By Dr. Zeinab Bakhtiarinoodeh, Senior Data Scientist at TomTom

female data scientist, woman leading teamBe brave. Don’t be afraid to ask for more. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Practice at building your confidence. And work hard.

Those are the lessons that I’d give any women starting their career in the STEM industry. Too often we devalue the skills we have, and don’t recognise what we bring to the workplace.

After all, Maryam Mirzakhani (winner of the Field Medal, the Nobel prize for Mathematics) graduated from my college. If she can do it, why can’t I?

There is no doubt that computer science is a male-dominated environment and there is no doubt that it can be intimidating. When doing my PhD studies in computer science and logic, I was the only female in a majority of settings I found myself in. I always thought I had to be exceptional to make it as a woman.

But that changed when I came to TomTom. When I turned up for my interview I was warmly welcomed, and truth be told, that can sometimes be hard to come by as a Muslim woman. From that moment, I knew that I would be able to grow in this company, both professionally and as a person.

Paying it forward

Yes, most CTOs are men, and in such a male-led industry, it can be daunting for women to break through. However, by putting more women in leadership roles at the top of their fields, we can provide mentorship and encourage younger women to pursue a career in tech.

I’ve been lucky to have a number of mentors at TomTom. My primary mentor ended up being my inspiration. She took me under her wing and showed me what’s possible.

From this experience, I was able to understand the importance of becoming a mentor myself. Following a talk I held on data science at CODAM (a tuition-free coding school in Amsterdam set up by TomTom’s co-founder, Corinne Vigreux), I was approached by a number of young aspiring students who wanted to explore mentorship with me.

I strongly believe that “paying it forward” is key to pushing our industry on to bigger and better things, and changing the status quo. If you’re in a position of power or authority, please don’t be afraid to give others a helping hand. If you’re just getting started in the STEM industry, seek out a mentor, and remember to give back when the time comes.

Doing what you love and making a difference

Data is the new oil and is shaping the future. Everything we do generates data. Even making a phone call generates data. We are at the start of an exciting journey when it comes to analysing and understanding what data can do to automate processes.

As a Senior Data Scientist at TomTom, my role is tailored around helping my colleagues make better decisions that are driven by data. Each time I’m faced with a new task, I genuinely feel a sense of excitement, with the view of being able to make a difference. From training to building infrastructure for data products, I’ve learned to be bold, creative, innovative and lead a team effectively – something that TomTom encourages in all women within the company.

Remember that technology is there to help solve problems, rather than create them. Once you find a problem that you’re passionate about, you’ll know you’re making a difference.

Garnering skills for STEM success

I initially had my head and heart set on a career as a professor or researcher, and studied for a PhD in Computer Science and Logic. But making the switch to the data science industry was one of my best moves. Now, with an array of qualifications and skills under my belt, I feel as though I’m making a real difference in the role I have at TomTom.

Here’s five things I’d like to share with any aspiring STEM female:

  1. Keep learning. Learn the latest skills and coding methods. Keep up with the latest trends in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. Listen to podcasts. Watch webinars. Read and absorb.
  2. If you want to become a master at coding, but aren’t a master in Mathematics, don’t worry – being a creative problem solver will help you along your way.
  3. Spruce up your presentation and communications skills. This will come in handy when sharing your ideas and solutions.
  4. Show resilience and willingness. Take on a challenge and work on it until the end, and embody the boldness that we, as women, harness.
  5. Have the courage to try new things. Being flexible to pivot will allow you to explore your capabilities to the fullest.

Zeinab TomTomAbout the author

With a six year working background in Mathematics and Computer Science, Zeinab has been in a male dominated industry for the majority of her career. Alongside qualifications in Neural Networks and Deep Learning, Regularization, Optimization and Structuring Machine Learning, Zeinab also speaks English, French, Persian and Turkish.

Today, at TomTom, Zeinab leverages Computer Science, Machine Learning and Mathematical modelling to turn data into a story, a fascinating feature for the users of TomTom products. She is passionate about science and technology, with the aim of using both to make the world a better place to live.


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