Solving, by Paul Zeitz, was the book that convinced me to pursue a career in Computing Science. I wanted to build my career in a STEM-focused field because it involved problem solving.
Ritika: I started my Bachelor’s degree in India in Biotechnology. I transferred to NDSU in my senior year. At that point, I did not know the difference between Biotechnology and Bioinformatics. When I learned the difference, I extended my Bachelor’s degree to do a minor in Computer Science. I did some C++ and PERL programming in India. But, after I completed the minor in the United States, I knew I wanted to learn more Computer Science. I would say my Java professor, Lt. Mr. Richard Rummelt, inspired me through his amazing teaching and his passion.
Zillah: I decided to major in Computer Science during my second semester at MSUM. I started as a Computer Information Technology (CIT) major because I enjoyed fixing computers when I was younger. Whenever the desktop gets bad at home, I enjoy taking it apart and spoiling it more before fixing it. I also enjoyed watching the technician doing the same thing whenever my dad decided to call one. However, as a CIT major, you’re required to take basic programming classes to water your brain and learn new things. At the time, I hadn’t written a programming language and didn’t of any. I knew the theory behind ones and zeros but never used it. I enrolled in Introduction to Python. On the first day of class, Professor Ficek asked us to open the python IDE, type 1+1, and wait for the response. Next, type print ‘Hello World’ and the IDE responded. Ok. To a lot of people, this might sound stupid but I was pretty intrigued. I was happy that it did what I wanted it to do. I got so curious, I wanted to know how it works, what else it can do and other ways to manipulate it. The class was tough and frustrating honestly. But I had a lot of help from other classmates, friends and the professor. After completing the class successfully, I decided to change my major to computer science out of curiosity. I wanted to know about other programming languages and other ways to build software that does what you want.
What inspires you about the future in technology?
Zillah: The inventions. I’ve always been inspired by new technologies being released. It inspires me to keep pushing forward to, one day, make a new technology that makes life easier and opens new opportunities for people around the world.
Ritika: This is the era of technology. Every field and everyone is dependent on it. It inspires me that the work we do in technology helps the people around us. I feel proud to do the work that I do. At the same time, it keeps me motivated to do more and to do better to make things easier. Some day, I would like to work where I can help the medical scientists find treatments and cures for diseases at a faster pace.
Zaman: Our persistence, imagination and innovation not only shape our career but also our future. This is also true for the future tech industry.
Your advice to your younger self?
Zillah: Never ignore rest time. Your work requires a lot of thinking. Once you get frustrated, take time to rest your mind. Distract yourself by doing something else before going back to what you’re working on. Secondly, work-life balance is important. Don’t joke with that.
Ritika: If you want something, you have to work hard for it. Some people put you down, some people support you. But, only you are your biggest ally, so make your own career and your own path. If you fail or fall, you learn a new way to get back up to get better.
Nazia: Never stop trying — these three words from my mom always keeps me motivated.
What do you say to women considering a career switch or re-skill to a tech career?
Ritika: I would say go for the switch or re-skill. I went for that switch and I am glad. You will find that it is continuous learning and growing. You will find that you need a good teacher — you can be your own teacher too, as you know yourself, and how you learn. You will find that your hard work will pay off at the end. If you need help, reach out. People will be more willing to work with you, if you make the effort to ask. Good luck!
Zillah: I’ll say “Aye… Go for it! Take it one step at a time and you’ll love it.
Nazia: It’s never too late.
About uCodeGirlThe vision of uCodeGirl is to inspire and equip young women to become the future face of innovation in technology. uCodeGirl is uniquely designed to inspire, engage and equip young women with computational design thinking skills, leadership traits, and an entrepreneurial mindset. uCodeGirl strives to remove roadblocks and bridge the gender gap in technology so that young women can confidently pursue opportunities suitable for the 21st century. By building confidence, enhancing skill sets and tapping into their intellect and curiosity, uCodeGirl helps young women chart a pathway to the T of STEM careers. More information here:- ucodegirl.org | Twitter @ucodegirl | Facebook: /ucodegirl