1. Tell us about yourself. Who are you, where did you go to school, what do you do now ?
My name is Shahnaaz Khader. I went to Georgia Institute of Technology, where I majored in Computer Science and graduated in 2019. I now work full time as a software engineer and create content on social media on the side.
2. Why choosing to study engineering ? When did you know this was the path for you ?
My dad is a software engineer and my mom used to work in information technology so both of them always pushed me towards a career in STEM. I had always done well in my science and math classes, so it just made sense to pursue a career that highlighted my strengths. I spent a long time debating between different types of engineering and I talked to many engineers in different disciplines to figure out which would best suit my interests. However, everyone I talked to just told me about how they mainly just wrote code in their jobs and how useful it was to take computer science classes, which is why I decided to major in it.
3. Have you been told not to pursue this career ? If yes, what were the reasons they gave you and why didn't you let it stop you ?
My parents were always the biggest supporters of my education and career and because they were so vocal about how important it was for girls to be educated and to go into any field they wanted to, no one told me outright that they thought I shouldn’t pursue a career in software engineering. Instead, I would get comments from people who would say things like “it is better for a woman to not work in a male dominated field”. These comments never made sense to me because almost every job starts out as being male dominated and having female representation is what changes people’s mindsets, which is why it is so important to have women in every type of career.
4. What would you tell people who think a woman cannot be feminine in a male dominated field ?
I hate that some women feel the need to avoid certain careers or change their personalities to fit into male dominated fields. Nothing required of any career is inherently “male” or “female” so I don’t understand why people believe that only certain genders can perform certain jobs. If a man would not change who he is to pursue a certain career, then why would a woman have to?
5. A lot of science schools say they want more women to join but do you feel like the environment is welcoming in any way ?
I feel that schools do try to make the environment more welcoming to women, but there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done. For example, in a lot of my classes I would walk in and see maybe three to four other girls in a lecture hall of 150 people. Another incident that comes to mind is when I was the only female teaching assistant out of about 25 and we were all staying on campus late to grade an exam. As it got dark outside, I knew it wouldn’t be safe for me to get home alone if it was too late and I had already finished my work so I asked to leave. The male teachers in charge didn’t understand why I wanted to leave after I helped them with some of their work, they let me go. Incidents like this that make it uncomfortable for girls, but educating men and changing people’s mindsets will only come with more representation, which is why it is important for women to continue to pursue these careers.
6. Did you have to prove yourself more than the men in your class ?
Generally, my professors did not really discriminate between men and women because at the end of the day, the work you complete speaks for itself. However, when I had group projects where I was working with men I did not know, they would assume that I had no idea what I was doing. I think part of this comes from how some men treat women, but also part of it comes from the stereotype that people who work in STEM are “nerds” and don’t know how to dress well or take care of their appearance, because I noticedthat some men who dressed well were also treated this way. With time, I learned that by being a leader and taking charge, I was able to stop people from assuming that I didn’t know what I was doing.
7. What advice would you give sisters who want to join male dominated fields but are scared to ?
My dad has worked in software engineering for his entire life, and he knew how male dominated it was, but he still pushed me to pursue the same career because he strongly believes that gender should not dictate what career you pursue. If the women during the Prophet’s (PBUH) time were free to be businesswomen, fight in battles, or have any job they wanted, why should we feel the need to restrict ourselves now?
8. What would you tell people who think that a hijabi cannot have a career in science ?
Careers in STEM tend to be very flexible and there is so much variety that anyone could find a career they enjoy without compromising their beliefs. People will only start to accept that hijabis can have any job once they see more hijabis in a variety of careers, which is why it is so important that we all pursue our dreams to make things easier for sisters in the future as well.
9. How do you balance having a career in science and being on social media ?
I started posting on social media as a hobby because it was something I enjoyed to do in my free time and I strongly believe in having a variety of interests because I feel that it is important to be a well rounded person. Because social media is just something I do on the side, I get to prioritize posting content that I truly enjoy creating and I feel others will enjoy watching.
10. You have quite the following on tiktok, why do you think so ? Describe your content.
My videos range from beauty and fashion tutorials to advice and lifestyle content. I think many people follow me for the representation but also because they feel like they can relate to me somehow and share my opinions on many topics. Some girls message me or comment on my videos saying that watching my content makes them feel like they have an older sister and hearing that always makes my day because it’s so much more than I could have ever wished for from my social media.
11. You give a lot of advice on tiktok to younger sisters, what do you hope they gain from your videos ?
Growing up, I never had an older sister or much representation in mainstream media, so I had to experience and teach myself a lot of different things about beauty, fashion, and life in general. Now that social media is so accessible to a large audience, I want to use the platform I have to spread information to and uplift younger sisters because I know how much I would have appreciated it when I was younger.
12. You always look put together in your videos even though you are super busy, what are the few steps you never miss in your routine ?
I love using my morning to take my time getting ready because it allows me to fully wake up and prepare myself for a busy day. Even though it takes me a full hour to do my skincare and makeup routines, it gives me the time to mentally relax and I feel much less stressed throughout the day.
13. Favourite hijab fabric ?
I love the look and feel of chiffon, but for everyday use, cotton hijabs work much better for me.
14. A piece of advice you would give a new hijabi ?
Don’t ever feel pressured to be perfect! Too many people hold hijabis to a higher standard just because they are visibly muslim but it’s important to remember that no one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes and we should just try our best.