Amira Chalbi – Never compromise your identity for your career. Have faith in yourself!

episode art for tech sisters stories featuring amira chalbi

Today on Tech Sisters Stories we’re excited to have Amira Chalbi

Amira is a UX/CX researcher at Worldline Global. She’s very experienced in UX design and research, data visualization, innovation, UX strategy, and market studies.

Amira is passionate about contributing to the development and enrichment of the community and has been a wonderful part of Tech Sisters

Listen To Amira’s Story

Key Lessons from this Episode

  • Amira’s experiences working in academia and industry as a Muslim woman in France 8:30
  • What happens when companies misuse UX 14:38
  • The mindset that helped Amira overcome the many challenges she’s faced 24:00

Transcript

Grace: as salaamu alikum, you’re listening to Tech Sisters stories. Tech Sisters is a community that supports Muslim women in tech, through storytelling and sisterhood. My name is grace and I get to interview the amazing women in our community, share their stories and the lessons they learned.

Today we have Amira Chalbi who is absolutely wonderful mashallah. I love talking to her. She has been a wonderful humongous help on Tech Sisters lately. And I’m so glad to share her story with you. I hope you enjoy it.

Today on Tech Sisters stories, we are excited to have Amria Chalbi. Amira is a UX / CX researcher at worldline global. She’s experienced in UX design and research, data visualization, innovation, UX strategy, and market studies, mashAllah.

Amira is passionate about contributing to the development and enrichment of the community. And she’s been a wonderful part of Tech Sisters. She’s been helping us so much. So I’m really excited to feature your story. Thank you so much for coming on Amira.

Amira: Thank you so much for the introduction. Thank you also for inviting me to, to have this chat with you. And I’m happy also to be able to discover the tech sisters community and to contribute as much as I can to the and developments of this community.

How Amira got into tech

Grace: alhamdulillah . So, Mira, where does your story begin? How did you first get into tech?

Amira: Okay. So my story is somehow different from a regular path that you can have. So when I finished my secondary studies in Tunisia , back in 2007,

Grace: Oh, you’re as old as me. Yep.

Amira: Yeah. So I, I selected to the medical studies to be a doctor. But after some months studying medical studies, I figured out that it’s not the best that I would like to continue.

So basically I was attracted to a medical studies, mainly for the human part. You would had a great chance to help people take care of them and the humanitarian side and value of being a doctor. But then I sit down with myself and said, okay, this was my main motivation to, to continue doing medical studies.

But I figured out that the rhythm, the side of medical study especially for, for the first years, you are more about learning. And Learning a lot. And not practicing a lot, especially for the first year. So, okay. So I can keep my main motivation Keeping the human in the heart of my career. But still having a more motivating path for me which was more about creativity.

The kind of person who wants always to be stimulated around creativity and be dynamic and feel my touch in the things that I do. And the first years of medical studies, you don’t have still yet this opportunity you may have then once. Especially when you start practicing, going to hospitals, you may have, you’re a part of initative creativity or personal attach. But it comes later and they didn’t have the patience , I think, to go through this process.

And so I changed it to tech study. Because I made a lot of reflection or about what direction to take next. And I was hesitant between two fields: the more graphic design and the tech field. When I started reading, discussing with students from these two different domains, and even with professionals from the different domains. I figured out that with tech, you can have both creativity and more technical part that I had already in my secondary school. That my parents, especially didn’t want me to lose.

Grace: To give it all up.

Amira: So yeah, I found that tech was a very suitable choice where you can combine both the technical aspects, mathematics and so forth. Programming and so forth. But also lots of creativity. And so I finished it with having a bachelor in computer science.

And then why the choice of the domain of human computer interaction more specifically. In the second year of my bachelor, I had my first course of human computer interaction. And the professor was very enthusiastic about this domain. She did even her PhD in this domain. So I was very impressed with how we can combine both computer science, but also psychology, cognitive sciences all different domains that touch this human views that I was seeking always in my choices of career. So Yeah. I said that this would be my field for the rest of my career. And so, yeah, I chose to pursue the rest of my studies here in France. So I chose a master program to follow master program where we have a HCI specialisation .

And then, yeah, I followed the past with a PhD studies really in the same field, and human computer interaction, also information as validation. And yeah, now I’m continuing this path with another perspective because you see the, and you’re studying human computer interaction from an academic and First active, and then you discover another way and another perspective on this domain in the industry and it’s yeah, it’s a, to me, it’s another step in my creative because you then start mixing different domains.

Like for example, market study you start also considering different factors that you did not always consider when you are in more in academia, like business considerations, strategy and so forth. And to me, it’s a next level of and a very exciting Experience and challenge at the same time where you can find different ways of mixing different domains in the same goal of making a user experience or customer experience better and the services and products that would use in the society.

Grace: Yeah. Oh, mashallah. What a great answer. I really love that journey. And how you’re willing. And you’re curious to find the thing that’s fitting you and you found it mashAllah. You’re talking about your professor, who’s really passionate about the human centered computer design and you just followed exactly in her footsteps.

Amira: Yeah.

Grace: Yeah, really nicely. I like how you started off saying that this isn’t traditional path into technology, but your story is reflected in a lot of other people that we’ve had on the show. You know, especially the part about starting off in medical sciences, we’ve had quite a few people started

Amira: Okay. Interesting. Okay. Good to know.

Okay.

Grace: You’re not alone. I think what’s interesting is. Especially in, in Muslim families, know, there’s a joke that we always have to be doctors or engineers and tech isn’t really on the radar as much.

Amira: Yeah. I always say to mom that it’s short, let’s say didn’t realize your dream of seeing your, your, your daughter medical doctor, but yeah. A doctor in computer science. So we have the middle of the glass, which is already field. filled.

Grace: But then she could say, if someone was sick, you can’t save them with your computer. So,

Amira: I can discuss more about this point. Yeah. I can tell her that if you turn your head around in the hospitals, you would see computers everywhere that facilitate the work of doctors. Yeah,

Grace: That’s a really good

Amira: she, she’s happy. Since she sees that I’m happy with what I’m doing now. And it’s the, the principle for her.

Grace: Yeah, that’s it. I think parents just want to see us in a safe,

Amira: Yeah.

Grace: and safe, and the, it doesn’t matter so much that their doctors it’s just that they have a reliable income. alhamdulillah that we don’t have to struggle,

Amira’s experiences working in acedemia and industry as a Muslim woman in France

Grace: I am interested in what you’re saying about the difference between the academic and the business domains.

I’m wondering I think, especially working in France, what has been your feeling a Muslim woman in both of those spheres? Has it been different?

Amira: I would start by talking about the difference in general, between academia and industry. For, for everyone. I think , who had pursued a PhD, especially in whichever domain I think, and then tries to move towards industry in France or one of the challenges that I met when I started looking for opportunity industry that many companies do not give real value to PhD studies.

In many times, Finally apply as having master degree and not even used the fact that you have a PhD, so it doesn’t matter to them. And more to me, more, a pitch follow that Finch. In some cases, some companies would have a negative view on people who have a PhD. So for some companies having done a PhD means that you are blurred into theory. You don’t have practical perspective and practical way of working and have been isolated in your corner, in your lab doing research during the years.

They are not aware that we as researchers have an eye on what’s happens in the society, in the industry. You are in many projects, you can even collaborate with the industrial institutions. There are more and more projects that are Constructed and realized in collaboration between academia and industry. So one of the challenges in this perception of what is research and which is being a PhD for some companies

Another frustrating points that is very specific to our domain of UX. Many companies would consider that all UX experts are designers and specifically more visual and user interface designers. And they don’t see that. We don’t only do the part of designing a beautiful interfaces, but there is a lot of work done in the process of reflecting about this design. Testing this design and so forth.

And so, Yeah. They have very limited understanding of, for some companies, of what is the domain of a UX design and UX research. And so it was very challenging to me to find companies that do understand the real value of having the skills of UX research and give the opportunity to apply your expertise in right role.

And as for the specific point as woman, I would say that in academia, when I was doing my PhD, I didn’t feel any difficulties or challenges. The only challenge that I had to deal with the fact that I didn’t have the right to to teach in universities because when you are wearing hijab, you don’t have the right to to teach, but yeah, you can still continue doing your PhD research without doing that. But it was something that was really missing to my training as a future researcher and even future professor. And this is something that I would I wish it to do to be able to, to teach. But Yeah.

I was able to continue. With this minor frustration in mind. And it’s the same challenge when you start looking for opportunities in industry, there are many companies that would simply refuse to accept your application, even discuss with you because you are wearing hijab. So this is something very challenging here in France, but alhamdulillah I end up finding the company where I am now,

which is online, that respects the differences of everyone that’s makes me feel very respected and it gives me the opportunities to contribute, to be even in front lines for many projects, without having this consideration of what I’m wearing or what I believe.

And so this is something very important for us as a muslim woman to feel in our work and society in general.

Grace: I’m really happy that you found a company. You feel safe and respected valued for who you are. I’m sad to hear that that is the exception

I’m wondering. Hmm. Cause you said that there’s discrimination based on your name and with the hijab,

Amira: Not necessarily in my name. I think it’s a more about the hijab. So I have to deal even with situations where I was in the middle of interviews. And one of the questions concerning your hijab.

to me, this is not the question that should be asked to anyone be her Muslim or whatever convictions or choices.

There should be not a question about the personal choices, you know, professional interview. I had to face many situations where one of the questions that’s raised was about it.

Grace: Do you feel maybe that it’s good to have those questions in the interview stage because it lets you know, very early on that this would not be a good company for you.

Amira: I think I would prefer not to deal with these situations in face to face. And they should maybe just simply make a decision that they want move forward with my application. And they would be happy with this answer without asking for why. That to me is very brutal sometimes to get these questions in face to face and having to discuss your choices.

What happens when UX isn’t valued

Grace: yes, I can imagine. SubhanAllah and they’re missing out on so much knowledge. Like you said, you were a master of your field mashallah uX research has so much benefit to give to these companies and to their products that they’re not valuing anyway. And they’re not valuing your contribution. So it’s such a, it’s a shameful loss.

Amira: Yeah. Yeah. The UX research is not necessarily valued as it should be in many companies. And I think in many societies, not specifically in France, but in all over the world, many. Obstacles that people still have in their daily life with services of products come majorly from the fact that this products or services went design it with people who will be using them at the end.

There weren’t enough user research work around these products or services in the phase of reflection and designed also the validation then of these products and services.

Grace: I feel like. Is that, that it wasn’t done at all, but I feel sometimes it was done, but disregarded in favor of marketing or in

Amira: Yeah. Yeah.

Grace: design, now, it just pushes you to have a newsletter. You know, you have to do sign up for this, clear the cookies on that. You have to click 10 times before you even see the page that you’re looking for.

And then there are so many ads. It’s really painful, especially in news websites,

Amira: Yeah. Yeah. Eh, as you said, sometimes it’s not that the research is not done, but it’s not done sometimes sufficiently. For example, they would only for some, some companies for some projects would do the research in the phase of discovery and design, and then they won’t validate the final product before release.

And there is also an important phase that is ignored in many cases. It, the phase of listening. Once your product is released, you should listen to because there are some problems that arise I start as user using the product for some Certain period of time.

Grace: Hm.

Amira: And because you cannot be sure in the phase of validation that you will cover all the profiles and needs and specificities of users.

So this is the role of the listening phase, where you will be listening to what users think or encountered in terms of problems with your product it’s in use. And yet in many times, these phase is ignored, but it’s one of the most important phases, because it would allow you, even if you did some bad choices, you would have the opportunity to correct them and keep enhancing your products.

Grace: I actually loved that phase. I think talking to the users is a lot of fun mashallah. There is a project that I worked on. It’s another Muslim founder it’s called LiteraSeed. And it’s a visual symptom tracker for people who don’t speak the same language as their doctor. The whole idea is that you can, at home, you can record your symptoms in a way that is very easy to understand without needing to read any medical words.

And then before your appointment, the doctor gets a report on the symptoms and you don’t have to, can skip all of that translation part and just get right into what’s wrong. we were testing it with a refugee clinic in America and the best part was the first and I was helping with the UX. We went and talked to the refugees and mashAllah, it was a really beautiful experience hearing how excited they were about the project and how meaningful it was to them and hearing the ways that it the friction points that I could never have predicted on my own.

And so it’s really valuable and really fun part.

Amira: It requires a lot of work and listening and being able to help users Orient well and express where their thoughts, but yeah, it’s very rewarding at the end. And in many times it teaches you also a lot of new things about the product that you have been designing and make sure discover that we are not all the same.

We don’t choose the products in the same way. And that’s why we are humans because every one of us has specificities and you cannot as a one or two or a team of humans can predict this aspect.

Grace: Impossible, especially if you’re a team of humans who are homogenous. like,

Amira: And we can not We try everyone of first try, but you still, you will be still biased it in somehow with your process, your business . You have your own background and technical and business background that would impact implicitly or explicitly the design.

Dark UX

Grace: Yes, yes. mashAllah. And then there’s another side. So we were talking about how UX is ignored. People are talking about dark UX now where the UX principles and psychologies are being misused to trigger addictive behaviors in people or just for the purpose of,

Amira: The business.

Grace: yeah. The business. Exactly

Amira: I think that it’s not a problem that is only specific to UX. We are start also talking about how artificial intelligence is having the similar anti ethics objectives and behaviors. So to me, this problems that may emerge about the use of UX or artificial intelligence or whatever. It should encourage that we raise more awareness about what is UX or what is artificial intelligence and how should we use it in the most ethical and correct way.

And if you, as a company and as a society in general in schools and the training of students, even if they are not aiming to become all UX researchers and the UX designers, there should be awareness about. Having user centered or a reflection about the products and services that you will be constructing or designing to be able to protect your products or users against extreme users of the UX design for nudging, a certain extreme consumer behaviors or make people, for example, buy more or choose your products and not others and all these different negative usages of UX.

So to me, people should not base their I would say skeptical behavior or a refusal of the use of UX on the fact that UX can be misused because it’s the case with everything that we can use, maybe even in our daily life. You can use objects in a positive or negative way .

And so you should know more about UX. You should learn your issue. You should make your employees, your society or students aware of the role of UX. So that’s everyone use it in a, in a good way. And the fact that there is this Patterns behaviors in UX shows somehow that UX can be very powerful tool. And you should use it, you know, positive way.

But to me, it shows that UX can have a very powerful impact on the way your users will perceive or use your

Grace: Exactly . That’s exactly how I feel subhanAllah. If you’re able to create people who are rabidly addicted to your product, then you can use that same principle to make these people feel empowered to make a positive change in the world.

Amira: Yeah, you can, for example, use this power of UX to persuade them about how to be more ecologically responsible in using your products or how will they can be reasonable about. The way, how they would use your products in general from different perspectives.

Grace: Yeah. And even in the case of misinformation, because it’s very easy for people to fall in. I think this is such a deep problem that we have now. People are so stuck in their confirmation bias. And if we can have a UX that encouraged, gently encourages people to challenge their thinking, would have a profound in a lot of different areas.

Amira: Exactly and all the problems nowadays around harassment, for example, that the way that people may use social media to harass each others. And so first you may use the powerful impact that UX can have to, raise awareness about how harmful it can be harassment, how they shouldn’t be doing this.

And in case they had the mistake to do some how they would recover from such behaviors and how they can in their turn, be responsible for raising awareness about this.

Grace: Yeah.

Yeah.

How Amira overcome the challenges she’s faced

Grace: Yeah. So you mentioned at several points going through some difficult challenges in facing some setbacks, what mindset or what got you through that? How did you overcome those challenge?

Amira: The key point that helped me go through all the different challenges be them about the field that I’m defending, which is a UX and the conviction that I had about the importance of UX and also the second main challenge about defending my identity and proving that I can be myself and I can be successful these two things are not conflicting.

So to me, the key point that helping me to move. With these two challenges is to be convinced and to keep on keeping faith in the importance of my field and the importance and the value of my identity. And I kept saying to myself, that companies should be aware of the importance of my skills and expertise. And the value of them in the market and companies should respect me as I am and see my professional value and not anything else in a professional context. So by keeping the faith and conviction about these two points, I, I manage it to keep on looking for opportunities and to accept the fact that I’m going to have refusals and sometimes some bad experiences with the interview process and finish it by finding the right company that gives the right value to both my expertise and who I am.

Grace: Mashallah. I love to hear it. I love how confident you are in yourself. You and your worth the, oh, it’s wonderful.

What Amira’s most proud of

Grace: Amira what is the thing that you’re most proud of why is it so special?

Amira: I would say the, one of the things that I’m proud of is that I succeeded to more so the way that wasn’t always easy. And too. Have the faith and conviction in my choices, in my decisions when I needed to approve it. And to me, many points, key points in , the path of my studies and my career was where thanks to the conviction and faith that they had in my choices and my decisions.

So I would say that’s probably that a kept faith in myself in my choices and in my identity and my personal choices and in my professional choices.

Amira’s Regrets

Grace: Wonderful. And that’s really nice. And what is something that you regret or you wish you did different?

Amira: What I regret very deeply is that I focused a lot during my studies and the beginning of my career on. My studies and my work, and they didn’t give enough time to my other interests and hobbies. Yeah. I didn’t teach myself to have this work life balance? habits.

Grace: balance?

Amira: Yeah. It’s yeah, It was very focuses and oriented towards studies and then towards work.

Once you have certain age, it’s very difficult to change your, your mindset and your habits. And for example, I, when I was younger, I was very good at painting. I did some caricatures, et cetera, and they lost this Because I didn’t practice for for many years.

So I regrets and I start to find this to educate my children differently and to, to see this success that I didn’t have any. carrying out in parallel in my professional life, but also my, my hobbies and my interests, personal interests. I would like to see them in my children and make them aware very early that it’s important to have this balance.

And it’s important to have hobbies other than your work. And it’s important not to centralize all your energy and interest on new work.

Grace: It makes you a more interesting person.

I hope that you’re getting back into painting. I found that as I, cause I’ve obviously had the same problem, I found that as I try to get back into my hobbies, if I share them with my kids, One that’s a good time to do it. So that’s one way to find the time and combine it with family time. it’s fun.

know, doing things, having your children and see yourself be willing to be a beginner and not be amazing at something and still have fun with it. Anyway, I think it’s a good lesson.

Amira: Yeah, I’m starting to the, this a lot with my, my son as well, because he likes doing very well. And as you said, I’m starting from scratch. So sometimes he is even painting. Well, then, then I do. So, yeah, as you said, it’s it can be rewarding for the children to see that. You are learning with them and you are not perfect and that they can sometimes even teach you how to do things.

So, yeah.

Grace: Oh, yeah, they can teach us

Amira: Yeah.

What Amira is most grateful for

Grace: And what is something or someone in your tech journey that you’re grateful for?

Amira: Many persons, I would say, even not my tech journey even the journey before I take, I would say first my, my parents I’m grateful to be there always supporting me in my choices, even in the most. Difficult ones like quitting medical studies. It wasn’t that easy to them to accept and to see you what you can do next. I’m also grateful for professor that I had in the medical studies who encourage , my choice of quitting medical studies. And she, she told me that she was sure that I will be successful whenever I go. So it, it made it, it meant a lot to me at this particular time, because I needed.

Lot of positive and support to be able to, to be more confident about my choices. And then I’m very grateful for my professor of the second year of bachelors who made me discover what is human computer interaction In a very enthusiastic way. And she basically changed my life direction. I grateful for my husband who supported me a lot in my journey, starting with my master’s studies and PhD studies and now in my career.

So I’m very grateful to him.

Grace: Hmm. That’s beautiful. Amira, is there anything else? Any last words of wisdom or anything that we haven’t covered?

Amira: The last words that I would like to say is that I would encourage every woman in general, every Muslim woman and every one. To not accept at any points of her or his career any compromises between her or his identity, personal choices in her or his career.

Grace: Yeah.

Amira: So I would encourage everyone that. We are all struggling enough to make our way through our carries are making a lot of effort. So no one has the right to make any compromises with our identity or choices versus our career. This is something that I want to keep repeating to everyone.

Yeah. It can sometimes be hard in some phases of our life. That if we, if everyone keeps us struggling, if everyone keeps not accepting compromises, every company and every business would know that that is something that should not be discuss it or touch it and they would listen to it.

Learn the lessons.

Grace: That’s right. It takes a lot of work from the first, The first people in that company, the first people who are different. And it, it does take a lot, ask a lot from them to stay there and to keep holding that door open and to not make any compromises so that the next wave can come in and widen that it’s very important work.

Amira: Yeah, and to me, it’s a collective work,

Grace: Mm.

Amira: so there should be efforts to be done with societies and decision-makers et cetera. Just keep faith and be proud of our identities.

Grace: Yeah, that’s it alhamdulillah. Amira,. I’m so glad that we had this discussion. It’s mashAllah, you’ve been healthy, so helpful, and I’m really grateful for the opportunity to learn more about.

Amira: I was also very happy to have this chat with

Grace: Thank you so much for taking the time to listen to this story. Please consider following us and leaving a review. If you liked the episode, that really helps us a lot and definitely share it with your friends, your coworkers, anyone you think that might benefit from these stories. We really hope that Tech Sisters is something that grows and impacts everybody who needs to hear it. So every share helps.

And if you’re a Muslim woman in tech, please go ahead and join our community on slack. It’s free. It’s fun. Really supportive. We have great discussions in there. Yeah, I’d love to see you there. And that’s all for me. I’ll see you next week with a new story. Salaam.

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Amira. Jazakallahu Khair! You can follow Amira Chalbi on LinkedIn.

If you liked this story, 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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