When you think of tech conferences in India, chances are you immediately think of HasGeek. When you think of HasGeek, you obviously think of Zainab Bawa, CEO and co-founder of HasGeek. Recently though, Zainab has been tweeting blogging about gender barriers in tech conferences and in the world at large. This was definitely a topic to chronicle while talking about the ‘Future of Work’. Workplaces have to be more finely attuned to diversity.

It is in the above context that Zainab shares her thoughs on the ‘Future of Work’, tech conferences, hiring and skillsets and of course, her take on diversity in tech and diversity in general. What I love about this interview is Zainab’s candidness and zesty thoughts.

What do you think is the ‘Future of Work’?

The phrase, ‘future of work’ is used in several contexts. I suppose, when you think of the future of something, you immediately start picturing a sci-fi movie. But, let me summarise it with reference to the last ten years of what I have experienced.

(I will be referring to white collared work, as that is the context I am most familiar with).

1) More and more women are entering professional white collared work

2) There is also more economic compulsion to work – one earning member is no longer sufficient. On the other hand, I do encounter situations of a single earning member as well; it is a little unclear to me as to how that works out

3) There is also aspiration, and more women and individuals who try to identify themselves as women (transgenders are joining the workforce. They increasingly demand flexibility, with a combination of discipline and remote operation

Whenever I have attended conferences, the most commonly discussed topic around the ‘future of work’ is how to structure workplaces for remote work?

The other aspect of ‘Future of Work’ is to do with the individual’s identity, versus the organisational identity. We are still not able to reach a synchronisation between an individual’s work and identification and that of the organisations’. Most organisations are unable to solve it and hence we see a high degree of attrition, where employees do not have visibility for their work. Now, whether it is a matter of having your work visible over and above the organisation or synchronising it with the organisation, is a secondary question.

The last thing about the ‘Future of Work’ is generalisation versus specialisation. Whether you continue to focus on the area you are good at for many years or experiment with others?

What are some of the conversations about jobs/ skill-sets in HasGeek conferences?

One thing that is happening is that more and more people are interested in becoming front end engineers/ UI engineers, because they get to see how the product has shaped real-time. To do anything beyond this requires a lot of hard work and may not be immediately apparent – that is largely the challenge of immediacy versus a long term approach and we are seeing more people looking for immediate gains.

Examples of some interesting blog emanating out of conferences HasGeek organises:

Speaking at conferences can also shape your ability to influence decisions in your organisation.

Reducing barriers to make technology conferences diverse.

Why is tech talent so hard to come by?

There are a few things at play. One is that there are multiple streams of engineering and what we find is that despite graduating in one discipline, you might want to choose a job in another. Sometime back, we were trying to understand how design firms hire designers and one of them was telling us that they get resumes from individuals who probably have completed their Bachelors in Science or Mechanical engineering and that they are open to accepting such people as UX designers. Similarly, if you look at data science, it is not necessary that only people from a data science background become data scientists. They can come from various disciplines or you can even take up online courses and become a certified data scientist. In general, the trend we are seeing is that organisations have to invest in training and hand hold individuals into the kind of careers they want.

If you talk to senior people in technology, you will find that there is a lot of seduction to become a manager, because you reach a stage in your career where you ask, ‘am I going to delve deeper in technology or am I going to manage people?’ The managing people side becomes easy, because delving deeper in technology after a level involves many points of failure. One of the things you find recently in job profiles is people wanting to hire an architect. The thing is that many people just give up before they become architects. That is the other reality. Even job titles are changing so much. Sometime back, this idea of becoming a product manager existed, but now you see how common it is to become a product manager. In many organisations, people are now no longer UI engineers, they are called product engineers. A job title at the end of the day is also a perk, and you are explicitly or implicitly telling people that your job purview is larger, so your education is not necessarily responsive to this, so your education will always have a lag and the way to catch up is say, ‘ok, now I have a product engineering course, and I will take it up.’

What is your take on skill-sets that individuals should have 5 years from now?

My take is that sometimes some specialisations expect you to go very deep and not have too many varied skill-sets. There are some profiles where you have to go very deep and improve your craft. So in some cases, deep work exists, but who cares for deep work?

It seems to me that this is now a consequence of two things happening in the society. One is education becoming very narrow like you specialise in social media. The other is because you are only trained in this very narrow area of work and you have to settle for real work, there is always this question of ‘where and how can I find my niche?’ Finding your identity also necessitates you to learn more skills.

This notion that I need to be in 4-5 projects is also a reflection of how startups are growing. I would not say that there is no place for this; there is a kick to doing many things and in a startup there is a necessity to. I recall this story of someone who has now made a mark in the front end engineering community and he told me that, apart from being a front end engineer he was also asked to take up user experience design. He commented, "I had to keep doing so many things, because there were just not enough people."

Are we failing ‘women in tech’ and what can we do to reduce gender differences in the tech arena specifically?

Gender differences exist in every industry and they are not specific only to technology.

We have to dissect two things here:

1) What comprises ‘women in tech’ and 2) who are the ‘we’ you are referring to?

The ‘women in tech’ question is something that I have also asked several times., if I were to look at my own case here, I am not a programmer, but I am clearly in the business of technology. Am I still a ‘woman in tech’? Or, let me discuss my accountant who is currently on maternity leave. Is she a woman in tech? I think that question is not resolved. There is no clear answer to it.

The second is who is the ‘we’? The ‘we’ could be several people. It could be women failing women, it could be managers failing women, it could be families failing women, and it could be the startup ecosystem that we are so awestruck about. So, the ‘we’ question is an open one, in terms of who is failing whom. But, I think, by and large, the main question for me, is how to make it possible for more and more women to become visible. Visibility is not only about sourcing more women speakers, but it is also about the fact that they realise that the work they do is important. How do they recognise that they are being barricaded by an imposter syndrome?

What could be the forums for visibility for women?

It could be their own organisations, for their own work. Visibility for promotions. (In) visibility also comes from a family, where people generally say, ‘oh, my son is running this business’…

Lastly what according to you makes for great conferences and communities?

You just have to be responsive. You have to become a platform where other people can participate. It is now a part of our process to include our speakers into co-creation. Basically, having a framework in your platform where other people can operate, participate and contribute.

From my own experience with global conferences (and I have been lucky to attend many from my college days), probably something we have to figure out is how we can invest in another person who has an aspiration to attend conferences. To elaborate, my family said I have to make my own resources to attend conferences. I met a family in the US who was willing to sponsor me. Can we have similar sponsors in India? It could simply mean giving your time or mentoring somebody. This giving culture is not fostered enough where conferences are concerned.

Nisha Ramchandani is the principal author of 'The Future of Work' series.


Published Date: Apr 10, 2019 06:04 PM | Updated Date: Apr 10, 2019 07:04 PM IST

Tags : #Entrepreneurship #future of work #HasGeek

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