Posted on Mar 20, 2017
Muslim Women in Tech is a series of interviews that highlights inspiring powerhouses who are making their mark in the tech industry, detailing the highs and lows from their career journeys. They offer insight on the day-to-day demands of this burgeoning and lucrative industry and what it's like to be a Muslim woman in Technology. This is Part II of the series, featuring Sana Khan, a 28 year-old International Relations grad and a Relationship Manager at Braintree. Read on to learn about her foray into the tech world!
How did you get your first job in the tech sector?
After I got married, I moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to Chicago and began working in small part-time jobs, one of which was a customer relations position at a startup called Flowers for Dreams. I enjoy working in customer relations because I’ve always been interested in working with merchants, building relationships with them and improving on how to deliver creative services to customers. The role at Flowers for Dreams was a temporary position however, so it was short-lived. I began my job search again and applied for a technical support role at Braintree. There was also an international customer relationship position open there that seemed very interesting, but I didn’t know if I was qualified for it so I only applied for the tech support role. When Braintree called me for an interview, they told me that they thought I was a better fit for the international customer relationship role. That position ended up having a higher salary and was better for my long-term career goals. It just goes to show you that you should always go for opportunities that look interesting to you, even if you don’t think you’re qualified! You have nothing to lose and so much to gain.
Did you have prior experience in this field before entering it? What was your path to Braintree?
Coming out of college, I didn’t have experience in the tech industry, per se, but there were a couple of things I was passionate about that helped me develop skills I was able to build my career on. In college, I was really active in the MSA; I planned social activities, readings, parties, and halaqas. This helped me hone my communication and people skills. During that time I also loved to bake; I’ve always had a passion for bringing people together through food. So when I first moved to Chicago, I put pictures of my baked goods on Instagram, and many people told me to start a blog because they really liked what I was making. From there, I started my first company, Chai and Pie, which sells custom-made chai and pie orders to clients around the Chicago area. I came up with the name “Chai and Pie” because we served chai and pie at my wedding, and it looked cool written that way in the wedding program. I've had pop-up shops in cafes throughout the city and partnered with other creative folks and magazines to cater events. Running Chai and Pie was a great way for me to get to know Chicago and build relationships with many people in the city. Now that I’m working full-time at Braintree, Chai and Pie is on hold until I plan its next steps.
What is your day-to-day like on the job?
Braintree is a payment processing company for mobile and online businesses. If you’re a business and need to accept payments, you may be using Braintree’s processing system to accept them. I maintain our existing relationships with merchants, respond to inquiries, and discuss products they can use to improve their payment processing. When I start my day, the first thing I do is to check emails from merchants. Throughout the day I have meetings with different teams, and I’ll have direct phone calls with merchants thrown in-between as well. My team is the most merchant-facing team, so other teams often come to us with questions about pricing.
Getting a job like your’s in the tech sector is competitive. What’s your advice to people who feel daunted by this process?
First and foremost, you need to have a positive attitude. It’s the most important thing. There’s no harm in ever applying for your dream role; you'll either get the job or have to keep searching. When I applied to Braintree, I didn’t even know whether I’d be considered or not. Keep in mind that just because your skills might not be good in one area does not mean they aren't good in another. You might have what a company is looking for, but you'll never know unless you try. Don’t build your own barriers prematurely. Challenge yourself. When you see a position you want, just apply. You never know what can happen. Before coming to Braintree, I interviewed with a lot of startups, but they weren’t a fit. I didn’t let that discourage me and I ended up getting a better position than the others I had applied for.
How did you deal with rejection from the jobs you applied for?
If I got rejected from a job, I’d seek advice from others about how to improve my interviews and the best way to craft and submit my job application the next time around. My siblings gave me feedback on my resume and cover letter. My husband also helped a lot and gave me advice. To anyone out there struggling with the job application process, get positive support. Getting discouraged and giving up won’t take you any further than where you already are. Instead, take every bad experience and use it as a force for motivation. Think to yourself, “Hey, I didn’t do this correctly, how can I learn from it?” Also, when talking about your past experiences in an interview, be detailed. Don’t just say you’re great at something, prove it with concrete examples. Show them who you are, demonstrate your strongest skill sets, and be confident and passionate.
What has your experience been as a Muslim woman working in the tech world?
I’ve actually been really fortunate. Braintree is awesome because it recently started an Inclusivity and Diversity Initiative, which has three chapters: inclusivity within the workspace, outreach, and recruiting. I’m part of the first chapter that provides support within the workspace. We talk about how can we make events more inclusive and diverse. If it feels too bro-ish, too frat party-like, or too drink-heavy, we come up with alternatives for people who don’t feel comfortable in those zones. So we’ll have events like a book club, or go out to a restaurant rather than to a bar. The people I work with are very culturally aware. They talk about white privilege and strive to have a deeper understanding of how the world works. So being a Muslim and a minority at work hasn’t been much of an issue. Many of my colleagues also work in the social justice realm. It's refreshing to be around people who have the same concerns and are passionate about serving their communities. When Donald Trump was elected as president, people at Braintree were really upset, especially the women here. My white male colleagues came up to me and asked me how they could help my community and other communities of color. They felt like what they were doing so far wasn’t working and were earnest about changing their allyship strategy.
What do you think best helped you prepare for success in your career?
Having a positive attitude, being physically present in every situation, and owning my background and who I am. I never sell myself short. I never try to be anyone other than who I am. I’m a Muslim and a woman of color – I never play this down or play it up. I strive to always be confident about my identity. For example, I’m into style and I make an effort in putting my best face forward. In the tech world, where the uniform is pretty laid back and casual, I still dress up. I’m proud of my hijab and I don’t change myself to fit in.
I love how you completely own who you are and are so fierce and fearless about it. Where does your conviction stem from?
My conviction stems from remembering Allah (S). Even if I’m low spiritually, I know God is always there and that He doesn’t challenge me with more than I can bear. I also get inspiration from looking at other people around me who’ve faced their challenges head-on and raised families, got a solid education and are successful in their careers. My own mother and sister are two people who exemplify this, and they are my role models. A lot of my friends are also great motivators. I’ve learned that having a good group of friends and being with people who make you feel happy is so important. I grew up in a community that was exceptionally hardworking, educated and God-fearing. I kind of took it for granted and realized this when I moved out of it into a new community. For others out there looking for a strong network, I’d say prioritize those three things – have a strong work ethic, get a good education, and fear Allah (S).
What were some of your favorite insights from Sana? Share them in the comments below and check back next week for part III of the Muslim Women in Tech Series by Alina Din!