Working as a Woman in Tech in the Middle East
Guest post by Rahma Ali
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🗞 Hot off the press
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of ChatGPT, an AI chat box that produces clever responses to user prompts. Fluent, clever and incredibly dangerous it writes academic essays, code, and even songs. Perhaps you’ve heard of Lensa AI, where in return for £4.99 and personal data, users receive colourful, custom renderings of themselves. What does this mean for the future of cybersecurity and personal ethics? Who knows! The joys of technology!
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If you or a loved one has been impacted by the crypto market collapse, you can dial 1-800-SCAM for advice and guidance. Thoughts and prayers. 🙏🏾
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Earlier in November we held a virtual panel: Cyber Circle. We sat down with our panel of Cybersecurity professionals to discuss their journeys and what a career in the field looks like. Thank you to our speakers: Abdurahman Mohamed, Kadar Mohamed and Ilhan Jama. As well as hosts and organisers, Zeinab Raadsto, and Harun Osman.
Missed the event? Catch up below! 👇🏾
What is it like being a woman in tech based in the Middle East?
Rahma Ali, Senior Data Warehouse and Business Intelligence Specialist at Qatar University.
Among my favorite conversation topics to have while I am introducing myself to people who are not from the Middle East is when I get to tell them what I do. Specifically the fact that I am a woman in tech who was born, raised, and now working in Qatar. While this fact is completely normal to the society here, I noticed, from as early as my university days, that this was not aligned with the expectations of people not based here. I vividly remember representing Qatar at the Imagine Cup, a student-based global competition organized by Microsoft, during my days as undergraduate student and attracting immense amount of curiosity there. While our project intrigued people, they were more fascinated by us, the participants. Our all-female team not only spoke fluent English, but was visibly Muslim and representing a Gulf country. Inevitably, that interest followed me into my professional career as I spoke to more people. While admittedly women are not necessarily the majority in every job place, there is large female representation in IT departments at most companies in Qatar. They work in wide range of job positions – from application developers to support staff to network engineers. Some even lead the entire IT department as directors.
I currently hold a master’s degree in Computer Science and work as a Senior Data Warehouse and Business Intelligence Specialist at Qatar University, my alma mater. My work involves helping configure data source connections to multiple sub-system data sources, maintaining and managing resulting university data in one central data source, and managing relevant access and restriction to the central data source. In addition to that, I also utilize the stored data in the central data source to create insightful reports and dashboards by using data visualization tools.
So, what is it like working in the tech field in Qatar?
I like to describe the tech world in Qatar as blessed with technical assistance service kinds of jobs, while lacking jobs that involve developing and producing complete software from scratch.
To help you better understand what I mean by that; let me elaborate. Most of the technical jobs in Qatar are of two main types.
The first kind are jobs that require you to have technical expertise and knowledge in using programming languages, software, and tools to customize ready-made applications right out of the box for the organization's use. Oftentimes, these customizations could be anywhere from simple color changes, or logo customizations to more advanced and continuous backend support-based tasks.
The second kind, requires you to code or develop a technical solution to presented client issues or requirements. This could result in getting involved in more technically complex projects involving multiple entities or clients in some cases. While full-stack developer jobs do exist in Qatar, they are not very common in bigger organizations. Most big organizations have product subscriptions with major IT companies such as Oracle and Microsoft, from whom they purchase product licenses and utilize the purchased products for their needs. As a result, oftentimes, the only technical role you would be involved in would be in the customization of the obtained product and providing backend support to the end users.
Now it may not sound as technically challenging as you were hoping it to, but there is hope. Qatar is advancing at a rapid phase. And by rapid, I mean rapid! The best part about that is they have allocated a national plan to develop Qatar into a technologically advanced society as part of the Qatar National Vision 2030. The beauty of this is, they are seriously considering it, and that will in turn translate into opening up more employment opportunities. One evident outcome of this is that many startups are popping up and the government is encouraging entrepreneurship by offering funding opportunities to its citizens. Collaborating or working on such projects could maybe be more fitting for you if you prefer being involved in projects that perform software development from scratch.
Now that I addressed the types of jobs you may expect, you might also be curious about the general work environment. Let me address that next then! In one line - a unique opportunity to work in a diverse and multicultural work environment. The Qatari society is very culturally close to ours and most organizations are respectful of their culture, which in turn makes it a comfortable work environment for us Somalis. Depending on the organization, whether it is in public or private sector, the working hours could be from seven to eight hours at most places. Additionally, there are the other well talked about perks of earning a tax-free negotiable salary (you must always negotiate!) with the added benefit of being granted different allowances. All this while living in a Muslim environment, so your holidays are adjusted to that fact, among other non-work related benefits to it. I will not address expected salaries (I know, am sorry!) because frankly I have personally seen a huge range of salaries in my nearly seven years of exposure to the work environment here. Nevertheless, I would advise to always ask for more, ideally in the basic salary, if not possible, then as allowances. Especially if you are experienced.
I like what I read so far, how do I find me a job there?
Two ways honestly – applying through job sites and by making the right connections (what adoringly call Wasta here in the Gulf). Job search sites that work best here are primarily LinkedIn, Bayt, and Indeed. I would personally recommend LinkedIn, because there you can kill two birds with one stone; find a job and build connections. Speaking of connections, I remember during my early job hunt days visiting different offices and speaking to the different IT section managers to see the potential of working with them. While I would not recommend someone to come over from overseas to do this and guarantee them that they will get a job this way, it is however a good method of connecting with people here if you are already visiting the country and manage to set up meetings with potential future managers. On a friendlier route, the Somali community in Qatar have a professional group where Somali professionals connect and meet regularly for social and professional reasons. This could also be a good place to meet and connect with people to make connections if you are planning to visit the country. We also have a Whatsapp group where we share jobs and help each other as a community. Membership to this Whatsapp group is however limited to Somalis in Qatar, so you may consider joining it when you are visiting Qatar. Moreover, most major organizations like Qatar Airways, Qatar Foundation, Qatar University, etc. have good career sites where you can apply directly. I always advise people to apply and try to get a job offer while they are overseas as opposed to applying and getting an offer while here, since the former offer will always be comparatively better.
Before I wrap up, as disclosure, let me kindly inform you that everything I shared above is based on my personal experiences and knowledge. Of course, there are many resources online to research and find information that is more standard. However, if you still have any more questions and want a more personal opinion on things, feel free to message me and I will try my best to answer them for you. You may connect with me on my LinkedIn or for a more personal connection, you may follow me on Twitter .
Mahadsanid and I hope you enjoyed reading this article and found it beneficial for you!
Adduunyo waa hooska labadiisa gelin
The world is like a shadow: in the morning it is turned towards one direction, in the evening towards the opposite one (i.e. it is changeable).