Guest post by TechWomen fellows Nisreen Deeb, Fatima Zohra Benhamida, Noura Ghali Berzouga and Ouafa Benterki
Editor’s Note: This year, IIE announced a partnership with Microsoft to provide full registration for four TechWomen fellows to attend Microsoft Ignite 2018 in Orlando, Florida on September 24-28. Microsoft Ignite connects IT professionals to industry leaders shaping the future of tech innovation through 700+ deep-dive sessions, learning labs and high-profile keynotes. Nisreen Deeb, 2013 fellow of Lebanon, Ouafa Benterki and Fatima Zohra Benhamida, 2012 and 2017 fellows of Algeria, respectively, and Noura Ghali Berzouga, 2014 fellow of Tunisia, were selected to take part in the sold-out event. Throughout Ignite week, TechWomen alumnae participated in diversity pre-day activities and were featured speakers at breakout sessions and panels. Below, each fellow reflects on their week of learning and exploration.
Nisreen Deeb, 2013 fellow of Lebanon
System analyst and founder of The Mini Programmer
In September, thousands of IT experts from all around the world gathered in one place to see the latest Microsoft inventions – and I was one of them. I was so excited when I was asked to speak and share my experience as a woman in technology from Lebanon. The conference was full of technical sessions, and the week was not only about gaining skills and staying up to date with Microsoft’s products, but also about empowerment. We had the chance to network and meet experts from all around the world, getting introduced to new companies and their products as well as connecting with TechWomen fellows.
The special thing about MS Ignite is that they tackled diversity in tech; it was the first intensive technical conference I attended where diversity was discussed on all levels. In my theater session, “What’s it’s like to be a woman in technology in Lebanon,” I shared my journey from being the only woman in class to speaking on a global stage. Although it wasn’t the first time I spoke in front of audience, it was a unique one. Standing alone on a stage in a high-level conference for one of the biggest companies in the world was both wonderful and scary at the same time. It was not easy to share 10 years of challenges, opportunities, barriers, thoughts, fears and ups and downs just in 10 minutes. But the audience and their smiling faces made easier, and the feedback I received made me more confident about being a woman in the male-dominated IT field. I was approached by one woman who said, “I wish my daughter attended your session so she could be inspired by your story.” This feedback deeply touched my heart.
The empowered week didn’t end, as I had the pleasure to share the stage with IT experts from all the world on a panel titled “Raising the next generation of IT pros as diversity and inclusion champions.” Seeing firsthand how companies are working towards including more diverse people gave me hope for a better world. Although being the only panelist from the Middle East was scary at the beginning, the audience and panelist support made me strong enough to share some critical situations and challenges women in IT are facing.
My week was so bright: it made me dream more and strengthened my will to continue bringing Lebanese women into IT. The day after I returned to Lebanon, I shared all the technical experiences I learned in our company’s IT meeting. Now, the IT team is working on implementing of these tools in the workplace. A few days after, we started working on an event that will focus on teaching school girls STEAM skills. I will be always ready to support women in STEAM, and the events will continue.
Fatima Zohra Benhamida, 2017 fellow of Algeria
Assistant Professor at the National School of Computer Science and Technovation mentor
If I were to summarize what MS Ignite is about, I could not find better than its own motto: Learn, Explore, Connect. MS Ignite was an overwhelming yet very inspiring week full of extensive knowledge. I co-presented with Noura in a session entitled “Stories from North Africa – From engineers to educators: a day in the life of women in technology.” The session was part of the Diversity and Tech platform that gathered highly skilled professionals coming from diverse backgrounds and origins. While all MS Ignite sessions and labs where about technology, the Diversity and Tech platform gave speakers an opportunity to speak about common challenges at work – burnout, bias or unfair treatment – and empower employees (mostly female) to overcome these obstacles. We both shared our experience as TechWomen fellows, especially the importance of a program that empowers women and shapes them as role models for their communities. I spoke about my work to educate and inspire youth and encourage young women to enter STEM fields.
My highlight from MS Ignite was the opportunity to meet specialized experts in Microsoft technologies and discuss how to enable these technologies for higher education in my country. The objective behind networking was to bring back the latest solutions to my computer science students: I feel it is my duty to motivate this young generation through workshops, talks and social events. It was an honor to be able to attend the conference representing a successful woman coming from very challenging environment.
Noura Ghali Bergouza, 2014 fellow of Tunisia
Cloud and B2B service manager and co-founder of Women Leaders in Technology
It’s always wonderful to meet new friends and strengthen my network. During Ignite week I met many people: TechWomen fellows who I hadn’t met before as well as Microsoft employees and other speakers from all over the world. I learned about many Microsoft technologies such as Azure and Office 365 that will greatly help me with my work as a cloud computing engineer.
I participated in the theater session “Stories from North Africa – From engineers to educators: a day in the life of women in technology.” It was an opportunity for me to share my story as a woman in tech from Tunisia in front of an international audience. I spoke about my job as a cloud computing project manager dealing with complex projects and coordinating between technical and commercial teams. I also talked about my experience in social entrepreneurship as co-founder of the organization “Women Leaders in Technology,” which aims to support and empower women in STEM through mentoring programs such as Tunisia Mentoring Council and innovative programming such as an entrepreneurship bus, speed mentoring and more. These networking events and mentorship opportunities come as a fruits from my participation in TechWomen in 2014.
Through attending a diversity in tech session, I learned more about tolerance, confidence and accepting people as they are. I learned to never exclude myself, to be unique and to speak up more. People are here to listen to you, whatever your story.
Ouafa Benterki, 2012 fellow of Algeria
CEO and founder of MTY Intelligent Software
MS Ignite week was an amazing opportunity to meet tech professionals from around the world. The program was very rich and included coding sessions, inspiring keynotes and optimization of cloud infrastructures. It was a great opportunity to network with tech leaders from companies like Microsoft and IBM, and gain new insights for my startup. I hope to use these resources in my country during events for the groups I lead, the Machine Translation Association and the Algerian Women in Computing Chapter. I will never forget the opening keynote from Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft. I had the privilege of being invited by Microsoft to sit in the MVP (Most Valuable Professionals) seats. While being escorted to our places, we were applauded by 30,000 attendees. It was a moment that I will never forget.
I participated as speaker in two sessions. The first one was entitled, “How a woman passionate about AI became CEO and founder of MTY Intelligent Software.” I spoke about my experience as a founder of the first women-led technology startup specializing in intelligent systems. I chronicled my journey to becoming a computer scientist, speaking about how I decided to pursue my master in computational linguistics (AI) and how my research in machine translation led me to the TechWomen program. I also talked about the impact the TechWomen program has had on me and how, despite the challenges I faced as an entrepreneur, I decided to found my technology startup upon my return to Algeria.
The second session I participated in was called, “In conversation – raising the next generation of IT pros as diversity and inclusion champions.” This was a wonderful panel of experts that aimed to inspire and raise an new generation of diversity and inclusion-focused IT pro champions. I was more than delighted to be member of an amazing panel of experts. We learned from each other and shared our combined objective: to have an impact on attendees who wanted to learn from experts coming from so many countries that share their passion about technology.
Just after the panel, a young lady came to me and told me, “I want to thank you for what you said, and I want to hug you.” It was my pleasure to hug her, but I was surprised when she started crying. I asked her why she was crying, and she answered, “Because I am happy. For the first time in my life I know what I have to do, thanks to your words.” This was a very important moment in my life, as I couldn’t imagine I’d have such an impact. I feel that our mission is give back to our community and leave a positive impact wherever we have the chance to speak.