By Shar Steed, CRA Communications Specialist
Bushra Anjum is a self-described “adventure seeker” in addition to her day job in computing.
“I’m into extreme sports–I like jumping out of planes or off of cliffs. I am an adventure seeker, at the bottom of my heart. So anything that sounds like an adventure to me –I will jump at that.”
When Anjum is not jumping out of a plane or off a cliff, she works as a software and research engineer at Amazon, Inc. in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Specifically, Anjum has expertise in agile software development for large-scale distributed systems, with a special emphasis on system design and development for highly scalable, fault-tolerant systems. At CRA-W’s 2016 Graduate Cohort Workshop (Grad Cohort), I had the wonderful opportunity to talk with Anjum, who described why she has a passion for CRA-W and increasing diversity in computing.
Anjum is a 2012 Grad Cohort alumna and has continued her active involvement with CRA-W ever since. She has also secured funding from CRA-W/CDC to host a Distinguished Lecture Series, which is a recruitment event for groups underrepresented in computing. Along with her panelists, she welcomed the 2016 Grad Cohort participants with the introductory session “Alumn Panel” to help students learn how best to take advantage of all the opportunities available to them at the workshop.
Throughout her career, Anjum has been deeply committed to both celebrating and supporting the diversity that exists in computing and to especially encourage young women to stay in the IT pipeline. She is a mentor with ACM MentorNet, and volunteers with the ABI Educational Advisory Board, Empowering Leadership Alliance, LeanIn.org, Computing Beyond the Double Bind’s Mentoring Network, and The Citizens Foundation.
“Increasing women’s participation [in computing] is a cause that is very close to my heart. I strongly believe that the group of people who are leading CRA-W are also doing it because they also believe in this cause, and that is something that keeps me bound to this community.”
Many influences contributed to her interest in pursuing a computing career. The youngest of three girls, Anjum says sibling rivalry was one of the chief factors. Her oldest sister is a medical doctor and the other sister is in business. With some encouragement from her father, Anjum decided on computer science–and it turned out to be the perfect fit for her.
“I didn’t want to come into direct competition with them [her sisters]. So when it was time for me to choose a career, computers had just made an appearance back home in Pakistan, and I was very good at math. My father suggested I consider taking a course in computer science and seeing how things went. I started that, and I fell in love with it.”
She later graduated summa cum laude from National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences, which has multiple campuses in Pakistan, with a degree in computer science in 2005. Anjum received her M.Sc. degree in 2007, maintaining rank #1 in a batch of 250 students and earning the gold medal, from Lahore University of Management Sciences in Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan.
Computing is a male-dominated field, causing women and other underrepresented groups to face additional challenges. Anjum openly shares that she has to overcome impostor syndrome− a phenomenon in which high-achieving individuals often feel they don’t deserve the accomplishments they have earned. And she is hardly alone. These feelings are fairly common among women and other underrepresented minorities in computing. Anjum continues to battle these feelings despite her significant career accomplishments.
“It’s a demon that we have to fight, and a lot of us fight it. It’s important to recognize that it’s not something that you can overcome completely, because it’s not an argument that you can win. The trick is to recognize impostor syndrome, or your inner critic as a delusional friend.”
Anjum battles imposter syndrome by identifying these feelings, recognizing that many people also face it, and reminding herself of her accomplishments to balance them out. Part of the reason she jumped at the opportunity to participate in Grad Cohort, even though she considers herself an introvert, is because she feels she can truly help the attendees, and enjoys mentoring the next generation of female computing researchers.
“I see the same spark in them that I felt when I attended Grad Cohort in 2012. Being around people who want to help them, who are facing or have faced the same problems that they have, shows them that they are not alone.”
Bringing together mentors and mentees helps accomplish one of Grad Cohort’s goals: to strengthen the community of women in computing. The 2016 event brought together more than 550 female graduate students in computing, and 31 speakers from industry, academia, and government shared their advice and strategies for success in graduate school. Great mentors like Anjum are what help make Grad Cohort such a productive program for increasing the achievements of women in computing.
Part of the mission of the Computing Research Association (CRA) is to mentor and cultivate the talent development of computing researchers at all levels. Several programs led by the Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research (CRA-W) focus on increasing gender diversity in computing. This new column, “Profiles of Women in Computing,” showcases successful women in computing, who donate their time and energy to mentoring future generations and strengthening the community of female computing researchers through CRA-W initiatives.