Meet Zahra Khan, team lead at software house ‘Arbisoft’

TechJuice, Pakistan’s premier platform for technology news, in collaboration with Dawn worked on the series Girls Can Code.

On a hot and humid day of July, I walk into Arbisoft, a software development organisation standing tall at Thokar Niaz Beg, Lahore. I have come here to meet a young woman named Zahra Khan who is a Computer Science graduate and is now working at Arbisoft. Zahra has already shattered hundreds of stereotypes by venturing into technology, a field which is largely considered male-centric. Significant achievements in a short career span of five years make her case even more appealing. She is becoming stronger in this field with each passing day. Her skills, expertise and experience has earned her the position of team lead and is managing a project for one of Arbisoft’s notable partners Travelliance.

As I enter, I am ushered into a meeting room. In a matter of few moments, Zahra enters the room and greets me with a firm handshake. She seems reserved initially. However, as we move on she opens up and starts sharing her thoughts and experiences with great peculiarity.

“I am a senior Software Engineer and Project Manager at Arbisoft and I have been here for four years. Before this, I worked at FiveRiver Technologies as a team lead for a period of one year,” says Zahra, as we start our conversation.

Zahra vividly recalls her passion for different professions while growing up. “At different junctions of my life, I dreamt of different workplaces and different professions. There was a point in my life when I wanted to be a novelist, then a lawyer, and a psychologist.”

During the scheme of these things, Zahra always had the backing of her parents. No matter what she did and what she opted for, her parents were always on her side.

Goal-setting is so overrated. There are people whose lives revolve around setting goals and subsequently struggling to achieve them. Zahra has been the exact opposite; “I was trying to find myself. I didn’t set a goal, I let myself explore and experiment with different things, which is how I ended up taking Computer Science for graduation at Kinnaird College.”

“Although, it was an unplanned decision,” she happily recalls, “It all started with a basic programming course in the first semester. I, along with a friend, developed a puzzle game with fancy animations. It felt so exciting looking at that game and the feeling that I did it was beyond explanation. I loved it. I decided this is exactly what I wanted to do.”

Experimentation with careers came to an end after she found her passion in programming. Her batch comprised of around 40 girls and almost half of them dropped out or chose other majors because they thought Computer Science was not meant for them. The rest few went on to graduate but only a handful joined the workforce. Zahra grew up in a very favourable environment where nothing was enforced. One of her parents was an engineer and the other a homemaker. They let her free to take a career path of her own choice.


“Let the children decide for themselves. If a girl wants to play with dolls, let her play, If the girl wants to play with cars; fair enough, let her play.”

However, not every Pakistani girl is fortunate enough to enjoy this luxury. Gender stereotypes are associated right from infancy. In almost every household, girls’ rooms are coloured pink and furnished with dolls while boys’ rooms are painted blue. Parents have pre-conceived notions and careers decided for their children. In Pakistan, ask an average young girl of her career choice, and in most cases, it would be medicine; whereas, a young boy would choose to be an engineer in majority cases. Children are not born with such aspirations. It is the parents or immediate environment that influences children’s choices by assigning gender-specific roles.

Zahra believes this is the fundamental reason behind women not pursuing technology.

“Let the children decide for themselves. If a girl wants to play with dolls, let her play. If the girl wants to play with cars; fair enough, let her play. Don’t enforce yourself on them. Let them be the decision maker,” believes Zahra.

If this thought process prevails, millions of capable individuals will not fail because of choosing the wrong career path. Eventually, these individuals will not make decisions based on what the society deems appropriate for them. Instead, they will opt for things they are passionate about. Another reason for a smaller number of women in technology is a lack of women-friendly work environment. “After graduation, I was interviewed at several places. I received good offers. But the reason I chose the first organisation and then ArbiSoft was the sense of psychological and job security. I didn’t get the same feeling at other workplaces, although the offers were very good – sometimes better,” says Zahra, thoughtfully.


“It is completely unacceptable that women are expected to ‘be a man’.”

She believes that skills can always be learned and expanded upon, but if the place is not secure and comfortable, and if her voice is not be heard, she will never work there. It is perhaps more about the people you work with. People make or break an organisation. You will feel comfortable working at an organisation where people are receptive to women; they encourage women rather than suppressing them and they don’t look at them as outsiders who should not be pursuing technology or working at an office.

At her workplace, Zahra doesn’t look at herself as a disadvantaged minority. “We are all individuals, who believe in Arbisoft’s core values and we are all working together to achieve them.”

This makes things easier for her and everyone else. “As a team lead, I don’t project myself as a ‘female’ team lead or a ‘female’ team member. Roles and careers are not defined by gender. Roles are defined by the capabilities and skills set.”

Most progressive and growth-focused companies are like that. Unless the company is led by people with a patriarchal mindset, why wouldn’t a company hire, promote or let an individual come to the front if she is good for the organisation? There are instances when women outperform men. Diversity at workplaces can have life-changing effects on an organisation and its workforce. Companies throughout the world are starting to understand that by neglecting upwards of 50 per cent women population of the world, they shall deprive themselves of a huge potential skills set, innovation, and diverse perspectives.

“Women are good at multi-tasking, more hardworking than their male peers and they’re often perfectionist. You will always see them ready to go an extra mile to finish a task,” says Zahra.

Due to their disadvantaged position in society, many women lack confidence. According to a recent survey, a girl will not apply for a job even if her skill set matches 80 per cent to an average advertised job; whereas for the same job, a boy will apply even if 60 per cent of his skills match. There is a dire need to let our women know their true worth so they can unleash their true potential.

“It is completely unacceptable that women are expected to ‘be a man’. A woman’s identity needs to be respected. She should be accepted with all her traits and characteristics. This is the how she will excel,” claims Zahra.

“Girls need to step up their game. They need to take initiative and be proactive. How would an organisation know that the girl is passionate and capable if she doesn’t show it?” she asks.

In Pakistan, a large number of women are leaving workplaces at a crucial time of their careers owing to marriage or home-making. Women on a mid-career level have no role models to look up to.


In a society like ours where patriarchy is deep rooted, there needs to be a continual discussion on the role of women in technology and on making workplaces a more inclusive space for women.

“Workplaces need to be flexible. By losing women workers, they are losing trained and skilled employees as well as great skill set and a lot of money. By providing women the options like work from home, flexible work hours, pick and drop services, and paid maternity leaves, women can be retained. On the flip side, women need to prioritise what is important for them. A good work-life balance reflects on your health, family and career choices,” adds Zahra.

At both of the workplaces, Zahra was promoted as a team lead in a matter of just a few months. Only because she hasn’t let stereotypes define her. She is sharp, focused on her career and doesn’t pay heed to anyone who thinks women are ‘bossy’ or ‘dominating’ — a term frequently used for a career-oriented woman.

Zahra is working in a non-individualistic working environment where everybody is treated equally and fairly. The focus is on growth and excellence. But in general, this is not the case. As long as the patriarchal mindset remains, we will not have more women taking computer science majors and subsequently entering the technology industry.

In a society like ours where patriarchy is deep rooted, there needs to be a continual discussion on the role of women in technology and on making workplaces more inclusive space for women.

For young girls, Zahra believes they should “stop being too critical of themselves. Girls, like their male counterparts, can achieve anything they want. Girls can code if their true passion is coding.”

This article was originally published here and has been reproduced with permission.

8 things from India that Pakistan must ban right now (for realz)

The high road is for suckers. Know what’s the best way to deal with conflict? Retaliation!

First India banned our actors, then our drama serials; what’s next? We need to show them who’s boss.

Read more: Indian film association bans Pakistani talent from working in India

This means that anything remotely Indian must go. Let’s start with these eight:

1) Abs, especially Ranveer Singh’s

We can’t tell you how many Pakistani women have been disarmed by Ranveer Singh’s abs.

Or how many people have been immobilised by Katrina Kaif’s bod.

Surely this is a ploy to weaken us. Ban abs!

Abs are decidedly Indian. Ban them.
Abs are decidedly Indian. Ban them.

2) Vin Diesel

He was adorably fast and furious before he signed on to star in xXx: Return of Xander Cage with Deepika Padukone.

But now, with all that steamy cosying up, he’s got Deepika cooties for sure. And Deepika is Indian, after all.

We declare Vin to be Indian by association.

So what if he’s got a bod to die for? No more Vin! No more Vin!

Why Deepika, Vin? WHY?
Why Deepika, Vin? WHY?

FYI: The jury’s still out on Dwayne Johnson.

We can smell what The Rock is cooking... and it smells like Bollywood
We can smell what The Rock is cooking… and it smells like Bollywood

3) Coldplay

The band had no problem appropriating Indian culture and offering bit partsto Sonam Kapoor.

But they don’t come to Pakistan to shoot music videos on roofs and cash in on our slums. WHY? Discrimination. Ban them!

We're not going to let them gora the explorer on our turf!
We’re not going to let them gora the explorer on our turf!

4) Mangoes

This Katrina is a big troublemaker. First the abs, then she gets up close and personal with a mango in this ad campaign.

Sorry Aamir Liaquat, we know this is the ultimate sacrifice, but anything licked by an Indian has to go.

BAN MANGOES!

That's being said, let's all lovingly look at Pakistan the way Katrina looks at this mango
That’s being said, let’s all lovingly look at Pakistan the way Katrina looks at this mango

5) Excessive gesticulation

Pfft, being too animated is for traitors. Aggressive arm movements are not for us.

And we thought SRK was bad, what with Modi's signature moves and all...
And we thought SRK was bad, what with Modi’s signature moves and all…

Aim to be a potato instead.

Here is a totally unrelated picture of our Prime Minister.

6) Weight loss

Let Adnan Sami be the prime example of how treacherous weight loss can be.

Because along with excess fat, you apparently also end up losing any loyalty you had for your country. These darn “diets” (wink wink) have got to go!

No weight loss, no abs, no treason. It all makes sense.

Let's go back to the left, to left.
Let’s go back to the left, to left.

7) Justin Trudeau

Just look at the way he’s dancing, it’s like the beginning of every grand Bollywood number ever! Why you do this, Trudeau? Why you love bhangra?

Banned.

Anyone who randomly busts some bhangra moves (gasp!) ain't no friend of ours
Anyone who randomly busts some bhangra moves (gasp!) ain’t no friend of ours

8) Pierce Brosnan

You can’t sit with us if your retirement plan involves endorsing pan masalas in India.

We bet Daniel Craig's rethinking life after Bond; it doesn't seem too pretty
We bet Daniel Craig’s rethinking life after Bond; it doesn’t seem too pretty

Disclaimer: this article is categorised as humour/satire. Its content is not meant to be read literally, and the views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the writer or the views of the IMAGES editorial staff.

Remittances down 5.4pc in July-Sept

KARACHI: Remittances sent by overseas Pakistanis decreased 5.4 per cent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2016-17, indicating the declining trend that began with a massive fall in oil revenues of the Arab countries.

The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) reported on Thursday remittances in July-September amounted to $4.69 billion, down $267 million from a year ago.

The declining trend was visible in 2015-16 when remittance increased by just 3.99pc as opposed to 18pc growth in the preceding fiscal year.

Remittances form the backbone of the economy. The country has not increased exports while imports have overburdened its foreign exchange reserves, creating a trade deficit of about $20bn.

Pakistan received remittances worth $20bn in 2015-16.

Reports say thousands of Pakistanis have lost jobs in Saudi Arabia following a massive fall in oil prices.

The Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Coun­tries basket price is hovering around $45-$50 per barrel.

The SBP report shows remittances from Saudi Arabia were the highest in July-September despite recording a decline of 8.1pc on an annual basis.

Remittances from Saudi Arabia in the first quarter of 2016-17 were $1.32bn. Year-on-year growth in remittances from the same country was 6.96pc in the preceding year, the SBP report says.

Analysts had expected the fall in remittances because the oil price decline started about 20 months ago. However, the government did not come up with any strategy to deal with the situation.

The SBP reported that the first quarter witnessed a fall in remittances from all important destinations.

Inflows from the United States fell by 15.5pc on an annual basis in July-September as opposed to a decline of 2.9pc in the preceding year.

Remittances from the United Kingdom fell by 18.67pc year-on-year in the first quarter of 2016-17 as opposed to 2.3pc growth recorded during the same period in the preceding year.

Another important source of remittances for Pakistan is the UAE. Inflows from the UAE fell by 5.2pc in July-September against an increase of 7.4pc during the same period in the preceding year. Pakistan received over $1.05bn from the UAE in the first quarter of 2016-17.

Inflows from the Gulf Cooperation Council also fell by 3pc to $574m in July-September against an increase of 7.45pc in the same quarter of the last fiscal year. Reports say Pakistanis are still going to Saudi Arabia for employment through the private sector despite a bad job market.

The owner of a recruiting agency said these Pakistanis have no jobs in their own country, which encourages them to take risk and look for jobs in Saudi Arabia.

Ton-up Azhar lights up Pakistan’s day-night Test against West Indies

Opener Azhar Ali became the first batsman to record a century in a day-night Test off a pink ball as he helped Pakistan dominate West Indies in Dubai on Thursday.

Ali’s unbeaten 146 guided Pakistan to 279-1 at close on the opening day of the first Test ─ just the second day-night match in Test cricket’s 140-year-old history ─ after Misbah-ul-Haq won the toss and opted to bat on a flat Dubai stadium pitch.

Asad Shafiq was the other not out batsman with 33.

Ali put his name in the records book with a 366-minute stay at the crease, hitting 14 boundaries, but unlike Adelaide where the attendance was 123,000 over three days, only 500-odd people passed through the gates in Dubai.

Despite the empty stands Ali and Sami Aslam, who fell for 90, started brightly with an imperious 215-run stand for the opening wicket.

Ali drove off-spinner Roston Chase to mid-off for his ninth boundary to complete his 11th Test century ─ his second in three matches ─ before pumping the air in jubiliation.

Aslam, 20, missed out on a hundred by 10 runs when he swept Chase onto his stumps. He hit nine fours in his 290-minute stay at the crease.

It was a second time unlucky for Aslam who was run out for 82 in the Birmingham Test against England two months ago.

West Indies took the second new ball as soon as it was due after 80 overs with Pakistan on 249-1 but failed to get another wicket.

Chase was the lone wicket-taker with 1-63 in 21 overs.

Earlier Ali and Aslam dominated the bowling in the first two sessions as the two openers added 91 in the second session after they were 81-0 at tea.

West Indies used up both of their referrals, first against Ali off paceman Jason Holder when the batsman was on 38, and then on Aslam (69) off leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo — both leg-before appeals.

West Indies’ spinners failed to create any problems for Pakistan’s openers who flourished as the day progressed.

It couldn’t have been a better start for Pakistan in a match marking their 400th Test, as they won a crucial toss and were given a rock solid start against the West Indies, who entered the Test with three seamers and two spinners.

Pakistan handed Test caps to middle-order batsman Babar Azam and all-rounder Mohammad Nawaz.

Second session

Pakistan openers Azhar Ali and Sami Aslam stroked confident half-centuries to anchor their team’s rock solid start in the first day-night Test against West Indies in Dubai on Thursday.

Ali was unbeaten on 89 and Aslam 75 not out to take Pakistan to 172-0.

Ali, playing his 50th Test, steered paceman Miguel Cummins for a double to reach his 21st half century. hitting eight boundaries.

Aslam was equally resolute as he knocked his fifth boundary off spinner Roston Chase for his third half-century in his fifth Test as the two openers added 91 in the second session after they were 81-0 at tea.

West Indies’ spinners failed to create any problems for Pakistan’s openers who flourished as the day progressed.

West Indian captain Holder brought on his part-time spinner Kraigg Brathwaite in the 15th over and leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo in the 21st but there were no signs of spin.

First session

Ali and Aslam gave provided Pakistan a firm start as the hosts were 81-0 at tea.

Ali was unbeaten on 38 and Aslam was 37 not out as West Indies’ pace-cum-spin attack failed to strike on a flat grass-less pitch which is expected to take spin after three days.

Ali, who has so far hit five boundaries, had a life when Leon Johnson failed to hold on a sharp chance at gully off West Indian pacer Miguel Cummins on 17.

Sami Aslam defends — AFP
Sami Aslam defends — AFP

West Indian captain Jason Holder brought on his part-time spinner Kraig Brathwaite in the 15th over and leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo in the 21st but there were no signs of spin.

Aslam has so far hit three boundaries in his 82-ball stay.

Toss

Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq on Thursday elected to bat first in the first of the three-Test series against the West Indies at Dubai.

The Misbah-led Pakistan side becomes the second Test nation behind Australia to host a day-night Test, which also happens to be Pakistan’s 400th Test.

This is Pakistan's 400th Test match. — AFP
This is Pakistan’s 400th Test match. — AFP

During the toss, Pakistan captain unveiled two changes in the line-up from their last Test against England at The Oval.

Read: Will cricket see more pink than red?

Middle-order batsman Babar Azam, who hit record 360 runs in the recently concluded three-One-Day International series on the back of three centuries, makes his Test debut alongside all-rounder Mohammad Nawaz.

Pakistan, who have not lost a Test series in United Arab Emirates since 2010, are termed favourites by the experts to win the series.

Team line-ups:

Pakistan: S Aslam, A Ali, A Shafiq, Misbah-ul-Haq (c), B Azam, S Ahmed (wk), M Aamir, W Riaz, S Khan, M Nawaz, Y Shah.

West Indies: K Brathwaite, L Johnson, DM Bravo, M Samuels, J Blackwood, R Chase, S Dowrich (wk), J Holder (c), D Bishoo, M Cummins, S Gabriel

Boko Haram frees 21 Chibok girls, raising hope for others

KANO: Jihadist group Boko Haram has freed 21 of the more than 200 Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped more than two years ago, raising hopes for the release of the others, officials said on Thursday.

Local sources said their release was part of a prisoner swap with the Nigerian government, but the authorities denied doing a deal with Boko Haram.

Declaring Thursday’s release “significant”, Nigerian officials said the breakthrough would help the recovery of the 197 girls who remain in captivity.

“It’s just a first step in what we believe will lead to the eventual release of all our girls,” Nigerian information minister Lai Mohammed said in Abuja. “When you are fighting an insurgency, it’s a combination of carrot and stick,” Mohammed said. “The release of these girls does not mean the end to military operations. But it could mean a new phase in the conduct of the war against terror.”

In a statement, the Nigerian presidency said the girls were freed after negotiations between Boko Haram and the Nigerian government brokered by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Swiss government.

“Switzerland facilitated contacts between representatives of the Nigerian government and intermediaries of Boko Haram on the release of the Chibok girls,” confirmed Swiss foreign ministry spokesman Pierre-Alain Eltschinger.

The girls were exchanged for four Boko Haram militants in Banki, a town in northeast Nigeria close to the Cameroon border, said local sources.

“The girls were brought to Kumshe, which is 15 kms from Banki where a military base is stationed, in ICRC vehicles,” said a local source. “The four Boko Haram militants were brought to Banki from Maiduguri in a military helicopter from where they were driven to Kumshe in ICRC vehicles.”

From Kumshe the Chibok girls were flown by helicopter to Maiduguri, capital of northeast Borno state, said another local source.

‘Not a swap’

Information minister Mohammed denied that the 21 girls were exchanged for Boko Haram prisoners, saying “this is not a swap.” “It is a release, the product of painstaking negotiations and trust on both sides,” he added.

In September, the Nigerian government had admitted it had come close to a swap last year, but that talks broke down.

The Chibok girls were abducted in April 2014, drawing global attention to the Boko Haram insurgency engulfing the area when US First Lady Michelle Obama joined the #BringBackOurGirls online movement.

Of the 276 girls initially seized, scores escaped in the hours after the kidnapping, while another 19-year-old was found with her four-month-old baby earlier this year.

Despite winning back swathes of territory from the jihadists, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari had faced intense criticism for failing to recover the young captives girls, who became the defining symbol of Boko Haram’s brutal campaign to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state in the country.

The identity of the girls freed on Thursday has yet to be confirmed, said Bring Back Our Girls campaigner Aisha Yesufu. “We cannot confirm anything yet,” she said.

‘Stepping stone’

The alleged swap was “bittersweet” said Ryan Cummings, director at intelligence firm Signal Risk. “Whatever is being given to Boko Haram in exchange for the girls would potentially be used against the Nigerian state again.”

While the return of the 21 girls is an encouraging sign, analysts point out that Boko Haram is still a potent force in the region with rival factions competing for control.

“It’s a good stepping stone and a good process but I think we should keep our expectations a bit realistic,” Omar Mahmood, a researcher at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies. “They are still very capable of conducting attacks, we’ve seen that in Maiduguri.”

On Wednesday, Boko Haram was believed to be behind a suicide attack that saw eight people killed in Maiduguri.

The insurgency has claimed more than 20,000 lives and displaced 2.6 million people from their homes since Boko Haram took up arms against the Nigerian government in 2009.