Meet Shamim Rajani – A Female Techpreneur from Pakistan
This COO is proof that no matter how hard you try, you can’t keep a Pakistani woman down!
Married at 17, before she could even finish her college degree and blessed with a daughter while she was still a teenager herself, Shamim Rajani has fought through her circumstances. And through it all, she has managed to continue her studies, get a Computer Science diploma, start coding, train others, launch her tech company and give a life full of choices to her two kids.
Today, she is the Chief Operating Officer of Genetech, which is a premiere software development company that provides business automation solutions and web and mobile app development services. She and her team of 50+ employees have been based out of Karachi for the last 13 years.
I got a chance to sit down with her and ask her about her entrepreneurial journey.
Did you always want a career in technology?
I was actually studying medicine when I got married and didn’t get a chance to fully explore what I wanted to pursue. But when my daughter turned 4 years old, my husband pushed me to continue my studies, that’s when I decided to try a 2-year diploma course in Computer Science at NCR. I really enjoyed coding and loved the aspect that I could sit alone for hours and code something to existence.
When my father retired, he started a Computer Training and Consultancy company called ConsulNet Corporation and asked me to join in as a trainer. My husband supported my decision and I started training 800+ individuals, and later, teachers in Programming, Web Development and Graphics.
From a career in training to launching a software house, how did your company Genetech come about?
I never really felt a need to create a company. It all happened when a client from the UK emailed me in 2004 and asked if we could design their website. As a trainer, I wondered if I could really do it? Not only did I manage but I made a 100$ from it. Considering we already had the infrastructure, manpower and talent from our training institute, we decided to start looking for fresh projects on various freelancing websites. It all started rolling from there. We were able to break even in our 2nd year.
We learnt something new everyday. I remember once we had a customer who asked for some changes on his website. Considering we built each page from scratch, we told him it would take a long time to make his changes. He couldn’t believe we weren’t using templates for it. We didn’t even know that templates existed then. But we learnt from all our mistakes and today we’re working on a number of trending technologies including AI and Gamification.
As the COO I have never stopped adding to my own and my team’s technical portfolio. I keep up with my team’s collective knowledge pool for the past thirteen years by attending seminars and workshops on trending tools and technologies, enrolling in project management crash courses, following industry experts and completing online courses and certifications as needed.
Where do most of your clients come from?
Most of our clients are international and come from the education, hospitality, real estate and health sector. But we’ve had local clients as well which include TCF, Unilever and Cupola group.
How many women are part of your team? Is it hard to find women in tech? Are girls supported and encouraged in our country?
We currently have 10 women in our company. Most of them work as project managers, graphic designers, in documentation or quality assurance department. It’s hard to find women in coding and development roles. Most girls are naturally good managers, or excellent at documentation but if they step out of their comfort zones, they can become great developers as well.
I don’t think tech is discouraged at school level but girls are not supported enough at university level. When I was doing my final year project (FYP), I chose to be the lead coder in my group. And my male colleagues and teachers supported my decision. Its so important to stand up, be firm and take the lead.
Girls really need role models in tech but there are not enough in our current ecosystem. The ones that exist can be counted on your fingertips.
What’s the best part of your job?
Nothing can compare to the contentment you feel at the end of the day once you’ve coded. I also love it when I am able to talk to my clients, understand their problems and come up with a unique solution for them.
How do you start and end your day?
I normally start my day early around 6am. I pray, do some house chores and by 9:30am I am at my office. I start the day by digging into my mailbox and then have in house meetings with my project managers. That mostly take up the first half of the day. I go home for lunch and the second half is reserved for business development and customer meetings, reading and updating my skills. I come home and spend time with my husband and kids. I try whenever I can to give back to the society and so at the moment, I mentor young girls through the INJAZ program and instill entrepreneurial skills into them.
Are your kids interested in tech?
I’ve never pushed my kids into any direction. They’ve found their own interests and I support them in whatever way I can. My daughter is currently studying Environmental Policy in the US while my son wants to be an author, he loves fiction and is obsessed with YouTube. Both are encouraged to pursue their passions.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I have this app on my phone called Quiz Up which is a trivia app that allows you to challenge your friends on any topic for a quick, real-time match. Also of course watching Soaps and crashing at my girlfriend’s place.
Do you celebrate failure? Have you faced personal or professional failure?
Before you celebrate failure, you must learn and move on from it. Only then can you reflect and celebrate it. A few years ago, we had to close down one of our departments. But it helped us realise that our core competency is development and we should stick to it.
Who is your biggest role model? Your biggest supporter?
My dad is my biggest role model and I respect him so much. My biggest supporter has been my husband who supported those decisions that my father was not fully supportive of at the time.
What do you think about the future of Pakistani women?
I see a really bright and powerful future for Pakistani women. Our women are so blessed and smart. I’ve lived in the Middle East and I’ve travelled around the world and it’s for certain that there are so many areas that Pakistani women are so good at. We should cherish it. We shouldn’t try to become men, but we should embrace our individuality and our femininity.
What is women empowerment for you?
Women empowerment is all about breaking barriers that society has put around you. For me, it’s not at all about becoming a man.