Zeinab TomTomWith 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.

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

It’s safe to say I have wanderlust in my blood. I was born and raised in Iran, moved to France in 2014 to pursue a Ph.D. in Computer Science and Logic, and in 2017 moved to Netherlands to chase my dream of becoming a data scientist. Now I can proudly say that I have a BSc in Applied Mathematics and a MSc in Pure Mathematics – two degrees that have in one way or another contributed to getting me to where I am now. So, yes, I’m kind of a nerd – and I wouldn’t change it for the world!

Now in my current role as a Senior Data Scientist at TomTom I can honestly say that I love my job. Every day I have the opportunity to help my colleagues make better decisions that are driven by data. The core of my role is to foster the data-driven culture at TomTom, from training to building infrastructure for data products.

Ultimately, I am passionate about making a difference and having an impact. When I am challenged, I am happy.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

When you have a goal-oriented mindset, setting clear goals and objectives for both the short and long term is a way to make sure you are continuously moving forward. I actually sit down and plan my future quite often. The first time I did this, I must have been around 10 years old. I was fixated on becoming a scientist – working in a lab with a computer and wearing a long white coat. At that age there was more dreaming going on than planning, but this taught me the difference between a dream and a goal – this being the level of effort that is put into actually making a dream a reality.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way, and how did you overcome these?

Being underestimated is one of the most prominent challenges I have faced as a female in STEM. I can vividly remember being misjudged by a manager, and in that situation, it was important not to lose faith in myself – but this hasn’t always been easy. In moments like those, I used to think , “Lets prove them wrong!”

It took me several working years to realise that no matter how hard I work or how good I am at my job, there will always be people who will underestimate me. This spurred on a change of tactic. Instead of convincing them I am capable, I now focus on myself, do my best and most importantly, shift aside the fear of failure.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Going through high school, my goal was to become a professor and teach students in the best universities. With that in mind, I started my Ph.D. to become an academic. Towards the end of my Ph.D. studies, I sat down to think about my future, and that moment spurred a change of heart. I didn’t want to stay in academia anymore. I wanted to be a problem solver instead of a theory builder.

I prepared myself for a sharp pivot in my career path, one that I had spent almost 10 years building. And I did it. Successfully pivoting, whilst still completing my Ph.D., has been my most significant achievement to date.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?  

Working hard towards clear-cut goals and not giving up along the way. There have been times throughout my career, despite working hard, where I didn’t achieve the results that I wanted. My mantra is that the efforts we make will always pay off, even if it isn’t in the way we had originally expected. The key is to not give up!

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

The world of technology is a fast-moving one, and I’m well aware that sometimes this can look scary. But luckily, where there’s rapid growth, there’s lots to learn. So, absorb information, keep learning and develop the transferable skills that will take you forward in your career. This is what will drive you forward in the tech world.

Technology-based industries are full of opportunity. This means your career path does not have to be a ladder, instead you should hop around, try new things and as a result – grow.

It may sound cliché, but networking is a great way to excel. Finding a mentor within the community helped me to navigate my way through challenges and gave me something to aspire to. Even now, talking to my mentor gives me confidence that everything will be okay, no matter how hard things are now.

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

Compared to my mother’s generation, there are less barriers for women entering tech industries. Global initiatives have also helped to uplift the representation of females in tech. However, I do believe gender bias and stereotypes still exist and are taking away opportunities from women at all stages, from hiring stages to leadership. We all know that these issues are multifactional and will not be easily addressed by diversity leaflets dotted around the workplace alone.

I urge every woman in tech to be bold and talk about her achievements. For some, gender bias may go unnoticed, so we should speak loudly. If you notice stereotyping in your recruitment process, or noticed a significant imbalance, address it with HR.

We deserve to be acknowledged for our success, and these baby steps alone will lead to big changes. As a result, more women will join us in the tech industry, and we need more women to design the world.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

Create space for women to grow. It’s evident that women will find barriers if they work in an environment where there is no or few women in management and leadership roles. Recruiting more female leaders, mentors and role models will provide women with an avenue for progression through aspiration.

There is currently only 15% of women working in tech if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I believe we are currently dealing with a male-led industry which is daunting for women to break

through. By putting more women in leadership roles at the top of their fields, we will foster

hope and encourage younger women to pursue a career in tech.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Absorbing information is a great way to excel as a woman in the tech industry. I’m a

huge fan of Sheryl Sandberg books, particularly “Lean in” and “Option B”. I would recommend these

to any young professional with a hunger for tech.

The ‘Women in Tech show’ is an excellent podcast for learning about a variety of projects conducted by women – it’s simply inspiring. Similarly, Women in Tech conferences and webinars are great for networking and learning. Getting out there (whether physically or virtually) and connecting with some of the best women in the industry, will leave you with a spring in your step and the aspiration to drive you forward.

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here