Women in Tech: Mona Habibi

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Technical Safety BC’s Research and Analytics team and Finning’s dedicated digital team, which is committed to providing customers with solutions that improve their business by integrating deep industry expertise with digital technologies, work together in the space of Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence. During the team’s “Knowledge Share” sessions where Technical Safety BC and Finning’s digital team share their learnings and progress on their similar projects, we got to know Mona Habibi – and learned about her passion and drive to encourage more women to enter tech careers. Read on to hear about Mona’s journey into tech, the surprises and challenges she’s encountered along the way, and her advice for other women entering the field.

Mona, I understand you recently moved into data analytics and that your background is in computational physics. Why did you make this transition?

Yes, I moved into data analytics only a couple of years ago. I have more than 10 years’ experience in academia, researching numerical simulations, molecular dynamics, Monte Carlo simulations, and data mining of large data sets of proteins involved with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.

After 10 years in academia, I wanted to get involved solving real-world problems – and to work on a project where I can see the immediate results of my work. I find tech to be very tangible. I like the fast pace of the industry, how it’s ever-evolving – it forces me to be active. You are always pushing yourself to do better. There’s always something new to read about, learn, and try.

The tech industry also seemed welcoming of any idea from anyone, regardless of race, age, etc. For me having an accent and being a female, that was very important. I wanted to work in an industry that I felt comfortable in – and tech seemed like the right industry for me.

Now that you are in the industry, has your perception of the industry changed? What was your biggest surprise?

The people are much nicer and more supportive than I thought they’d be. It was a pleasant surprise, especially for the heavy equipment industry – an industry historically known for being male-dominated in terms of its gender makeup.

Sometimes you get some comments but they are usually made unconsciously, without cruel intent. Nowadays, many organizations have mandatory courses about unconscious bias and harassment at work. For example, it’s not appropriate to ask your female workers when they are planning to have kids or make comments about people that make them uncomfortable, such as commenting on race, culture, etc.

Organizations are also implementing more flexible policies, such as working from home, which help those who have kids at home.

What advice do you have for women entering tech?

Being the only female at the table reduced my confidence. I wasn’t confident enough and I started convincing myself that they hired me because I was a female, not for my skills. But the reality is that I was hired based on my qualifications and experience. So be confident in the skills you bring to your place of work.

I also struggled for the first few months because I did not have a background in computer science – I didn’t know the jargon and how to work with a software developer team. Then I learned it’s okay not to know. Go learn new skills. Go ask people. People are supportive and will help you. Don’t be afraid.

If you are the only female in your team, remember there are females in other companies and other groups that you can connect and learn from – ask them to share your experiences with you. One thing that was helpful for me is networking go to different Meet-Ups or Women in Tech gatherings. You will hear stories of how other women paved the way, which will shape your path.

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