Naveera Ashraf, a self-taught coder, is the founder of Shift Click Edtech Magazine and Creative Melon. She created her Niqabi Coder Mum identity to refute stereotypes about women in tech. Follow Shift Click on Twitter and the web, follow Creative Melon on the web, and connect with Naveera on Twitter.
What inspired you to start your company?
Since I am running two companies, I would like to tell a bit about both.
Shift Click Educational Technology Magazine is a labor of love. Being an autodidact, I appreciate all the resources and support out there for life-learners/self-learners. Being a parent, though, I realized that while we encourage people to take their learning into their own hands, we are not extending the same freedom to kids; we still expect them to follow an institute or decisions made by other adults about what they should learn. As an unschooling parent, I have seen the wonders kids can achieve when they are in the driving seat of their own learning and learning to satiate their ever-growing curiosity rather than trying to achieve good grades in a test.
So, in a spirit to extend this culture of autodidacts to kids, I have launched this magazine, which is free for all and can be read online or downloaded as a PDF. It focuses on topics like problem solving, computer science, web and media literacy, design, collaboration, etc. These are all crucial skills in a changing world, but they are not widely taught in traditional educational setups.
Creative Melon was more of a spur-of-the-moment decision. I had been designing websites and graphics for family and friends for a long time, and one day I just felt like "why not offer these services to a wider clientele?" And so, it started. I have come a long way from that initial start. Nowadays, my focus is more on creating high-end web applications and services like chatbots rather than designing simple websites and visiting cards, although we still offer these services. I, alongside my husband, am also in the process of launching another company for digital forensics.
Is there any coding or technical knowledge that helped you create this business?
Yes! Creative Melon is all about coding, and although it’s not a one-person gig, it started as just me making websites. I am completely self-taught; I do not have any university degrees. But this kind of learning finally enabled me to launch myself as a developer and programmer. Even for my magazine, being in the tech field helps me better analyze the technology related resources I share.
How do you balance all of the different commitments of life, between being a mom, founder, coder, mentor, and volunteer?
It is not easy, but it is not that difficult either. Many mums give up on their passions thinking that balancing other things with motherhood would be too difficult. I do not mean to say that being just a mother is not enough or stay-at-home-mothers are in any way behind their “working” counterparts. My first priority is always my kids and my family. And I paused many a project just because I didn’t want to take time away from my kids. But what I have learned is that if I really want to do a thing, I find ways. Some tips for other parents out there:
I have found that being organized helps a whole lot (or as organized as one can be with kids!). Of course, life comes in the way of best laid plans. At the end of a day or week or month, if I have completed most of the stuff on my to-do list, it is good enough for me, but I always have a to-do list. From cooking to making a chatbot, everything is organized in a plan.
Family support (especially from the spouse) is also crucial. So, talk to your spouse about your dreams and ask for help.
I have also cut off many distractions from my life. The definition of distraction is different for every person, but you need to focus on your goals and find your groove around that.
I have also discovered the power of small chunks of time. Five minutes here and 15 minutes there make a huge difference if I am focused. Try putting on a timer for 15 minutes and start a task with complete focus and see how much you can achieve. With younger kids, focused time is hard to find, but you can plan around the nap times, etc.
The right tools also make a big difference. Having my tools and gadgets tailored for my needs has enabled me to learn Python programming while my kids swam at the gym and design artwork while they rode horses.
Having kids involved in our projects is also a wonderful way to not only get things done, but it also inspires the kids to initiate their own projects. My kids have helped me mentor at the computer coding club I ran, and they have helped me in countless design projects.
What advice would you give to women who are looking to start their own tech company?
Find a niche and don’t compromise on quality. With the onslaught of technology, tons of new tech startups and businesses are entering the market every day. But it has also resulted in sub-quality services and generic work. So, if you want to avoid the competition and make an impact, look for a niche, be original and creative, give it your best, and be prepared to go the extra mile.
What is the most important thing you hope your children learn about women in tech as they watch you in the years to come?
They shouldn’t label people. Humanity’s biggest strength is in its diversity, and people cannot be divided into neat groups and pigeonholed. They should stay true to themselves and their values and not conform to standards. In fact, I have created my web identity “The Niqabi Coder Mum” to refute stereotypes about stay-at-home mothers and people, especially women, in tech.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?
I am an avid vegetable gardener, and I love reading anything and everything. I also love to bake artisan breads. Fun Fact: I own a 4-year-old sourdough starter named Frothy the Warrior. Frothy because, well, it froths, and warrior because of the number of times it has vigorously revived from near death after I forgot to feed it!