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Tech skills meet people skills

Updated: Jul 13, 2022

EQUALS Her Digital Skills e-Mentoring 2022 Interview with Bob Dowler & Shafaq Zehra

Shafaq Zehra is a Web Designer from Pakistan. Her mentor Bob Dowler is from the UK and is a Global Service Operations Director at Verizon. They participated in the 2022 EQUALS Her Digital Skills e-Mentoring Programme, and reflected on the experience.

EQUALS: Please can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?

Mentor - Bob Dowler: I'm Bob, I'm 56 and live in Bristol on the west coast of the UK. I've been married twice, I have three children, four grandchildren and currently one cat although I suspect we may get a dog at some point.

I've been working in technology one way or another since I was 21. I majored in electronics at college and worked in a small village electrical shop mending televisions and video recorders for a few years but soon saw that tv repair was a dying trade as it was becoming cheaper to replace a cct board rather than identifying and replacing the broken component. I got lucky applying for a job as a commissioning engineer for telecommunications systems right at the start of digitizing the UK telephone network, back when good old fashioned telephone dials were replaced with numbered buttons that beep. I've not left the industry since but my role has constantly changed as technology moved from telephones to data networks and telephony over data networks and the Internet. An amazing industry to work in and there is so much more to happen in that space.

"People skills, empathy and relationship building will become as important as technical skills in the workplace of the future."

Mentee - Shafaq Zehra: My name is Shafaq Zehra. I'm 20 years old. I graduated with a Bachelor's in Commerce and also did a Diploma in web development through the organisation Code Girls Pakistan. One year ago I started working as a Web Designer in Virtual Software House remotely. You can say that I am a freelancer, but I would like to find a permanent job as a UI/UX Designer so that I can practice my work more professionally and learn new techniques also.

EQUALS: Did you know what you wanted to do in the future when you were in school?

Mentor - Bob Dowler: No, I was quite confused when I came to the end of my school years and circumstances meant I could not go to university so I faltered through a few meaningless jobs before deciding to go to college to study engineering and electronics as I had a natural tendency toward technology. Even then I spent a year or so in the wrong job before an opportunity came my way to work in electronics in a local electrical store mending TVs and videos.

EQUALS: What motivated you to participate in the Her Digital Skills e-Mentoring Programme?

Mentor - Bob Dowler: We have a volunteer programme at Verizon and I was looking for an activity that made use of my skills and capabilities, helping individuals as well as the wider community in a purposeful way.

This programme provided the opportunity to address two imbalances at once, first by assisting a young person find direction and hopefully springboard the start of their career, and second by encouraging young females into technical careers which I have learned through my own experience, can be dominated by men and worse off for it.

Mentee - Shafaq Zehra: In truth, I didn’t really know anything about the e-Mentoring Programme until the coordinator from the training center in Karachi, Miss Samana, called me and explained how the programme worked, how it is a weekly email exchange. Then I talked to my father about it and he encouraged me to participate in this programme so I signed up.

EQUALS: What was/were the most memorable moment(s) of the e-Mentoring Programme for you?

Mentor - Bob Dowler: My memorable moment was making the lessons real. I felt the weeks of guidance had been useful and worthwhile but not translated to reality.

When we looked at how a resume can be focused to improve the chances of getting through recruitment filters and being invited for an interview, I felt we could turn the weeks of discussions into practical examples that had impact and meaning.

EQUALS: What did you enjoy most during the e-Mentoring Programme?

Mentee - Shafaq Zehra: What I enjoyed most during the e-Mentoring Programme was talking to my mentor about my goals, dreams, problems, strengths, and weaknesses, about myself because I never talk about myself to anyone and never share anything with anyone.

EQUALS: How has the Her Digital Skills e-Mentoring Programme contributed to your personal and/or professional development?

Mentee - Shafaq Zehra: The e-Mentoring Programme contributed to my personal life in the sense that I became more confident. If I talk professionally, I now know about my goals and how to reach them.

EQUALS: Did you learn or improve any soft skills during the e-Mentoring Programme? What are they?

Mentee - Shafaq Zehra: Yes, I have learned many soft skills through this programme such as self-confidence, time management, leadership, problem-solving, team management, etc. And I also improved these things in my life.

EQUALS: What are your goals and dreams for your future?

Mentee - Shafaq Zehra: My goals and dreams for the future are to get a job as UI/UX Designer, be stable financially, to make my parents proud, and to travel the world.

EQUALS: Is/are there (a) woman/women role model(s) you admire? What do you admire about her/them?

Mentor - Bob Dowler: In my first real management position I had a senior manager who I admired a lot. She had a way of applying structure at just the right level of detail so her team didn't spend hours on reports that were not needed but gained the data that was needed to manage the environment. She would listen and adapt plans as required and give people credit where due and never made too much of an issue when people demonstrated they had an opportunity to learn from mistakes.

Mentee - Shafaq Zehra: There is not only one person whom I admire as a role model, there are many as I meet many people and I learn many things from them. For example, my teachers are my role model for how they work and struggle and how they learn from their mistakes. I also get motivation not to give up, always try and learn from mistakes. It's ok to fail because I try not to give up.

EQUALS: Would you encourage other professionals to take part in the Her Digital Skills e-Mentoring Programme?

Mentor - Bob Dowler: Yes, I would encourage everybody to take advantage of mentoring opportunities. Mentor and Mentee alike. Personally I wish I had the chance when I was younger, I spent far too many years thinking I knew so much more than I did. Eventually, I had my eyes opened and I still think I'm catching up on years of missed opportunities. Always be prepared to open your mind to the wisdom of others, even if you choose not to make use of it right there and then, it might be the lesson you need to make a critical decision in the future.

As a mentor, I find I learn from the mentees and who knows when that lesson will be important in my life.

EQUALS: How about you, Shafaq? Would you encourage other girls and women to take part in the Her Digital Skills e-Mentoring Programme?

Mentee - Shafaq Zehra: I have already encouraged my friends to take part in the Soft Skills e-Mentoring Programme. And I know they will surely take part.

"My goals and dreams for the future are to get a job as UI/UX Designer, be stable financially, to make my parents proud, and to travel the world."

EQUALS: Would you like to add anything?

Mentor - Bob Dowler: The world of technology is developing at a frighteningly rapid, and ever increasing pace of change which means the career starting roles of today will cease to be relevant long before retirement. Teaching people to be aware of roles that are decreasing in relevance, how to develop capabilities and be prepared to move to new roles as they become relevant will be an advantageous capability.

As digital capabilities increasingly revolutionize the workplace, AI and Machine Learning will take on more and more complexity which means people will perform fewer of the traditional workplace tasks going forwards.

Digital capabilities will eventually be able to manage themselves so people need to become more adept at working with people in order to understand what they want from digital capabilities so they can create future technologies.

People skills, empathy and relationship building will become as important as technical skills in the workplace of the future. Being able to relate to customers, internally or externally increases in importance, being able to translate a customers business challenge into technology requirement, and then into technical requirements will be critical to career development.


For more information on EQUALS Her Digital Skills visit:

EQUALS Her Digital Skills is generously supported by Verizon

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Sep 30, 2023

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