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Inspiring Women in Tech: Driving positive change with Hamida Rebai  [Interview]

Increasing gender diversity and encouraging women into the tech sector has been a topic in the news for many years, Many women in tech-fields have inspiring stories about overcoming bias and achieving great things in a historically male-dominated sector. More and more women are gaining a foothold in the industry yet many still remain largely under-represented in IT and Tech focused roles. For this reason, we want to give exciting and inspiring women the opportunity to introduce themselves and tell how and why they chose their path into the tech industry.

Today i’m speaking to Mrs Hamida Rebai, a Tunisian software engineer and developer, currently working as a senior Advisor, Information and Solution Integration Architect in Revenu Quebec (Quebec Government agency). In 2017, Rebai Hamida was recognized by Microsoft as MVP (Most Valuable Professional) and won five awards since then. She is also an Azure and Microsoft certified trainer, author, international speaker, member of the dotnetfoundation, recognized as a Microsoft DevHero and a finalist at Women in IT Award. She launches Today her Book « A Developer’s Guide to Cloud Apps Using Microsoft Azure: Migrate and modernize your cloud-native applications with containers on Azure using real-world case studies ». We talked about her story, career, Work life and topics such as gender prejudices, challenges or funding opportunities are also discussed.

Let’s talk about your background. What brought you to your career and shifted the woman you are today?

From elementary school through college to high school, I studied in Tunisia, I hold a master degree in Information Systems and Software Engineering from the National Engineering School of Carthage, ENICarthage (Ecole Nationale d’Ingénieurs de Carthage). I wanted to achieve more at university to be integrated as a woman in engineering in a company in Tunisia, so I did a lot of training during my studies. I started as a software engineer in multinational companies; Offshore companies. I worked with clients from France, Italy, Sweden I got my first award with Microsoft in Tunisia in December 2017, I was the only person in Tunisia awarded. After few months I left to Canada for a new opportunity with a Canadian Company (CGI Canada) as a .NET consultant after that, I joined Revenu Quebec as Software Architect and recently I got promoted to a Senior Advisor, Information and Solution Integration Architect.

When did you start getting interested in technology? How did you find out that you’re passionate about programming?

I was inspired to become a software developer at the young age of 13 when I first learned Pascal programming, I was attracted by algorithm so I used the computer lab at school to teach myself. Since then, I knew that I will work in technologies specifically in building applications because I believe that technology helps us to improve our life. I was a girl with a natural curiosity and always penchant for learning that’s what led me into the IT industry. An industry in which very few women worked in my home country Tunisia at the time. « I was determined to pursue my passion for software programming« .

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« Learning is my way of having fun. I create time within my day to learn something new. Learning has become my hobby, my favorite pastime. And when you’re having fun, and it adds value to your entire life, it becomes something you believe in strongly and that has translated into a passion for me. »

Hamida Rebai Trabelsi

Have you had a role model, someone who’s career inspired you?

When I was young my role model was Bill Gates, ex-CEO of Microsoft but when I started presenting session, my new role model is Scott Hanselman, a programmer, teacher and speaker, he blogs about technology, culture, gadgets, diversity, code, the web, where we’re going and where we’ve been.

Did you get support from family and friends?

My father’s support was immensely valuable, I credit his influence to following my interests and ultimately choosing a career that I love, At a time when parents expect their children to become doctors, he recognized my gift and encouraged me to pursue software as a career. I learned the importance of being accountable for my decisions and not taking the opportunities that come my way for granted. He bought me my first computer when I showed an interest in technology. Without him I wouldn’t be who I am today.

Now, my husband and my son are supporting me, writing a book wasn’t easy, It was an objective to do I have a check list of things that I want to do and it was among it. Finding the time to write when being a wife, mother, a worker wasn’t easy. I do write blogs, I prepare conferences, trainings but writing a book wasn’t easy as I thought. When I got my baby last year, I was in maternity leave, so I decided to write this book but with a baby even in holidays is wasn’t easy and here comes the role of my husband to support me and help me to be more organized.

Talking about the book, how did you get the idea to write it ?

I was always thinking about writing a book with the list of articles that I published, but I was afraid to fail it because I can miss time for that. I asked my friends here about the best editor and then I selected Packt editor and I was thinking about something special and I started with an idea after few meetings with the team we implemented this idea in two books and I started writing in Mars 2022.

I worked on both of them the first one is finished and released and the second will be released after few months The editorial teams was really skilled and helped me a lot during all period.

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A Developer’s Guide to Cloud Apps Using Microsoft Azure: Migrate and modernize your cloud-native applications with containers on Azure using real-world case studies:

An easy-to-follow guide to help you build modern and secure applications and deploy them on Microsoft Azure, implementing the best practices, patterns and new technologies

Today seeing it comes to life, how does it feel ? Is it the most thing you’re proud of in your career ?

I feel proud because I’ve been through ups and downs, sometimes I said that I won’t be able to finish it because some chapters were really hard to work on but I’m proud of my work in general, I have been a part of the Microsoft community since December 2017 and have been recognized as a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional where I have had the opportunity to speak at many important conferences such as Microsoft Ignite and Microsoft Build. I never thought that I would be one of the speakers at such a big event. I’m proud of every achievement in my career and to be part of a skilled working team preparing the Cloud migration of the workloads and application of Revenu Quebec, Proud to be a part of Microsoft experts in the world Happy that many persons are following my sessions, I wrote an article in a German Magazine so I’m proud about all. I was in Tunisia last June and July and I was a part of speakers in Tunisia Digital Summit where I shared some best practices related to the cloud migration. And i dedicate my success to the memory of my father, my mother and husband.

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The Microsoft trophy of Mrs Hamida Rebai

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

We have a substantial mix of legacy of issues that we need to overcome. For me, the top issues are stereotypes, education, confidence and prejudice. First, It all starts at university. Young women think about their careers and find that this area is not as interesting as others, such as marketing or finance. They don’t want to waste their time studying technical subjects they’re not good at or won’t be accepted by any company after graduation because they’re women. And even if they do find a company, they will work with a lot of people they aren’t comfortable or happy with.

It’s a general stereotype labelling of certain industries as being male or female is something we are all working to overcome (and technology is one of many in this regard). Women are always considered not skilled, we always need to prove that we like technologies and we are able to work and decide in a project. There is a misconception of the IT sector and the opportunities within it; there are many diverse fields and areas available to newcomers such as Artificial intelligence, machine learning. These are fast moving and exciting fields to be in for women looking for interesting and challenging careers, but the industry doesn’t always do a good job of conveying this. We need to believe that a women can be skilled, technologies aren’t only for men. I believe that today women are able to hold any position in any company. They can be good leaders, they like to learn and they work hard to achieve their goals. The future belongs to women because they have the power to create opportunity out of nothing.

More women working in technologies means a revolution, because we are multitasking, we can do a lot of things in the same time so we can improve technology and give another view

Deloitte Insights: In the latest Tech Nation 2021 report, 25% of the tech workforce are women and while still disproportionately low, it is encouraging to see that this has grown since 2018 when it was only 19%, which shows momentum in the right direction. Within leadership roles, only 22% of UK tech directors are women, so while we need to encourage more women into the sector, we also need to do more to retain and support women into leadership roles.

Can you list the obstacles you faced especially in your beginnings?

Yes, as a student it wasn’t easy to get an internship and after having my master degree’s I wasn’t easy as a women to have a job with new technologies, In Tunisia, even in big companies, sometimes, we can’t use new technologies and in this case, we need to work and learn to be able to to keep a technology watch So my method to keep learning consists on learning every day and sharing what I learned in a blog.

Based on your own experience living in two different continents, what are the challenges that Women face here and there? Did that encourage you to leave Tunisia and pursue your career in Canada ?

Let’s say, all what i’ve listed previously are the main reasons why I decided to leave to another country, I felt that I can’t move forward anymore and I’ll come to the end of my career if I stay. The decision wasn’t easy but if I stayed I wasn’t able to move forward in my career. I was recently awarded by Microsoft and I was full of energy and motivation to plan multiple workshops in the company, I got an offer and I tried to see if things will change but unfortunately, not the case. I remember that I was working hard on multiple projects but no recognition to all my efforts. When I moved in Canada, I joined the local community and I participated as a Speaker in Microsoft Ignite in Orlando, I remember that I was watching this conference online and I got more opportunities as a Speaker in Quebec, Toronto and even in Paris.

Here in Canada, Quebec specifically, you need to earn their trust because you are different they don’t care about who you are, they only care about your achievement. The challenges are being in a different culture and different mindsets, let’s say, but it is easy to evolve your career.

From your side do you encourage women to pursue a tech career ? What advice do you give to them?

I do encourage women to have a career in tech, this should have a fantastic impact as we will start to see a rise in inspiring female leaders and role models that women will look up to, inspiring them to work in the tech sector but i still think that there is an embedded belief that women are not technical, which is from years of engrained misconceptions, so we need to start by empowering women, building their confidence in the sector, I advice them to believe in their skills I would like to advice everyone to keep learning. It is never difficult to plan one or two hours per day to learn something new, « Technology it is the future, Data is the most important asset today and learning about Kubernetes will make possible data interactions that were previously unthinkable. So definitely learn more about Kubernetes. Beyond that, I encourage all developers to commit themselves to lifelong learning. ». There will be challenging times of course being in a male-dominated environment, but change is well under way and you can be a part of the future of technology. Be confident, find an area that interests you and go after it!

Reading your MVP profile you said” I believe that I have to make a change in my country, I can’t live without leaving my footprint” what changes you wish to do in Tunisia ?

Oh yes, I was working on a startup related to the healthcare sector, it aims to be ‘Google of healthcare’ in Tunisia, Through AlloTabib (Arabic slang for Hello Doctor) patients can see each doctor’s schedule, along with their qualifications, patient reviews, photos, to choose the best practitioner. 312 doctors and over 1,200 patients have signed up so far. I was inspired to create AlloTabib after noticing how Tunisia’s often chaotic healthcare system prevented patients from receiving adequate care on time – a dysfunction that sometimes leads to patients dying while waiting for appointments. Through the site, patients can see each doctor’s schedule, along with their qualifications, patient reviews and photos to choose the best practitioner. From there, patients complete a brief checkout process to book an appointment. I wanted to improve this sector with solutions but I’m still believing that I will come back to Tunisia and help to improve any sector.

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