DV Faces: Mirna Wahab, Engineer at BCG Digital Ventures Sydney
“Don’t fear fear, change the game your way and always be yourself while doing it. You can’t change the game? create your own and make the rules!”
This piece originally appeared on DV Pollen.
How does one become an engineer? The obvious answer is to get a degree in computer science, but if you ask Mirna Wahab, it’s not just about the diploma — it’s also about the path to getting there.
Before joining BCG Digital Ventures Sydney as an engineer, Mirna was a business manager at a restaurant where she’d worked since she was 15 years old. After high school, Mirna didn’t take the conventional route of going straight to university because she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do long term. Rather than wasting time and money getting a degree she wasn’t passionate about, she opted to learn about business in the real world, running the restaurant she’d grown up working at.
It wasn’t until her fascination for turning an idea into code behind a real, working system took over that she realized she wanted to become an engineer. So, after four years, and some encouragement from her partner who is also an engineer, Mirna finally made the leap and enrolled in the computer science program at Western Sydney University.
“I learned the hard way that you should always listen to your parents because I could have found computer science earlier, but I’m grateful for all the learnings along the way because it’s helped me be a better software engineer.”
Mirna first heard about DV when she stumbled across a YouTube video about People, Projects, and Passion at DV’s Sydney Center and immediately knew it was where she needed to be.
“Everyone looked so passionate and happy to be there, so I quickly went to DV’s careers site hoping there would be a position open — and there was! I applied straight away and got a call a few weeks later to start the interviewing process. Now, I’m here, part of the people and passion at DV.”
Before joining DV full time, Mirna started out as an intern where she got to work on the alpha stage of Lodge, an online property management platform that was eventually launched in partnership with BPAY Group. During this time, she was exposed to new technologies and methodologies that she never would’ve been able to learn about at university.
In the last month of her internship, Mirna was offered a permanent position and she accepted without hesitation. Most of all, she was excited to be able to stay on and continue to work on Lodge until the end of beta.
Having had such a great experience as an intern herself, Mirna was also excited to mentor the next round of interns, and ended up leading the program. From attending a career fair and talking to students, to screening resumes, interviewing, program roadmap planning, Mirna enjoyed the impact she was able to make outside of the usual venture work.
An average day for Mirna starts with an extra strong mocha and a solid hour of ‘in the zone’ coding before the team stand up. After that, it’s back to coding land with the usual venture meetings and passion project in between. One of her favorite things about DV is the ability to drive initiatives she is passionate about, like diversity and inclusion. In particular, she found the experience of partnering with Code Like a Girl, empowering young girls to change their attitudes around coding from “girls don’t do this” to “we got this” to be particularly rewarding.
What inspires her most is being able to create opportunities where others only see problems. “When there’s a problem people tend to think of it as a negative; something unwelcome and harmful. Some people don’t see beyond this, but being responsible for the restaurant’s success taught me that a problem is only a problem if you let it be. I knew I wanted to solve challenges at a larger scale, and DV has allowed me to do this. From innovation to incubation, we’re always trying to create opportunities for people that only see problems.”
Mirna’s role sometimes forces her to do the opposite of this and actually be the one to point out the problems others may not see. Engineers have to question the feasibility and validity of what they’re about to build, and if it’s not feasible, it’s their job to speak up. “This can feel awkward at first, but as you grow as an engineer you realize you can’t commit (not git commit) to everything just because it sounds amazing or uses the blockchain on Serverless with machine learning and AI.”
Another challenge Mirna faced early on was learning how to pivot as her venture changed gears. Having to throw code away over and over again was hard for Mirna at first — it was like her baby. But, as time went on, she grew to appreciate the growth that came from it. Building something great, and then rebuilding it in a different and better way, forced her to think outside the box and to work smarter, not just harder.
The flip side of learning how to pivot is knowing when to stop working on something. “At times, I could be working on a task and just keep going because I knew it could be better. But I’ve learned the hard way that it can always be better and on a fast paced venture there’s no time to over perfect every task. If it’s done, let it be done.”
When she isn’t coding, you can find “Chef Mirna” in the kitchen cooking up a delicious meal for her extended family. In fact, if she hadn’t become an engineer, Mirna would probably become a professional Chef — either that or a Product Manager. Give her time though, she may just do all three! What it really comes down to for Mirna is making a difference. Whether it’s cooking for her family, running a restaurant, or being an engineer she’s always tried to take the route that will generate the most impact on the people and/or products she works with.
So, what one piece of advice would Mirna give to someone just starting off in their career? “Don’t fear fear, change the game your way and always be yourself while doing it. You can’t change the game? create your own and make the rules!”