Business Gender Equality Society & Culture Technology

Maldives Ladies taking action in Tech

When you think of Maldives, you just think about mind-blowing resorts right? Well, the country has also mind-blowing youth tech skills. As technology open job markets and elevates more people. Women In Tech Maldives advocates for hiring based on merit, not gender, as well as encouraging to implement policies to open data for developers to work on. Neesha Fathmath, one of the co-founders and a Software Engineer opens up and shares her personal journey.

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-Neesha Fathmath, Core Software Engineer at LoopCraft-

To be honest, growing up, I never thought about the technology sector. My mom just wanted me to be a Doctor. In the 8th grade, I chose Biology study major along with Computer Science because it was interesting and that was my first encounter with programming.

Then we moved to India. I wasn’t able to do MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) because of financial restraints. Since computer science was my second favourite subject, I decided to give it a try.
By the end of the 1st semester, I was hooked on it. I liked the process, the way I can code on my laptop and see the result in front of me: It was like magic.

“It’s fascinating to just print “Hello World” on the screen, to see the magic that you created with your fingers.”

I ended up graduating the first in my class. I got married and decided to stay in Bangalore. I started working with Capgemini first where we were developing with .Net console applications. I had my son at the time. Though my mum helped me, I was going home late at midnight. I felt I wasn’t spending enough time with my son so I quit my job and stayed home for 6 months. Afterwhich, I joined a startup working with Java on Android. My manager was a Google alumni. He was a great mentor teaching us the thought process, solving problems approaches. By the time my son was 3 years old, I decided to come back to Maldives. I landed a job within a week of arrival after applying to a job offer forwarded a friend who heard I was back. It was an insurance company where I joined as a PHP Laravel developer.

Actually, at that time, I had no prior experience with PHP. If you know the basics of programming, if you understand the concepts, it’s easy to pick up a new language. The syntax is different but the underlying problems are the same. The interesting challenge I faced was when the technical lead was leaving and there was no documentation about the product we were working on.

All the knowledge was on his mind, not on paper. So, what I did along with the lead, was to bring 1 more developer and try to understand how the system worked in order to build further. We printed the Entity Relationships graph, the tables and entities on big sheets and then we brought them together like puzzle pieces placing them on the wall. Then, we should stare at them figuring out what goes where and what happens when. That entire process of trying to understand how the system functions, going through the db and through the code. That actually helped me to learn PHP faster and pick up Laravel easier. It improved my logical and critical thinking. It pushed me to foresee the consequences of my edits: like if I change this, what other parts would be impacted. The product was on production and we couldn’t afford it to go down. I was working on a Health Insurance claim system, so if a person was at a hospital needing our service and it wasn’t available, it would be bad.

I have friends who are Laravel developers and sometimes we would go for coffees and discuss our challenges this helps to give each other a new perspective, to think differently. I write problems down and try to discuss it with my friends to step out of it.

“As a software developer, you’re creating something to make life easier.
Think how you can solve the problem more effectively in shorter time.”

Usually, if I’m stuck, I try to shift my thinking to sth else like watching TV or reading. Clear my mind then go back to try to solve the problem.
I would write down step by step what I want to do. I picture it in a book and use colorful pens while drawing solutions for a better visualization. I prefer handwriting.

That’s what I do when I get stuck and I get stuck a lot.
But we need to find a way out of it. It’s how you deal with it.

As soon as I walked in the office, I noticed I was the only female developer on the team. I was wondering if girls didn’t enroll at all at Computer Science majors. When I was working at the insurance company, I had a startup weekend workshop in the Maldives. My General Manager was one of the organizers and he convinced me to go. My ticket was bought last minute. I thought I’ll network and maybe influence more women to join the tech field.

At the event, I met only one female developer. At that time she was a Software Developer. Now she has a masters in Machine Learning. So girls do study to become software engineers but they kind of give up somewhere in between. They don’t complete their course or there are other societal influences. Personally, my family is my biggest supporter. I have a support system behind me. When I get to work, my mother/sister and even my husband would take care of my son. Not many people get this type of support from their family. This support meant a lot to me otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to do so many things.

During the event, My teammates encouraged me to go on stage and present my idea though I had stage fright:
“You do the meeting point well so you can do this too.”

“On stage, I was talking but I could feel that I was shivering inside. I felt I was freezing but it turned out well and we won second place!”

Thanks to this, I co-organizer of startup weekend women Maldives edition. This was a pivotal event. I made new friends through networking. I call them sometimes for advice or industry specific information. I volunteered in their company as community leader to organize events and help boost the ecosystem in Maldives.
During the startup weekend women, I met another woman working at the National Centre for I.T. She was a leader and I was quite impressed. Along with other ladies at the event, we decided to take action for our country so more girls will get into the tech field. Three of us, founded an NGO, Women In Tech Maldives in 2018. We have more than 150 members, mostly girls. We got a diverse tech background from software to hardware development. The other problems that these girls have are there but it’s either they are not confident enough or shy to step up and talk. Same form me, I was too shy to get on stage but my friend gave me that push. We wanted to be that push so more girls will come forward.

We organize Girls coding workshops in one of the islands in Maldives. 2019 was in Gn. Fuvahmulah Island and in 2020 we started with GDh. Thinadhoo island. We had 20 girls who learnt web development(HTML/CSS/JavaScript).

Our aim is to introduce more girls into coding. We try to give them equal opportunities.

“Not to hire them just because they are girls. But because they deserve to have an interview and evaluate them equally as you would evaluate a guy.”

For example, girls are expected to do all the documentation work. She wouldn’t be giving server handling tasks. The guy would be giving all the access to servers. Because they expect the guy to know but not the girl. But they should be giving the same opportunities to get experience and knowledge.
Not by gender, but by what they studied and what they know.
We talk to the policy makers and we try to create opportunities through Women In Tech Maldives through workshops and training. We offer volunteering opportunities in our projects. We’ve seen real positive change.

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-Django Girls (28 participants and 16 Coaches)-

It was through Women In Tech that I encountered Loopcraft, my current employer. I got the chance to talk to their CEO to convince him to join our STEM Fest event. At that time, I was only working on the same system at the insurance company for many years. If I wanted to grow as a software developer, I needed to move on, to go into untested waters.

“I can not stick to one language for the rest of my life. When I learn a new language, I take myself one step higher then where I was yesterday. “

I still take online courses on mooc platforms like coursera to brush up my skills.
I learn a new skill, I gain a new skill. I spent many nights studying online courses. There are moments when you feel you want to give up and think this is not for me. I am thankful for the opportunities I get at Loopcraft. They have given me the opportunity to grow and they respect the work I do.

So here I am, a Core Software Engineer. Whenever we get a new project, I would be involved in designing the project and designing the flow and overseeing the API development. I oversee the work of my team of Laravel developers and I do code along with them. I try to make the environment as fun as possible because just to sit and code is boring. I also train interns to build their personal teamwork skills.

I loved Neesha’s energy and agree with her that some girls need a push to get there. If you are in the Maldives, check her community, reach out for mentoring or workshops. Otherwise, join any other women in technology initiatives online or nearby. Start by looking on Eventbrite or meetup websites or just google!

Full details are available at the link below:

Source URL: Medium

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