Annem Sabah — How I learned to speak up about my tech career

annem sabah
Annem Sabah is a cloud computing advocate and is passionate about helping teams discover what they can do with Azure. She graduated in Information Management from UCL and is currently on a graduate scheme in a major government organization. Annem loves to find ways to support the community and is currently sharing her knowledge as part of the Muslamic Makers’ Mentorpreneur program.
We’re so excited to welcome Annem Sabah as our latest Tech Sister!

Can you describe how you first got into tech?

When I was in the 6th form, preparing to go to university, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I looked at a lot of different fields, from nuclear physics to nursing. Thinking that whatever I chose in university would determine my future was pretty intimidating!

During this time of uncertainty, one of my teachers gave me a book about Python. That night, I went home and wrote my first hello world. From there, I moved on to small projects like calculators, world searches, and games. Building those little bits of code was so much fun! It piqued my interest enough to encourage me to start applying for computer science programs.

Would you like to describe your career journey so far?

Applying for graduate roles in my final year at UCL was a straightforward process. Alhamdulillah, I was fortunate enough to get an offer from a well-known government organization. They offered quite a lot of flexibility through doing rotations in their IT department. I thought this would allow me to get some breadth of knowledge and see where I fit in, and I started in September 2018.

It was a bit of a rocky start. Technical roles were few and far between, and I wasn’t put in the department I had first expressed interest in. I wouldn’t say that was a bad thing because it helped me learn what I don’t want to pursue long term! Through the rotations, I had the opportunity to get familiar with our department’s many different roles, like software delivery and low-level coding.

I finally learn about Azure

On my first day rotating in technical operations, I had a long whiteboard session with my manager about Azure Active Directory. This was a technology that I knew absolutely nothing about, which was very exciting for me. I wanted to help promote Azure within the organization and enable teams to have their own dev test area to play around with Azure.

I then worked on End-User Computing and Technical Services. It was a lot of looking at implementation plans and shadowing tech leads and architects. Eventually, after months of working through other people’s scripts, I moved into the Cloud Infrastructure Team. We still have a long way to go, and Azure is still new to all of us, but  It’s pretty cool being asked my opinion by the people who hired me. It feels like I have a seat at the table and that everything I’ve done thus far has been worth it, Alhamdulillah.

Focus on doing great work to build the foundation of your career

Throughout your career, you’ll find yourself doing work you’re not interested in, for people you don’t like. Most of that will consist of admin, bureaucracy, and red tape. That’s especially true for government organizations like mine. It took me a long time to get my head around that.

Once I did and started to settle down, other people were able to pay more attention to my work. They became a lot more invested in me. I ended up getting two Microsoft certifications, one in Azure and one in DevOps. Qualifications aren’t absolutely essential, but they can make you a more attractive prospect for someone to have on their team. Microsoft qualifications especially are good to have because they’re well known and last for a few years.

It took a long time laying the foundation, but I’m in a place with my career where I’m happy and able to think about the next steps and finally found what I enjoy doing. Starting at the bottom rung of the ladder isn’t easy. Don’t give up, and don’t believe the struggle will suddenly stop. Eventually, people will start taking notice of you and your work. You’ll get there.

How do you feel as a Muslim woman in tech?

I think that tech is an excellent career for Muslim women. It can fit around your lifestyle, and the resources to learn it are available to everyone. In the future, I hope to see more Muslim women become passionate about technology, Insha’Allah. But it’s our job, as current Muslim women in tech, to support and provide stepping stones for our sisters coming after us. BAME communities generally have less access to opportunities and support. We need to be role models to show other women that it’s possible to build our own opportunities and be the person we needed when we were starting out. 

When I started, I felt scared that people wouldn’t treat me as an equal. But Alhamdulillah, everyone was so helpful and wanted to help me because I was a new graduate. Joining a faith network was a smart decision and let me network with countless other sisters in the transport sector outside my immediate workplace. 

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

I wish I was more vocal about what I wanted to do when I started my graduate scheme rather than passively let myself get placed in a team and do work I wasn’t sure of. When I found myself stuck doing work I didn’t enjoy, I should have said something instead of thinking I’m too new to rock the boat. At some point, I realized that this is my career, it’s what I want to make of it, so I need to take that initiative. Other people can give me guidance, but it’s up to me to know what I want to do and be vocal about it.

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

I’m especially grateful for three amazing mentors and advisors. One of whom, Prem Sharma, has been an integral person to where I am now. My mentors helped me look inward to determine my next move. They also got me interesting work and helped me introduce myself to managers and network. 

I asked these people to be my mentors because of what they could do for me. It’s important to pick mentors that suit you, and you have a good rapport with them. Sticking with a mentor that you don’t get along with wastes both of your time. Mentors are a precious resource, and it means a lot to have people in your life who are invested in your success.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

As parting words, all I can say is to keep trust in Allah SWT always and make du’a that whatever career path you choose in life, it will only keep you close to Allah and only holds good for you. Be proactive in picking up every opportunity you’re interested in. Something many people have impressed in me is that you’ll probably have the most free time in your career at the start of it, so stretch yourself always.

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Annem. Jazakallahu Khair! You can follow Annem Shah on Twitter and LinkedIn to keep up with the incredible things she’s doing, like the #100DaysOfCloud Challenge. If you liked this, be sure to check our other Tech Sisters Stories and get to know the amazing talent we have in our community.

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