Tech Sisters Interviews is a series that profiles Muslim women in tech and brings attention to the incredible personalities and work we have in our community. We’re so excited to welcome Amina Aweis as our latest Tech Sister! Lots of you might already know Amina from Twitter, Medium, or as one-quarter of the TBMG Podcast. She tells us about her journey out of marketing and into tech, her amazing attitude towards learning, and the importance of owning our identities as Muslim women.
Can you please describe how you first got into tech? What initially sparked your interest?
When I was working in digital marketing, I often came across job descriptions for mid-level roles asking for WordPress, PHP, HTML, and CSS. I wanted to make myself a stronger candidate, so I went on Youtube and watched a lot of videos to learn about tech. I found it very interesting, especially UX/UI design. I loved the whole visual process and seeing things come together. Even though I didn’t take action to pursue my interest, it’s something that stayed in the back of my mind.
Did you see learning about tech as a way to improve your marketing skills, or were you already thinking of making a career change?
In the beginning, I just saw it as a skill that would be good for me to pick up. Another skill I can add to my current set and see what I could do with it.
When I become interested in something, I become pretty obsessed with it. As I learned more about tech, I became more and more curious. I started connecting with the people and communities that could help me get farther. I like talking to people, communicating, and seeing a project from start to finish. Eventually, I took a chance and decided to make the switch from marketing to tech.
At what level did you realize that you’re fully into coding and decided to dedicate your time to it?
I used to tweet a lot about my curiosity about coding, and one of my followers told me about a 4-month bootcamp through BT called FurtHER. I applied and didn’t think much of it until I got a phone interview a few months later and got a place a week before the bootcamp started. At the same time, I just got a new marketing job offer, and it was time to decide whether to stay with marketing or take a chance to get into coding. The bootcamp was free, and BT covered transport and food costs. I realized that I’d probably never get an opportunity like this again, and there are always other marketing jobs. It was time to try something new and exciting and challenge myself. SubhanAllah, it’s been a roller coaster since then.
My first tech job was a steep learning curve. It was so exciting, but I also felt so underqualified and nervous because of it. My team understands my background and is so supportive. They’ve been so helpful with getting me started with a project and helping me learn new things. The attitude towards learning is super positive – very different from my last field!
You recently shared an incredibly helpful Coding Road Map. What inspired you to create it, and what’s the response been?
I have quite a large platform on Twitter. People followed me for my writing and for what I was doing in the film and tv industry and digital marketing in general. Now they see me talking about tech, and they want to know more. I’ve had loads of messages from people asking similar questions like how I got started and what resources I used. I created a Google doc to share everything I used to learn, am learning at my workplace, and plan to learn in the future. The response has been insanely positive. One of the ways I like to learn is by helping others, and I would love to get to a point where I’m confident enough to explain and teach these concepts myself.
You have a dedicated and disciplined attitude to learning. Have you always been this way?
Because I didn’t go to university, I feel like I always have to stay on top of things. I don’t have a degree, but I can show employers I’ve got experience in this, I took on this project, I have this on the side. I like to stay excited and do something creative. When I’m not creating or writing, I feel very sluggish and slow, and like I’m not doing anything. I need to keep on my toes and create content, no matter what kind of form it is.
I have a creative background, so I always want to do something different and new. I want to keep trying new things; if it doesn’t work out, I know I can always go back to my comfort zone. These feelings fluctuate, and I do go through times where I feel unmotivated, but then I realize I need to do something to spark myself up again. I never had the luxury of relaxing. I always had to keep the pressure up to compete with people. It’s like survival but also keeps me sane.
You’ve written before about your experiences with diversity in the marketing field. How do these experiences compare with what you’re encountering now in tech?
“You want diversity to be current and progressive, but is your idea of diversity inclusive and more importantly is it accessible?”@yeahshewrites
I don’t think it’s much different. If anything, it’s somewhat worse. Tech is so male-dominated. I thought the film industry was bad, but this is another level. But while it’s so male-dominated, I haven’t felt any hostility; it’s just more of a draining feeling.
“… it’s very common to walk into a room of PR and Marketing strategists, full of white men and women, knowing that my presence is very loud yet constantly feel like I’m invisible. It’s a very uncomfortable feeling knowing that not many are willing to understand the nuance and story surrounding who you are”@yeahshewrites
I didn’t expect moving out of London to affect me so much. London is a multicultural bubble; I know that I can always bump into people like me. I live in a small town now, and while my team is consistently kind and supportive, it feels so isolating going a few months without seeing anyone else who looks like me.
Bias in the film industry was a lot more overt and political, while in the tech industry, it’s more subtle. It’s like you want to change, but you don’t know how. You want diversity and inclusion, but your activities aren’t inclusive. But how can you plan inclusive activities when there aren’t enough people to include? It’s a whole loop, trying to change, but things stay the same.
Companies want to women like us as tokens, but don’t have the company culture to be more inclusive. There can be all these diversity schemes, but all the managerial roles are white men. Diversity without inclusivity is just lip service if you’re not making the company culture accessible.
With all that said, I honestly do appreciate everything my team does to accommodate me as much as they can.Diversity without inclusivity is just lip service if you're not making the company culture accessible. Click To Tweet
What advice do you have for Muslim women entering your field?
Take chances. Women, in general, overthink when we apply for roles. I’ve noticed men are very confident, even if they don’t know 100% how things are going to go, they still go for it. Aim high and figure it out along the way.
Muslim women especially are in a unique position to use our differences to our advantage and get into these higher-level roles. We can use those diversity initiatives to our benefit and help build the inclusive workplaces we want.
Don’t shrink yourself. You’d be surprised at what you can learn and what the tech industry has to offer. Breaking into the tech industry has a lot to do with confidence, networking with the right people, putting yourself out there, and being very patient. Just start. Go to places where you feel comfortable and take those necessary steps where you need to be.
It’s better to aim high and fall slightly short, than aim low and achieve it. I want Muslim women to have the same confidence as privileged white men! Self-assurance is a big deal, and it’s something I’m working on since joining the tech industry, I know that I hold myself back. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. People in tech are generally happy to help and find pleasure in helping others.
Just put your trust in Allah and do what you have to do. Just make dua that there’s barakah in everything you go after. There are times I looked around and realized there’s no way I’ve gotten to where I am on my own. Allah definitely put some blessings in my efforts.
You’re a member of the TBMG Podcast. Do you want to talk about why such an initiative is so important and how you got it started?
TBMG stands for The Black Muslim Girl, and the podcast is part of a wider brand founded by Khadeejah, who is amazing and doing so many things for the black Muslim community. We recognized both that podcasts are so popular, and black Muslim women are so often left out of the conversation about and among Muslims. So we thought, why not have a safe space where the four of us can just be black Muslim women talking about things we can relate to and being proud of being both black and Muslim. Have fun, laugh, banter, learn things, remember Allah. That’s how it started!
Considering we’ve only done a few episodes, the feedback has been really amazing. So many people sent us screenshots of their Spotify roundups showing that they’ve been listening to our podcasts. It feels great because we’re just ourselves, and it’s nice to have space where other black Muslim girls can tune in and feel like they’re part of the conversation with us.
And I’m happy to have a platform where we can help show what Muslim women are like. We’re normal people; we can have differences of opinion and still get along. We’re not a monolith. When it comes to the Muslim community, we’re all painted under one brush; but we have so many different opinions and viewpoints! It’s time we used the digital space to express that and cultivate these conversations. It’s about empowering people to feel proud of who they are and connect with other people like themselves.
What’s the thing that you’re most proud of? What did you do, and why is it so special to you?
I’m most proud of my ability to just go for what I want to do. When I’m interested in something, I’m really interested and just go for it. As soon as I set my mind to it and start manifesting it, all these things start happening, like bumping into people who can help me. It might not be straight away, but I’ll go through a period where I’m having a meltdown, and then something will happen, which is the perfect solution to my problem.
What is something in your journey that you wish you did differently?
I wish I pushed a bit more, didn’t lose my patience as quickly, put myself out there more. I wasn’t very good at reaching out for help whenever I was stuck on something. I wish I didn’t worry what other people would think of me for asking “silly” questions about coding. People are helpful. If someone came to me with questions, I would be more than happy to help. But the other way around? Nope
What is something or someone in your tech journey that you’re grateful for?
Right now, I’m grateful for my colleague at work. He’s been super helpful in teaching me a lot of things in my role!
I’m grateful for the Twitter community. There are so many different groups that are so supportive. When I’m having a meltdown, my Twitter mutuals reach out and reassure me that everything is ok. Honestly, if it weren’t Twitter, I wouldn’t be in the tech industry
I’m super grateful to have people around me who keep my head in the game. They reassure me I’m in the right place and I should be proud of myself