I’ve never known what I wanted to do. The truth is when I was doing A-Levels, I was going to do English, history and maths. But on the day I completely changed my mind and I did maths, physics and chemistry. I just thought I would get a better job.
I didn’t know what to do, and I am now in that same position. That is natural. Very few people really know. I envy those people who do, but I have never been like that.
But when I know what I am doing I’m a woman on a mission.
I am 40 now but I did not have tech knowledge until university. I got my first mobile phone when I was 18.
I went to university in Liverpool and I had a mobile phone as I was working as an extra in Hollyoaks and my agent in Manchester would call me. It was a quick way to make money at university.
For a lot of people doing their GCSEs or A-Levels now, their future jobs won’t exist yet. We are at the cutting edge.
Picking my degree
When I was picking my university degree I got hold of the most comprehensive prospectus I could find. I went from A to Z until I landed on something I had never heard of. I did a Masters in geophysics and geology.
I loved the beauty of nature. Why do the mountains look like that? How can I save the world? If it is a volcano eruption or earthquake there is no warning, people just die. I wanted to save humanity through forecasting and prediction.
And I got to go on lots of field trips, going travelling is one of the reasons I chose it.
I only do things that excite me. You can do anything really. But you have got to be interested in it.
Finding a job
When I went home to London there weren’t any volcanoes or earthquakes, so I went into tech.
If we have got that critical thinking and numeracy you can apply it to so many jobs.
I liked mapping as I am really visual. Looking at information such as contaminated land in the UK, Australian aboriginal cultural sites or fire outbreak sites.
In tech, it is very easy to consult and do contracts. You go in and do your part of the project. I find that exciting, I like change. I get bored easily.
I also travelled a lot. I think it is absolutely fine to take time out and not know what you want to do next.
I wondered what is it that I really wanted. I decided I wanted to work in a really beautiful office. I Googled beautiful offices and this website came up. I approached the managing partner of the company and asked if they needed a GIS team (Geographical Information Systems). They didn’t have one.
I used my quick thinking and said you need to hire a team and you need to do this, and in the next six months, you will achieve XYZ. I said you need to hire someone senior. They gave me everything I needed and made me the manager.
After six months I said we need to provide this service. The managing partner said Mariam, set up a company. I would never have seen myself in management or running my own company.
Managers and leaders didn’t look like me. I had no desire, I just loved doing my work and getting on with it. Before I knew it I was the CEO of a company. I did not even know it was an option.
My next adventure
Then I had my daughter and was at home for 11 months. But I am not really a stay at home person. I went travelling with her for a year, to India, the Himalayas, China, Myanmar. It did not stop me from being adventurous.
When I returned I became head of product development for a company that had a really diverse team of developers. I needed the best brains, and it was one of the highest performing teams I’d worked with but also one of the most diverse.
We had females and males, old and young people, people from all over the world, from Russia, Nigeria and Germany. We needed the best in the world.
In the end, I decided I wanted to help people and went into social impact. I was helping mothers in poverty and malnutrition in under-fives. I found being a woman of colour and a mother has been massively helpful to the project.
Doing a workshop with a group of mothers, we need to understand their requirements and they need to talk about breastfeeding. They do not want to talk to men about breastfeeding. This is why we need more women in tech.
Working in international development where everything is remote, you have to be an exceptional leader to manage remotely. Recruiting, managing and motivating people that I have never met, people in different countries. You have to have brilliant leadership. That is when inclusivity and people feel comfortable to speak up. You’re building a rapport with them. It’s taking the time to be human.
Women in tech
Women in leadership positions on boards and women of colour particularly are so in the minority. It is challenging.
We have to step up and put ourselves forward. I did not have a role model. I need a role model at 40! The reason I do public speaking is to be a role model.
I think we are moving towards new ways of working. I think there will be new jobs and opportunities in the future.
A lot of my jobs to date, it is through people I know. It is building contacts. If you’re an introvert like me, build strategic relationships one on one. Build as big a network as you can. You do not really know who can help you out in the future. And it is rewarding when you can make connections for people.
Do not worry if you don’t know what job you’re going to do. It might not actually exist right now. You should find something you love, a particular industry, and in that industry, a job role could exist. You will have natural skills and abilities and you can still work in the industry you want.
We change all the time in our lives, we want different things.
Work out what you really want. Doing what you really love takes a lot of guts. I am allowing some time to figure it out.
Mariam has been the entrepreneurial driving force of the growth of many startups over the last 16 years. Her innovative technology management expertise lies in GIS, SAAS, Software, Mobile Design and Development. She was formerly co-founder and CEO of professional mapping tool FIND and has been appointed in executive board positions of many startups in the past. She also speaks out about why we need more women in tech and her experience in the industry.
Based in Brighton, Mariam has worked in the field of International Development for Every1Mobile in the last four years on Digital Social Impact Solutions in sub-Saharan Africa countries, leading global multi-year contracts for clients including Unilever, DFID, USAID, Gates Foundation, the UN, the World bank, ONE, Mozilla Foundation and the EU. Mariam is also on the Advisory Board of Safe & the City, who use technology to keep streets safer using crime data and reporting on sexual street harassment.