An Interview with Muna Mohamed – Self Taught Frontend Developer

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Salaam Muna! Can you please describe how you first got into tech? What originally sparked your interest?

When I was younger, I did both GCSE and A-level ICT and honestly, it was one of my favourite classes. I had an awesome teacher, Ms Khatun, who really let us go wild creatively and made learning fun. We did a little bit of coding, some basic HTML and CSS, to build basic websites but the area I was most passionate about was animations. Back then, we used Macromedia Flash to create animations and there was this particular project where we had to make an animated advertising banner about a new airline company. I remember having a Soul Plane inspired theme with a little animated 50 Cent character and Candy Shop playing in the background. When I think about it now, it was so cringe and lame – but I loved it! 

To cut a long story short though, when it came to university, I played it safe and did an Economics degree. Fast forward to after graduation and a couple public sector jobs, I was unsatisfied. I missed those ICT classes and building things and being creative. I didn’t want to go back to do another 3 years at uni to do a Computer Science degree – I already had student loan debt from my Economics degree and spending another 3 years at university just wasn’t an option. During this time, I had heard about coding and other than what I learned in sixth-form, I didn’t really know much about it. Coincidently, I came across Codecademy and after trying out a couple courses, I was hooked.

What languages did you learn? How did you go about learning them?

When I started, I tried out a few languages to get a feel for what I liked and didn’t like, as well as getting a better feel for the languages out there. I learned HTML and CSS using Codecademy and Freecodecamp, did a couple Python courses using Codecademy and Sololearn. I also tried learning a bit of Ruby on Codecademy, which I didn’t particularly enjoy. I continued learning HTML and CSS, building small components and the projects on Freecodecamp on Codepen. When I felt more comfortable using those, I moved on to JavaScript. I eased into it by using it to add a little interactively to things – making a button into different shapes when clicked, adding a toggle to a navigation menu. The learning curve for JavaScript was a lot steeper in comparison to HTML and CSS, and I found myself going over concepts and exercises on Freecodecamp over and over and not getting it, which was frustrating. I moved on to jQuery for a while but eventually went back to learning JavaScript. After I had a better grasp of JavaScript, I moved on to learn one of the most popular JS frameworks – React. This was a world I was not used to – states, props, setstate, it was a whole new ball game. It was very different to the jQuery I had learned but, I saw the charm in React and have stuck with it ever since.  

Did you build up your portfolio as you were learning? What did you do?

Yeah, so as I was learning new things, I used Codepen to apply what I’d learned. I wasn’t too comfortable with using Github and Git for a long time so I stuck with sharing my projects on Codepen. However, as time passed and projects became a little bigger and more complicated, it became more difficult to use Codepen to build these projects so I had to learn to use Github, and eventually Git, to manage and host my projects. The great thing about Codepen was not only was I able to share projects but at the same time, be inspired by other people’s creations. It was quick and easy to use, especially to someone who was starting out, which is why I used it so much.

What experience do you have working in tech? Did you do any internships? 

Nope, no internships. –  without a Computer Science degree or some sort of experience in coding professionally, it was difficult to find internships that were open to that.  I lost count how many applications I sent out and didn’t hear back from and it’s something which a lot of junior developers have to deal with. Even for those with comp. Sci degrees, it’s difficult to get your foot through the door when you’re starting out.

How did you find your job? 

I signed up to a tech recruitment platform called Hackajob and completed a profile, which had to be reviewed. I didn’t think much of it at the time as I had signed up at a bunch of tech recruitment platforms to make the job-finding a little easier. But, my profile was accepted a month later and the day after, the company reached out to invite me for a technical test.

What was the interview process like?

It wasn’t too bad! I had heard many horror stories about the interview process – company’s ghosting candidates, lengthy interview stages, inappropriate questions being asked etc, so I had prepared myself and was expecting something similar, but thank God, nothing like that happened. There was a small technical test that was followed by a phone interview. After that, a take home project was given that was to be presented as part of the 1-1 at the assessment centre in their offices and the day after the assessment centre, an offer was given.

What’s your current role?

I’m an Associate developer at a professional services company based in Central London, and I mainly work on the frontend using frameworks such as React. The work I do differs, depending on whether I am working client site or on an internal project. At the moment, I’m upskilling in React Native to get started on an internal project to build an app to be used company wide. 

What was the first week like?

It was pretty intense! We had a 3-week bootcamp where we learned more about the company, agile and SCRUM methodology and a bunch of other things, which were all new to me. I also had to learn how to use a Macbook, which was daunting as a strictly Windows person, but I think I’ve got the hang of it now! 🙂 

What’s the culture like at your work?

It’s really chill and friendly! Although we have levels of seniority, everyone gets along great and there is a lot of banter. Learning is something that is encouraged, which is a great thing, especially as someone who is more junior.

How do you feel being a Muslim woman in tech? Do you personally know anyone else like you?

Yes, I do! There are a few muslims at my workplace, even a couple other hijabis other than myself, alhamdulillah! Outside of work, I don’t personally know any other Muslims in tech unfortunately, other than a couple cousins that I recently discovered were developers. I would love to meet more muslims in tech outside of work, though! 

Did it ever come up in interviews? Either as a question from the interviewer or a feeling from you that you wouldn’t be comfortable at this place.

I have had experiences in the past where I could sense that someone like me, who wore hijab and was black, would not be comfortable in that environment so I’ve learned some of the warning signs to watch out for. But thankfully, that wasn’t the case here. I did my research on the company beforehand and knew going in that it had a diverse work environment, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to work there. 

Is your workplace inclusive? Do you feel comfortable practising your deen at your level?

I would say so, yes. Luckily for me, there were already Muslims at the company, so people were already familiar with Muslims and Muslim concepts like Ramadan and Eid. When it was Eid ul Fitr for example, and we didn’t know when it was going to be till the evening before, I literally had to request the day off with very little notice and my team lead was understanding and so chill about it.  People wish each other Eid Mubarak on Slack, they’re mindful of eating in front of you, if you need to nip off and pray you can do so. It’s awesome. 

What advice do you have for Muslim women entering your field?

I think one of the things that makes it difficult to want to get into tech and the industry is not seeing others who look like you.We are here and we do exist! There may not be many of us but that is slowly changing.  Reach out to Muslim women who are already in tech, ask questions, make connections, go to conferences. Whether it’s through DMs or a quick chat over coffee -you’d be surprised how many would be happy to help you!

Do you think more Muslim women should get into tech? Why or why not?

Yes, I do think more Muslim women should get into tech. From a job standpoint, at the moment, demand for people in the industry is very high but there is a wide shortage of people that know how to do the work which makes tech a lucrative industry to work in compared to others. The tech industry is vast and there are so many interesting areas to dive into – it’s a booming industry. 

I cannot lie and say that it will be easy – we are a minority in an industry that is mainly white and male, and being a woman AND Muslim and in some cases a POC, it can be difficult to see ourselves fit in and belong. 

But I think that things are definitely looking up – there are more Muslim women in the industry and more Muslim women are getting into tech. Workplaces are becoming more diverse and the industry is slowly changing to become more inclusive. We still have a long way to go but we’re moving in the direction, at least for now. 

What is something in your journey that you wish you did differently?

Hmm…I wish I had discovered the tech communities on Twitter earlier. For the first 6 months or so, I learned to code on my own and after a while, it became quite lonely and there came a time where I really questioned whether I should quit coding. My learning stagnated because I didn’t have anyone to tell me if I was doing things right or to ask for help, which made it difficult to gauge my progress. 

What is something or someone in your tech journey that you’re grateful for?

The Tech communities on Twitter, no question! Honestly, they are the most incredible, supportive and motivating community that I’ve ever come across. I would not be where I am today without the help of the amazing people I met on Twitter, who kept me accountable, inspired me and kept me going in this path.

If you are a developer or someone who is starting out, I highly recommend taking part in the tech communities on  Twitter – communities like CodeNewbie, the DEV community, Women in Tech community, to name a few!

A HUGE thank you to Muna for this amazing article and her very enthusiastic support of Tech Sisters. You can follow her on Twitter @MunaMohamed94.

Would you like to share your story with Tech Sisters? Is there someone you would love for us to interview? Let us know in the comments!

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