Rabiah
Khairy

Technical Consultant, LinkedIn

“I am fortunate that I haven't faced any significant challenges as a minority working woman. I believe a lot of it has got to do with the positive values and competency-driven culture instilled within my department. Respect is definitely a value shared by everyone. Having experienced this, I realised that learning about a company’s culture, the people you’re going to work with and even your manager, are important aspects. The environment that you spend more of your days in, to a large extent, has a big impact on your growth as a person. ”

Success to me is the enthusiasm I feel on my way to the office. There’s always something exciting to look forward to – be it working together with my fun colleagues, cracking my brains to solve a coding problem, or feeling the adrenaline rush as I try to match my typing pace with the fast-generating codes in my head.

Another aspect of success for me is being able to create meaningful products that positively impact society. For a previous project that I had worked on with MSF, my team and I developed a system that processes Pro-Family Leave (eg. Maternity Leave, Childcare Leave, etc) claims submitted by Employers and Self-Employed individuals. I was thrilled to be working on the project. I learned about the various policies and considerations required to create a robust system that supports family development in Singapore, especially as I plan to be a mother someday (InsyaAllah).

Additionally, I feel very fortunate to have a healthy work-life balance that allows me to spend time with my family or do other recreational activities.

It started after getting my O’level results. Being in a madrasah back then, I was not exposed to a lot of career choices and only had a very vague desire to pursue Science. IT wasn’t even part of the plan. That was until the polytechnic I wanted to study in rejected my application as my O’level grades did not meet their requirements. I was forced to think of a backup plan.

My mother was very supportive and helped me figure out the next best thing. Back then, IT was still very new and my father was coincidentally taking a part-time course on web development. He shared with me about his course and it really intrigued me. I eventually decided to pursue a Diploma in Multimedia & Infocomm Technology in Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP), and never looked back.

When programming was introduced to me, it was very alien and difficult. I couldn’t make sense of it. I mean, I was practically “talking” to a machine. However, I found it super cool that something as simple as System.out.print(“Hello World”) could get the computer to flash “Hello World” on my screen.

While it was a difficult journey and I struggled a lot to grasp the concepts, it didn’t cease my passion. In my final year, I decided to specialise in software development. My friends thought I was crazy because they found application programming impossible to understand.

After that, I continued my IT studies in Singapore Management University (SMU). There, I got to dive deeper into the technical and business aspects of IT. I was inspired by how IT systems were being used in the real world. It was also enlightening to know that many types of systems exist, each with their own objectives, and how technological innovations could make the world a better place.

Having this knowledge made me feel empowered, as I realised that I am able to create something myself and leave a positive impact on society.

In some sense, I was my own biggest hurdle. I struggled with the fact that I was not academically competent, and I internalised stereotypes imposed on me by virtue of my identity as a Malay woman and Madrasah alumni.

I was not a smart student in class. I was from the so-called ‘incompetent’ class, and scored bad grades from time to time. Unsurprisingly, I faced harsh judgements as others saw my grades as a reflection of my abilities. And at that point in time, I felt like my self-worth was pegged to my performance in school.

To compound that, as a Malay, I felt like I had to battle with the stereotype society has of us as being lazy or incompetent. There is also a societal perception that being in a Madrasah means that you are academically weak.

When life’s setbacks hit you, it’s easy to internalise all these things even though it’s not true. I feel like this adds to the pressure I face in having to work even harder to minimise chances of failure to invalidate such stereotypes.

My decision to pursue IT was an unconventional one also because the people around me felt that Madrasah students should pursue the ‘religious’ route and go to universities like Al-Azhar, and eventually become an Ustazah. But I beg to differ because everyone’s journey is different, and there is no one right way to pursue knowledge. At the end of the day, all knowledge is from Allah.

Still, the lack of support and passing remarks by others made me feel demoralised. I applaud my fellow Madrasah brothers and sisters for pursuing their passion and not letting other people’s expectations bring them down.

Alhamdulillah things are definitely much better now as I learn to filter out the negativity and surround myself with people that bring positivity into my life. I believe that Allah has planned all the success and rizq (blessings) that we deserve in this life. It’s not a zero-sum game. We just have to continue working hard and be the best in what we do. I hope to keep inspiring the people around me and my community, and show them that stereotypes are just noises that are not impossible to ignore. You hold the pen to the book of life.

I am fortunate that I haven’t faced any significant challenges as a minority working woman. I believe a lot of it has got to do with the positive values and competency-driven culture instilled within my department. Respect is definitely a value shared by everyone. Having experienced this, I realised that learning about a company’s culture, the people you’re going to work with and even your manager, are important aspects. The environment that you spend more of your days in, to a large extent, has a big impact on your growth as a person.

Though I wouldn’t consider it a challenge per se, I wish that there are more female role models doing similar work as me and holding high positions. Especially since I hope to have children one day, I would love to hear from working Software Engineer mothers about how they juggle their work responsibilities in a fast-paced industry, while taking care of the family.

When I started my tech journey, my social circle was not inclined towards software development. I would tell my younger self to give her best in whatever situation she finds herself in, to pursue her passion and find like-minded individuals to form a study group so she won’t feel so lonely. I always believe that the company you often mix with has a significant impact on your personal growth. I only had a proper study group that motivated me to perform well when I was in my final year and I wished that I had it sooner.

With regard to my career, like many other fresh graduates, I did not place so much emphasis on a company’s workplace culture and the learning opportunities that come with it. I’ve seen my peers quitting their jobs early because they felt that their companies were not able to give them the learning opportunity to grow or that they found themselves being overworked. 

I was fortunate to have started my career in Govtech. I had the opportunity to leave an impact on society, be in a nurturing environment that allowed me to learn from my mistakes, and supportive peers and managers who care about my professional development.

When you’re a fresher, how you start your career journey is important as the experience would largely shape your outlook on life. I would definitely tell my younger self to have more confidence in her skills and have a mindset beyond the salary package or just for the sake of securing a job.

Hopefully, I will be a Senior Engineer who is able to make technical decisions, or be in a management role in the tech domain. On top of that, I hope to be more active in the mentorship space and coach students to help them achieve their potential.