PWiC Silicon Valley: Conversation Over Coffee with Javeria Khan
On September 16th, the Silicon Valley team held its monthly mentoring circle with Javeria Khan. The topic of this session was career transitions and focused on the challenges involved with making a switch from one role to another. The team met at a local coffee shop and we had 10 attendees in total — which made it very conducive to intimate discussions with each person. The event had attendees from our partner Iranian and Indian communities, which is reflective of our diverse and inclusive approach towards the community building.
Here are some highlights from the event.
Introduction: Mentor and Topic
Javeria started the session by giving an overview of her career journey. She started off as a hardware engineer — working closely with FPGAs and even filed patents for her work! After working there for three years, she won the Anne Marie Schimmel Scholarship for a Masters at Imperial College London and she left Pakistan to pursue a degree focused on integrated circuit design. After returning to Pakistan — she realized that the job market was not great for her expertise and the only jobs available were within the government sector. While she waited for the clearance process — she started teaching at Fatima Jinnah University, Rawalpindi and through a friend’s referral — found her first software development job at Plumgrid, an Islamabad based startup. This is where Javeria admitted the challenges involved with the first career switch. She was considered a senior person in the hardware domain, but now — all her seniority was reset. She was starting out fresh and the switch required her to pick up a lot of new technical skills.
An important piece of advice that she gave was “remember that it will usually take at least a year before you experience that same level of respect as you had at your previous position again. You have to establish your brand again and prove yourself to this new set of people.”
She then explained the remainder of her career journey, which involved another switch, this one was from a software engineering role to a site reliability engineer position. She stressed how important it was to keep learning new skills and staying dynamic as the tech industry moves at such a fast pace.
Round Table: Q&A
The second half of the session was a round table opportunity for the attendees to ask questions from the Mentor. We had a lot of interesting and in-depth conversations with everyone and here are some of the highlighted questions that might be useful for people.
Q: I have switched roles every few years and because of that I am always treated as the junior-most person in the team despite having 8 years of work experience. How did you deal with the resetting of seniority?
Javeria: It always takes time to re-establish respect in a new role. You always have to spend the first few months trying to establish your reputation again. But if people consider the constant switching a negative, then you need to rebrand yourself as someone who can quickly adapt and pick up new skills. This is a very important skillset to have and you should find a team that values that. Most often — startups are looking for people like this, so perhaps try working at a startup.
Q: I am considering a transition from my current role to a software engineering role. Those types of projects exist on my team but my manager doesn’t assign them to me. How can I bring this up with him? I am also afraid that this will affect my review if he thinks I am not interested in my current role.
Javeria: You should always try to bring this up with your manager first. In your next 1:1, you should tell him that you are interested in working closely with the software stack. Most of the time managers welcome interest and proactiveness. Even if he doesn’t have a project right now — but if something comes up later, you will be the first person he thinks of because you expressed an interest in working on such projects. Meanwhile, you can also polish your skillset and try to learn the technologies that would be needed for that role so that when the time comes, you are prepared. If he is a good manager — the conversation should not affect your review. Also, don’t bring it up in every conversation or 1:1, try bringing up the topic intermittently (every few months).
Q: What do you do when you know that you are not happy in your current role, but you don’t know what’s next? Or you don’t have a clear direction of what to try next?
Javeria: You should try a lot of different things! Sometimes you don’t know what you like, but you know what you don’t like. So you can try eliminating the things that don’t interest you. You can take online courses to pick up new skill sets and see if something sparks your interest there. There are plenty of job roles around, so look around the market and see what other roles exist.
Q: I am unhappy in my current role and want to switch but I have only been in this role for a few months. How long should you stay in your role before switching? If you leave early would that impact the next job?
Javeria: It varies from situation to situation. Usually, a year is a good enough time and after that, it is ok to switch. But if you are really unhappy in your current role and you feel like this is affecting your stress level and you are not learning anything new — make the switch. Just keep in mind that with every move at the beginning of your career, you will have to build a reputation again. So if you are ok with that, then go for it.
Overall, we had a very engaging and intimate discussion and everyone brought a different situation forward which we were able to discuss as a group. The best part of bringing people together like this is that they don’t feel alone in their situations. Someone almost always has either gone through it or is going through something similar right now. So in addition to the mentoring benefits, we are also giving people a chance to connect and create a safe space to discuss their professional challenges.
Thank you for reading!
About the Author
Novaira Masood is PWiC Chapter Lead for Silicon Valley and currently a Software Manager for an R&D group at Apple. She has 15 years of industry experience in computer graphics and computer vision. She worked on the first version of Hololens at Microsoft and prior to that she used to work in R&D for visual effects in movies. She has an MS in Computer Graphics and likes working on unsolved, creative and ambiguous problems.