May 11th, 2018

Wood dice that spell "EMPOWER"

Tanjima Ferdous is a self-described software ninja, driven by curiosity and passionate about technology. She is a principal software quality engineer at Dell Boomi and is based in the Philadelphia area.

Tanjima recently attended the Women in Tech Summit in Philadelphia. This conference series, which takes place across the country, is designed to inspire, educate and connect women who work in the technology industries, providing them support and guidance in their careers.

We spoke with Tanjima about the changing environment for women in technology, her experience working at Boomi, and her takeaways from the Summit.

What inspired you to become an engineer — were you always interested in science and technology?

Tanjima Ferdous: My nature has always been to ask “why” — why are things the way they are? My father is a long-time researcher of microcomputers and teaches about microprocessors in universities. We had a lab equipped with high-tech devices in our home. Resistors, capacitors, small computers and my toys were all like Lego pieces for me. I would break and rebuild them just to see how they worked. I wasn’t familiar with the term “reverse engineering” back then, but that was exactly what I was doing.

My mother was also an education expert, so she encouraged me and nurtured my curiosity, which led me to my engineering career. Now I make a living breaking and testing the software that developers build — to see and verify why it is the way it is and how it reacts when I use it differently.

What brought you to your current role at Dell Boomi, and what is your focus?

Tanjima Ferdous: At Boomi I am a principal software quality engineer, currently focusing on technology upgrade efforts. Along with having a master’s degree in computer science and a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, I have been in this profession for most of my career. I’ve focused on creating test infrastructures from scratch, as well as testing existing applications for data warehouses, business intelligence reporting, ETL, API web services, and customer-facing web applications.

My experience, adaptability and desire to work on leading-edge technologies led me to my role at Boomi. Being in research and development (R&D) is exciting, as we are constantly working on new things that are in hot demand. That’s how Boomi is leading the industry in development of the integration cloud.

What is it like being a woman in technology within Boomi?

Tanjima Ferdous: Boomi has a great culture, which plays a key role in helping women advance in their careers — I think because of this we have women in technical lead and squad manager roles in R&D.

Boomi is definitely encouraging more women to serve in technical roles and provides training to help all its employees learn and grow. My immediate manager has always encouraged me to actively advocate my ideas and freely present them while encouraging me to be proud of my achievements. I’ve never felt any discrimination here.

We treat each other with respect, and we give each other opportunities to be heard. Women at Boomi are being recognized for our achievements — not only through appreciation but also promotions and rewards. I would like to see more women in leadership roles, but I do think there are opportunities for advancement.

Have you seen any changes in attitudes towards women in the workplace over the course of your career?

Tanjima Ferdous: I have seen a lot of changes over the past years as industries and communities are recognizing the issues now more than ever. When I first started in engineering, I was once judged for of my way of expression instead of recognizing my passion and knowledge about a topic. But that same energy of expression brought best graduate researcher award for my Master’s thesis.

I want to quote one of my professors saying to me, “You really know what you are doing, don’t lose this energy.” — this really helped me not doubt myself.

Other issues that I’ve faced and seen other women experience is that our ideas and opinions are ignored, but the same idea delivered by a male colleague gets heard and appreciated. As a woman, stating opinions and being passionate is sometimes interpreted as being dominating, overpowering or bossy.

The good thing is both men and women are now working towards changing this perspective to ensure equal opportunities. Over the course of my career, I have been mentored, attended meetups, found many allies to support me, and have had opportunities to work with management that empowers women. This has made me far more confident than before about going out there and presenting myself.

Do you believe that women in engineering and other tech fields are given the same opportunities and/or encouragement as men?

Tanjima Ferdous: Challenges still exist, but we are at a time where we can make a difference. We have just started the #TimesUp & Breaking the Glass Ceiling movements. Because of these and similar initiatives, women around the world are sharing their stories and encouraging other women to speak up and make a difference. As women, we need to be more confident about ourselves and also find allies and a community to support and promote us.

It’s important for all of us, both women and men, to recognize that there is a challenge and then work on it. Go to technology events like the Women in Tech Summit. Talk to your peers and understand what they are facing. The more you talk about it and the more you network, the more you will learn and the more strides you can make towards turning things around.

How did you learn about the Women in Tech Summit, and what was it about it that inspired you to attend?

Tanjima Ferdous: Last year I was working with Comcast, and they were sponsoring the event. My manager at the time, who is also a woman whom I consider to be my mentor, encouraged me to attend. I looked up the speakers and the workshops they would be offering. Once I saw that I wanted to go.

It was one of the best things I have done from both a professional and a personal standpoint. I came back empowered not just as a woman but also as an engineer. When I brought the event to my manager’s attention this year, he was immediately supportive of my attending the conference again this year.

What did you experience at the event that made you feel so empowered?

Tanjima Ferdous: I wanted to learn as much as I could and increase my level of self-confidence. The opening keynote speaker, tech life expert Stephanie Humphrey, shared how she was challenged in many steps of her career for not only being a woman engineer but also being an African American. She was rejected from opportunities, promotions, even graduate school admissions. But the important thing was how she overcame those obstacles and achieved what she deserved.

The closing keynote speaker, Lucinda Duncalfe, shared how she managed her career growth in a male-dominated industry while being a working mom by finding allies and defining her own balance. (Duncalfe is the CEO and president of Monetate, a SaaS marketing automation company)

The common elements in their presentations were having the will to accept the challenges in your path, defining the approach and balance that best works for you, looking for allies, and sharing your story — because each of our stories matter.

What about the technology aspects of the event?

Tanjima Ferdous: The Women in Tech Summit, while about promoting women, is a technology event. The event offered a number of tech workshops that required no prior knowledge to participate. Being in a supportive environment made me feel comfortable with trying new things.

I attended hands-on workshops for Android development, unit testing, data analysis, data visualization and Git — I feel so strong now that I am thinking of coming up with a workshop for Boomi to share that knowledge. I also attended talks on blockchain and podcasting to stay on top of what’s going on in the industry. To be a successful professional, you’ve got to keep your bag heavy!

Was there anything different about your conference experience this year compared to last year?

Tanjima Ferdous: One great thing about working for Boomi is the recognition that goes along with it. Last year I went to the Women in Tech event as an independent contractor. While I met a lot of people, it was easier to network this year as part of Boomi.

I met women from different companies who have been using Boomi for a long time, as well as others who have recently started using our integration platform. All of them were very happy with their experience using Boomi. In fact, they saw from my badge that I worked for Boomi and approached me. I was so proud to be representing Boomi. Working for a company that is recognized as a leader automatically made me stand out.

What advice would you give to women who are pursuing or studying for careers in tech?

Tanjima Ferdous: Don’t drift away from what you naturally have — curiosity and the urge to ask questions — that’s what science is about, and that’s what drives technology. You are capable. Believe in yourself and your own abilities. Share your knowledge with the people around you and build a smarter community.