Two of the must-haves of a successful career pathway are direction and the right level of professional support.
A common mistake people early in their careers make is expecting their organizations or their managers to actively assist with such things. Instead, I encourage individuals to look for opportunities for mentorship, growth, and career advancement.
Don’t stop at one mentor
Born and raised in a place that hardly offers any opportunities for women to professionally grow, I have always relied on professional mentors to advance in my career. Mentors share their experiences to help you craft and guide you on your pathway. They also provide you with the right level of visibility, professional support, customized opportunities, and a strong network.
My career took a major shift when I met my first mentor who helped me shape my path and then confidently embark on it. As I progressed though, I realized the original goals I set didn’t match my potential nor my field of interest (cybersecurity). This led me to apply for a TechWomen fellowship.
TechWomen brings emerging women leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) from Africa, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East together with professional counterparts in the United States for a mentorship and exchange program. Normally this involves face-to-face opportunities but because of COVID-19, for my intake we did everything virtually. While it was a little disappointing to not meet all these wonderful people in person, the skills and experience they provided were unquestionable.
During the fellowship, I had a virtual internship at Veritas Technologies, California, during which I learnt from its top-level cybersecurity executives including their CISO, about how this leading data protection company works. The whole experience gave me a detailed insight into global cybersecurity business practices and the demand for more innovative solutions.
I also worked with several other mentors during my fellowship to reconfigure my research and career goals, and we discussed opportunities I must explore to achieve them, including how to broaden my professional network.
One other aspect of the fellowship was to promote an entrepreneurial mindset, so after completing my fellowship I became co-founder of an Edtech startup named Rehnumaa, that provides tele-mentoring professional development services to women and girls of Pakistan.
People are what really makes for a great fellowship
Following the TechWomen fellowship, I was selected as an ICANN fellow (again virtual), which gave a great insight into how cybersecurity research and advocacy can better the Internet, as well as an APNIC 54 fellow, which was (finally) in-person.
Apart from the technical learning opportunities, there were other aspects of the APNIC fellowship program that I enjoyed, including its cultural diversity, professional mentorship (of course), and the chance to discuss my research and network with the Internet leaders of the Asia Pacific region.
For the technical training sessions, the trainers were not only experts in their areas but were really kind and made the entire learning experience very interesting.
With people from around 30 different economies, we learned from each other, shared experiences, solved problems, helped each other, hung out, made jokes and made long-lasting connections. The APNIC staff were very supportive, warm, and caring and made us feel at home, which was really comforting for me and others who were on their first international trip.
My experience with my professional mentor was also awesome. Not only did he help me to build a network with the APNIC team and with other Internet leaders, he also exposed me to many new opportunities. The best thing is (like many good mentors) if I need to seek help in anything, he is always there for me.
Finally, I had the opportunity to deliver a lightning talk on whether web 3.0 is really secure, which initiated plenty of great discussions afterward and I was encouraged to join as a speaker in the future too.
The whole experience was so overwhelming and heartfelt that I feel lucky to be an APNIC fellow and look forward to participating in this community again for years to come and maybe one day mentor others to reach their professional goals as well.
Ayesha Iftikhar is an Assistant Professor in the Department of IT at Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering and Management Sciences (BUITEMS).
The views expressed by the authors of this blog are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of APNIC. Please note a Code of Conduct applies to this blog.