Financial Times’ Software engineer, Riyanat Olamide shares her ideas on possible future inventions and ways to break negative gender stereotypes in the STEM
Tell us a bit about yourself
My name is Riyanat Olamide. I was born in England but when i was 7 years old my parents decided to move back to Nigeria. Just like most people that move back, those first few years were epic! I learnt about my culture for the first time and I discovered that everyone was either uncle or aunty. How could this be? My parents only had 3 sisters between them both! I stayed in Nigeria for 11 years before moving back to England at 18.
As a Software Engineer at the Financial Times, what does your job entail?
The Financial Times is one of the world's leaders in delivering business news. The team I’m part of is responsible for building the web applications that let you subscribe online. So when you go on the Financial Times website to subscribe and read our content on the world’s news - that’s us. We also build the APIs that make sure you can access the content you are paying for. I write code (JAVA), help make software architectural decisions, and support our APIs.
What made you decide on software engineering as a profession?
I think it was fate! Or indeed God’s plan! I initially had no plan to pursue software engineering. At the time, I just about knew how to check my email and switch on a computer. It was September 2005 and I had to pick my subjects for College. I didn’t know what I wanted to do but my uncle encouraged me to pursue computer science. It was terrifying! My course was all about building apps and dismantling computers and here i was a complete novist. Gradually, I began to enjoy it and really get into it. The rest is history...
Why do we still have fewer women in the STEM field?
Wow, that’s a difficult question and I don’t think there is any straight answer. In the last couple of years, studies have identified various reasons why women shy away or leave the STEM field. For some women - it’s because they haven’t had the opportunity, for others - it because it doesn’t look attractive to them. Sadly, a lot of women who studies STEM subjects don’t stay or end up quitting. I think that might be because for the longest time, it was predominately a field dominated by men. But guess what! All that is changing now…
How can we encourage girls to become more interested in pursuing a career in STEM from an early age?
Breaking bad stereotypes! Things like “Computer science is not a girls thing!” or “it’s too hard!”, “it’s not interesting”. Girls may think it’s not just for them because you can’t be smart and cool at the same time. - those are the stereotypes we need to break! Once we break these stereotypes I think the next thing to do is to provide and support girls with the opportunity to learn. They also need good role models that are making it big in STEM. You know, there are so many exciting things in STEM! Empires and fascinating buildings are designed by architectural engineers, medical scintists discover and cure diseases, mathematical scientist get to solve complex problems and technology innovations strives and continues to awe us because of computer scientists that are forever breaking the mould and trying to invent a new app , device or gadget! Even better, these fields are very rewarding financially!
Let’s talk a bit more about software engineering and how far it has come over the years. In your opinion, what has been one of the most revolutionary invention in your field?
My favourite discovery of all time is Electricity and of course my favourite invention is the electric bulb. Just imagine where would if electricity hadn’t been discovered! We wouldn’t have technology and definitely not software engineering. We also wouldn’t have many other things. Our world would be in darkness! But yes, if I was to consider the most revolutionary intervention in my field - software engineering, I would say the most revolutionary invention is the internet! Can you imagine that when the internet was created there were only a few computers involved? it was a big accomplishment when they sent the first message over the internet between two computers! Now look where we are at! We live and breathe the internet - we communicate using social media, we enhance our businesses using online and digital marketing, we are always online - we stream our movies online - everything happens online.
What big things should we look forward to in the nearest future?
Wow! So many! Let’s just say I can’t wait until we all have smart fridges that let us know when we run out of milk. I also can’t wait until my wardrobe becomes a tech device. One day, between my wardrobe and my mobile device, my outfit for the day will be sorted. It sounds crazy right? I know, but the best inventions all sounded crazy! My favourite? when the automobile was first invented, the president of a well known bank thought it was a useless invention. He said “The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad”. If only he were alive now!! lol
What projects have you been involved in, do you still think fondly of till date?
I get to do really cool things as a Software Engineer at the FT. I’m always writing code and building apps. I secretly wish I was a Robotics Engineer and Artificial Intelligence guru so when I get the chance, I play around with the idea. I once went to a coding competition and came up with an idea to create an app that corrected your posture while you were using your computer. My team and I got prototyping. It was a lot of fun even though it was never finished. A few years ago, I interned at Google and I worked on some really cool stuff there too.
Have you ever felt any subtle/obvious discrimination from colleagues at work or back in school?
Haha!! at one of my previous companies, colleague of mine once jokingly asked who I had to flirt with to get a 1st Class Honours! It may have been banter but it was totally dump. Overall? this doesn’t happen very often to me - you get a couple of odd people here and there who just don’t think a female engineer knows her stuff the way a guy does but to be honest, I’ve had way more great people in my life than the odd ones. I’ve had and, still have, really good male mentors who have believed in me, mentored me, taught me stuff and encouraged me. I’ve also have great female mentors too. Women who know their stuff and that I aspire to be like, they’ve mentored me in many ways. It is these people I’m mostly grateful for.
Would you describe yourself as a standard geek?
I’m not even sure I know what standard geek means!!! Okay. let’s assume that by standard geek you mean the stereotypical image you have of a geek that sends you a message in morse code or breathes, eats, sleeps and jokes in physics then i probably don’t fit the profile. I enjoy solving technical problems - coding, designing software systems, computation intelligence and I happily indulge in techy jokes. Amongst the many cool things I am, I’m definitely a geek- just not sure about the ‘standard’ bit.
Ok one fun fact: what would be the most embarrassing thing to happen to you as an Engineer ?
Hmm…, like I said, when i decided to study computer science at college. I barely knew anything about computers. In one of my first lab sessions at college my teacher gave a task and asked us to use the “PC”. I turned around and asked the guy next to me “What is a PC?” He couldn’t believe it! I bet he was thinking “What is this girl doing in a computer science class if she doesn’t know that “PC” stands for “Personal Computer”!!!!”. He responded with a very sarcastic tone - the type that you’d use to talk to a retard - His reply was “What is a PC?!?!!!? Well.., you go on a computer, open up your search engine and type in “what... is... a... pc...”” lol! I shrunk!! At the time it was so embarrassing but now it’s all a distant memory! 11 years later I’m fully qualified, I’ve got a PhD in a discipline in computer science and I work at one of the world’s biggest financial news organisations. Type “Riyanat” into your search engine and I come up first.
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