Iba Masood is the co-founder and CEO of TARA.ai, the Intelligent Product Builder. Iba is a YC Alum, and was part of YCombinator's Winter 2015 class. She was recently awarded Forbes 30 under 30, for the 2018 list, under the field of Enterprise Technology. In August 2017, Iba became a permanent resident of the United States, through the EB-1A award, which presents individuals of outstanding ability with the green card. She is also a past winner of the MIT Global Business Plan competition, and a recipient of the UN ITU Young Innovator's Award. Iba has been featured in TechCrunch, Wired and Huffington Post for her work in algorithmic pre-screening mechanisms for recruiting, and is passionate about machine learning in the world of work. She has spent the last seven years building mechanisms for pre-screening and project deployment in software, for hundreds of enterprise customers. Iba is the youngest winner of the Cartier Women's Initiative Award, and has an undergraduate degree in Finance from the American University of Sharjah, graduating magna cum laude at the age of 19. She has also previously worked at McKinsey & Co, and GE. Iba is originally from Karachi, Pakistan and was born in Sharjah, and brought up in the UAE.
Women Engineers Pakistan asked Iba some questions as we are sure her answers will make young Pakistani girls relate to her story better, and hopefully, attempt STEM education themselves.
Women Engineers Pakistan: What were your favorite subjects in school? Did these subjects help you do the job that you do today?
Iba Masood: Biology and Computer Science were one of my favorite subjects in school- however I think that learning is a continuous exercise. Several topics we learn in school become outdated fairly quickly (for example I learned a very early programming language in school- Visual Basic- which is irrelevant today) and it’s important that we continue to learn throughout our lives whether we are 12, 22 or 62 years old.
WEP: What motivated you to choose the career that you have today? What were the biggest barriers?
Iba: So, what motivated me to choose the career that I have today - (I mean) I would honestly say it started at the age of ten or eleven when I started coding at a very young age, when I was primarily was working with HTML and CSS, which were just pretty basic languages.
I think my biggest barriers were that growing up my family didn’t think I really should study computer science and computer engineering, because they imagined that I'm just going to be sitting in front of my computer during my entire career. Which is pretty funny considering the fact that most careers now involve sitting in front of a computer. I actually ended up studying finance, because they thought banking would be a very stable field which was funny, because I graduated right in the middle of the economic crisis in 2010.
The career that I chose, I think, was really out of the path of necessity. It was also something that I was obviously primarily interested in - specifically within computer science and computer engineering. Just by becoming someone essentially self-taught in coding; technically in my career; I didn’t pursue what I studied. But I don’t think that’s really relevant, I think a lot of people end up doing that. I think what is important is to continue to learn on an ongoing basis.
WEP: Did you have any role models growing up? What was the one important character trait in them that inspired you?
Iba: One of the things that I tended to gravitate towards was having a role model; just looking for role models within family. When I grew up, we were lower middle class in terms of income. What I found really inspiring was just seeing my mom - she was someone who actually studied Biology (Iba laughs) when she was younger and she got into the family business, and really tried to take reigns on the accounting and book-keeping fronts. I think that really inspired me; just seeing my mom, who didn’t have a career (or didn’t ever have a job in her entire life), just kind of take the reigns and try to grow the family business, I thought that was really inspiring for me!
Of course there have been business role models that I have had when I was growing up, but I think today the role models that I have are really different from whoever I would have had when I was younger. For example Therese Tucker. She's currently running a billion dollar company specifically within IT. It's kind of inspiring to see female founders that have public companies within the same field that I'm in. We're seeing more and more female founders move forward, which I think is really important. What I want the girls to understand that in the school is that sky is the limit, and you should keep pushing and moving forward. I think the most important character trait would be grit and resilience overall.
WEP: How do you handle barriers towards progress now that you are in the professional field? What would you like to see newcomer girls excel at?
Iba: Honestly I think, being who I am, and where I am from, obviously there are barriers I see on a day to day basis. But I think one of the biggest barriers for me was to actually get my career started in the (Silicon) valley. Now that I’ve been here for three years, I think in terms of however many barriers toward progress, you try to take it in stride. For every 10 "No's" you will receive one "Yes". That was what happened with me, and I just kept going. My family wasn’t (happy initially), but now my family is incredibly happy about me being in the US, they are coming as well! But early on when I packed my bag and just left for Boston on a tourist visa they weren’t very happy about that! So I just kind of one against the grain in that regard.
What I like to see girls excel at: I think one of the things that's really interesting is girls tend to be interested in math and science in young age, but they kind of get distanced over time, as they're told it's more of a masculine field. Which is completely ridiculous; because the earliest computer programmers were all women. So I think what I like to see girls excelling in is taking more interesting in math and science. At the end of the day, having a strong grasp of your numbers, and just being quantitative in general, is really important. Just having a strong grasp for math and science can set you up for any career!
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