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.
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
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