Guest blog post by Madina Makhmadieva, 2018 TechWomen fellow of Tajikistan
Since childhood, I’ve been fascinated by all things American: American songs, lifestyle and television. Everything American was something from a parallel universe, something unreal. For me, visiting America was like becoming an astronaut: we all dream of going to space as a child, but soon realize how hard it can be to accomplish. But on my desktop I always had a picture of New York and the Empire State Building, an area that has amazed me since I first watched the movie “Sleepless in Seattle.” Every day I looked the photo several times, thinking about what had to happen in order for me to get there, and what I would feel when I did.
A few years ago, while I was working in telecom, my colleague tagged me on Facebook under an embassy post highlighting the TechWomen program with the words: “Madina, you must participate in this program.” I read the list of requirements, but never thought I would pass. My father saw my name under the same post, and encouraged me to fill the application. So I sent the application, but later found out I didn’t get in. A couple of years passed, and the same colleague again mentioned me under the publication about the launch of the 2018 TechWomen application. I realized that it was not just an opportunity to travel to the country of my dreams, but also for a mentorship at a Silicon Valley company.
I visited the TechWomen website, but then wrote to my colleague that it felt impossible to get there. I asked him to not mention me in those posts again, and closed the website. But on the last day of the application period, I was sitting and looking at my desktop photo and thought: millions of people go to the U.S. every year, so why can’t my dream come true? I opened the application, filled it out and sent it in. A few months later, the TechWomen team wrote me a congratulatory letter that I was selected as an Emerging Leader for TechWomen 2018. My head was spinning. Finally, after much preparation, I arrived in San Francisco. The first thing that amazed me was that we were met by the TechWomen team at IIE. They were so caring, asking how we were and whether we needed anything.
Wherever we went, our cohort of Emerging Leaders was always surrounded by people who wanted to help us. I had many examples of this during the program. Even at my host company, LinkedIn, everyone lived and worked by a “pay it forward” philosophy. This was my first lesson. I was constantly amazed by the level of caring for us.
When I was preparing for TechWomen, I had a big fear that I would constantly have to compete with some of the brightest women leaders from all over the world — real, authentic leaders. I was afraid that I would be lost in the program. But anytime someone stumbled, hundreds of hands reached out to offer help. I heard so many words of support, and met with so many people who saw talent in me. I learned who true leaders are. And this was my second lesson.
During the program, I was often very shy. This frequently stopped me from asking questions, embracing new experiences and taking advantage of professional development opportunities. Looking back, I realize I’ve learned to not be shy and afraid to realize my potential, because no one is perfect. And that was my third lesson.
During my mentorship at LinkedIn, I told my mentor Christine Chou about my dream of seeing New York. She said, “Do you know that the LinkedIn office in New York is in the Empire State Building? You can visit our New York office and get a pass to the top.” And this was my fourth lesson: never be afraid to share your dreams with people, because there may be someone who can help you. Now my desktop is a picture of New York that I took myself.
What did the TechWomen program give me? I was among so many successful women, that I told myself if they can, I can too. I have become much more confident in myself. I gained invaluable contacts and became friends with amazing people. And I’ve embraced new professional opportunities: after the most popular newspaper in Tajikistan wrote an article about my professional journey and my TechWomen experience, I received many job offers and am now a project development manager at Nexus Technologies. But the most important thing is that now my family and I live by paying it forward. Every day we try to do good things, making promises to transfer the philosophy to more people, in order to make this world a little bit better.