“It’s important for me to be a role model for my daughter”

16th July 2020

Uzma Khan

Uzma Khan
Java Developer

I’ve been at Nominet since March 2020, working as a Java Developer in the Cyber Division where we provide DNS (domain name system) analytics based solutions. The day job revolves around maintaining and enhancing the software that powers this system and I, working alongside a team of software engineers, strive to write well-tested and extensible code adhering to clean coding principles. Despite the job title, I’m effectively a software engineer and have always seen this area as an exciting mix of science, art and soft skills. You use logic and a systematic approach to tackle the inherently complex software systems, focusing on one issue at a time and adding in more details as you go along – much like painting a canvas, I like to think.

Coding wasn’t something I fixated on as a child, but studying was very much the centre of activities in my family home in Pakistan. My mother had been a teacher before having five children (we became a full-time job!) and both my parents were great motivators; we knew how much could be achieved if we worked hard. My brothers were into engineering, one on the mechanical side and the other in IT. Looking back, I tried to follow them both despite there being only a handful of girls in those fields.

Computer science was immediately a good fit for me when seeking options for university; I had always been interested in maths and puzzle-solving at school, then becoming inspired by technology when my grandad bought us a Commodore 64 machine, mainly used for playing games and typing letters back to him. One of the fond memories of primary school was going once a week to this air-conditioned room with rows of computers for a lesson. The ‘computer room’ was otherwise kept locked, which made computing seem unique and fancy, plus the sessions in there were always fun. Over time, I began to recognise that I loved problem-solving, and computer science provided many interesting problems to tackle.

A masters followed my degree, before I went into research in location-aware computing and published some papers. Having been inspired by those who mentored me while studying, I wanted to share my knowledge and encourage others, so moved into lecturing at the university, specialising in Java and software engineering. My aim was always to make the lectures fun and interactive and it was gratifying to see my students developing a love for programming.

As can happen to many, life priorities changed when I decided to get married. I moved to the UK, where my husband was based, and decided to pause my career to give my full attention to our new baby daughter, who was soon followed by two sons; the children are 10, 7, and 5 now. My husband and I always knew my career was just on pause so I kept investing in my knowledge portfolio to prepare for the right time to get back into work. Many people advised switching careers to ‘something easier’ but nothing would disrupt my focus, plus my family never stopped believing in me. My husband is incredibly supportive and encouraged me to keep my skills sharp and stay in touch with the IT world. He was – and remains – determined that I’m fulfilled professionally as well as personally, as a mother.

That said, I still had doubts and feared I wouldn’t have kept up with the fast-paced IT sector when the time came to apply for roles. Thankfully, my persistence was recognised and I secured my first part-time job as a developer after a break of almost eight years. Taking up this role at Nominet was the next big step; it’s my first full-time role since before the children and the insecurities returned when preparing to apply. However, Nominet saw my potential and it has been wonderful to join a company that is invested in my growth and development.

Another very welcome characteristic of Nominet is the palpable awareness across the organisation – and the wider industry today – to have more women in the tech workforce because we need the skill and diversity that females can bring. This is music to my ears! Although there are women in other departments at Nominet, which is very encouraging, my immediate team is predominately male – not that it’s any problem for me, they are all superb colleagues.

Technology is the backbone of everything today so opportunities in the sector are endless and roles are diverse. We need to make sure the workforce is diverse too by encouraging girls to develop their interest in STEM and problem-solving from a young age and inspire them with pioneering women like Ada Lovelace and Katherine Johnson, amongst many more. We also should remind youngsters of the broad range of jobs available and – contrary to the popular image – that even roles like mine don’t involve staring at a computer screen all day. With plenty of resources, positive reinforcements in school and role models to follow – as well as more organisations helping women with young families return to work – we can bridge this gender gap in the tech sector.

If you like taking ownership of your work using logical thinking and operating within cross-functional agile teams, not to mention communicating often and clearly with a diverse range of IT professionals, being a Java developer could be a great job to aim for. I certainly get great pleasure in my work, but what also matters to me is being a role model for my daughter, showing her that you can be a mother and have a career, not least a career in tech. Young people need to know they can follow their interests and achieve anything they want if they work hard with conviction and have a growth mindset. It worked for me.

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