Nadah Feteih has loved solving puzzles since she was a child. In her story, she talks about how this affinity for problem solving fostered a passion for computer science, and shares her perspective as a Muslim woman working in Tech.
Both of my parents were born and raised in Egypt. My dad ended up moving to the states in the 90’s to do his PhD here at Stanford. He ended up going back to Egypt and marrying my mom, and my sisters and I were born and raised in California. I’ve moved around a lot, and I’ve gotten used to having to pick up and re-settle somewhere. I was born in Freemont in the Bay Area, we moved down to Riverside when I was about five, we lived in Redlands for a little bit, and then we moved down to San Diego a couple of years ago and I’ve been going to college there and that’s where my family has most recently settled.
I am currently a student at UC San Diego. I just finished my undergrad, actually, in computer science, and I just started the Masters program there (we have a joint 5-year BS/MS program). I really enjoyed my major there, I feel like I had really found my place and I didn’t really want to graduate early—I had finished my undergrad in three years, which is why I’m doing my masters for my final year. I feel like I’ve just been able to learn so much and I really like the environment.
I’ve always been kind of an analytical logical person. When I was younger I loved doing puzzles and doing Sudoku, and things like that—I loved math, that was one of my favorite subjects. I was also very introverted. In elementary and middle schools, since we had moved around a lot, it was always really hard for me to make friends and I kind of always put my focus into school and what I was working on. When I got to high school, we had just moved to San Diego and I had an extra spot in my schedule and the counselor was showing me some of the electives that were being offered and he mentioned that there was a computer science course. Up until that pint I had no idea what computer science was but I had heard that it was kind of like engineering or math, and people had told me you’re probably going to go into engineering since you’re good at math and you like the logical thinking aspects of it. So I was like, okay I’ll just sign up for this class, on a whim, and it ended up working out because it was something that I enjoyed.
I really liked the assignments that we were doing and how it really taught you how to think. That’s why I’ve continued with computer science because I feel like it’s a really comprehensive major where you’re not just passively learning about facts—you’re actually learning how to solve problems, and you’re learning how to build things that are useful. Up until that point I think it was a good thing that I didn’t really hear about the stereotypes that were associated with computer science. You know, you realize later on, once you’re in the field, that it is very male-dominated. It’s not very diverse, it can be a little cut-throat, and I feel like had I known these things prior it probably would have drew me away from studying this, from pursuing this field, but I think going in having no idea what I was getting myself into was a good thing because along the way I had to build up that resilience against all of those things and to kind of not think about those stereotypes and just focus on how successful I could be and the successes I was finding along the way.
My parents have always been really understanding. They never force us to do anything: they’re like, pick what you like to do, pick what you’re good at and what you enjoy. If I have to think about what I’m going to do forty hours a week, I want it to be something I can do. When I’m focused on a programming assignment, I feel like I can sit there for hours doing that and that was why I was like, you know I guess I could do this for my job too.
Being at UCSD I was involved with the Muslim community a lot on campus, and I was involved a lot with the computer science community. For me, I was always just used to those being two disjointed groups: I went to the Muslim Student Association events, I went to all of the Computer Science tech events that we had, and I learned to kind of split my identity in that way. And that was something that I was just used to, it was like I have this part of my life and I have this part of my life. I couldn’t really develop my identity as a whole because of that fact that I had these interests that were so split, and unfortunately you don’t find a lot of overlap with these two—you know, being a Muslim woman in tech.
The Bay Area is somewhat of a transient city—I was talking with a friend about this recently—because you have a lot of people coming there to work, and I actually found that there was a really big Muslim group in tech working there, and there are like a significant number of Muslim women that were working there in tech. I think that just meeting those individuals…it was like wow you’re like me, I was doing an internship there over the summer and it was kind of like you’re working there and that’s where I see myself. Seeing someone else doing [what you would like to do] is really encouraging, because it makes you realize that that’s something that you could actually potentially end up doing too.
I always think about how I made it here, and I think about the process along the way and the people that really affected me and the people that encouraged me. Like I was saying before, I know for a fact that if I had found computer science in college, or if I had found it a bit later, it would have been so hard to jump into it, especially with the atmosphere where there are so many people that are successful in this field—it’s a little disheartening when you’re still learning and you’re still starting out.
Being at a place like Google, they really value you as a person and not just as an engineer or a programmer. There’s a lot of opportunities for personal development, too. They offer classes, they’ll reimburse you if you want to go back to school; when I was interning in Mountain View, it wasn’t just about doing the work, they had classes for you to learn other skills. They had some cooking classes that you could take, or you could maybe explore a different language and these are classes that are offered on-site. If in your current job at Google it’s not a good fit, they’re super understanding about you transferring to a different team, or maybe trying out a different role and I feel like it provides that flexibility that a lot of other companies don’t have—maybe you have to clock in and out. Even as an intern they have given me a lot of flexibility! I was not confident when I was younger at all, there’s a lot of students that I’m working with (and a lot of my friends, too, that are applying for full-time jobs) who are just super unconfident with their interviews. We have a lot of interviews set up now for full-time, and honestly you just have to fake it until you make it.
I think honestly, as a woman, I’ve heard that we will only apply for a job if we meet one hundred percent of the qualifications and men will apply if they only meet thirty [percent] or something like that, you know? And I see that a lot, so I’ve had to develop that [approach] in order to get by and in order to continue where I am. I would have just fallen flat if I stayed that timid girl who never spoke up, who was super scared of anything. So [confidence] is definitely something that you develop, it comes with time, it’s not easy at all. You just have to keep walking through things hoping that it will all just work out, even though there are so many factors that are probably standing in your way. And then…realizing that things will work out, maybe not the way you expect. There’s almost never any decision that you make that are irreversible, you know? Every decision you make and every course of action that you take is going to be moving you forward in some way toward some path that is maybe not where you want to end up, but that will help you end up in a good place in the future.