From Biomedical Student to Tech Speaker – Interview with Ramla Anshur

Profile picture of Ramla Anshur. A smiling young woman wearing a black hijab

Ramla is a life-long student who is passionate about learning about technology and how digital transformation can empower businesses and communities, and particularly healthcare. As a STEM ambassador, she enjoys sharing her knowledge with peers, mentoring younger children to encourage their exploration of opportunities, and attending BAME/Women in Tech events to further expand her knowledge and network.

Can you describe how you first got into tech? What first sparked your interest?

My original career path was actually to go into medicine and become a doctor. During my A-levels, I did lots of lab placements and things like that. A friend from work suggested going to a Women in Tech event, and it seriously piqued my interest. 

Also, my university, Brunel University, started advertising Code First: Girls’ free HTML and CSS courses. The lessons were only one evening a week, so I did that as well. The biggest lesson I learned from those courses was that I have no interest in coding. However, working with technology was super exciting for me, and I went to as many tech-related events and workshops as I could and kept talking to people.

I had a bit of a dilemma during my second year of uni. I realised I did so much to pursue medicine, but now felt at a crossroad and didn’t know what I wanted to do. At the same time, I wasn’t sure if I could afford to wait such a long time before becoming a doctor. My mentor at university reassured me that I had plenty of time to make my decision and advised me to continue with both biomedical sciences and tech. It was only last year, during my final year of university, that I finally committed to applying for graduate places in technology.

Honestly, because I didn’t know any programming languages, I felt like I wasn’t ready to apply. But I believe it’s good to do the assessment and application process anyway so that when you learn more skills, your application will already be compelling.

I love to sign up for every newsletter I possibly can, and in one of my newsletters, I read about Tech Visionaries from Accenture, the company where I work now. Tech Visionaries is a four-day accessed group working activity with a job offer at the end for those who did well enough. It’s a great program, and I recommend as many people try it as they can. They have a big push for diversity and inclusion as well; 90% of my group were women. 

Alhamdulillah, I did well and got my role at Accenture. I’m sure that I want to do something in the health tech space in the future, but I’m trying to learn as much as I can right now about tech rather than have a laser focus. 

Can you describe what you do in your current role?

It’s a tech consultancy, so I’ll be doing a range of different projects. For my current project, we’re partnering up with a smaller vendor to help companies move data from on-premise to the cloud. 

I’ve been doing a lot of training so far. I completed the AWS Cloud Practitioner certification, working towards Solutions Architect. All of the different clouds use similar concepts, just different terminology. However, more companies use and are familiar with AWS, which is why I want AWS certifications.

Another area I’m interested in is digital identity with blockchain. That’s what my Women of Silicon Roundabout talk will be about, so I’m learning as much as I can about that.

What do you feel were some of the key things that led to getting your current job? 

Events, workshops, and networking definitely helped, 110%. When I first started going to tech events, I kept asking people what tech means, what roles exist, what’s your job, what can I do to transition into tech from biomedical sciences. I previously thought that tech was only about software engineering. I kept going to workshops where I would get more hands-on experience tackling problems instead of just coding, which I found very confusing in the beginning. Eventually, I was able to start creating a map of different roles, what they mean where I could fit in.

I had a lovely lightbulb moment when a lady described her role as a tech consultant as speaking to businesses to see what problems they have and what technological solution can be applied. Finally, this was the answer that resonated with me, and it gave me a lot of clarity when I started making applications. 

I even got a mentor out of one of the events by Witty Careers, a group of black women in tech. Seeing someone who looks like you and works in the space you want to be in makes it seem more real.  

MashAllah you do a lot of STEM outreach to younger and BAME students. In what way can outreach to these groups be improved?

In 6th form, I often mentored children described as disruptive had a hard time fitting in. I developed a passion for speaking to young children and continued doing it throughout university. 

I signed up to SEO London‘s alumni program where you can go back and speak to the students from your school, and I go back to my university and talk to students about the graduate process and what tech means.

InshAllah, I want to increase my involvement with students. I think that the earlier you start reaching out to kids, the impact it has on their lives is more significant. For students who are still figuring out what a career even means, just showing them what’s possible is so important and is one of my goals.

Schools, even at university, put the onus on the child to research programs and opportunities themselves. Children who aren’t ethnic minorities or have immigrant parents have an advantage because their parents understand the system. They can get away with not thinking about their careers because someone else is taking care of it for them. But ethnic minority or first-generation immigrant children need to work twice as hard; they’re not allowed to have the wrong mindset because they’ll fall too far behind. 

For these children to succeed, it’s hugely to do with mindset. But it’s also about creating a space for young kids to have their minds opened to what the world is like and what they’re competing against. I think that’s a huge thing that’s missing for ethnic minority children and organisations that help out children.

How do you feel about being a speaker?

I’ve given small talks at societies and charities, but my upcoming Women of Silicon Roundtable talk in June will be my first big one. It was a huge surprise when they reached out to me; I can’t even believe it’s happening. The topic I chose is something I don’t fully understand yet so that I can push myself to learn more. I was definitely questioning if I’m qualified, I still am, it’s so weird. Alhamdulillah, these opportunities happen for a reason. 

So far, my talks at societies haven’t been about technology itself. They’ve been more like motivational talks about my journey: the graduate experience, what it’s like going in not knowing something and doing your best, the persistence of attending events and talking to people, what I learned from my mistakes. InshAllah, I’m sure that as I continue learning, my talks will focus more on different technologies.

How do you feel as a Muslim woman in tech?

Accenture has lots of different societies and groups, including a Muslim interest group. We have a group chat where we discuss topics like Friday prayers, and for Black History Month, we had an event called, “So you think you know black Muslims.” There are even seven or eight other Somalis that started around the same time as me. We like to do regular meetups to keep us sane and happy; everyone is so welcoming and ready to share any advice they have. 

People always used to tell me that I need to conform to succeed in the corporate world. But no one has ever commented on my hijab or asked why I dress the way I do. I feel like people respect you more when you show yourself as who you are and live your truth. When there are loads of drinks around, I say, “Sorry guys I won’t stay for long because I’m not comfortable with drinking,” and it’s perfectly fine. I’m not going to hide it from anyone; I feel comfortable being myself. It’s great because some people become more curious and you get to teach them and educate them about Islam. As Muslims, we’re meant to spread the message. Even if you’re not saying anything out loud, you’re representing Islam to others just by your actions and character. 

Do you think more Muslim women should get into tech?

YES! I’m converting most of my friends into tech consultants of the future. It’s such an exciting space to be in; there’s so much opportunity to grow, to be creative, to learn. It’s not as cut-throat as some other careers. Most of the people I work with dress comfortably and have a relaxed attitude. There are so many diversity initiatives, and tech companies are recruiting people from so many different backgrounds; I don’t think there’s ever been a better time for someone from a minority background to go into tech.

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

That’s quite tricky. I feel like I’ve learned a lot from everything I’ve done, even the mistakes. I gain so much clarity and understanding from my mistakes. Maybe I regret not continuing to learn to code. Not because I want to become a developer, but because it’s good to know how things are created. 

What is something or someone you’re grateful for?

My dad, bless him. It took some time for him to wrap his head around the fact that I went to school for biomedical sciences but kept going to tech events and coming home late at night. He took the time to understand. I still have to do a lot of explaining, but he’s open to it, and I’m grateful that he’s supportive and pushes me.

And I’m grateful for my friends who support me not only when I’m confused and stressed, but also are so proud of me even when I feel like I didn’t do anything. They’re always my cheerleaders and push me to keep doing better when I feel like slacking.

Thank you so much Ramla for sharing your experiences with us! You can connect with Ramla on Twitter and LinkedIn to see what she’s learning and how she’s helping her community.

If you liked this, be sure to check out our other interviews with amazing Muslim women in tech.

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