That’s a wrap on Season 2! 🎬
To celebrate, we changed the format of the episode a little bit. Grace Witter, Tech Sisters’ founder and regular podcast host is on the other side of the table this time. She’s being interviewed by one of Season 2’s most popular guests, Esraa Qandeel.
Listen to Grace’s Story
Key lessons from this episode
- Grace’s experience transitioning from SAHM to frontend developer (4:15)
- And then transitioning again into product management (13:30)
- Grace’s favourite moments from Tech Sisters (18:00)
This transcript was auto-generated by Descript and is not 100% accurate
[00:00:00] Esraa: as salaamu alikum, you 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 Esraa and today I get to interview the host. Today I get to interview Grace, Tech Sisters’ founder product manager, technical product manager, community builder, podcast host, and the winner of the Muslim Women in STEM Award.
And um, we get to know her story and the lessons she learned
MashAllah grace, you have pretty interesting success story and I already have lots of burning questions. So where would you love to start?
[00:00:36] Grace: Oh, mashAllah, first of all, this is such a funny experience hearing you do the intro I think you can take over from now. So mashAllah, you can be the podcast Um, this is gonna be a really fun episode. Well, like all episodes, why don’t we start at the very beginning? Yeah.
[00:00:55] Esraa: Mm-hmm.
[00:00:56] Grace: How did I first get into tech?
[00:00:58] Esraa: Yes.
[00:00:59] Grace: I like to say that I had sort of a, I, it’s funny because a lot of our podcast guests say that they fell into tech.
I am no exception
[00:01:09] Esraa: Hmm.
[00:01:10] Grace: so I went to university. My focus was on bioengineering. Midway through university, I had a major life change. That’s when I became Muslim and I said, I don’t wanna work in a lab anymore. I changed my degree to history so I could finish it in one year. And then I got married, moved to the UK and had kids right away.
So, Just uh, just very calm year in my twenties, . It just took things nice and slow. Um, When my youngest was a baby, I started looking for ways that I could work from home. And this was before Covid, before this was mainstream. I had a couple of things on the list like I. Registered as a child minder.
So that’s sort of like a at-home nanny that’s common in the uk. So I had like the government registration for all of that, and I got to where I had the first kid come in and I was like, it’s, it’s one thing to watch your own kids. But I just cannot handle watching another one. Tried a couple of other things like cake baking and that didn’t go anywhere and tech was one of the things that was on the list.
When I was an engineering student, we were exposed to c plus plus which I did not enjoy
[00:02:41] Esraa: and then you ended up in
[00:02:42] Grace: then I ended up in tech exactly. So I taught myself how to code. Um, I did a boot camp with Skill Crush
[00:02:49] Esraa: This is actually um, this is challenging. I know, getting into tech specifically when you don’t have a technical background it isn’t really an easy decision. So what inspired you to take action and start that journey?
[00:03:03] Grace: Yeah. What inspired me, so one thing I had exposure to working in tech because my husband had done a transition where he had a, a similar non-technical background and he did some Microsoft certifications and then he got a job going through the network engineering route. Which I definitely didn’t wanna do because if you’ve ever seen like a Cisco certification book, they’re huge.
And I did not wanna do a CC n a uh, . . We
[00:03:28] Esraa: That’s a, that’s a, A wise decision.
[00:03:30] Grace: yeah, we used them, the prop up our computers. So they’re really big books. alhamdulillah. But I saw how he was able to make that transition. I didn’t really have any other friends or family or people that I could see who had done that other than him.
But I could see from online that this was a pathway that was possible. I could see from the lessons that I was taking that this was something that I could really wrap my brain around. It was something that you know, I was understanding. I was enjoying it. I really liked the creative fulfillment of.
Thinking of a problem and then thinking of the, the code to execute it. And especially, you know, I, I’ve gravitated towards front end, so, you know, having the design and the layout on the website and then seeing how that, you know, interacts with the people who are using it and how it’s, solving problems was something that really resonated with me.
[00:04:18] Esraa: Interesting, mashAllah. I’m actually interested in, in the part where you, we are able to do this transition while, being a mother. So I know being a full-time mother is lots of responsibilities. So what challenges did you face along the way?
[00:04:32] Grace: Yeah, time
[00:04:33] Esraa: Mm-hmm.
[00:04:34] Grace: um, ,, I think everyone can just relate with that one. Just time and energy. It’s so hard to set a schedule for yourself. Like cuz when you’re going through and you’re teaching yours, and we see this all the time with Tech Sisters mentees who are, who are doing this same exact thing. So when you’re starting.
It’s easy to kind of drift around to other things and kind of lose that focus and you. Add on to that, the responsibilities of being a wife and mother, and it’s really hard to maintain that discipline learning environment. So I did two things. So I really set myself a very. Detailed course of action that I wanted to do.
There’s a guide that we recommend, it’s called Roadmaps. Sh It’s especially good for developers because it really lays out very, very clearly all the different pathways that you can learn about to have, you know, fill in all those knowledge gaps for being a developer. So that was really helpful for me
I also, so I had
[00:05:56] Esraa: the bootcamp help clarify or like with the guidelines and the roadmap
[00:06:00] Grace: So this is before the bootcamp. To be honest, the, once I established this pattern, then the bootcamp was sort of an additional bonus on top of that. But first I had to get into that mindset that this is what I’m going to do. And this is the path that I’m going to take and it’s gonna take me this long to get there.
I did a hundred days of code which is a hashtag challenge. It, it feels like it’s kind of dropped off in popularity a little bit, but it was very popular when I was doing it. And that’s just kind of documenting your learning journey. So committing to doing everything every single day for a hundred days that was also very consistency.
This is it exactly. That was also very helpful for me when I was applying for jobs later because I was able to really document my work and explain it in words, which is a good skill to have. And then the third, but the most foundational part of this was I. Doing this around fajr time. So in the uk, either before fajr, like in the wintertime or after Fajr, but I was always doing it that time of the day where there’s extra Baraka.
And I could really align my dean and my dunya goals. So always waking up for Fajr, doing the dua to help me with this career transition to help me with this knowledge and learning path
[00:07:10] Esraa: Yeah. That reminds me with with the
[00:07:12] Grace: yes.
[00:07:14] Esraa: mashAllah, so actually speaking of time management and starting your day early during fajr so sometimes what happens when, when things don’t go as planned? What would you do in in such scenarios when that happens to you specifically when, especially when you’re a mother and a wife?
Probably lots of things get in the way. I’m asking because I’m I’m particularly interested in that because I think I’ll be in, in the same situation soon. So any tips that you might share?
[00:07:39] Grace: Congratulations. Esra mashAllah
[00:07:41] Esraa: you.
[00:07:41] Grace: Um, Yeah, so it’s not that like if your plan is going to get derailed, it’s. It will definitely get derailed. How are you gonna come back from it? It’s just not, especially when you have kids, it’s just not possible to have like a perfectly shiny plan that doesn’t get messed up.
It’s gonna get messed up. So what I would do is I would if something, you know, if I wasn’t able to do something for, for a day I also had a journaling habit. So I would go into my journal and I would, you know, kind of analyze like what happened today. Why wasn’t I able to do it, even if I didn’t write it down my journal.
I’d go in and think about it in my head, and then had that commitment to come back the next day so that I didn’t have a streak of two days in a row that were missing. Because once that streak that broken streak gets longer, it’s harder to come back into your routine. But I would also have, you know, you have to have self-compassion for yourself,
[00:08:36] Esraa: Mm-hmm.
[00:08:37] Grace: know?
When you’re in this situation, you’re doing your absolute best. And it’s okay not to be perfect because you have to remember, you’re, you’re on this journey. You know, Allah has given you all these things in your life and they’re not distractions. They are part of your life.
So even if it is kind of jostling and it’s hard to, to complete the goal that you might be doing, you know, there might be some barrakah in what you had to do that day that’s more important than the lesson that you didn’t. So it’s kind of having that that high level view of what’s going on you know, not getting too upset or beating yourself up about something, but then having the resolution to come back the next day and try your best in shala.
[00:09:18] Esraa: Did you have to share your goals with the rest of the family? So they, they, they make space for that and they understand what you’re doing. And so on. Or was it too like maybe your kids were too young to understand that at that point?
[00:09:31] Grace: Yeah, they were too little. My so my husband knew and he was supportive. But my son was like an infant, and my daughter was three. So, and, and even then, it was at f time when I was doing most of this, so they didn’t really see it.
[00:09:46] Esraa: Oh, I see. Interesting.
[00:09:47] Grace: because they’re, they’re too little uh,
[00:09:51] Esraa: And does it get like more challenging when they grow up or like how does it go?
[00:09:56] Grace: Yeah, so with me, I think I had kind of my approach with the balance between kids and the work is a little bit it’s a little bit unusual. I think I haven’t met too many other people who have done this, so I. Committed to working remotely. We don’t really have any family where we live and childcare is, you know, is, is, is very expensive.
So I would work remotely, I’d work part-time and work around my kids’ schedules. When my daughter was old enough to go to school full-time, then I was able to take on more work. By then my son was, you know, able to go to nursery for half day and then I would bring him in. So I think this is another reason why I really gravitated towards tech is this is something that I could make it work for me and my family and our needs, and not something where I had to fit myself into another schedule.
This was, I remember on one of my interviews , it’s a really funny memory. I, my son was three at that point. or maybe he was like just before three. So he was still quite little and I was having a job interview and I, we don’t have any locks on our doors in our flat. So I, I set them up with a TV and then I went into another room and closed the door and I sat next to it so that he wouldn’t like push it open.
But of course, halfway through the interview, that’s exactly what happened. And so he came first thing in and, you know, the people who are interviewing me saw it and then ilias, he, he looks over the, the camera on my laptop, and then you could see up his nose in the zoom window, and it was just so embarrassing. but it’s also like that’s, you know, that’s just how it is and alhamdulillah. Because of the way that company was and their values. They were happy with that and they thought he was really cute, and I still got the job anyway. So I think having, you know, That transparency of this is what my life is like and these are the choices that I’m willing to make and the compromises that I’m willing to make, and these are the boundaries that I definitely won’t cross.
And then finding a job that is going to accommodate that, I feel like that’s more possible in tech than in other sectors.
[00:12:04] Esraa: Mm-hmm. . I agree. mashallah. So now that you got accepted and you landed your uh, position as a software engineer how did it feel as a Muslim woman in tech?
[00:12:13] Grace: So at that company where I was working, so this is one of the reasons why I started Tech Sisters, because where I was working, there wasn’t any other Muslim women in tech. There wasn’t any other women. There weren’t any other parents,
[00:12:28] Esraa: Yeah.
[00:12:28] Grace: Um, So it’s, we’re just kind of going down the list of how I’m different from everybody else.
And I would go to conferences, and I think this is kind of one of the stories I tell a lot with Tech Sisters. I remember going to, I think it was like a, the Big React conference in London. So that had, you know, a couple thousand people there. And London is such an extremely diverse city and I’m the only one wearing hijab in that whole place.
[00:12:53] Esraa: Yeah.
[00:12:55] Grace: and it’s not something that, I felt was directly impacting my life or my work. I was still able to get on with everything. I had that positive work culture at Happy Porch. So I didn’t experience any bias alhamdulillah but it’s still like this kind of awkwardness. Right? And then whenever you see somebody who’s also in this field online, Right.
Then it feels extra exciting, like, oh wow, she’s doing this too,
[00:13:23] Esraa: Mm-hmm.
[00:13:24] Grace: This is one of the reasons why I would reach out and why this, why this whole thing started.
[00:13:29] Esraa: mashAllah mashAllah And actually there is also one turning point in your career that is interesting which is when you did the transition or you made the transition from a software engineer to a product manager or a technical product manager. So . That was a quick transition So can you tell me a little bit about that and because I, I was always told that you need to spend like 10 hours in tech before you, you, you make such a transition.
So that was, that was interesting for me.
[00:13:55] Grace: Yeah, so I think it’s, it’s really interesting of product because it’s sort of those things where it’s really funny when you talk to people on how they got into it and their origin stories, and it’s different for everybody. The reason why I started looking out for it was at work I was starting to feel a little bit burned out with the code.
There are multiple reasons why. Well, one of the reasons why I had like, Three or four different projects on my local environment where I had to quit switching between them because I was the front end dev. So I had to, you know um, but
[00:14:25] Esraa: alhamdulillah,
[00:14:26] Grace: yeah, this is it. So this is kind of draining. Um, A we had a really amazing product manager.
For one of our clients, her name is Lauren Dudley, and I would work with her and see how she organized the work that we had to do and how she kept everybody aligned and focused. I really, really loved how she did her job. And I started realizing as well at work when I was taking on new projects that I was really much more interested and I was asking a lot more.
what and why questions versus the how. So focusing on what we’re doing, what’s the impact? Why are we doing this? Why, how is this fitting into the business versus the actual details of how that’s going to get built? Um,
[00:15:12] Esraa: Mm-hmm.
[00:15:13] Grace: so that, yeah, that’s where I was aligning and then I was taking on more product type responsibilities at work and alhamdulillah with that, plus getting more certifications, I was able to fully transition into that role.
[00:15:28] Esraa: So if you’re, if you’re to give an advice or share tips or maybe something like a roadmap like the one you shared for being a developer, what guides or tips would you share with someone who wants to make such a transition?
[00:15:41] Grace: Yeah. This is Yes. So I’m thinking there’s one episode that we did where she gave much better advice that I’m going to, it’s with um, reham fawad. So if anyone who’s interested and they want more serious advice, they could look at that past episode. But mashAllah, I think the, the number one thing is you need to. It depends on what background that you’re coming from. If you’re coming from a technical background, you need to know a lot more about the business. You need to know about accounting. You need to know about how these projects will fit into the budget, how they’re gonna fit into the roadmap, how marketing needs to talk about your products.
You need to be able to feel comfortable talking to users. If you’re coming from the other side, you need to, from the business case side, you need to have a, a comfortable awareness of tech. So you don’t necessarily need to know how to code, but you need to know what your, the developers and your team are talking about.
If you can’t feel scared when you’re talking about an a p I, Right
[00:16:40] Esraa: makes sense.
[00:16:42] Grace: So depending on what your background is, you need to fill that in because a product manager is really sitting at the hub of, you know, the whole company basically. And you have to manage communications with your stakeholders inside the business, across all these different teams and outside the business.
So you have to be able to know what all these different a. What they care about. You know, do they care about how many tickets are being worked on per sprint? Do they care about how much money your product is bringing in? Do they care about how this product is increasing your, your customer satisfaction?
And then you, you, so you have to be able to tailor all those communications to suit them.
[00:17:25] Esraa: Mm-hmm. Interesting. And is it now a little bit harder to get your schedule around your kids’ schedule now that you are a product manager?
[00:17:34] Grace: So they’re both in school full-time now, alhamdulillah , so they have a nice regular cadence. But as a product manager, I have way more calls than I did as an engineer.
[00:17:44] Esraa: Mm-hmm. , so, yeah, I guess less flexibility than being a developer. Right.
[00:17:49] Grace: Yeah, so there is that bit where like as a developer, you could just work on your ticket, just focus and then, you know, work on that, and then go onto the next ticket. Whereas now I have to talk with spend, spend my whole day talking
[00:18:04] Esraa: Yeah, well you have great communication skills, so I can tell that you, you definitely enjoy the calls and make a great impact, mashAllah. So speaking of impact what is the thing that you are most proud of?
[00:18:16] Grace: The thing that I’m most proud of is tech Sisters, definitely. And specifically there’s a couple of of examples, but I think the one that always makes me feel the, the warm fuzzies in my heart is one specific person named Medina and she came to Tech Sisters and she came as one of our mentees and we paired her up with just.
Top class mentor, Sadya mashAllah. And they had such a fantastic experience, their mentoring cohort, and Medina was able to get a job out of that. And she came back as a mentor for the next cohort. And then she’s continued to be a really active person in Tech Sisters, sisters. She’s brought in so many of her friends, and family.
That Macedonia. Oh, she’s from Macedonia. So that in our demographics it was really inflated compared to the other countries.
[00:19:09] Esraa: Wait to go Medina,
Yeah, exactly. So that’s, that’s definitely one of, so stories like that.
of, of her
[00:19:19] Grace: really having the benefit from Tech Sisters and then coming back and contributing.
Make me feel so good alhamdulillah. We still get messages all the time from people who are joining Tech Sisters saying that, they haven’t seen any other Muslim women in their fields in their whole career. So 5, 10, 15 years, they haven’t seen anybody else. And they’ve been looking for something like Tech Sisters for years, and they’re so happy that this.
Um, So I, I’m very grateful that Allah allowed me to, to build Tech Sisters and allowed me to keep going with it. Um, Alhamdulillah he gave me that opportunity. And alhamdulillah, I’m very grateful that he allowed me to, to take advantage of it.
[00:20:03] Esraa: And if there is a sister that now listening and she’s not part of Texas Sisters and she wants to join, what are the steps?
[00:20:09] Grace: Yes. So the first step is you go to our website at tech-sisters.com. Right there, there’s a big button that. Join us and then you go in. There’s a membership form. Tech Sisters is always free. The membership form is so that we can keep content that’s relevant for you. When you finish that form, you’ll get invitation to our Slack community and boom, that’s it.
[00:20:30] Esraa: So grace what is something in your journey that. You regret or you wish you did differently.
[00:20:36] Grace: Yeah. I feel like a lot of people on the podcast have answered it this way. I don’t really regret anything. I feel like it’s. Especially interesting because my career, I feel like I’ve flipped it a little bit compared to what’s more mainstream. I had my kids first and then did my career. And so that’s led to maybe a little bit of awkward situations being one of the older people in work.
[00:21:01] Esraa: Uh, I, I no longer think this is in tech. I mean, you work with people with different ages, different countries. I mean, there, there isn’t, there is nothing standard in the tech industry anymore.
[00:21:11] Grace: This is it. Exactly. alhamdulillah, but there were definitely times where it, it stood out, but alhamdulillah, and I think there were times where I kind of. A little bit weird about that, but I don’t regret it because this is, this is the path Allah swt put me on. I can see the benefits of how things worked out the way they did and obvi, definitely there are many more benefits and barrakahs that I can’t see that will be apparent later, but alhamdulillah.
But I think that it’s good to have, you know, There are things that we might wish and we, when we look back that we could improve, but I don’t really regret anything. It’s all part of that process that Allah put me on
[00:21:55] Esraa: And what is something or someone in your tech journey that you are.
[00:21:58] Grace: Um, So first is all the Tech Sisters members.
[00:22:05] Esraa: Mm-hmm.
[00:22:07] Grace: because the community, and there are definitely some shining stars alhamdulillah, where the, the community would not have as much energy as it would without those specific people. But alhamdulillah for the whole community of Tech Sisters for you. This, this thing that I, that I just started when I reached out to some strangers on LinkedIn uh, grateful to all the people I’ve reached out to for interviews, including you, Esra, alhamdulillah.
Um, This is how this whole thing started. Just reaching out to people. People are interested in those stories and then come together and We’ve been able to build this really amazing community that has a lot of barrakah.
[00:22:41] Esraa: alhamdulillah
[00:22:41] Grace: um,
Grateful to my husband and for my kids because Tech Sisters takes a lot of nights and weekends so alhamdulillah I’m very grateful for their patience and of course, a ultimately alhamdulillah, all praise is for Allah sw t. So that’s where the ultimate gratitude is for enabling all of this to happen.
[00:23:02] Esraa: Tech Sisters is, is a great community. I, I also wanna thank you for this community, for creating su, for creating such community for all the sisters. . Really appreciate the, the community and all the opportunities it did unlock for all of us. And now that actually maybe as a wrap up what is the current status for your career or your journey and what is the next step?
[00:23:23] Grace: For my career or for tech sisters or for both.
[00:23:26] Esraa: Let’s say both or whatever you prefer.
[00:23:29] Grace: Sure, sure, sure. So currently I am looking, I’m enjoying my role as a product manager and looking to increase my learning and my development, my skillset, and that so I can increase and develop more in that sector. So I think that’s just a question of just going through the years inshallah, and just getting that experience.
But yeah, I’m happy with, with where I am now. In terms of Tech Sisters, the ultimate goal for Tech Sisters is to be self-managed and self-sustained. So having this community that has so much energy in it that the members are, are, are starting and initiating their own projects would be just the ultimate inshAllah um, but I think, you know, One thing that we’re focusing on this year that we’ve started implementing, and I think after Ramadan we’ll really see the benefits of this, is we’re having a regular event schedule where we have career workshops every month we have, you know, fun and casual workshops.
We’re going to have a language support group for our members who don’t speak English fluently so that they can have more confidence with speaking English. We’re having a book club throughout Ramadan and we’ll probably continue that with more you know, tech focused books. After that we have lots of skills workshops, so lots coming especially after Ramadan.
Another thing that we’re looking at to do following that is community service projects.
[00:24:55] Esraa: Mm-hmm.
[00:24:56] Grace: So partnering with charitable organizations or groups that really share this overlapping values to use the talent that we have in Tech Sisters for for projects to have social impact in
[00:25:10] Esraa: And I’ve seen the the health report shared by you with great metrics and numbers. Would you love to share like spot on this report?
[00:25:17] Grace: Yeah. So the report is the best place to go. If you wanna learn more about Tech Sisters . We had really great metrics, alhamdulillah. So in most of our goals we doubled. I can’t remember the number off the top of my head, but one of our goals from the last year was to increase our engagement in Slack, and we increased it by over a thousand percent this year, which is, so we definitely smashed that.
But yeah, I think that report was really encouraging because it, it shows that we grew a lot over the last year. We’re really. We, we’ve completely validated our goals of this is who Tech Sisters are. This is what Tech Sisters members want, and this is yeah, how we are going to move forward and Yeah, we’re on the right path.
[00:26:00] Esraa: Great to see numbers backing this up, mashAllah. And with that said, I guess you’ve alhamdulillah have answered, jazakallahu khair, you’ve answered all my burning questions. I’ve seen the, the big picture now and all the tips you’ve shared. So Ramadan, kareem and looking forward to all the plans and the goals for tech sisters.
[00:26:17] Grace: Yes. Thank you so much Esra and Ramo. You did amazing. Thank you so much for doing this. This is such a fun way to end the season as well, so wonderful.