Esraa Qandeel – The Secret To Results That Last Is Getting Slightly Better Every Day

tech sisters podcast art featuring esraa qandeel

Today on Tech Sisters Stories we’re excited to have Esraa Qandeel.

Esraa is a software engineer at Trilogy. She graduated from Al Azhar University and has a master’s degree in computer software engineering from Arizona State University

Listen to Esraa’s Story

Key Lessons from this Episode

  • Esraa’s top tips for surviving technical interviews (9:25)
  • Don’t face huge complex problems head on. Break them down into small pieces first (19:35)
  • Esraa’s experience working in tech as a niqabi (28:43)
  • If companies care about the quality of their code, I should care about the quality of my life (40:10)


Esraa Qandeel

[00:00:00] Grace Witter: At Salaam-Alaikum, you’re listening to tech sisters stories. tech sisters is a community that connects you with other sisters who share your story experiences and goals. So you no longer have to feel like the only one like you on your team. My name is grace and I get to interview the amazing women in our community, share their stories and the lessons they learned.

On today’s episode, we have Esraa Qandeel. Who mashAllah is amazing, so funny, and she has such great advice. Listen to this one, multiple times. Because she has so many great tips that answer a lot of questions that we always see from new tech sister members. This is a really great episode and I hope you enjoy it.

[00:00:47] Grace: As salaamu alikum, today, on Tech Sister Stories. We are super happy to have Esra Qandeel. Esraa is a software engineer at Trilogy. She graduated from Al azhar University and has a master’s in computer software engineering from Arizona State University. Thank you so much for coming on today, Esraa.

[00:01:04] Esraa: Oh, thanks for having me. Grace. Actually, when Besa reached out. Her message made my day. So shout out to you Besa if you’re listening.

[00:01:12] Grace: MashAllah. That’s wonderful. So how about we start at the beginning? How did you first get into

[00:01:17] Esraa: I wish I could say that I was passionate about math and computer science in the beginning. But, I joined the faculty of engineering just to please my family because, you know, just like the typical Arabic family, they went you either to join medicine or the faculty of engineering, whatever.

But I wasn’t really into medicine, so I decided to go for engineer. I told them that I did join this faculty to please you, but now choosing the major or the department is up to me. It’s my choice. They were okay with it. The very first year in the college, you don’t choose the department or the major. So the first year is more like, you study different subjects from different departments and so on. You make your mind up on what exactly to choose. So during that one year, , I kept asking older colleagues about their experience and their, , department, would they recommend joining this department and so on.

Normally, , I don’t. , taking decisions, but when I have to do so, , I try to postpone and procrastinate as much as possible. I mean, I guess that’s the only scenario where procrastination might be a good thing because it gives you the chance to ask as many people as possible.

To get more opinions and, to get to hear more stories so he can make better decision. And by the end of that year, it was obvious that, , software engineering was the future. it has lots of opportunities, flexibility, and so on.

And that was the story of how I actually got into tech. nothing fancy. After I decided to join that field, I really enjoyed it so much because, , the flexibility, the high salaries, and actually one thing that I really love is remote work, obviously. And you get to work from people from all around the globe and that expand my own worldview.

Right. And, one of the values that I highly appreciate is, Getting things done, or productivity in general. And this is one thing that I found in tech, because it is easy to, to learn a new language, to get to the syntax, to do something and build a project in just few days. Like, you know, the very first project that we work with, like the Hello world, the Simple Calculator.

So that was something that I really loved about that field, being able to see results and making progress and, um, getting things done, I guess. So that’s basically how I got into this field.

[00:03:21] Grace: MashAllah. So things that really appeal to you about engineering. Number one, it’s something that your family were okay with, so you know, no major issues. , MashAllah.

[00:03:30] Esraa: exactly.

[00:03:32] Grace: you can see that there’s a big job market for it, that there’s a lot of opportunities for remote work, that there’s interesting things, and the whole syntax of learning languages and solving problems really appeal to you.

[00:03:43] Esraa: Yes. And, and by end of the day, this field turns you into a problem solver. it enhances your critical thinking skills, so it doesn’t just affect your career, but it also affects your life in general. So this is something that I also loved about software engineering after actually getting into the field that I didn’t know before.

[00:03:59] Grace: Yes, definitely MashAllah. And I like how we’re saying that cuz there’s a big distinction between being somebody who is logical, who can solve problems and somebody who’s good at math. So you know, there’s an overlap, but you don’t have to be good at maths to be good at software engineering.

[00:04:14] Esraa: Correct. I totally agree. Because math wasn’t even my subject. I didn’t love doing math, but I still was able to make progress in this field. So this is a, a big misconception in our industry. Right.

[00:04:24] Grace: Yeah, definitely. Another thing I’m curious about, so you started off in al azhar University and then you did your master’s at a Western University, Arizona State University. , what was the difference between those two experiences if any

[00:04:36] Esraa: Yeah, actually, um, the big difference is that that was remote and that was, uh, yeah, that was,

that’s, that’s,

[00:04:42] Grace: Yeah.

[00:04:42] Esraa: that’s a big difference because when I was, getting my Bachelor, in al azhar university. , I was a full-time student for like two years at least.

Having it remote was way better. And also, to be honest, the content and the material and so on, the syllabus in general in a Western University was a little bit more up to date, um, in Aza University. Mm-hmm. , some of the concepts, some of the subjects were, I mean, especially in our field technologies rapidly changed.

So they, they need to constantly update the syllabus, which was not really happening that frequently in al azhar University. And I had to, Compliment that registering for online courses, reading external, material books and so on. So that was one major different. the content itself.

But, um, at least for the bachelor degree, because you’re still getting, the intro for everything so it wasn’t that bad because the beginnings are always gonna stay the same, right? How, how you program, how. I mean, I didn’t get the advanced stuff from University, but it put me on the track.

Right? And that’s something good alhamdulillah. And then when I decided to go for masters, um, I thought that maybe having a remote, because I was having a full time job at that time. And obviously I wasn’t welling to quit the job for, the masters, but I still wanted to do both. So that was something that Arizona State University actually allowed.

Um, so instead of, some people would have it in like less than two years, their master’s program. Others like myself, I actually took more than two years because I was doing other things in parallel. And I think that was alhamdulillah, a good decision because I was able to accomplish more. So it’s not like I post everything and I put my career behind.

And then I decided to focus on Masters. But actually I was able to do both at the same time. And Masters did somehow reflect on my daily work because still, you know, relevant content obviously. So it did. Boost my career. So I didn’t pause my career, but actually the masters did help me advance in my career.

So this is something that I, I liked universities started to get that, Now having things outside the class is something critical. , because sometimes you can, , read the books and do the assignments, but then when you actually apply for jobs, you can figure out there is, I mean, there’s a gap that can be such a bad surprise.

So that’s no longer the case. So universities started to figure out that people are applying for jobs even when they, in, in, I mean, for me, even. Even for the bachelor degree, actually, I was working as a software engineer in parallel with my university. So people started to figure out that universities, if they are not preparing you for the marketplace, then probably, they’re going in the wrong direction.

, and that’s something that was obvious in the content. updating the content frequently to, to help you land the job is something that universities is now prioritizing, I guess.

[00:07:29] Grace: So this is actually a really interesting point. One thing that we are noticing that a lot of people are going into tech are not really going to university route. They would rather have a bootcamp or just a DIY course just to learn the basics and get started getting a job immediately. But there’s so many people doing that, that’s really difficult to get an entry level job.

So what was your experience? I think it’s quite interesting that you’re working and getting a master’s at the same time. I feel like that’s a very unique thing.

[00:07:56] Esraa: You mean my experience, with doing both at the same time?

[00:07:59] Grace: So I think initially your experience with your bachelor’s degree and then what you’d found maybe different when you had the Masters at the same.

[00:08:06] Esraa: Mm-hmm. Well, Masters did help me , take my skills to the next level, but to be honest, it didn’t add a lot . In terms of my position, I could have learned almost same stuff on my own. But having it academically organized is something extra. I wouldn’t say it’s obligatory.

So if it’s hard for you to do this, then don’t go for it. But it’s a plus. It, it’s definitely gonna add to your resume, of course, and you’re gonna learn new stuff definitely. So that’s something extra. But I wouldn’t say, Oh, you’re not gonna land a job if you don’t do this. You’re not gonna get a promotion if you don’t go for master’s.

It might help you get better jobs. It might help you be promoted. But it’s not a hundred percent guaranteed, and it’s not the only way, but it’s something I would say if you can do it, you can afford that, then definitely go for it. It, I learned a lot through this almost like 2.5 years. I’ve met lots of people, professors, outstanding people, and I’ve learned a lot from them.

I have, bigger network now. I would highly recommend that if it’s possible, because it’s not the only way.

[00:09:05] Grace: Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s a really great point. There are lots of people who have different life circumstances, different abilities, different ways of learning. I think one of the great advantages of tech is that you can really find a way that works for you. There are many, many, many ways to learn to learn how to code

[00:09:18] Esraa: true actually. I also as a side. Yeah, that’s totally agree. I, I totally agree because, as a side hustle, I also teach in boot camp. So even though I went for a masters, but I still believe that boot camps and I’ve seen lots of people landing, um, lots of, um, I mean, as a side hustle also, I do tech interviewing, but I see people.

Like they do great in the interview and when they start introducing themselves. Oh, I just, , started a bootcamp half a year ago or one year ago when the pandemic, , kicked in. I was like, Woo. That’s interesting. That’s impressive actually. When you see what people can do on their own. No master’s degree, no bachelor degree, nothing.

Just a bootcamp. It’s also impressive, and this is one of the things that I like about this industry there is a place for everyone.

There’s no one route or like one path that everyone needs to, to go through to land a job. Even people without any boot camps, I’ve seen them landing jobs. So I mean, there’s no one, rule here.

[00:10:12] Grace: mashAllah. I love that. That absolutely true. Let’s talk about the tech interviews, I think that’s something that a lot of people will feel very nervous and scared about. So are you doing, mock interviews to help them

[00:10:24] Esraa: I actually do real interviews on behalf of companies to

help them, uh mm-hmm. ,Yes. So to help them, find the good talents and so on. So, um, basically in the interviews we have knowledge questions or either, coding questions and so on. It is actually fun I mean, I’m still nervous whenever I have an interview , so as a technical interviewer, when I have like an interview where I am the candidate, I still get nervous and I guess that’s totally fine.

Back then, like three years ago or something, if someone told me I would be a technical interviewer. I would have laughed so hard, especially assessing people’s coding skills, because I struggled a lot with problem solving and data structures, algorithms.

It’s really funny because I never thought that would. When I see people struggling with the same things that I was struggling with, I’m still struggling. Also, I feel like subhanAllah, subhanAllah. Allah subhanna wa talaala, can help us make progress that we never thought is doable or is even possible.

When I do interviews, as a candidate, I always remind myself that, Hey, calm down. We’re doing interviews, girl . But sometimes it doesn’t work even. One thing that also helped me a lot with interviews, doing interviews as a candidate more often. So even if I have stable job, even if I, do technical interviews where I’m the interviewer, I still wanna do, interviews where I play the candidates.

No pressure because alhamdulillah, I already have a stable job and I’m happy with the team and everything, but that always, brings insights on what I need to improve. I’m someone who can easily get overwhelmed. So if I don’t have a bucket plan alhamdulillah, this is one of the things that I’ve, I’ve learned, , through the years is that one thing that helps calm me down is having a plan B, having a backup so I can pull myself together whenever things go bad.

If I feel like, Oh, I’m in toxic environment or anything, I’m not forced to stay. I have something to back me up so I can join another team. That actually calls me down a lot because, , sometimes when I know, oh my God, I’m stuck in this environment and I’m forced to stay, I can, Oh my God, that’s super overwhelming.

Just thinking of that, , is crazy. So, subhanAllah, having a back up plan, , and I would say step one in that is, , Keep interviewing even if you don’t want to have a job. Even if you’re not interested in their offer. And sometimes what actually happens, and that happens, that happened a lot with lots of my teammates.

, they keep interviewing with no interest in the job, but when they say, Oh no, I have a better offer, or I’m really part of a team, people start offering even better salaries and higher. So at some point, oh my God, maybe that’s better than the job that I have now. This, this, this has nothing to do with your loyalty to your current team actually, because

downsizing can happen at any point, and they would tell you don’t take it personally. Right. It’s just for the good of the company. This is business. It’s not like we’re gonna keep you even if we’re not making money. So downsizing shouldn’t be taken personally.

But also on the other other hand, if you’re doing something for your own good, having better offer, better team, or anything, that also shouldn’t be taken, personally

One thing that really inspired me to do this, backup thing and helped me a lot in my life is I do remember one of my colleagues, he was such a great software engineer with, outstanding skills, but he didn’t really have any backup plans and he was super loyal to the team.

And so, But then the team was forced to downsize and they were forced to fire him. It’s not like they liked it, but they were forced to do so. You know, business is business they say. So, since he didn’t have any back up plans and, , I mean, I do understand his situation. I mean, he has responsibilities and so on.

He was very mean in this meeting. He said really bad things and obviously if he had any connection with any of us, he lost it.

[00:13:58] Grace: Mm.

[00:13:59] Esraa: It was, it, it really ended really bad. He took it personally and he did really panic and he has all the right to, to panic actually, because he has a family to support, but, if he had a backup plan, because I thought, what if I was in his place, I would have definitely probably done the same, if not worse, , because I’m someone who can easily get overwhelmed.

So if they told me, Oh, we’re gonna downsize the team and you’re out, I would have fainted maybe. No, I’m just kidding. But, um, I would, I would have definitely panicked just like. And this is what I’m doing for the backup plan with this intention. So whenever there is a bad situation, I would be able to control my emotions and I would be able to pull myself together, not do or say something that I would definitely regret later on.

So whenever we have situation like that and the manager tells me, Hey, we have, I’m forced to downsize the team and I’m forced to let go of you, I wouldn’t take it personally. So whenever we meet again, So when we meet, we greet. That’s something I would love to have because I don’t wanna lose people that I work with for years just because I couldn’t be in charge of my emotions.

So if I have a back up plan that would help calm down, the panic that I would be going through at that point. , this is why I always say rule number one in this industry, since we have lots of opportunities around .Keep interviewing.

[00:15:11] Grace: Okay, Esraa, that that was such gold advice. There’s so much to unpack there. mashAllah, I love, this is really, really important for people to hear because this is, I don’t. Think people really understand how important it is to do this. And it’s not just a women in tech thing. This is for everybody because it’s very easy to just get comfortable at work and to feel like this is a family, to feel like this is a very stable thing.

You are not in charge unless you’re the ceo. You’re not in charge of anything that’s happening there. It can happen and there’s nothing personal about it. It’s, it’s just how it is. . subhanAllah, it is really good to have this level of flexibility to build up this muscle, to just be prepared for what can happen.

When you’re going into negotiations with your company, , knowing what your market value is, knowing that , if they’re not gonna pay you what you’re worth or they’re not willing to give you what you want, then you can go and it’s totally okay to do that, , how it strengthens your skill as a developer to move and to go around to other companies.

This isn’t something that hurts you. It’s actually really to your benefit to do this. I think this is really, really important. So thank you , for sharing all of that

[00:16:16] Esraa: jazakallahu khairan? Sure.

[00:16:18] Grace: How can a candidate prepare for a technical interview in a way that can really make them stand out?

[00:16:24] Esraa: , cool question. One of the things. Now, , companies are highly focusing on is problem solving skills. I didn’t encounter a single interview that doesn’t have, one or two, at least coding problems, , because, , In this industry, technology rapidly change. And they don’t just assess your familiarity with specific, the XYZ tool or so on.

They wanna, , assess your critical thinking and problem solving skills. So when they decide to change the tech stack that they’re using, you’re still gonna be available. Even though at the beginning I personally hated problem solving a lot. I actually even decided to avoid problem solving for years. When I was in university, , since it’s software engineering, department, there was definitely, student activities where they have, competitions about problem solving and so on.

And no matter how hard I tried to actually tackle these concepts, I always failed and I always felt super stupid that I was not good enough for problem solving . At that point I just like many other sisters, I was lacking lots of confidence, uh, you know, negative self-talk, overwhelming myself.

What is now called as, imposter syndrome, right? So it’s now, you know, it’s so, it seems like the struggle is real. I wasn’t

[00:17:35] Grace: a universal thing. Everyone has it. Yeah.

[00:17:38] Esraa: Yeah, actually, you know, uh, one day I was skimming through the content I was teaching in a bootcamp. And while skimming to find the concepts that I will be teaching, I found a topic that says what to do when imposter syndrome kicks in.

I was like, whoof, whoever is working on this content is killing it because that’s, that’s really true. One of the areas that, imposter syndrome can really take you down is problem solving. It is kind of overwhelming and concepts.

And this is what I used to do back then. If I don’t understand that topic or a concert from the first time, I would be so harsh and I would beat myself up and I would say, you know, you know, the negative self-talk would start and you’re stupid.

That’s because you’re stupid. Look at others doing, you know, faster progress and, and, and so on.

At some point, because of that negative self-talk and overwhelming myself, I decided to quit and I avoided problem solving for years, I mean, who’s gonna reverse a link list in their daily job? And this is true. I was part of that group who says that I’m not gonna do Reversing any link list in my daily job. And I even landed a job that required no problem solving skills. And I remain like that for years, avoiding problem solving.

And whenever I come across anything or a position that, , requires, , this skill, I would say, you know what, um, problem solving is really overrated. Yeah. It’s not for me and it’s like overrated and so on.

, even if I don’t like it, It is, it is what it is. Problem solving can really open doors and it really can enhance and take your problem solving skills and critical thinking skills to the next level.

And at some point, , I remember that, , one of my work colleagues, , who joined Amazon. He wanted to give me a referral and he was like, Yeah, you should join and I’m pretty sure you’re gonna, nail the hiring process. I was like, Wait, I’m stupid. I would never do it. So, you know, just the word interview and problem solving was pretty overwhelming for me.

But then, , he said that we’ve been working together for years and I know that you’re smart and it just needs some time and a little bit of practice. Obviously, I still turned down his offer and I didn’t go for the hiring process, but I decided to give myself another chance. I decided not to face complex issues head on.

I decided to break it down into small pieces and at that time I thought to myself that maybe I should try something different. So negative self-talk and overwhelming myself. Was like terrible. And I felt too badly following that path. So that time I decided to practice, , self-care, to be patient, to not overwhelm myself.

So I told myself, You already have a stable job, so there is no pressure. You don’t have to understand the topic from the very first time. They give it time to sync. And that’s what I did. I was like, You know what? I’m not gonna start with, , hard and even medium problems on whatever platforms. , I would just focus on easy problem.

And there’s no pressure. I don’t have to do like hundred questions or whatever. I didn’t set any goals actually. I decided to break it down and to move as slow as possible, but making progress and I would, you know, pat myself on the shoulder every time I make progress, even if it’s like 1%, because that still progress and I know how hard these concepts were for me.

So I decided to do it differently. Do it gently this time and not beat myself up. And. Turned out that baby steps is how I function. , I realized that, I mean, it took

years. Yeah, Yeah. But it took me years to realize that. But, , then subhanAllah, I started to make a little, you know, it took me around two years of, , deliberate practice, I would say, but it was small steps, no pressure.

you know, subhanAllah, , that reminds me of, , the hadith, the prophet SAW.

[00:21:12] Grace: So I said,

[00:21:16] Esraa: So the acts mostly pleasing to Allah are those which are done continuously, even if they are small. So I was doing it, I was doing it that way. Small but continuously and getting slightly better every day. out to be the secret to getting results that last,

and at some points, I also in parallel, decided to try and do interviews, right?

So I started to somehow practice my problem solving skills with zero pressure, because I already have a job. And I told myself that, Hey, problem solving is something that we’re doing, you know, it’s an extra thing. And getting that pressure off my shoulder helped me a lot, and I didn’t feel overwhelmed.

At that point I started to, mm, the concepts of problem solving, , skills and advance data structures and algorithms started to sync. When there was that position about, getting hired as a, , technical interviewer

I just did it for fun. I was applying just for the experience of going through this hiring process. But the surprise was that, oh, I made it and I was accepted as a technical interviewer. So I laughed so hard that day because I remember that I was struggling with that. And now, Being in the seat of someone who’s assessing others coding skills and problem solving skills, um, was something that I never even dreamed of

One thing that I always tell people about problem solving is practice. Practice, practice. Practice makes perfect really when it comes to that topic.

The more, the better. Interviews could be a way of practicing. So it’s not even if you fail an interview, it’s not the end of the world. Avoid, negative self-talk, of course, because that’s something that, , you would definitely do after failing an interview. So don’t do this.

Failing an interview is still progress. And actually, Make sure that you are part of a group just like Tech Sisters for example, because , I always say that the environment is something critical. Cause the person who actually, , encouraged me to give myself another chance was someone from my workplace, the environment I was surrounded by. Surrounding yourself with good people will increase the odds of you to doing good.

things had

the mentioned that the example of a good pious companion and an evil one is that of a person carrying musk or perfume and another, you know, blowing a pair of bellows. So the one who is carrying musk or perfume will either give you some perfume as a present or you will buy something from him, or at least you will get. Good smell from him.

But on the other, , side, the one who is blowing a pair of bellows will either burn your clothes, or at least you will get a bad smell from him. So what happened with this friend? He didn’t give me anything. He didn’t even give me the referral, but I was somehow affected by his experience. So, It’s, some people say that, No, I’m, I’m not gonna be affected by whatever environment I’m in or whatever.

But, but I don’t think this is true actually. It will be affected in a way or another even if you’re not conscious, even if you didn’t realize it. , and that what happened with me. That’s also one thing I highly recommend before getting into an interview. Make sure that you’re practicing with people who are.

Supportive positive . that will change your game, actually. Problem solving, , and, data structure and algorithms is the first thing that you will most probably encounter in an interview unless, I mean, still some positions are not requiring that, but for the interviews that I do, I would say 99% of the interviews has, , some sort of flavor of coding, , problems.

The other parts, it highly depends on what tools you’re using. One thing also that, , is gonna be part of any interview is communication skills and in the context of technical situations, right? So probably they will ask you something similar to. Talk about a project that you worked on in the past, a technical challenge, and how did you fix it or how did you solve it, and so on.

So, , communication skills and being able to work with the team on a technical problem and actually solve it, , and bring insights to the table is something that is, appreciated in any company, of course. So the two common parts in any interview, regardless of the tech stack you’re using, is coding problems and communication skills.

, I’m not gonna go through , the details or what situations you can mention that is gonna affect your communication skills, because there’s lots of details when it comes to that. But basically these two, factors are pretty critical to any interview

[00:25:39] Grace: definitely MashAllah. , we’re gonna plug tech sisters because we do have a coding gym For problem solving. Yeah. For algorithms and all that. So whoever wants to practice that, it’s a supportive environment. We go through that subhanAllah I think it’s really interesting that you were saying that your colleague was telling you to apply for Amazon.

You said, he said you could do it. Just give yourself a couple of months and you could do this and you decide not to do it anyway. , and I think it’s really interesting that you had, you gave yourself the space without any pressure, and I think you, because of that, you probably learned more and develop your skills more than if you would’ve or crashed really hard and did the Amazon interview.

What do you.

[00:26:15] Esraa: I, I think so. I, I totally agree because, um, maybe it would be different for someone else.

[00:26:21] Grace: Mm.

[00:26:22] Esraa: uh, they, Mm, yeah, they can shine under pressure. But I guess for most people, pressure, , It’s gonna slow down your learning process specifically for learning. Maybe if you know how to do something and there’s pressure, okay, I’m gonna put in more hours.

It’s gonna be really exhausting, but I’m gonna get this thing done. But for grasping new concepts, you need to have a, you need to have a clear mind. You need to give yourself some time to actually fully understand the concepts. And if there is that pressure that, Hey, hey, you need to understand this topic now, probably you won’t.

[00:26:52] Grace: Yeah, like for learning. Whenever you need to have something as deeply encoded in your brain, you need to go over and revisit it and make connections. You need time to do that. I think we’ve all had the experience where we crammed the night before for an exam and then took the exam and next day you don’t remember anything.

Right. So

[00:27:08] Esraa: So I, that that’s, that’s something that I didn’t want to go through again because I tried to do this before and it didn’t work for me, and I guess for most people that would be the case. I, I totally agree. And actually, yeah. And this is actually one of the things that, , because I needed that the most when I was struggling with problem solving, , and, and data structure.

, Whenever I have a session at the end of each, because basically the concepts I’m focused on is, , concepts about, , data structures and algorithms. and I see other students and I see students are not getting it from the first time as well. And when I see that happening, I feel it’s totally normal.

And this is why at the end of every session, I always tell them that it’s okay if you don’t get it from the first time and give it time to sink. And I tell them, pat yourself on the back. I’m telling them exactly what I wish someone has told me back then when I was struggling, hoping that their experience will be better than mine because this is, this is really crucial to the learning curve in this industry.

And subhanAllah one kind word can be enough to get you to show up the next day, which happened to me, right? Because when my colleague who worked years with me told me that, Hey, you are smart, that one word changes the game for.

[00:28:15] Grace: Hmm.

[00:28:16] Esraa: So I’m trying to do the same with, , students I’m working with, with the intention that, so the good word is also charity , subhanAllah, I mean, , the struggle is real and you need to surround yourself with supportive people.

You know, you need even support your own self and look for, because some people say that, Oh, I, I don’t want external validation. At least for me, I, I actually need it, and I think most, most people

[00:28:41] Grace: It helps. Yeah.

[00:28:42] Esraa: It helps.

[00:28:43] Grace: Yeah, definitely. So, so Esra, , you are niqabi in your normal life, right? We have a lot of niqabi sisters in tech sisters. , one of the things that comes up as a question, especially for the New Sisters, is how is that experience of interviewing and getting a job in niqab?

[00:29:01] Esraa: Yeah, sure. , well, to be honest, , alhamdulillah , , at the beginning when I started working, , it wasn’t a remote company, but it was a local company here, and Egypt is a Muslim country, so it wasn’t really, , challenging, like it was something people were familiar with. Uh, and then when I started to go for remote, because it was, you know, way better opportunities, the struggle started to kick in a little bit.

I have to say that we’re lucky. subhanAllah, because at that era, every, I mean, most companies are promoting inclusion even if they are not a hundred percent aligned with it, but to some extent they are trying. So that’s something, really incredible, to see that people are trying to respect and accept.

I can’t remember, to be honest, one incident where I met someone who was racist or was like, no one, I don’t, I can’t recall, maybe that happened, but I can’t recall this because. would say for every one racist person there is at least a hundred people who are willing to support, accept, and respect.

And that that the fact that now, with like most companies now that went for remote, um, all of us are from different parts of the world, right?

So having people from different countries, different backgrounds, different languages, kind of forces us to accept the difference. So this is also one more factor that made it easier for me to fit in. So I may probably, probably, some companies are still not having this, , inclusive, , environment, but more and more people are promoting that.

More and more people are realizing that environment matters. And because we have so alhamdulillah, alhamdulillah, this industry has lots of opportunities, and you’re not mm-hmm. , you’re not forced to stay in a company. , it’s toxic where people are not accepting you and companies and people realize that environment is something crucial.

Accepting and feeling accepted and inclusion is now critical because, , if you don’t feel safe, if you don’t feel accepted, then leave. Remember the backup plan that we were talking about earlier? You have a backup plan. Your skills is the backup plan. You’re constantly interviewing. If someone is mean to you, your manager is not accepting that you would leave.

Or, I mean, in remote work, there’s, there isn’t that restriction actually, you can leave to pray and without even

[00:31:17] Grace: That’s why it’s so great. Yeah.

[00:31:19] Esraa: So panel law, this

is, This is what I’m saying. It gets, It gets easier. Yeah. It gets easier and easier. So this pressure of being Muslim, being niqabi, being hijabi, started to, you know, I would say with time it will, it will eventually fade, I guess because, , even though, , across the years I worked, , so far, I didn’t come across any Muslim sisters so far in my team.

I wish, but that didn’t happen.

[00:31:44] Grace: It’s common. Yep.

[00:31:45] Esraa: yeah, so I

[00:31:48] Grace: Tech

[00:31:48] Esraa: actually,

[00:31:48] Grace: just exist. Cuz I had the same

[00:31:49] Esraa: uh,

[00:31:50] Grace: Yeah.

[00:31:50] Esraa: good point, and, um, but still I never felt, um, I never felt that people are not accepting me alhamdulillah. And actually, what, what can take this to the next level? Um, outside the working hours, some of them would reach out because, hey, we’re gonna have a side business.

How about, how about you join us? How, how about you, you be part of that business? So it’s not just they are faking it inside the office, it’s now they are taking it outside the office. So if you’re working together for years and then you’re someone who is a hard worker, you, you try to do your best and.

You’re never mean to anyone and so on. People will accept and respect eventually, and also, in remote, , life, , they don’t constantly see you. So sometimes they forget that you’re even hijabi So I guess sometimes they do, but they know, but it’s not constantly present.

They would reach out on linkedin nothing related to work. Hey, can we have a call about one business that we have an idea about and we think you, might enjoy it and, , be interested. So when that happens, , I, I mean it is, , a clue or like it is an indication that they are not faking it.

This is really how they feel. They accept and they are willing to work with you again, not just in during the office hours, but also outside the office.

Sometimes when you think about something, it might happen actually, because you’re constantly think, Oh, people are not gonna accept me.

People are not gonna accept me. So when you go to the office and someone gives you a look, maybe he didn’t really mean it, but since, because back in your, in your mind you’re like, Oh, people are not accepting me. Probably he gave me this look because of my hijab, because he doesn’t accept me. But

[00:33:22] Grace: happen?

[00:33:23] Esraa: exactly, you’re looking for it to happen. I personally think this is, this is really a bad thing to do and it’s gonna hurt you before hurting anyone else. And when you come with this intention that I’m willing to accept people and in return, I’m expecting people to accept me and respect me the way I exactly respect them. So that would happen.

So if you’re looking for something to happen, it would eventually happen. , and this is why I can’t even recall, maybe that happened, someone looking down to me because of my hijab, because of that, probably because I, I try to remember the good incidents and that somehow erases the bad ones that I can even recall if that happens.

I don’t think I came across something like that. , or maybe just minor incidents that I, I, it was easy for me to just, ignore

[00:34:08] Grace: Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, I know what you mean. alhamdulillah, but that’s, that’s really wonderful. , and I like the idea that they’re accepting you , for who you are and your talents, and your skills and your knowledge, not on your physical appearance, which is one of the reasons why we wear a hijab and niqab is to be judged for our character and not for our looks, which is really beautiful.

[00:34:27] Esraa: subhanAllah, So panel alhamdulillah,, exactly the point.

[00:34:32] Grace: Esra, what is something that you’re proud of in your whole, , career, tech, personal life, however you wanna answer it. What’s something that , is really special to you and really meaningful?

[00:34:43] Esraa: Uh, let me think. Um, uh, I guess one thing because I love what it means. What it, what it actually represents is making it to a technical interviewer, because that represents that. Every time I am willing to give up on myself, every time I’m willing to beat myself up like I used to do. And alhamdulillah, I no longer do this.

At least I’m trying not to do this. I remind myself, Hey, if remember you never thought that you’re gonna make it to a technical interviewing, uh, technical interviewing world or as a technical interviewer in general, so that that is something that represents that. , I still do this. I’m still, sometimes before interviews I get nervous.

Sometimes I, I’m almost, close to giving up on myself on something. That’s because, you know, challenges were continue to arise and we will always have challenges in life. Sometimes, , I feel like, Oh my God, I’m not good enough. , I’m not willing to, probably I will just quit. So I remind myself of that situation and I say that if you can do this, and subhanAllah, it’s not, it’s not because, , I always say, Oh, You put, you put in the hard work.

And if it’s meant to be Allah swt will make it possible. So I always tell myself that, don’t do the same horrible experience you did with problem solving. Don’t beat yourself up. Remember what we did there? You ended up failing so badly. So if this is not gonna work, why go the same path again and just experience the same, you know, negative feelings again.

So that kind of represents. A fact that helps me go through life. So this is one thing that I’m proud of, and in general, I’m proud that alhamdulillah, I’m now more likely and more, willing to give myself another chance. Back then, it was very hard for me to give myself another chance and for others as well.

So giving others another chance was not an option for me because I, I don’t even give myself another chance. So you either nail it from the first time or you are done

[00:36:34] Grace: That’s it. You’re done.

[00:36:35] Esraa: Yeah, you’re done Exactly. Toxic me. and over this now.

[00:36:46] Grace: , and what’s the other side of that? What’s something that you regret or you wish that you did differently?

[00:36:51] Esraa: Hmm. Let me see. Uh, that’s a deep question. Um, um, alhamdulillah, I don’t have many regrets. , But one thing that, , I wish I could have done differently is, um, you know, how companies prioritize the quality of their code. I wanna do the same because sometimes when, when I mean they, for example, one thing that I really love about our team now, Is that we have a zero blame culture.

So if someone breaks production, which can happen, hopefully that doesn’t happen frequently, but

[00:37:23] Grace: Yeah. Everyone does it once.

[00:37:27] Esraa: yes. Sometimes it can happen. Right? So I love how, because you can trace that github, makes it very obvious to figure out who exactly broke the code. So it’s possible, right? They can get you . And what I love about the team, because I did this personally once I did break, , production.

And we joined the team, like it was an urgent team because we wanna fix it and roll back to a stable version as soon as possible. So I was expecting them to point fingers at me and I was really overwhelmed. But what happened during this team is everyone , started to take responsibility for his mistakes.

Normally, , we don’t just merge the code. First we go through, , code review, which is done by someone who’s, more senior, and then there is the checks that go through, , the code. So if everything is passing, then we’re good to move. So everyone started to, Oh, I guess it’s my bad because I didn’t catch that during the review.

And then the person who was doing the checks, uh, he’s like, That’s why bad, because my checks were not accurate enough to capture this. Oh, so no one is pointing fingers at me, and this is something. I wish I could have done, , differently and still trying to do this in my life.

So the point is not about who made the mistake, but just like they’re doing in the team now is doing an rc , And actually the manager at that point, he said, Guys, I’m not really worried. or concerned about whose mistake is it? I just wanna fix the mistake. So what we did is we, , had the document to do the root cause analysis. Figuring out why exactly that happened and updating the playbook so that doesn’t repeat again, updating the checks, updating the quality bars, and so on, so that doesn’t repeat again. I wish if I would have done that. With my life earlier, rather than just beating myself up, do something constructive.

So you failed. That’s okay. We all do mistakes is gonna be part of your life. No. Like even if you’re like, you’re a super, super senior engineer, you’re still, you’re still gonna make engineers. Even old people with like experience will still make mistakes. The difference is doing this rca, not just in terms of code, but in terms of your, with your life.

Exactly. Do , It’s kinda, it’s kinda, uh, scary looking at your code as just some sort of base, uh, uh, uh, base. But I mean, look at the quality of the projects.

[00:39:39] Grace: Yeah.

Oof. That is

[00:39:40] Esraa: you do, But when you look at it instead of pointing fingers, because sometimes you can say, Oh, So one family member, you wanna point finger at him.

It’s because of, it’s because of you. That happened because of you. Or sometimes pointing finger at your own, , like, Oh, it’s my mistake. I’m stupid, whatever. So pointing fingers in general is not something, , is, I mean, the zero blame culture is what companies realize. , brings, , more profit, more, benefit.

So if companies care about their, , code with the quality of their project, I should care about the quality of my life as well. I should apply the same things we do there to my life. So instead of blaming my family members, blaming a friend, blaming myself, I should look for the root cause analysis, have a discussion with this person whom I think it’s his mistake, or even if it’s like my mistake and then start to write.

Why that happens, you know, the rule of the five whys, so why that happens, right? , it’s kind of scary looking at your life that, that way. I know , but when I started to do that, , I started to have less Fights. And fights are really bad when you fight, especially when you fight with close family members.

So, but rather having a calm discussion, having a quiet discussion with them. So I know that you didn’t mean it. I I don’t really care about why you did this or what happened, but I know your intentions were good, but I wish if we can next time do this and this and that. And also, , Hold yourself accountable because probably it’s not gonna be solely their mistake.

You played a role somehow in it. Just like the one who reviewed my code, he didn’t touch the code, he didn’t write a single line. It wasn’t his mistake, but he said, Oh, I was there. I should have catch it. So, I started to hold myself accountable for any mistake, even if it’s not mine, there is, I could have help in a way or another and then try to have conversations, trying to figure out the rca and trying to update our playbook so we can avoid this in future.

This is one thing that, , I’m still trying to accomplish in my life and if I was able to realize that earlier in my life. It, it would have made my life easier. But alhamdulillah, I’m happy with, uh, Allah’s plan, of course. And that’s where, , we grow. So every day you learn something new that you didn’t know earlier.

Whenever we have a problem that even we’re not able to, , solve we have this option that GitHub gives us to roll back to roll back to the latest stable version. So even if there is a problem and we’re not able to find the RCA for it, even if we’re not able to fix that in the meantime, we shouldn’t panic.

We should have a backup plan, just like who we’re discussing earlier. So roll back to something stable. I mean the C I C D in general, the whole process, the continuous improvement, continuous deployment thing is something that if we utilize something that I know that I’m constantly improving, even if it’s like slightly better every day, but that’s continuous improvement by end of year you can find impressive results that you never expected.


[00:42:36] Grace: okay. I, I love that. I also do that in my personal life. , it can be very annoying for your friends and family to be like, Oh, every time I mess up, we’re gonna have like a big posts mortem about this.

[00:42:49] Esraa: you have better than having.

[00:42:53] Grace: that’s true. So fun. Oh, that’s so funny.

So the last question I have for you today, , I have to say also I am so happy with how this interview, mashAllah, you are such wonderful speaker Esraa so knowledgeable, so, so helpful for your advice. And mashallah, what is something that you are most grateful for? So something, someone, however you wanna.

[00:43:14] Esraa: , I’m definitely, , grateful for my family, , grateful for my friends. My coworkers, I mean, the environment again that we were discussing earlier because, , subhanallah I always say that, , I wasn’t working with just software engineers. I feel like I was working with ninjas and rock stars. I’ve learned a lot from them and really seriously, They always pushed me to get the best out of me.

So whenever I was feeling down, whenever I was feeling stupid, whenever the imposter syndrome kicks in, they were here to help. Having pair programming sessions with them was super helpful. I’ve learned a lot during these, pair programming sessions. So I’m, I’m, I’m super grateful for, , my colleagues.

, For everything I’ve learned from them. Super grateful for my family and their support, Continuous support. Validation is something that I constantly need and this is why subhanallah, alhamdulillah, I was blessed to be surrounded by supportive family, supportive team, supportive friends.

And , whenever I come across someone who was a little bit toxic, I was able to leave, I was able to just leave because sometimes people are not, brave enough to just afford leaving. So that’s one thing that alhamdulillah I was able to do, and I’m tremendously grateful for all the good people I come across so far alhamdulillah.

[00:44:20] Grace: Oh, it’s wonderful. It’s really beautiful. Hum. Is there anything else that you, why lucky? Anything else that you’d like to share? Any last, uh, words of wisdom


[00:44:30] Esraa: Mm,

[00:44:31] Grace: You’ve got everything out.

[00:44:34] Esraa: exactly. , exactly. alhamdulillah that I really enjoyed this talk. , thanks for having me, Grace. I’ve really enjoyed it. jazakallahum khairan and all the work you you do with tech sisters? Pretty impressive. We always need that safe spot in this environment, so it, it helps us, get the best out of, , each others.

So having this sisters safe spot is something that is definitely needed. jazakallahu khairan

[00:44:57] Grace: Oh, wa ilayki and having sisters like you who are so willing and so generous with their time and, and contribution and being so dedicated to. Helping others is really what makes it so beautiful and ties all this together. So jazakallahu khairan for you as well.

[00:45:10] Grace Witter: And as always, thank you so much for taking the time to listen to Esraa’s story today. If you liked it and you like what we’re doing at Tech Sisters consider following us, leaving a review, sharing this episode with any friends or even supporting us on Patrion. All of those really help us a lot. This is a completely non-profit organization. We’re just doing this for.

Sadaqua , so anything that helps more Muslim women find us and discover us and hear the stories is immensely helpful. And if you are a Muslim woman in tech, please go ahead and check out our community. It is completely free and fun and very supportive. You can join by going to our website and filling out the membership form, and you will get a link right away into our slack. So it’s really, really easy.

Just a quick announcement. If you are a Tech Sisters member, there is a community health report survey that is out for all of December. It’s super important that we all fill it in. We get a good representation from the community. So you have definitely been getting emails and slack messages from me about this.

I don’t want to be too pushy or anything, but please fill those out. They are very, very helpful. And that is all for me. And I’ll see you next week. As Salaam alaikum.

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Esraa. Jazakallahu Khair! You can connect with Esraa Qandeel and follow her 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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