Reem Mahmoud – We need to enable communities to build their own solutions

Podcast episode art featuring Reem Mahmoud

Today on Tech Sisters Stories we’re excited to have Reem Mahmoud

Reem Mahmoud is the cofounder and Education Lead at Zaka, a community-driven Artificial Intelligence startup. She is pursuing her Ph.D at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon in Electrical & Computer Engineering where her research focuses on personalized Machine Intelligence with a focus on learning from limited labelled data.

Listen To Reem’s Story

Key Lessons from this Episode

  • Reem’s experience as the only female electrical engineer in her university 7:00
  • What happens when technology, especially AI, isn’t developed for diverse communities by who belong to those communities 13:00
  • The challenges of having a startup in Beirut 17:00
  • Reem’s beautiful answer to what makes her most proud 23:45

Transcript

Grace Witter: [00:00:00] 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. But first, some quick community announcements.

the community health report that has been in the works all quarter, we’re working super hard on it is going to be published next Monday, the 14th of March inshAllah. I’m going to do a call presenting it. As well as sharing the PDF. So if you’re interested in learning about who are the Tech Sisters, what we do and what we need as a community. Check out the link in the description.

The second next week is going to be the very last episode of this season. I think 20 episodes feels like a good place to take a break. Alhamdulillah. I can’t believe we got this far and I’m super grateful to all of our guests and especially all of you who’ve listened to every episode.

Especially the ones where it’s just been [00:01:00] me rambling off. So thank you very much for your patience and for sticking with us for so long. jazakallahu khairan

today’s episode with Reem is so, so, so lovely mashAllah. She’s absolutely wonderful to talk to. And her mission at Zaka is really wonderful.

And I can’t wait for you to hear more about her story. Okay. That’s enough intro and let’s get on with Reem’s interview.

Today on Tech Sisters stories we’re super excited to have Reem Mahmoud. Reem is the co-founder and education lead at Zaka, a community driven artificial intelligence startup.

She’s pursuing her PhD at the American university of Beirut in electrical and computer engineering, where her research focuses on personalized machine intelligence with a focus on learning from limited labeled data. We are super excited to have you thank you so much for coming on.

Reem Mahmoud: It’s my pleasure to be here. Thank you So, much for the invitation Grace.

Grace Witter: So, how does your story start? How did you first get into tech?

Reem Mahmoud: So I’m not one of those people who was into technology ever since I [00:02:00] was a kid. I was a child who was into many different things. I was the kind of kid who tried everything: I tried doing ballet versus basketball versus the piano horseback riding, et cetera. So I was a kid who was very curious about just doing a bunch of different things.

For example, my husband is someone who is, , grew up being obsessed with technology and interested in computers and all that stuff. I didn’t start off that way. My story started off a bit late, which was kind of in high school when I started covering electromagnetics specifically in physics class and I was kind of nerdy about it.

I really enjoyed the topics that were covered and there were some cool stuff, , some cool phenomenon, subhanAllah that we discussed, like , magnetic levitation, one of my favorites and so many other topics. And so I started reading a lot more about this and I got to see how, these, if you want scientific foundations were behind many of [00:03:00] the technologies that we use.

And I started getting really curious about, okay, well, how do these things that, , I’m using every day and are such a huge part of my life really work. Like I have no idea, right? I have no idea how these chips are designed or how the software’s program. And I was curious. And I was at a point where obviously I was thinking, what do I want to major in, in university as any kid at that age, a grade 11 and 12 with so many options out there.

I had no one in my family who was an engineer actually. So. It was something kind of, I was exploring on my own and I got really excited about it. And I decided I wanted to pursue a degree in electrical engineering. Cause that’s, , where the, all the fun electronics and energy and stuff that I was into was involved.

And , from there I got some interesting stuff actually happening in the story and the things flowed. So I’m based in Saudi Arabia. And I grew up in Saudi and I continued my [00:04:00] university studies in Saudi. I was someone who wanted to, for example, go abroad and study abroad, but this was not something that my family was comfortable with for obvious reasons.

They wanted me to stay. And so back in the time, which was, I believe 2011 there were actually no electrical engineering majors available for females in Riyad the city that I’m based in.

And so my dad started kind of encouraging me to go and do graphic design or, , something that’s

Grace Witter: Yeah.

Reem Mahmoud: I may say. Yeah, exactly. He, wasn’t very thrilled about. , electrical engineering, because as I mentioned, we don’t have engineers in the family. So for him it was like, , what do you do as an electrical engineer?

Are you going to go fix devices and, , go on site. And , it wasn’t clear that you can do obviously like so many different things as an electrical.

Grace Witter: Yeah.

Reem Mahmoud: And it was unusual for him as well. So anyways, I got really [00:05:00] lucky and the university that I had time to join actually opened the major the year that I graduated for females.

Yes, subhanAllah. So it just so happened. It’s opened up. I applied, I got accepted. And honestly I just loved it. Every step of the way since there, like I went into it kind of thinking maybe it’s not going to be for me, , I’ll try it out and see how things go. But I really enjoyed the like every semester, things just got more and more exciting.

My nerdy side that’s coming out right now. So Yeah,

so this is how, this is how it started.

Grace Witter: Mashallah. And just to be like really explicit when you’re talking about how you had a major that was open for females that’s because in Saudi it’s different tracks for different genders. Is that right?

Reem Mahmoud: Yes. Yes. Thank you for, for actually for asking that. Yes, exactly. So in Saudi universities are separated for females and males. For example, the university that I had applied to had electrical engineering available for males, but females. And so that specific year they opened up the [00:06:00] female section within all the engineering majors.

So I was able to join the program and I was actually, I was the only electrical engineer, female in the class. And I stayed that way for four years. was a lonely, it was lonely experience, but

Grace Witter: You’ve got lots of attention from your professor. I bet.

Reem Mahmoud: Yes. Yes. Honestly, it was, it was lonely, but it was like, I had all the opportunity in the world to really like, learn the material I got one-on-one labs.

was, it was awesome if you think about it. So Yeah, was definitely a nice outcome.

Grace Witter: Yeah, it’s really interesting though. Comparing the experiences, especially when you’re going into university of women in MENA region and women who are going into university in the west. And it’s, it’s really cool. It’s very unique. So we’ve noticed that in the MENA region. Women are really confident in their stem skills and applying for engineering, applying for maths and physics.

Also, I have to say your physics program in your high school sounds way more advanced than mine. Mashallah. [00:07:00] We didn’t go going into electromagnetics

Reem Mahmoud: I had an awesome teacher. I had an awesome.

Reem’s experience as the only female electrical engineer at her university

Grace Witter: mashallah. Yeah. And then in, but women who are studying computer science in the west, we very frequently hear that they are isolated. They’re overwhelmed by men in their class. They’re you feel belittled and talk down to you. They don’t feel included. And now you’re having a very different experience being the only woman in this, but getting so much attention just because of that.

And do you have any thoughts on like, just the differences there?

Reem Mahmoud: Yeah.

So I can, so I’ll, I’ll share, I’ll share also some feedback because I, , moving on from my bachelor, I then joined I was able to travel for master’s degree to Lebanon, where I did my masters and PhD. Still ongoing PhD at that American university of Beirut. And so commenting on, this, this ratio, if you want. for example, at the American university of Beirut, the class is almost 50 50 in, in engineering [00:08:00] majors.

So yes, definitely. This is something that you see in the middle east. Females d

Do I get enrolled in stem related majors heavily actually. So it’s kind of equal. I think and, and so from the other perspective in my bachelor, the reason was just simply it was a new program and there were females in engineering, just not in electrical engineering.

No, , they were mostly in architecture, for example, architectural engineering, industrial engineering, mechanical and electrical were less. And I was, I was the sole electrical engineer, but things are now a lot better. So now there are more females enrolled in the program because there’s more awareness specifically, in these relatively new majors in KSA, in Saudi.

Grace Witter: Yeah.

Reem Mahmoud: So definitely the involvement of females and such majors. Is there not to say that there are no challenges by the way, like I think. I think the challenges become more internal. It’s not that you’re shunned or that you feel left out from necessarily others. But I think there’s a lot of, [00:09:00] at least something that I went through.

There’s a lot of, kind of internal kind of struggle that you go through thinking , I’m not, , am I going to get this right? At least something that I used to experience, for example, and the class, , boys are always excited. They always, , throw their hands up and answer questions and not afraid of like making mistakes and messing up.

On the other hand, for example, it might be a character thing, but I’m more of a perfectionist. If I’m not sure. Of the answer. I wouldn’t, , raise my hand and answer. If I felt like I wasn’t qualified a hundred percent to do something, I wouldn’t propose that I do it. And I noticed this more common with my female colleagues than, than my guy colleagues.

Right. And I read about it actually somewhere.

Grace Witter: Yeah, this is a documented thing. This is like a confidence

Reem Mahmoud: Yeah.

Grace Witter: it carries on into work as well.

Reem Mahmoud: Yes, exactly. And I think it was the CEO of girls who code, I believe , who was giving a talk and said something that really stuck with me. And it was that, , we raise our girls to be perfect and we raise our [00:10:00] boys to be brave..

it’s really resonated with me because I really felt like this is what happens, right. Boys are always excited to throw themselves on any opportunity. Just try it out. No fear of messing up versus, , females are kind of more on the, on the edge and trying to make sure that they do things right.

And they do things nicely and perfectly and so on and so forth. Many reasons for, for this. Culturally and the way that we’re raised. Right. And so on and so forth. So yes, it’s definitely an interesting different, but yet interesting experience.

What inspired Reem to start Zaka

Grace Witter: So let’s talk about Zaka. So what inspired you to get started with that? Especially while you’re doing your PhD? So it seems like you’re doing a lot of things at the same time .

Reem Mahmoud: Yes. So so Zika is just to give a bit of context C focused on democratizing artificial intelligence as a technology specifically in the middle east and north African region. As well as globally, but the focus in the region is simply because, , it’s our team is based in the region and, , we believe that the region [00:11:00] needs a lot more awareness on the emerging technologies.

, our focus, which is artificial intelligence and Zaka that came along in my journey. A lot later down the path, obviously since my bachelor. So around two years ago, if you want, I was already in my PhD.

program. I had been working in AI for a few years from my masters and the start of my PhD as well.

And I got involved in a local NGO. Where I met my co-founders today. And the NGO in Lebanon was basically focused on. Just doing educational campaigns, workshops. So on, so forth, just to introduce people to artificial intelligence as a technology. And we felt like this is something that’s really needed, not just in Lebanon, but , all across the region.

And so, , we took this concept and we started Zaka and now, , we’ve been doing a lot in terms of education and we are focusing on education because it’s obviously, , the foundation of raising awareness. , enabling people and being able to understand, [00:12:00] communicate and use , the technology that we’re focusing on.

so given that the opportunity came up, I just got into it. It was a coincidence really. And so definitely it’s, , it’s been quite a juggle with a PhD but it just so happened and it was definitely an opportunity. I was like, To jump towards, especially, , education is something that I’m also passionate about other than just technology.

So it was kind of like a perfect fit. And we’ve been since then, we’ve been doing a lot of fun stuff, a lot of impact and , programs that are helping people find jobs in the region. We want to bring it full circle. Right? We don’t want to just teach you, but we want to be able to have you reach the target or the goal.

You’re looking to achieve, whether that be, , you finding a job in the AI field as an AI engineer or an ML engineer, data scientist, et cetera, or maybe you want to launch your own startup using this technology, maybe you already have a job and you want to get a promotion by pitching a new product at your company that involves AI.

So we’re really trying to cater to. Being able to give [00:13:00] people the skills they need in this technology. And at the same time reach the goals that they have for themselves.

Grace Witter: That’s wonderful. That’s really, really exciting and such good rewarding work.

Reem Mahmoud: InshAllah yes.

How AI can benefit underserved communities

Grace Witter: yeah. Inshallah. So you’re talking about bringing it full circle. Do you see any applications with maybe the work that you’re doing or the work that people are going through Zaka and using AI and machine learning to benefit underserved communities?

Reem Mahmoud: Yes. So going by. I mentioned, right. We’re focusing on the middle Eastern north African And I think, , with technology such as AI, obviously, , for those of us who have been maybe reading just about this technology and kind of some recent advancements, we know that the biggest players are obviously, , giant tech firms who are not necessarily based in our region and don’t even have, if you want development happening in, in middle east.

Right. So most of them. On the most part, if you want, would have kind of sales teams in the middle east, but [00:14:00] not necessarily development happening here. Now, things are kind of changing a bit. Right. And I’ll give, I can give some examples.

But , up until a few years, this technology was not being developed for our region, , by our people. Right. Which is important. Just as an example you can talk about AI as a virtual assistance, right? For instance, like your your Siri or Google assistant . They were not able to communicate in Arabic, obviously, because , there wasn’t any development happening specifically for the region.

This is different now, this has happened. And so this is. , where I see kind of impact in terms of I don’t want to say, , necessarily that’s our whole region is underserved, but our region , is underrepresented in development of this technology and how it’s being evolved.

Right. And if we want this technology to serve. For our specific cultures, our specific needs, no one can do it better than us, right? So [00:15:00] this is, this is what we’re trying to achieve. Up-skill, , the people so that they can bring solutions to their own problems. It’s not the same, , someone who’s working in the U S trying to solve a problem.

That’s for example, faced in Saudi, you won’t have as much in-depth understanding of the situation. You won’t understand the culture that you’re working with and so on and so forth. This is where I see kind of the, if you want the value of making sure that locals are gaining the skills to be able to be involved in the development of this technology as it’s shaping our lives

Grace Witter: Yeah, absolutely. There’s lots of really interesting discussions on how implicit bias gets introduced into tech.

Reem Mahmoud: percent.

Grace Witter: Either intentionally or totally unintentionally. The biggest reason why it happens is because the development teams are homogenous. They don’t have representation, people, different areas. And I think the example that comes to the top of my mind is how facial recognition couldn’t see darker skin tones, just because they didn’t have any non-white people on the development team.[00:16:00]

Reem Mahmoud: Exactly.

Grace Witter: So it’s really important if tech isn’t, if we’re not included in building the tech, it’s going to be built without us and will not include us,

Reem Mahmoud: exactly.

Grace Witter: The ramifications for that, especially in AI and machine learning is huge. Cause it’ll just keep building upon that bias.

Reem Mahmoud: For sure, for sure. There’s the aspect of the bias, right. And what we’re trying to do, obviously reaches the individuals who are capable of being involved in the process. we’re just giving them the skills, but. And, and, , in our region, there are many, many populations I should say that don’t even have the opportunity to participate right.

Due to of course, financial crises or , in competent situations, no access to internet, et cetera, et cetera. So, The population that’s actually able to contribute and hopefully be able to present the rest of the region that doesn’t have necessarily access to, to build its own representation.

If you want.

What it’s like having a startup in Beirut

Grace Witter: You mentioned one of the biggest challenge of getting people involved [00:17:00] is incompetencies or lack of infrastructure. And I’m thinking, especially in terms of Lebanon in the last couple of years, has that been a big challenge for Zaka?

Reem Mahmoud: It has definitely been a chance. So for us specifically, if you want us as a startup, we, we have been lucky because we, we are already initiated ourselves as a remote company.

Grace Witter: Huh.

Reem Mahmoud: And , even though the situation in the middle. Quite challenging. , our team has been lucky enough to be able to find ways to continue working.

Right. But many people don’t have that privilege, sadly. So, as, as a startup, , we were built in a way. That made us a bit more resilient to what happened, given that we were remote and we were doing our programs online already. So we of were able to access the region instead of just the local market.

So we were able to still continue with that. Work and our impact. But definitely, , speaking of our audience in Lebanon, definitely, , the, the [00:18:00] situation is a challenge. So people, as I mentioned, some people can get by, right. They can find ways to continue their work. You don’t have, don’t have that opportunity, but we definitely, , we saw this a lot even with just simply our programs.

So we had students or participants in our programs who were not able to keep up because of lack of electricity, not able to join meetings so on and so forth. So just very simple examples, right. Of the limitations and access that they can have due to be the situation. .

Grace Witter: inshAllah, it gets easier.

Reem Mahmoud: Hopefully.

Grace Witter: yeah, inshallah. The last interview before this one, we were talking to Manara who focuses on Gaza and they were talking about the infrastructure challenges as well. And I think the underlining thing about the people working in tech and in this region.

So the whole MENA region is. Abundance of resilience where you can have a situation that you have really awful infrastructure, but you’re still [00:19:00] learning and you’re still doing your best to participate in these programs and go on to how to remote job anyway.

Reem Mahmoud: Yes. Yes. It’s it’s incredible what human nature can do. Right. And

and the strength that the person can be given. I mean, I I’m currently not located in Lebanon anymore. I was for quite some time. So I was there when the financial crisis hit for a couple of years, actually. I recently relocated back to Saudi.

Lucky enough to be able to do that. Right. Most of my friends were not able to do that. You really get to see the challenges or understand really how challenging situation is once you leave. Right. And you realize, wait a second, electricity is not a privilege. Internet is not a privilege.

Versus, , you’re living your life everyday waiting for, , those things to get access to that for the rest of the world are just readily available and things that you don’t have. You don’t have to

Grace Witter: Even think about

Reem Mahmoud: for you exactly. For you. They’re kind of overheads. I have to worry about when I’m able to do the [00:20:00] task because I’m not even able to charge my laptop, et cetera.

So definitely, definitely a huge challenge for Lebanon, obviously, Gaza and many, many other countries sadly in our.

What Reem hopes to achieve with Zaka

Grace Witter: So maybe shifting to a more uplifting note. What is your hopes? What’s your big dream for Zaka? What do you really hope to achieve with that?

Reem Mahmoud: So, , The mission statement, right? The mission statement is to be able to enable everyone to use and apply artificial intelligence for whatever their purpose is. And if I were to say, , the vision is. Being able to lead this industrial revolution really in our region being able to lead it in what sense in the sense of enabling businesses, individuals to adopt this technology, understand that, right?

It doesn’t mean I don’t necessarily mean we need everyone to become an AI engineer. Right. But I do, I do believe that’s everyone needs. To some extent, understand this technology, right? Just, just [00:21:00] as how today, , everyone is able to open up the computer and work with it. You don’t necessarily have to be a programmer, but you need to have some sort of computer literacy in today’s world.

I do believe, , that’s having this literacy and artificial intelligence is important because it will be a technology and it is actually, it is and will continue to be, to be a technology that’s touching all of our lives and we need to be able to understand. How it’s doing the things it’s doing, how it can be affecting us, how it can be perhaps making things doing things that are, correct or incorrect, et cetera, just to be able to have Awareness of how to use the technology properly.

Right. And so going back again, I deviated a bit but being able to, to read this industry revolution in the regions through. Our main, efforts, which are really the awareness side of things to enable the, , the communities to actually build their own solutions, build their own [00:22:00] infrastructure and be able to provide for the region’s needs.

And so this is kind of like as a big picture. And , I mentioned communities because this is something that we really, really care about at Zaka. I mentioned, full circle for our graduates. We’re really not a training company that’s not, that’s not what we are. Right. We don’t just train you and send you off into the world.

We want to make sure that you’re able to achieve your goal. And so having you stay connected with us is very important for us thus the community element. And so, , we’re working on. Pushing this as much as possible this year should be a big year for us because we’re kind of shifting the way we do things into pushing this community element a lot more in our, in our company.

Being able to also leverage, , our graduates and our community to support one another. Cause that’s, , obviously the, the notion of community after all being able to leverage the power of. , all for one and one for all. So so Yeah.

this is kind of, , [00:23:00] the, the big picture and we’re getting there step by step, obviously, , with startups, things change very quickly and there’s a lot happening.

I don’t know necessarily where or what we’re going to be doing, , two years from now. But , as long as it gets us to, to being able to Make an impact in the final goal of enabling our community to be able to build these solutions for their own.

Grace Witter: I, that will be really exciting. And I can’t wait to hear more updates on how you’re doing with that. I think with the community aspect is such like a, a crucial step in that, and it will be really exciting to see that develop ,

Reem Mahmoud: Hopefully.

Grace Witter: yeah. Inshallah, inshallah.

Reem Mahmoud: that’s the plan. That’s the plan?

What Reem’s most proud of

Grace Witter: So what is something that you’re most proud of?

It could be in your tech career or just in general? And why is it really special to you?

Reem Mahmoud: That’s a.

Grace Witter: Reflection question.

Reem Mahmoud: Yeah. It’s, it’s not actually not a tough question.

I, when it comes to my [00:24:00] proudest moments or my biggest regrets, I’m not someone who’s who’s, I don’t like to be absolute about in my life. And so I find it really hard to pick a moment. I, if I, if I should, , I don’t wanna, I don’t want to turn this into a philosophical kind of session, but if I should kind of answer the question in a way.

, my, my pride goes into how I see myself grow over the years and , continue to do that. And so obviously I’ve done a lot of things that I’m proud of as kind of achievements. I don’t have necessarily one, , One aspect that stuck with me. There’s a lot of things that I did that, , were hard.

I didn’t get support. And I had a lot of doubts, , from my family going through it and, , I was able to achieve it. I’m very proud that I was able to do that. I never thought, for example, that I’d be pursuing a PhD degree and having a company. And I recently became a mom, [00:25:00] which is the most precious thing in the world.

So I never imagined I’d be able to do those things. And somehow, , things came together subhanAllah again. And , these things , came to me and I think just. For me, I’m proud of how I’m able to, somehow, honestly, I don’t know how, how I do it or how anyone does it, but somehow be able to keep up with the changes that come in life.

, so for example, being someone who was a PhD student getting married, that was a huge change that happened to my life. And I would say. Persistently maintain what I was doing with my PhD and yet be a wife, , at home. And then now, , my role as a mother.

So being able to add up, , these roles, these new roles that I’m getting in life and continue to do things that I enjoy and I’m proud of. So I think this is kind of the idea for me that Or this is the thing that makes me most proud of, of what I’m doing. Honestly.

Grace Witter: I think that’s a really beautiful way of answering the [00:26:00] question. the best thing to be proud of is, is your growth and how you’re evolving as a person mashallah.

Reem Mahmoud: I think it’s underestimated rights and, and it’s all goes back to being able to, or really taking the time to self-reflect. And I think many of us are really hard on ourselves, myself included. I mean, I’m not saying I don’t go through that. Feeling like, , I’m not doing things the way I want to necessarily I’m not, , perfecting things, but.

There’s a lot that happens in life and being able to handle everything and do it well enough is it’s just good enough, I guess, is what I’m trying to say. And that’s, that’s a huge achievement while obviously, , being able to handle everything, right.

If you think about it, every person has so many different roles from a daughter to maybe a sister a granddaughter, et cetera. There are so many things that you’re trying to do in life. And so being able to maintain them and grow in time, no matter how much you’re growing, you might think you’re, , having a slow pace, [00:27:00] you’re not doing enough or you compare yourself to others, et cetera.

, the reflecting back on your own timeline I think is is the most important and really allow you to. See what you’re doing under new lights, as opposed to looking to others and comparing your progress and your achievements and what you’re doing in life.

Grace Witter: Yeah. For my own personal bit on that, I find it really helpful to document those things that going to keeping a journal different hopes and dreams that I have for each year and how I’m progressing and what kind of goals I’m achieving, but also documenting the duas that I’m making, especially at the start of Ramadan.

And then if I go back each Ramadan, I can see there was actually like a real progress in each thing that I did. And it really helps building up, tawwakul on whatever. Whatever is happening. , it might feel like a delay, but it’s bringing me a lot closer to where I want to be in a way that I couldn’t have predicted.

And that’s really the whole point of dua. Isn’t it?

Reem Mahmoud: A hundred percent, a hundred percent. I totally agree. , just being able [00:28:00] to completely and utterly kind of. Just believe that whatever’s meant for you will come and , not take the small hiccups too harshly and really be able to appreciate, right. I think being able to appreciate where you are and be grateful because sometimes, we lose track of where we are now with the little things that are happening around us.

I mean, don’t realize that we’re actually. That we have maybe hoped we be, , and , you kind of lose track of these things. And so it’s really nice, , you mentioned being able to write down and keep track of these things. I think it’s very important to be able to remind you of, , how far you’ve come and how, , maybe today you’re in a place where you, , 10 years ago, you’ve always dreamed to be.

And so Yes.

I definitely, yeah.

Reem’s regrets

Grace Witter: Yeah. And so now the flip side of that is what is something that you regret? We kind of touched on this a little bit, but maybe is there something in your journey that you kind of wished that you had approached differently?

Reem Mahmoud: I’m gonna start the [00:29:00] answer similarity as before I

Grace Witter: of course.

Reem Mahmoud: know, some similar to that. I’m not an absolute person, but more specifically, I really, really try. I try. Okay. I’m not perfect. I tried not to regret anything that I do for the sole purpose that I just said, which is like really believing that whatever decision.

That I might think is a wrong decision or, , something that I wish I didn’t do really, really I’ve been in so many situations in my life where I realized that that poor decision or what I thought was a poor decision really brought me someplace that I never expected. Right. And so there are many things, right.

That I think I could’ve probably. Done in , or, , done a decision-making process better. I usually like the way I take my decisions. I always try to improve my decision making process just to give small examples, like where I choose to dedicate my time. I’m a huge advocate. That time is really [00:30:00] your most precious asset.

And so where you choose to dedicate your time is very important. And I’m someone who, , up until. Very recently was very open and distributing my time

Grace Witter: Um, motherhood, shut that down. I bet.

Reem Mahmoud: I mean, it definitely, definitely really well, obviously, due to the, , high scarcity of my

Grace Witter: Yeah.

Reem Mahmoud: I really need to pick what I do very, very intelligently.

And it kind of obviously made this a lot more prominent, but just even before I became a mom, just thinking about really. Being able to just not say yes to everything. Right. And not put my time in places that are not necessarily taking me where I want to be. I’m specifically talking career-wise rights.

And so that’s something. Maybe have liked to be aware of at an earlier stage in my life and be aware of where I’m dedicating my time and not really not, not just jump on every single opportunity even though, , I don’t regret it [00:31:00] because I really learned so much from everything that I did, even if it wasn’t necessarily the outcome that I, that I hope.

And so maybe if it’s, , if I have to pick something, I would say just being more aware of how I, how I spend my time and how I allow people also to reserve my time. Right. And take out from, from my time and energy and things that are not necessarily. bringing me to the goals and targets that I have for myself and my.

Grace Witter: Yeah, Marsha, I think that’s a very reasonable thing. And I just want to point out that for you to do a PhD candidacy, the, be a startup founder, and to be a mom, those are like the, and also a wife and these are humongous. Time draws and commitments that we’re talking about.

Reem Mahmoud: Yeah,

Grace Witter: Nothing trivial.

Reem Mahmoud: no, Nothing trivial.

Honestly, I did not, I did not expect motherhood to be this time I mean, I knew it, right. We all know

Grace Witter: You don’t know it until you’re in it. [00:32:00] Yeah.

Reem Mahmoud: Yeah.

Yeah.

It’s it’s but I mean, obviously it’s lovely. It’s just, it’s really a very different, very different life.

And so it’s, I’m still obviously in it, right? My daughter’s only five months. I have not had time to, to

fully adjust yet, but really it takes reshaping who you are. I think, to be able to kind of Continue doing the things that you want to do from a new perspective even, , your work ethic being different.

Like, like I just said, right. My time is so much more scarce than it was before I need to be so much more efficient. With whatever time I have left. And so I’m really kind of like now through a phase of kind of rehabilitation where I’m like revisiting all the ways I have to, , all the ways I used to do my work, the way I used to organize my tasks.

my productivity system, if I should say, et cetera. And even the things that I do and the things I’m involved in. So I had kind of drop out of things because I felt like, what, this is not a priority right now. I don’t have time for.[00:33:00] It’s time for me to step away being okay with that.

I am not someone who was okay with that at all. Right. And I know that many people struggle with this. So, so yeah.

this, this has been it has been quite a learning journey as well. It teaches you a lot, being a mother, you think you’d be the one teaching, but so far I’ve been the one learning in the process.

Grace Witter: She can’t even talk yet. And she’s teaching me things. Marshall.

Reem Mahmoud: So yes. Patients at time management, a lot of valuable, valuable traits.

Grace Witter: And it’ll keep evolving as she grows older, the rule changes all that never stops.

Reem Mahmoud: Yes. I’m sure.

Grace Witter: Yeah. And I just wanted to say like it to reemphasize it is totally okay to be evaluate all the commitments that we have going on and to evaluate how important they are in our life right now. And to drop the things that don’t aren’t as important.

Reem Mahmoud: Exactly.

Grace Witter: The priorities change as life goes on. And and as we evolve as people

Reem Mahmoud: Yes. And that’s a very, , priorities [00:34:00] change. Right. And being able to accept that your. Change is, is not easy, but being aware of it is important, right? I mean, for example, , prior to getting married, I was someone who was fully dedicated to my studies and my career. And I got, , I, I went through a period during my PhD and a PhD is, , is, is demanding but I went through a period where.

I, , I had to make a choice in how I spend my time. And I knew that for example, know that I had a different priority right now where I don’t want to choose to spend, , my my nights working all day every day, which is what I used to be before. Like that wasn’t my priority anymore. And I had to kind of eliminate hours that were dedicated to my studies.

Because now I had a different priority of being available with my partner. And now as a mom, likewise, I have a new priority that will again, help me revisit how, how I distribute my time in the day. So being aware of this and being okay [00:35:00] with this changes is very. And I think society doesn’t really doesn’t support or promote this, especially for women.

Right. And so it’s important for us

Reem Mahmoud: ourselves. Yeah. Yeah. It’s like, honestly, I mean, I’m lucky enough to be able to, as I mentioned that cause your mode, so I’m lucky enough to be able to do things from home, but I, thinking of how women are expected to go back to office, for example, after a few weeks,

Reem Mahmoud: it’s unreal, it’s unreal.

How society has such expectations.

Grace Witter: subhanAllah, so the last question, and I think this is going to go very high level abstract, like the other two, but what’s something that you’re very grateful for. So person a thing, the concept.

Reem Mahmoud: So, , in the context of, , what, in context of us being here today, I’m obviously grateful for. Most prominently my faith, honestly, because I believe [00:36:00] having, having this faith really got me through so much. It’s, it’s really right. I’m most proud of how I’ve grown over the time. And I think, , the foundation behind my growth has been, has been like as I believe as for everyone, like really, I think faith is the foundation of how you evolve as a person who you are as a person and, and all that.

And so that’s for me, the foundation of everything in life and who you are with your family, with your friends as a colleague , being able to accept failures because , that’s not necessarily. No, that’s not the purpose of life. Right. And being okay with the journey that is that is rich in the stuff that happened along it, but it’s not necessarily the end goal.

Right. The end goal is not to end up being the. CEO of , a tech giant or they’re just person on the planet. At least for me, that’s not, that’s not my end goal. Right. So that’s been something that’s definitely something I’m most grateful for.

My father is someone who I’m very grateful for. [00:37:00] Because he, , my father and I had kind of an interesting interesting change in, in, , our relationship over time. And so even though he was someone who starting off, for example, in my tech journey, found what I was doing very odd and, , not necessarily. Conventional for a female.

, he is today one of my biggest supporters and he’s so proud of what I’m doing. And he’s always encouraging me to do more, which , is very unlike, , where things were 10 years ago, let’s say. So he really supported me a lot, along the journey. And aside from the support, he’s really someone who I look up to as a role model of how.

He carries out his life and how he’s able to manage all the different elements in his life. So elegantly. And so he’s someone that I really look up to as a, as a role model.

Grace Witter: MashAllah may Allah reward your father and your family for going through all that with you and for evolving that

Reem Mahmoud: bless your family for you as well. Yes. Yes. Alhamdulillah. I’m [00:38:00] grateful for that.

Closing

Grace Witter: Alhamdulillah. Is there anything that we left out or didn’t cover or any last words that you’d like to add?

Reem Mahmoud: I want to thank you for having me here. I really enjoyed our conversation. I really hope that, , my journey can be, , something that someone out there finds they can reflect upon and benefit from and brings them some ease. Honestly, I think For me, some of the biggest challenges I had was just simply not, not sharing what I was going through and not having someone to, to kind of reflect with and who understood what I was going through or so I thought, right, because I wasn’t sharing.

And so I really believe that being able to share. We’ll hopefully have someone out there kind of see that, oh, , I’m not the only one going through this. This is normal and not, , not to be too hard on yourself and to really kind of embrace all the aspects that go and come through in your life and be able to grow above it and, , share [00:39:00] your story as well so that others can benefit and so on and so forth.

So thank you for giving me this opportunity.

Grace Witter: Oh, likewise as much. Well, that’s the whole reason why we’re here. So I’m just very happy that you decided to share your story. And I’m very happy

Reem Mahmoud: it’s my pleasure.

Grace Witter: And thank you so much for taking the time to listen to today’s story. If you liked it, please consider following us and leaving a review or share this episode with your friends. All of those really helped Tech Sisters grow and help more women to discover these amazing stories.

If you are a Muslim woman in tech, please go ahead and join a community. It’s free. It’s fun and really supportive. And we have a great time.

And remember look out for the community health report. If you’re interested in learning more about Tech Sisters and really getting into the data of the community. And, uh, and yeah, that’s all for me. I’ll see you next week with the last episode of this season as Salaam alaikum. .

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Reem. Jazakallahu Khair! You can follow Reem on her LinkedIn or check out Zaka.

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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