Ayu Shahirah Salem

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I grew up in Malaysia, in a town called Miri. Funnily enough, Miri is actually considered to be the birthplace of Malaysia’s oil & gas industry, and even when I was little, it was my dream (and my parents) for me to work in energy. After finishing high-school, I studied Information Technology at university before from moving to Kuala Lumpur, where I’m based now. I graduated during the pandemic, which was an uncertain time for everyone, but after seeing its opportunities, culture and global reach, I applied to a graduate scheme at bp, and was lucky enough to join as a digital graduate in 2020.

My current role is as a UI/UX designer. UI/UX stands for user interface and user experience – my team and I are the ones that make sure the websites and interfaces you look at are easy to use. Whilst a lot of our work is focused on practical issues – such as the positioning of colours of tabs on a website – what we are really trying to do is understand how humans use systems. For example, is it better to put a button on the right or the left? You can’t simply choose what feels right for you, as others may find that approach complicated. You need to design based on real insight, so, we spend a lot of time conducting user interviews to make sure the design decisions we make work for others.

How has working at bp helped elevate your tech skills?

The graduate programme I joined was rotational, meaning I ‘rotate’ across roles within digital in my first few years. This means I get exposure to different areas of business, its people and the opportunities to learn lots of different skills.

In my first rotation I was a data engineer and my responsibilities involved remodelling raw data into an easily accessible dashboard which helped inform management when making important business decisions. This was my first-time operationalizing knowledge areas I had studied at university in a real-world context, and I credit this experience with deepening my understanding of data. By contrast, my second (and current) rotation in UI/UX design was totally new territory for me. bp were more than understanding and provided me with the time, training and support I needed to navigate this new space. Reflecting on the last two years now, I think that’s one of the great things about the graduate programme at bp – you’re not just improving your current abilities, but learning new skills too!

Ayu Shahirah SalemWhat has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Without a doubt my proudest achievement is having been selected as a One Young World bp delegate. One Young World is an organisation that empowers and develops young leaders to build a fair, sustainable future for all, and there is an annual four-day summit bringing together future leaders to share learnings, connect and be inspired. After an extremely competitive process because applications were open to all bp graduates around the world with only 15 positions available and from over 300 applicants, I was selected as a delegate for this year’s summit. I was also the only delegate chosen from Malaysia – so I felt that that alongside speaking for bp, I was also representing my home country at the summit. One thing I learnt from my experience at One Young World is how proud I am to be Malaysian. My country has given me so many opportunities already as a woman and young leader, and working in STEM is relatively common for women. I was also reminded of how fortunate I am to have access to good electricity, internet and water supplies, not everyone is that lucky. Of course, there are a lot of things that we can improve, but I’m grateful for the opportunities I have and hope to be part of the future of my country too.

You also have a huge following on LinkedIn – can you tell me a little about this?

In 2021 I posted my resume on LinkedIn and it went viral. At the time, I only had a few followers but after that people started reaching out to say how surprised they were that a simple resume would help them get a job and asking for advice. I started sharing more posts about job hunting, starting your career and networking. More and more people were engaging with my content and after that I started getting invited to speak about building a brand on LinkedIn at universities and companies. Two years later, I have almost 70,000 followers! It’s been quite a journey but what’s been most rewarding is the opportunity to help others to also find careers they really love, and show them all the opportunities that are out there.

What do you think is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career so far?

I think one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced (and still grapple with today) is managing my own expectations and trying to fit in everything I want to do. Alongside working and managing my LinkedIn, I’m also studying for a PhD in Machine Learning, so my time can sometimes feel quite stretched. However, I’ve found a get a lot of energy from my career and bp is really supportive of my goals – they make sure I have opportunities to grow and my mentors assist me in managing my time.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

I think my main bit of advice for those wanting to progress in tech is that everything is “figureoutable” if you’re open to opportunities to learn. Whether it’s coding, developing websites or non-technical skills like leadership and public speaking. I’ve found that people are always willing share their expertise and that there’s nothing that can’t be solved either through self-learning or by asking someone for a helping-hand. The most important thing is enthusiasm and understanding that getting things wrong and making mistakes along the way is an essential part of the learning process.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Whilst there are still obstacles for women working in tech, I’d hope that in recent years the barriers to entry have lowered somewhat as more female students feel comfortable putting themselves forward for careers in tech. Indeed, one of the great things about being so active on LinkedIn is connecting and hearing from young women who have successfully started their journey working with technology. Whilst we should keep encouraging young woman to apply, I think more needs to be done to promote change at the other end of the career ladder through encouraging gender balance on corporate boards and C-Suite positions. On this topic, I am currently using my platform on LinkedIn to promote the 30% Club, a Malaysian non-profit which works to encourage the elevation of women into positions of leadership within business.

What advice would you give to women just starting out in a career in technology?

Speaking as someone who lives and breathes LinkedIn, I think the best piece of advice I can pass on to women just starting out in tech is to develop your online presence and build a community of like-minded people around yourself. You might not think it now, but connecting with women in similar positions, hearing their experiences and the lessons they’ve learned on their journeys will do more to equip you than anything else. Aside from helping yourself, you’ll also be helping to increase the visibility of women in tech roles to young girls and students who might not have considered that career path yet.