Women in Tech: Arfah Farooq

Throughout our crowdfunding campaign we'll be interviewing leaders and upcoming women in the UK tech industry, asking how they got involved in tech and the importance of role models.

In this interview we speak to Arfah Farooq, Founder of Muslamic Makers.


Tell us a bit about yourself and what you're working on

I joined Makers Academy, which is a 12-week developer bootcamp, as a marketing person 2 years and a half ago - I actually previously hired a developer from Makers Academy and had seen the company grow and thought that they seemed really interesting, they're making change to people's lives so I approached them. Then about a year ago I set up a community with a friend of mine called Muslamic Makers, which is for muslims working in tech, as a fun thing that we could do on the side. 

It's basically bringing muslims working in the tech industry together to inspire people. It came from my own experiences, tech events aren't really inclusive, there's a lot of alcohol, etc. and muslims tend to try to avoid that stuff. We knew there were other muslims working in the tech industry but we didn't know where they were so we basically just wanted to showcase them and through that I developed another interest which was around muslim women in technology. Soon I'll be going away to research muslim women working in tech in America, Pakistan and Dubai, after being awarded the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust travel fellowship.

 Muslamic Makers event, London

Muslamic Makers event, London

How did you first get involved in tech?

I did Media and Communication at university then I accidentally founded a tech startup! I was involved in a charity called Spark+Mettle, we applied for some funding to help solve youth unemployment, got some funding from the design council, built this fun little website to help young people develop soft skills and we got a lot of interest from investors. About three years ago there was a heavy focus on tech for good, so there were a lot of pots of money out there for anything to do with technology that was being used to solve issues and problems.

We ended up being on Wayra UnLtd, which is a tech accelerator run by O2 Telefonica. So for the first nine months, as a co-founder, we were trying to make our product work - again, I didn't know this tech industry existed, I didn't know anything about startups it just kind of all happened and that was basically my first exposure to tech. Unfortunately the startup failed, my co-founder and CEO was straddling the charity and the startup that meant that things basically fell through, like paying the tax man... So one day I was like "how does tax work?" I Google it and realise that we've never paid the tax man. That just meant that our runway was up. To be honest it was a blessing because when were in the tech accelerator we pivoted and started doing something that we were not passionate about, so it worked out well

 Muslamic Makers event, London

Muslamic Makers event, London

Why are role models so important? Can you give us an example of how a role model has influenced you and your career?

Role models are really, really important because it comes down to relatability. When I get asked the question "who is your role model?" my answer tends to be that there have been loads of role models in my life that have helped me along my journey, in different parts, but there isn't a role model that looks like me, you know? Somebody who's a woman, muslim, working in tech, etc. who might have faced the same barriers as me. So that's the reason why I'm so passionate about finding those role models that are very similar looking. I once read a book my Sheryl Sandberg called 'Lean In', a lot of the stuff was really awesome in there but then a lot of the stuff was very unrelatable because actually the people who could probably afford to do that are slightly richer, middle class, white women, like her. There's that intersectionality that often gets missed in the discourse around women in tech, especially. It's all about relatability for me.

You can find Arfah on Twitter as @Arf_22

Project Prep partners with Women's WorldWide Web (W4) and Stemettes!

We want to share some amazing news today!

Project Prep will become available for everybody, including underprivileged girls that would normally not have easy access to the book. Women’s WorldWide Web (W4) has agreed to contribute a match fund to our crowdfunding campaign that will double the contributions made to the project. Those funds will be used to make the books available to underprivileged girls and distributed via Stemettes' nationwide initiatives. 

This is amazing for several reasons, the most important one being that with a focus on diversity, inclusion is maybe more important now than ever. For the last few years we have been actively trying to inspire more girls and women to pursue a career in tech and it is important that this applies to ALL girls and women. Not just ones that we can easily reach, not just the ones that are in our existing networks. If we want technology to become truly diverse it is important to reach beyond that and make an effort to reach people that are outside of our own bubble.

Secondly, it is really great to see that the women in the Inspiring Fifty network are committed to help each other to truly make a difference. Several of the Inspiring Fifty women have appeared in our crowdfunding video, including Lindsey Nefesh-Clarke and Anne-Marie Imafidon who jumped at the chance to be involved. It confirms our idea that together we can make a difference!

And last but not least, I have seen for myself the difference technology can make in the lives of people when traveling to South Africa to visit the UNICEF TechnoGirls program

 Janneke Niessen's visit to UNICEF TechnoGirls in South Africa

Janneke Niessen's visit to UNICEF TechnoGirls in South Africa

“I have learned that you can actually change your tomorrow.”
“It showed me that I can have dreams. That I am allowed to dream beyond my situation today.”
“Instead of looking at me as a girl from a township they looked at me as somebody with potential.”

These are just some of the comments made by participants of the program. The TechnoGirls program identifies high school girls between the ages of 15 and 18 who are from disadvantaged communities (rural and urban), and who are performing well academically. Through a mentorship system, the girls are guided to make informed career choices, with an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math.

It was inspiring and encouraging to hear their stories and see the impact of the program. They are much more confident and actually see a future for themselves, often very different to what they had in mind initially. They dare to dream big! The stories of the girls clearly show the difference technology can make in the lives of people, underlining the importance of role models and proves how technology can empower everybody, regardless of their background.

With that in mind I really wanted to make sure that with Project Prep we would make sure we would reach girls from all backgrounds with our crowdfunding campaign as well.

Written by Janneke Niessen

About W4

Women’s WorldWide Web (W4) is an online crowdfunding platform aiming to promote girls’ and women’s empowerment worldwide, in cities and in rural areas, in both developing and developed countries.   Harnessing the power of digital connection, W4 works to protect girls’ and women’s human rights and to promote their empowerment. Find out more.

About Stemettes

Stemettes is an award-winning social enterprise working across the UK & Ireland and beyond to inspire and support young women into Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths careers (known collectively as STEM). Find out more.

Project Prep Crowdfunding

We are currently crowdfunding to publish Project Prep in the UK and help address diversity issues in STEM subjects by inspiring young girls to get involved in tech. Click below to see our crowdfunding campaign and list of available rewards!

Women In Tech: Marija Butkovic

Throughout our crowdfunding campaign we'll be interviewing leaders and upcoming women in the UK tech industry, asking how they got involved in tech and the importance of role models.

In our first interview we speak to Marija Butkovic, former legal professional and current Wearable Tech specialist.


1. Tell us a bit about yourself and what you're working on

I'm a digital marketing and business consultant who has worked across a range of projects in different industry sectors, including legal, journalism, tech, IoT, wearable tech and fashion. I am a co-founder of Kisha Smart Umbrella - a wearable tech startup behind the world's smartest fashion tech umbrella, and Women of Wearables - UK’s and Europe’s first organisation aiming to support, connect and mentor women in wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT and VR/AR.

I'm member of Tech London Advocates - an organisation aiming to support technology startups in finding new investment, new talent and achieving high growth and Women Techmakers - Google’s global program providing visibility, community and resources for women in technology. I also currently work with startup accelerators and incubators in London and worldwide on delivering help as a mentor and advisor. 

 Kisha Smart Umbrella

Kisha Smart Umbrella

2. How did you first get involved in tech?

After graduating from the law university and spending eight years working as a legal professional, in 2014 I decided to pursue my career in tech. My transition to tech has been gradual, so I first started mentoring startups and writing for tech and business media titles. In 2014 I moved to London and co-founded Kisha Smart Umbrella, a wearable tech business with five of my friends and co-founders. I instantly fell in love with wearable tech, an industry that has great potential of beautifully merging the visual with tech, and to enhance our daily lives at the same time. 

I also decided to direct my efforts to digital marketing and PR, and at that point I knew my real passion was supporting, creating and building communities. My experience as a co-founder of Kisha helped me realise just how difficult it can be for women in the tech world, which is still very male-dominated. 

In 2016 I met my co-founder Michelle Hua, and we co-founded Women of Wearables (or just WoW, as we call it), an organisation that supports, connects and inspires women in wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, VR, AR and STEM in general. Our mission, first and foremost, is to encourage more women and diverse teams to participate in building hardware and software products as designers, product managers and developers or to be founders of their own companies, which will create more jobs for women in STEM. 

 Marija with Women of Wearables co-founder, Michelle Hua

Marija with Women of Wearables co-founder, Michelle Hua

3. Why are role models so important? Can you give us an example of how a role model has influenced you and your career?

Role models are very important for women, especially at the very young age. When we think about role models for young girls, those are very often their mothers and teachers, which makes it even more important to encourage more women into STEM as they could become role models for their own daughters. 

A lot of my female colleagues here in London are my inspiration. They are all everyday women who have managed to find their way in the tech world and have achieved so much. Dr Sue Black, for example, who was a single mum living in a women’s refuge, but later graduated with a computing degree and earned her PhD in Engineering. She is a big advocate for mothers in tech, which has led her to start the #TechMums organisation. In general, I’m always inspired by everyday “ordinary” women who achieved so much as mothers, business women and still have time for friends and themselves, yet don’t have whole army of support behind them, I think that’s just amazing.

You can find Marija on Twitter as @MarijaButkovic

Project Prep: A brief history...

How we met

Firstly, I started by asking for help because that really pays off. As soon as I got the idea I started talking about it. To see what other people thought of the idea but also to see who could maybe help me move forward. I knew nothing about publishing a book so a few tips would have come in handy. I also discussed it with my business partner, Joelle, who happened to know a famous Dutch children's book author.

While she probably thought that it was just another person that wants to write a book, luckily for me she agreed to meet to do Joelle a favor.  While we were talking about the idea she got enthusiastic as well and actually agreed to write the book. For me that was perfect, while I know a lot about technology and starting and running a company, writing is a totally different skill set and Niki was obviously an amazing writer. My main goal was and stills is to reach as many young girls as possible. A story that is well written will be read more often so that was a very important step. 

Then we wanted illustrations to go with the story, to make the story even livelier and give the book an extra fun factor. Niki had seen a great illustrator online who she thought would be a perfect fit. We reached out to her, pitched the idea and she said yes! So then we were a team of 3: Niki, Josselin and me.

About the name

That is when Project New York came to life. At my company we use city names to indicate product development projects that are not yet released and this was going to be my project. I love New York so that was really the only option :) When writing the book 'preppy' soon became an important element, especially the preppy look.

That is when Project New York turned into Project Prep

Because we all had different jobs and were working in different locations we were a virtual team and decided to setup a virtual office, a group in WhatsApp: Project Prep Headquarters.

Success in the Netherlands

In the Netherlands Project Prep has been an incredible success. Neelie Kroes, former Special Envoy of StartupDelta and EU commissioner and currently board member of different international companies has written the introduction to the book. Then we went to the palace to hand the first copy to Queen Máxima of the Netherlands. The booked turned into a best-seller, there was a lot attention in the press for the book but more importantly the subject and goal of the book: increasing diversity in tech and inspiring young girls to take an interest in technology. We organised awards where girls came up with amazing ideas to start their own tech companies. Famous Dutch people endorsed the book and made videos where they explained how technology was also important to them.

It has been a roller-coaster which has given us a lot of energy but the most important thing is the feedback we got from the girls. Girls that told us they started to learn to code and did everything that was mentioned in the book who were now wondering what the next step could be. Girls that made new plans for their future. Girls that were inspired to start their own company and actually really did.

Written by Janneke Niessen

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How we went from entrepreneurs to book publishers

How do you get from having the idea to write a book to actually publish one and handing the first copy to Queen Máxima of the Netherlands at the Royal Palace? I have simply applied a few of the lessons I have learned as an entrepreneur to this idea.

 Presenting Queen Máxima of the Netherlands with the first copy of Project Prep

Presenting Queen Máxima of the Netherlands with the first copy of Project Prep

Think possibilities instead of problems! Or as one of my favourite sayings goes: 'Don’t open your umbrella before it starts to rain'. Of course I had not done this before and had no idea about what problems I would face down the line but I decided to go for it and tackle whatever crossed my path when it happened.

I took a risk with this project. Financially because I financed everything myself but also more in general because of course I did not know if it would be successful. What if it failed? What would people say? Think? Honestly? I did not care. For me this was and is extremely important and I believed it would work. It was something I had to do. So while this might have seemed a risk to others, I never perceived it as such. I just saw opportunities and possibilities to make a positive impact on people’s lives. An important one to contribute to improving diversity in tech.

I have experienced that asking for help really pays off. I started talking about my idea with people. To get their feedback but also to see if people had any tips. My business partner Joelle happened to know a famous Dutch children's author, Niki Smit, and she ended up writing the book (more on that later).

Last but not least: Think big! Why would something not be possible? I thought it was a great idea to hand the first copy to Queen Máxima of the Netherlands. A lot of people made fun of that idea but for me it made total sense. So I took the previous lesson and started asking people for help. Until Neelie Kroes heard about my wish and helped me realise it. And on a nice sunny day in June, the day before the book would arrive in stores, we were at the palace to hand the first copy to the Queen.

Written by Janneke Niessen