Tuesday May 18, 2021
In Pakistan, a small percentage of women get a chance to attain higher education, and among them, even fewer pursue studies in traditionally male-dominated fields like information and technology. Even after graduation, only a handful of Pakistani women opt for a full-time career in the field.
Sakina Abbas, 25, from Karachi, is one of the few women who defied the norms and studied computer sciences at FAST National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences, graduating with a degree in the discipline in 2019.
"To be honest, it was neither an "aha!" moment, nor did I have it planned from the very start that I will be pursuing a career in tech," said Abbas, who is Pakistan’s first female Google Developers Experts for Flutter.
In laymen's terms, a Google Developers Expert (GDE) is a person recognised by Google as having technical expertise in a Google Developers product (such as Flutter, Android, Machine Learning — to name a few) and for creating an impact on the community by closely engaging with them and sharing their knowledge to help aspiring developers build and launch innovative apps.
Currently, there are about 700 GDEs advocating for more than 18 Google technologies across the world. Of these, 11 are from Pakistan.
When asked about her choice to pursue a career in programming, Abbas said that there were "multiple factors that contributed to the decision."
"Growing up, my brother and I always used to play video games together, which first instilled a passion for games in me and later a passion for development," said Abbas.
The eagerness — that she had since childhood — to learn how to code, pushed the 25-year-old to get enrolled into a four-year degree programme.
Abbas had initially started off as a native Android developer and after creating a handful of market-ready Android apps, she quickly realised that it’s the right technology for her because, despite the development challenges that she faced, she "genuinely enjoyed the entire process".
Abbas said her actual career kick-started when she and her classmate, Abdullah, co-founded their software house — ReacTree.
The 25-year-old said the duo had decided to set up their own company for two reasons: they were passionate and wanted to draw in foreign investment in a bid to play their part in strengthening the country's IT sector.
Abbas said that by the time she started her company, Flutter had matured and gained some popularity and that is when she transitioned to Flutter development from native Android development.
However, before her transition to Flutter, Abbas had to learn quite a lot about her field as "an active Android development community" does not operate in Pakistan.
"I don’t see these things as hurdles, though. They are more like stepping stones — except the stones are far apart from each other and your legs are too short to leap from one stone to another with ease," she quipped.
When she transitioned to Flutter development, the fear of the unknown haunted her for a while, but she had assistance from a colleague who helped her throughout the journey.
Because of the support extended by her colleague, Abbas was able to flourish and this inspired her to give back to the community. She started writing technical blogs and giving talks across multiple events, conferences, and universities.
What started with a single talk a month and quickly progressed to three to four talks a month, with some of them being scheduled as early as 5am due to varying time zones the participants were located in.
"At the same time, I also had to ensure that I’m not neglecting my company, my team, and my clients; there had to be a balance and excellent time management," she said, as she described the initial challenges she met.
Abbas also since started a community platform, where she interacts with all up-and-coming techies.
As overwhelming as it may sound — juggling university, a business, and running a community, among other responsibilities — never got exhausting for Abbas. Hearing people say, 'Wow, that was really helpful, I’m definitely going to try this,' at the end of the day always made up for all the effort that she put in.
Speaking about one of her motivations to become a GDE, Abbas said she wanted to help women pursue IT domains that they’re passionate about.
"In particular, I really want to see more women pursuing Flutter development in Pakistan, considering that it’s the most trending cross-platform application development technology due to which demand for Flutter developers has been increasing across the world over the past few months, and will continue to do so."
The young developer said women were capable of achieving the same feats as their male counterparts in the IT industry if they put their minds to it.
"There are many organisations and communities that strongly encourage the participation of women in tech because this brings diversity in the workplace, which means a fresh perspective for new or ongoing projects. Who knows, you might be the one to propose and develop an optimal solution to a problem a company has been stuck on for so long?" she said.
Advising young aspiring women, she said if they genuinely enjoy working with technology and are curious to try their hand at its associated domains, be it development, network security, or artificial intelligence, they should "just dive in, period!"
"As far as critics are considered, you will meet naysayers at every stage of your life, in every domain that you pursue your career in," Abbas said, strongly urging women to simply ignore them.
"Yes, it will be difficult in the beginning, but I promise, you will always have a community to support you throughout your journey," she added.