EPISODE 8: Diversity & Inclusion Q&A with Ambreen Sheikh
EPISODE 8: This month, I had the pleasure of speaking with Head of Platform, Ambreen Sheikh. We dive deep into her incredible career journey to date and discuss all things DevOps, Cloud, Serverless Tech and beyond.
Ambreen shares some fantastic advice for anyone wanting to transition to consulting/freelancing, exploring insights on how the process looks and the mindset shift required. Along with the importance of valuing work life balance and how we should all be taking care of our mental and physical health.
Check out our full video interview here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rT63fzDvbd8&feature=youtu.be
Ambreen, we are very excited to welcome to our Diversity & Inclusion Q&A initiative and can’t wait to hear your story. Firstly, please can you tell us more about what a typical day as a Head of Platform is like for you?
“My typical day has changed because of the pandemic. Previously I had a 30-minute commute to the office, now I wake up and I’m at my workplace.
I’m still a very hands-on engineer, so I like to make sure that I am spending some time of my day on actual technical work. Over time, I’ve learned to dedicate each day to similar tasks. For example, Monday, I might want to focus on 1:1’s and people’s leadership. Tuesday, I might want to do more technical work. Wednesday, I might want to have no meetings throughout the day and so on.
Dividing my days vertically rather than horizontally has been a great way to manage all of the responsibilities and still be productive.”
What do you enjoy the most about your role as Head of Platform?
“The most enjoyable part is the technology!
When you are working with scalable platforms, you get such a kick out of the latest trends in the industry. Recently, there have been many new and exciting shifts in the Continuous Integration, delivery platforms, production platform security and different cloud operations.”
On the topic of tech, how would you define your expertise?
“I’ve been working in tech for over 15 years. I started off as a C & java developer, and then to challenge myself, I transitioned into cloud architecture, design and the operations side of things.
My technical expertise is programming, security, cloud Architecture, AWS, GCP and all things and tools that are DevOps.”
Awesome! What sparked your interest to move towards DevOps, Cloud and Continuous Integration?
“DevOps has a tendency to be the central point of your organisation, devops philosophy can be defined as the backbone of your organisation. At the end of the day, everything is connected to the deployment pipelines and your production environment.”
I know that tech is something, you’re extremely passionate about. Are you still learning?
“Oh yes! With the kind of work, I do if I had stopped learning, I would have become obsolete a long time ago. Tech is always evolving. Every day there is a new framework, a new library, a new tool. Something that was hot five years ago, is not anymore.”
What are you excited about at the moment; technology-wise?
“I’m excited about Serverless technology, where you move away from this whole concept of maintaining the servers and focus on what you’re deploying and how fast you are deploying. If you use Serverless technology right, you can avoid so much extra work, it’s a real game changer.”
In simplistic terms, how would you define Serverless tech?
“Serverless, doesn’t mean that there is no server. There is a server, but it’s in some faraway land in a data centre and you do not have to worry about the maintenance of that server. Your focus is on code and what you’re going to deploy, all the hassle of underlying infrastructure is gone.”
Thank you for sharing. What books/courses/talks could you recommend that have been a real game-changer for your career development?
There is so much content available on the market these days, you have to be careful about what you read because you become what you consume. That’s why I never pick up a book blindly and start reading.
Lately, I’ve been reading about Stoicism and the ‘Stoic Philosophy’ and these books have a big impact on me and who I want to become. Stand out books have been ‘Letters from a Stoic’ written by Seneca and ‘Meditations’ by Marcus Aurelius.
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook also had a great impact on me.
This book really spoke to me — I was able to relate to multiple scenarios written in the book from personal experiences as a woman in tech. The book gave me the assurance that I’m not alone in this world and there are other people who face the same problems.
What has been one of your most memorable or proudest moments throughout your career?
“Every day when I achieve something for myself or my team, I consider that a memorable and proud day. At this stage in my career, instead of one big thing, it’s a combination of small joys that I like to celebrate.”
What would be your advice to anyone wanting to become a leader in their career?
“My philosophy around leadership is based on a quote “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up your people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” I believe in motivating the team towards a particular destination rather than everyday saying “you should do this; you should do that” If your team knows where they are heading and has a clear vision, they will be more self-motivated to get there.
Do not hold yourself back because you think of something as fearful, try to overcome that and convince yourself to do it.”
Thanks for sharing some great advice. Did you always know that working in technology was what you wanted to do?
“Absolutely not! when you are a teenager or in your early 20s, you kind of have no idea where life is going to take you. The only thing I did right in my teens and early 20s was that I did not hold myself back for anything.”
Was there a particular person that inspired you to start programming and enter the industry?
“One of my teachers, Shoab Khan. I didn’t interact with him a lot, but his presence inspired me to become a person who is an expert in a particular field, and it was this motivation that drove me into tech.
I am also inspired by women like Ada Lovelace and Marie Curie. Marie Curie is still the only woman with a Nobel Prize in Chemistry and Physics”
For sure, they are role models we need to continue to celebrate!
I know you’ve also been doing a lot of consulting throughout your career. What inspired you to pursue this?
“At this stage in my life, I decided I wanted to work for myself. Deep down that’s a motivation that drives every one of us, we all want to be financially independent.”
How was the process of becoming a consultant for you?
“It’s a scary process because leaving your permanent job and salary is not easy. Of course, it all starts with making a decision, then registering the company. Becoming an independent consultant involves things like;
— Talking to the right people.
— Pitching my profile to the right companies.
— Getting the right salespeople on board with me.
— Making sure my profile/ CV is diverse enough for consulting roles.
— Getting your accounts in place; hiring an accountant etc.
It’s a lot more than just going to work and being an employee.”
That’s so helpful, thank you! You’ve also been presenting at different conferences throughout your career. What are your top tips for overcoming the nerves of public speaking?
“I would like to answer this question with a different approach because it’s important to mention that speaking in front of the public comes to me naturally, I haven’t actively made any changes or attended any courses to learn how to perform public speaking. Every person in this world has a certain set of natural abilities. It’s a matter of finding out what yours is, going for it and not being afraid of it.
If public speaking makes you anxious, then do not force yourself to do it. Find something else, remember there is a natural ability in everybody, so find yours and truly shine at it.
If public speaking scares you, but you want to do it. Then, of course, there is a path you can take. start with a smaller crowd of maybe 5–10 people and then naturally increase that as your confidence grows.”
What advice can you share when it comes to preparing presentations?
“I did a study on this and found that as human beings, we all like listening to stories. Whenever I’m preparing for a topic, I make sure it is in the format of a story. I like the idea of me being a storyteller rather than just sharing a bunch of slides.”
Thanks for sharing Ambreen! With remote working being the new norm, how important do you feel, work-life balance is?
“Your life is not just about work and your work should not be the only thing in your life. You have to have a balance in your life. Work is great, enjoy it as much as you can. But at the end of the day, you have to take care of your health.”
From your lessons learnt, what are some of your tips to achieve work-life balance?
“Being 100% honest, I still struggle with finding this balance every day. What is important is to find other activities that give you that same feeling of accomplishment. We are all either looking for pleasure through enjoyment or pleasure through achievement. So, it’s very important to find — What is it that gives you pleasure?”
How do you get through a tough day?
“I have learned that it is not possible to have a life without tough days. I have created a tough day protocol to help me get through it. My protocol for a tough day is;
— Focus on one task at a time, do not multitask.
— Do not get involved in unnecessary discussions
— Have a good lunch & go for a walk.”
Thank you for sharing! What is the single greatest piece of advice you’ve ever received that you take action on every day?
“Don’t give in to the things you don’t want in life because then you will have to give up the things you actually want from life” meaning do not settle for what you don’t want in life, because if you are going to settle with that then you will have to give up what you truly want in life.”
That’s so powerful! How we like to round off Part 1 of our Q&A is by uncovering a fun fact about you and some hobbies that you are into…
“Fun fact — I really love driving and enjoy driving different cars. I love watching car reviews and learning about new cars.
I enjoy reading and spending quality time with the family and learning to stay happy and feel fulfilled because life is too short to cry and be sad.”
Ambreen, it’s been a real pleasure speaking, thank you for your time and I look forward to catching up next week where we will discuss all things Diversity and Inclusion ✨
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Are you a woman in the technology field too? How has your experience been similar or different? Do you have any questions for women in the technology industry? Would you like to get involved in this initiative? I would love to hear from you, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
By Ellie King - Principal Talent Partner - Data / AI - Nordics