Mariam Hussein | Slalom
"Fall seven times, get up eight.”
This Japanese proverb really sets the scene for this week's Women Rocker Mariam Hussein, whose phone screen holds the mantra "it all works out" to remind her, that perseverance and resilience pay off in the end.
Mariam works as a full-stack engineer at Slalom, is a UN Women Delegate and a Code First Girls Ambassador and her journey into tech has taught her that even the best-laid plans, sometimes don't work out. Originally looking to study and learn about how to improve workplace wellbeing in the UK and Japan, the global pandemic put an end to that dream with a tough marketplace and little opportunity. But, undeterred, Mariam discovered her skill in coding when she came across the incredible Code First Girls, an initiative to transform the tech industry by providing the skills, space, and inspiration for women to become amazing developers.
From having candid and passionate conversations with H.I.H Princess Tomohito of Mikasa in Tokyo about how young people need to start upskilling to keep up with the ever-evolving tech world, to working with Code First Girls to give those from underrepresented groups a pathway into tech, Mariam continues to persevere to help diversify the ever-changing tech landscape.
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SPEAKING WITH ME TODAY, TO START US OFF, TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR STORY SO FAR.
So, I was born and raised in Manchester and my career in tech and my journey into tech is an unconventional one. My initial passion was to study and learn about how to improve workplace wellbeing in the UK and Japan. Unfortunately, I graduated during the COVID-19 pandemic and not only was the job market tough but there were little to no opportunities to pursue this academic passion of mine. It was during this time that I worked at my university's incubator, and I came across the growing demand for people in technical and non-technical roles to support a lot of tech-based initiatives. I then gave myself a couple of months to learn how to code and to see if I even liked coding. It was during this time, that I came across the Code First Girls organisation which provided accessible ways for women and non-binary coders to get into tech. Currently, I work as a full-stack engineer at Slalom, which delivers digital transformations using modern tech stacks for our clients.
Currently, my focus has been on digital skilling advocacy and promoting accessible support for new techies in Manchester. My efforts include being a content creator to provide accessible information and insights on how to enter tech, but also what to do once you’ve entered your first tech job.
I NOTICED ON YOUR LINKEDIN THAT YOUR CURRENT FOCUS IS ON INCREASING DIVERSITY IN THE WORLD OF TECH, SPECIFICALLY THROUGH CODE FIRST GIRLS. COULD YOU TELL ME A LITTLE BIT MORE ABOUT THIS?
Through Code First Girls, we have been focusing on transforming tech by providing the skills, space, and inspiration for women to become amazing developers, data whizzes and future leaders in tech. We have the largest community of coders, instructors, and mentors who provide free access to coding education and help more women break into the industry. What makes Code First Girls particularly amazing is that we partner with local and global businesses to connect them with talent to provide their first step into tech. Currently, we’ve taught around 145,000+ people how to code over the past few years, with over 55% being from underrepresented communities.
Aside from my work with Code First Girls, I’ve been focusing on creating content. It’s primarily aimed at those looking to enter the tech industry, or what next steps they should take once they get that first role. I found that opportunities such as Code First Girls, the Skills for Life Bootcamp, the Institute of Coding, and more are only known if people are aware of these opportunities and where they can take you. With this, my content’s focus has been on educating people on roadmaps into tech, and how to navigate your first year as an engineer. It’s important for me to showcase these opportunities for women and marginalised communities. Throughout my past year as an Engineer, I’ve engaged with local communities, organisations and events to talk about how to get into tech, but more importantly how organisations can support them. My most recent focus has been an internal panel at the BBC to help provide insights to senior leadership and hiring managers on how to best support their diverse talent, but also attract a variety of talent.
Although I do work with Code First Girls and by myself, there has been an immense amount of effort brought on by a variety of organisations to promote intersectionality in tech. For those looking to tackle their first role in tech or to just upskill themselves – check out what’s happening in the North! We have so many opportunities from apprenticeships, boot camps, academies, and community efforts. 😀
COULD YOU TELL ME A BIT MORE ABOUT YOUR RECENT ENGAGEMENTS IN JAPAN?
My work as the UK Delegate for MIRAI relates back to my previous master's in workplace relations in Japan. Being part of the MIRAI Programme was an opportunity to learn about Japan’s economy, business and sustainability initiatives, but it also really gave me a lot of appreciation for Japanese culture. The highlight for me was presenting our learnings back to Japan's Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and being able to really see the social and economic trends in Japan.
Since then, I went on the Top Outstanding Young Persons Award Programme with JCI Osaka. This was an opportunity for me to bring what I do in my current role as a Software Engineer to talk about all things technology, digital skilling, and the mindset needed to transition to a Web3 landscape. On top of connecting with some amazing people making amazing changes in Web3 and Tech, I had the opportunity to present to students how Web3 can be used to improve labour and human rights issues globally. My focus was to tie in my current tech knowledge with my previous research during my Masters. Throughout this trip, the message I left with Kansai’s population is in order to make the change to Web3, existing companies need to be more open to general digital transformations and utilising Web2.0 technologies to create a ‘Web2.5’ for them to easily utilise and benefit from Web3.0.
Alongside this, my other focus was to encourage students to consider digital skilling and the impact it can have on their careers and professional toolkits. The world is ever increasingly becoming more digital – in work, life, and even leisure. Being able to understand those changes and work with them is essential for our future. It was this particular topic I was able to talk about with H.I.H Princess Tomohito of Mikasa in Tokyo and was a particularly engaging conversation as she was excited and passionate about Japan’s youth developing the mindset for technological changes.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT DIVERSITY IN THE WORLD OF TECH AND WHAT ELSE DO YOU THINK COULD BE DONE TO SUPPORT PEOPLE FROM A DIVERSE BACKGROUND?
There is a lot happening in Manchester. From increased diversity in a lot of companies to opportunities to enter tech, and even the thriving community and ecosystem we have to uplift new and existing talent. However, I personally found there can be a lack of representation at the top levels of companies within Manchester.
There are a lot of amazing and talented people who come into organisations, and a lot of effort needs to be put in to ensure companies can retain and celebrate their diverse talent. It’s important because when we’re making software, solutions, or digital products for people to use, we need to consider all types of people who will use them. If the primary designers, coders, and individuals making the key decisions for organisations don’t have the insights and understanding of all their audiences, it can cause our digital solutions to not meet all the needs of our users.
The other aspect to this is if organisational decisions or changes need to be made, having diverse leadership with an awareness of what their employees’ needs are can help cultivate and nurture an environment that enables their talent to flourish. Over 50% of women leave their tech roles before age 35, but 81% would have stayed if they were given chances to upskill in their roles. Ensuring you have knowledgeable, talented, and diverse leadership starts with attracting, retaining and uplifting existing talent!
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR YOUNG WOMEN OR PEOPLE FROM DIVERSE BACKGROUNDS IN THE INDUSTRY?
See what you like! There’s a lot out there and you don’t need to go into technical roles. Although I advocate for techies and those learning to code, over 82% of jobs now need digital skills. Learn a new language, software, tool, or skill set. Put yourself out there to learn something new. If it doesn’t work out, the fact you went and learned something new is still amazing. I thought I’d never have to rely on my niche knowledge of Japanese Workplace Practices, but I was able to leverage that knowledge in my recent engagements in Japan.
The other aspect is to find a community and build with them. There are so many passionate people in Manchester advocating for women in tech but also for diverse talent and experiences in tech. If you’re unsure of where to start, there are many groups you can join that have meetups, workshops, and activities for you to build your network and skills. I found when I started to engage with the local ecosystem and started to understand what was happening in Manchester – I got a lot more opportunities to contribute and engage with others. At the end of the month, there will be The Manchester Tech Festival, which is a week-long mix of tech events, socials, and opportunities to meet others. Signing up for events like these is an opportunity to meet diverse talent, but also tap into potential resources and networks!
A QUOTE OR A MANTRA THAT YOU LIVE BY?
Discipline over motivation
The idea to always work towards something slowly, regardless of the passion or goal. I found myself that focusing on small habits every day – like coding a little bit or prioritising my physical/mental health helped me achieve my goals!
It all works out.
I have this on my phone screen to remind me to keep having and adopting an optimistic perspective on things. This has helped me during a lot of difficult times and has prompted me to build my resilience and perseverance when needed. I will say it’s important to know when to tap into your community for help and not take everything on at once. But a mix of community help and resilience has supported me so much!
Thanks Mariam, you rock 🤘
Interview by Rob Marsh