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‘If You Believe It, You Can Achieve It’- An Interview With Zineb Leghnider

‘If you believe it, you can achieve it’- An interview with Zineb Leghnider

From a degree in Psychology to sales assistant, Lululemon educator to budding DevOps and Software Engineer. I think 2020 showed us that anything is possible and the brilliant Zineb is here to tell us all about her truly inspirational journey into Tech.

There were massive cultural factors that may have deterred her from taking a Computer Science course, as you don’t see many Arab women in the field (even to this day). So she decided to go for something she felt she was good at and had a strong interest in, which is where Psychology came into play. Though she definitely enjoyed her degree, she found that the prospect of working as a Psychologist did not excite her as much.  Therefore, she knew she had to dedicate her own personal time to expanding her skills and expertise, as being self-taught is celebrated in the tech industry. Over the last few years, she has spent a lot of time learning how to program in different languages, create her own applications, design and deploy cloud architectures, skills that have proven to be very useful in the working world. The Cloud was also an area of tech that she really did not know much about until she started the AWS re/Start programme. Cloud computing is quite a recent, exponentially growing technology which is being adopted by so many companies, day by day. What interested her the most about the Cloud was the fact that it was so straightforward to use that anyone could learn how to do so from the comfort of their own home. It almost removes the difficulties of building everything from scratch, maintaining all this hardware and can be deployed in an instant!

After a couple of years of dedication learning all about Tech, Zineb is about to start her career in the summer and we cannot wait to follow her on the journey. You are the future Zineb and we all wish you all the best, you’re going to be one to watch!

I was lucky enough to catch up with you in Jan and talk about your background and what you are looking for. But for people reading this, please could you tell us a little bit about you and what you are up to?

I’m a recent Warwick graduate with a Psychology degree, who happened to be beginning the job search during the biggest global crisis we’ve had in decades. I have spent the last few years trying to figure out how I would successfully launch a career in tech without going down the traditional route (i.e., a Computer Science degree), with a number of opportunities to learn how to code. I happened to come across a tweet about a 12-week AWS programme designed for those without a traditional tech background and gave the application process my best shot. After successfully securing a spot, I found out that only 22 places were given out of a massive 2000+ applicants (I was over the moon)!! It almost felt like it was meant to be as the timing aligned perfectly with the completion of my Bachelor’s degree. The programme was an amazing opportunity to learn an array of different topics in computing and cloud technologies, which set us up perfectly for our first AWS certification exam. Since graduating from the AWS re/Start programme in December 2020, I have successfully passed my AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner exam and have continued to develop my technical skills such as getting comfortable with Terraform and learning how to code in JavaScript!

Where did your passion for tech and Cloud/DevOps come from?

My journey into the industry so far has been primarily driven by my curiosity and natural affinity to tech and how computers actually work. I always found the prospect of being able to press a few buttons and eventually creating an entire programme was fascinating. There have been massive cultural factors that may have deterred me from taking a Computer Science, as you don’t see many Arab women in the field (even to this day). I decided to go for something I felt I was good at and had a strong interest in, which is where Psychology came into play. Though I definitely enjoyed my degree, I found that the prospect of working as a Psychologist did not excite me much. Psychology is very much dominated by rigorous, scientific research which is well-established and standardised. Whereas tech is very dynamic, challenging, innovative and creates room for creativity, something I need to keep me engaged! Therefore, I knew I had to dedicate my own personal time to expanding my skills and expertise, as being self-taught is celebrated in the tech industry. Over the last few years, I have spent a lot of time learning how to program in different languages, create my own applications, design and deploy cloud architectures, skills that have proven to be very useful in the working world. The Cloud was also an area of tech that I really did not know much about until I started the AWS re/Start programme. Cloud computing is quite a recent, exponentially growing technology which is being adopted by so many companies, day by day. What interested me the most about the Cloud was the fact that it was so straightforward to use that anyone could learn how to do so from the comfort of their own home. It almost removes the difficulties of building everything from scratch, maintaining all this hardware and can be deployed in an instant! For those who are keen to get involved in tech, I would highly recommend looking at launching a super exciting career in the cloud.

How was the AWS ReStart programme, would you recommend it to someone who is also interested in starting a career in the devops world?

If I could sum up the AWS re/Start programme in one word, it would be transformational. It was the most incredible programme to start my journey into tech, covering all bases needed for a successful and exciting career. The programme is structured in a way that covers all the knowledge you would need in a technical role including topics such as Linux administration, networks, security, programming and databases, as well as AWS fundamentals. It almost summarised the most important content you would gain from a computer science degree into a concise, 12-week programme! I also went from having barely any knowledge of cloud computing to being able to have conversations about such topics at length, something I didn’t think would be achieved in such a short length of time.  The team at Generation have been so supportive both throughout the programme and post-graduation, with regular career-focused sessions and numerous employer networking events. What’s also so incredible about the re/Start programme is that it is completely free and your AWS Cloud Practitioner certification fee is covered!

I have to give a massive shout out to the team at Prince’s Trust for the support they continue to give the re/Start graduates. You will be set up with a mentor throughout the entire process, with regular 1-to-1s to discuss both cloud and non-cloud matters. One thing I always say about mentorship is that you don’t actually realise you need a mentor until you have one. Overall, I would encourage people from any background to apply for the programme, as I can’t imagine a better way to prepare yourself for a future in the cloud!

As someone who didn’t follow STEM in school but has re-trained what advice would you give to someone who is looking to do the same?

My biggest piece of advice is to truly believe in yourself. Something we covered in the re/Start programme was the importance of having a growth mindset when working in tech, through multiple group exercises and discussions. It is so easy to feel defeated when comparing yourself to others who have been successful in their career or have studied subjects like computer science at university. However, the tech industry is one of the few where those who are self-taught are just as highly regarded as those who have gained a formal education. If you dedicate enough time and effort into expanding your skillset, developing projects and engaging with the community, it will eventually result in success!

There will be times where it feels like nothing is going how you expected it to and it is impossible to find a job (especially in the current climate). When it comes to the job search, don’t let a lengthy role description deter you from applying. This one is especially targeted at the women trying to secure a tech role, as women are less likely to apply for jobs but are 16% more likely to get hired after they apply and rising to 18% for senior roles (Tockey & Ignatova, 2020). After all, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take! 

Although you had a few females with you on the course (thanks for sending them our way) we all know there is a lack of diversity as a whole in the tech industry. Why do you think so many females don’t follow tech or a STEM subject in school?

There are a number of reasons why women are less likely to end up taking STEM subjects or pursuing tech careers, which I believe starts early on in childhood. Gender norms and stereotypes play a massive role in shaping our behaviours and psychosocial development, which can even be observed in how teachers interact with different students. Subjects like English, Humanities and Languages are seen as stereotypically ‘feminine’, whereas STEM subjects like Maths and Sciences are seen as more ‘masculine’. For example, the number of men on my Psychology course at university made up around 10% of the group. Whereas, subjects like Economics, Maths and Computer Science were heavily dominated by male students. A research study carried out by the Department of Education found that female students in KS4 were much less likely to consider them to be best at a STEM subject (33% compared to 60% of males). If we want to see change in the tech industry, we need to start with structural changes within the education system in order to break gender norms and expectations at the source. By placing initiatives to encourage women to take STEM subjects at GCSE and A-level, this will have a ripple effect on future generations, eventually leading to more women creating successful careers in the field of technology!

By encouraging more women to go for technical roles, this allows for more individuals to act as role models for those who may not feel confident enough to re-train or apply for certain positions. As an Arab woman, I almost never see women like myself in technical roles or in the working world in the UK. If I am able to help contribute toward more representation for Arab women (as well as women in general) in the world of tech, I consider myself to have achieved my career goals!

Congratulations on getting your first role in tech 🥳 Can you tell us a bit about what is next for you?

Thank you so much! I’m super excited to finally see the time and effort I have dedicated over the years come to fruition. I’m set to join EY at the end of this month as a junior developer apprentice, which is an incredible opportunity in collaboration with Makers Academy. I couldn’t imagine a better place to start my tech career, especially knowing that I will have the time and resources to gain extensive training experience before beginning the role in May. I hope to still continue to study toward more AWS certifications in the future, as cloud skills will remain in demand for the foreseeable future! As for further into future of my career, I am open to see where life takes me; COVID-19 has been a harsh reality for us all in terms of making plans.

 Any books, blogs or podcasts to recommend?

A newsletter I have really enjoyed over the last few months is Morning Brew, keeping me up-to-date on the emerging technologies in business! I find that by keeping updated on what is happening in the tech industry, I felt much more confident in my knowledge and abilities when going into interviews.

A podcast I would recommend is ‘Reply All’ on Spotify, which takes a more light-hearted and comical approach to discussing the ‘internet’. Would recommend if you want to hear some funny tech stories!

Finally, one of my favourite books is The Daily Stoic, which discusses how to live a life that is very present and in the moment. Stoic principles have proven to be very helpful in coping with the pandemic, as adopting stoicism encourages you to take each day as it comes. Rather than worrying too much about how the future will unfold, I have learned to appreciate the here and now!

What song represents you?

This might be a little cliché, but Stronger by Britney Spears. Each day goes by and I feel more confident in myself and where I will end up in the future. I just continue to remind myself that I’ve already come so far over the last 4 years and it’s only up from here!

And lastly what is your favourite quote?

‘If you believe it, you can achieve it’ – long-term, successful change will only happen if you truly believe in yourself (another cliché, I know!).

Thanks for sharing this with us Zineb, you really are an inspiration for underrepresented folk, the career changers and next generation.

Keep Rocking

#womenrock

By Alicia Teagle 

A voice for diversity in Tech & Engineering <3

I: @womenrockbristol

T: @womenrockbrstl

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