Name: Nitasha Syed
Location: San Francisco
Education: Computer Science
How did you determine what to study in college (and grad school if applicable)?
My father was a computer scientist. I was very fascinated by his work. I remember learning how to code at a young age and feeling like it was very similar to learning a new language. As I progressed in my schooling, I started to lean towards software engineering and machine learning. I ended up majoring in Software Engineering and minoring in Machine Learning.
Walk me through your initial job search strategy and how you landed your first full-time role.
My initial job search was quite unlike most folks. In my last semester of college, my father was diagnosed with brain cancer. He was given six months to live and I was four (very difficult) courses away from my degree. I had to get a job to support my family and I just mass applied to a bunch of online roles. I happened to get a call back from Electronic Arts for the FIFA 14 team. To be honest, given everything that was happening, I don’t remember even applying but I got in. I would go to work all day and then grab notes from my classmates and study all night after coming back from the hospital. I took days off for my finals and exams so I was only in school for maybe 10 days that whole semester. It’s quite sad that the man that pushed me to pursue CS never had a chance to see me grow professionally but I will forever be grateful for everything he taught me.
How did you go from that first role to your current role as the founder of UNBOXD—what was that journey like for you?
The journey wasn’t planned and was more a series of events that lead me to where I am today.
Growing up as a first generation immigrant, people always tried to box me into stereotypes. I was the smart brown girl, the ‘goody two shoes’ for most of my life because I was good at math and science. I never understood why being good at STEM meant that I couldn’t enjoy fashion, makeup or music. I was grateful to have parents that allowed me to explore all interests, but as I grew older I realized how many girls felt like they had to be boxed in. As I progressed into my career I realized that we needed to change the narrative of women in the media. Girls needed to understand that they don’t need to give up who they are in order to succeed in STEM. We need new narratives that celebrate multi-dimensionality so I started Unboxd.
What is UNBOXD and why is your work through UNBOXD meaningful to you?
Unboxd is a media platform that is changing the narrative for women. It’s meaningful to me, because throughout my life I was always told I needed to sacrifice a part of myself and I wasn’t okay with that. I was told that if I looked put together, then I wouldn’t ‘look’ smart. On the flip side, I was told that if I did too well in school, I’d never get asked out or be ‘cool’. I didn’t like choosing between one or the other and I realized that the reason we grow up believing in these stereotypes is that they are so prevalent in the media. The unfortunate part is that young girls try to live up to them, meaning they don’t live up to their full potential. This needs to change, and more girls (and women) need to feel free to be themselves.
What was the hardest part of getting it up and running? Any failures or doubts along the way and if so, what did you learn from them?
Failures and doubts are part of everyday life. If you haven’t failed, then you’ve never challenged yourself. In fact, a lot of the times, people are successful because they’ve figured out the 10, 000th ways something doesn’t work. I am an engineer trying to start a media company, so I definitely don’t have a roadmap to follow. The one thing engineering has given me is the ability to take a big problem and break it down into smaller, manageable chunks. That ability is crucial in preventing me from getting overwhelmed which makes it easier to move forward.
Where do you want to take it in 5 years? 10 years?
I want it to be the first lifestyle media brand for science and technology. I want to put scientists and technologists that are changing our world in the media spotlight. Right now science and technology media brands are targeted to those who have a background in those areas in those roles but that is wrong because they pervade every part of our lives. The average consumer must understand content around science and technology so that they can make better decisions about their lives.
How do you balance your work with UNBOXD with your role as a Product Manager at Rally?
Time management is essential. I work a lot on weekends and after work.
What advice do you have for young women who want to get their foot in the door in STEM?
Don’t get intimidated with what you hear. Be confident in your experience and what you’ve learned. You will have to deal with plenty of people who will make you feel like your opinion is not valid but please understand that what you have to say is important (and valid).
Do you have a mentor? Who do you look to for inspiration and support?
I have many mentors. The key to a successful career is strong mentors that will help guide you through it. Some mentors are life long, and others are there for only a small period of time. Regardless, they have played (and will play) a huge part in guiding me throughout my professional journey
Final words of wisdom to young women who are strategizing to reach their education, career, and wellness goals?
Don’t let society dictate what you can and cannot do.
If you are open to connecting with our readers, how can they reach you?
Via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you, Nitty!