Women In Tech: An Interview With Drone-Passionate Engineer Samira Hayat

In 2016 the United Nations celebrated International Women’s Day in the context of “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”. Although progress has been done in terms of gender equality in several industries, one that is still a long way from the goal is the tech industry. Across Europe, for example, women mostly remain underrepresented in the tech scene, with only 16.7% of women in Tech in the whole European Union. 

Excited about finding inspiring professionals who could motivate more women to be interested in computer science and engineering, I decided to interview Samira Hayat, a 37-year old telecommunication engineer from Pakistan living in Klagenfurt. Samira has been working on the topic of multi-drone systems for the past 6 years, and she is currently active in research while pursuing her PhD. 

Natalia: Samira, can you please share bit with us about what you do? Were you always passionate about drones?

Samira: I have always been passionate about technology, and drones have always been interesting for me. I got to know these devices in a very negative context. Drone strikes shook the lives of many people in Pakistan, and they became known as killing machines.

I truly believed that drones could be used as healing machines as well, and it was up to humans how they employ them. Technology is a tool, and can become killing or healing, based on the choice of humans using it in most cases. I initially started exploring connectivity and communication in drone networks, and later used the knowledge I gained in this domain for drone network coordination. This means that networking is used for autonomous flight of drones to successfully complete mission tasks.

N: What are the current projects you are working on?

S: I am currently working on autonomous navigation in swarms of drones, and focusing also on establishing a startup. On the side, I also explore autonomous navigation of drones in obstacle-ridder, GPS denied environments, and also analyse existing technologies for feasibility of implementation for drone networks

One of the biggest challenges for me was to find the right environment where my work as a woman in tech could be appreciated. I had to explore a lot of places before I arrived at the ideal breeding ground for my ideas. 

N: Could you please describe the challenges you have faced so far trying to suceed in this industry?

S: I think challenges drive me, so I have always seen them as positive means of motivation to excel further. I guess one of the biggest challenges is to find the right environment where your work is appreciated as a woman in tech. I had to explore a lot of places before I arrived at the ideal breeding ground for my ideas. Once you find the right place, which for me is the Mobile Systems group under the supervision of Prof. Christian Bettstetter, the unnecessary hurdles of proving my identity vanished to a high extent. The challenges I took up afterwards were of my own choice, where I tried to follow my passion for raising awareness about ethics relating to drone technology alongside doing my PhD, and now try to overcome the challenge of starting a business.

N: And how did you overcome such challenges?

S: I think I overcame all the challenges in my life by trying to find any possible way to stay positive, and never give up. There have been times in my life when I have failed during the day, been broken down in the night, and have woken up the next day with a new list of to-dos that may get me closer to the desired outcome. Positivity, perseverance, openness to failure and change, and activity/mobility helped me make the most of any situation I fell in. Many times, these traits brought the best for me out of the worst situations.

N: What has been a moment you have felt proud of yourself? 

S: I can say I appreciate myself a lot. I have seen myself struggle through some pretty tough times and I feel proud of myself every now and then without any big reason. I would say a few moments when I was particularly pleased when I got an invitation to join as speaker at the TEDxCERN, when I was invited to go to the Goalkeepers event by the Gates Foundation, and when my supervisor and family saw my business pitch at the European Forum and let me know how proud they were of me.

N: What hacks or tips would you give to someone who is seeking to pursue a career similar to yours? What about landing a job in this industry?

S: I think research is all about staying curious, thinking outside the box, and accepting criticism positively. Apart from that, in any job, understanding priorities and time management is the most important thing to consider. I think finding a job as a researcher may not be the hardest thing, but what is hard is to find the perfect fit. Before saying yes to a research position, it is very important to meet the team and see if they fit you and you fit them. Needless to say, you have to be passionate about the topic. If you are not, research can become very disheartening at times, as you may not get what you expected/desired as an outcome.

Before saying yes to a research position, it is very important to meet the team and see if they fit you and you fit them. 

N: What role do you think clothing and your overall appeareance have played on your career?

S: I think your dressing, your posture and your body language make the first impressions, before your thoughts, beliefs and ideas can manifest themselves. Though these are not at all the most important things necessary for social/professional success, their impact can not be denied. I don’t know how much my career has been affected by these aspects, but I do know that for me personally, social interactions are interesting and I do witness a drastic impact of a person’s first impression on people’s reaction towards him/her.

Thanks so much to Samira for a great interview and a look into her life as a telecommunications engineer and researcher. Are you also woman in the technology field?  Has your experience been different or simmilar to Samira's? Do you have any questions for women in the technology industry?

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