inspiration · women who reign

Women Who Reign: Bushra Anjum

Expect trouble as an inevitable part of life and when it comes, hold your head high, look it squarely in the eye and say…I will be bigger than you. You cannot defeat me.” Ann Landers
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Tell us about yourself along with a fun fact!
I am currently serving as a software and research engineer at Amazon, Inc in San Luis Obispo. Specifically, I have expertise in Agile Software Development for large scale distributed systems with special emphasis on system design and development for highly-scaleable, fault-tolerant systems.

 

Originally a Fulbright scholar from Pakistan, I have international teaching and mentoring experience and has served in academia for five years before joining industry. I worked at the Missouri University of Science & Technology as an Assistant Teaching Professor and took the lead on underrepresented and female students’ recruitment and retention activities. Before that I served as an Assistant Professor at the Computer Science department of National University of Computer & Emerging Sciences, Lahore, Pakistan. I am deeply committed to both celebrate and support the diversity that exists in Computer Science and to especially encourage young women to stay in the IT pipeline.

I received the B.Sc. degree in Computer Science in 2005, Summa Cum Laude, from National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences, Pakistan and received M.Sc. degree in Computer Science in 2007, maintaining rank 1 in a batch of 250 students and earning the gold medal, from Lahore University of Management Sciences, Pakistan. I completed the Ph.D. degree in Computer Science from North Carolina State University (NCSU), USA in 2012, advised by Alumni Distinguished Graduate Professor and IEEE Fellow Dr. Harry Perros. Alongside, I also completed a one year Certificate of Accomplishment in Teaching curriculum at NCSU.

I currently represent Pakistan at the Global Tech Women organization and am an advocate of diversity and female participation in STEM fields. I currently volunteer and am a mentor at ACM MentorNet, ABI Educational Advisory Board, Empowering Leadership Alliance, LeanIn.org, Computing beyond the Double Blind’s Mentoring Network and The Citizens Foundation. I have authored scholarly papers in the areas of Performance Evaluation and Quality of Service (QoS) Prediction/Provisioning for Networks, Data Science and Big Data Analytics.

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Your current job and why you chose that particular company/position?
The attraction surely is the massive scale at which Amazon operates and the company’s obsession with superior customer experience. I have been an Amazon Prime customer for the last many years and as a consumer, absolutely love the service. Hence, when an opportunity came up to be a part of that team, I was extremely interested to see how things work from the other side. And indeed the excursion has been fascinating!

I am part of the team which is responsible for maintaining Prime memberships and ensuring their accurate, timely and reliable integration with the accounting systems. The work that we do impacts million of customers on a daily basis, and that is an incredibly empowering yet humbling feeling.
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Someone who inspires you and knowledge they have imparted (if any):
My father! I have learnt from him how to truly empower women. We are three sisters, I am the youngest one, and our father not only did not clip our wings in a society notoriously known for doing it but also nurtured us to take expansive flights. His dream was to see his daughters well educated, financially independent and socially productive. And he has achieved it with my eldest sister being a medical doctor working in UK, the other one earning an MBA and working as a senior executive in Pakistan, and myself here working as a senior engineer at Amazon. His words of encouragement as we were growing up are my constant source of strength, even today. I would like to share a few here:

“You are not my or anyone else’s property.”
“Go ahead with it, we will see what happens.”
“I am very proud of you.”
“These are the risks, but it is your decision. I am will support you no matter which way you go.“
“I trust your judgement.”

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If you were an animated character, who would you be and why?
Oh this is easy, that will be Olaf! He truly is my alter-ego.

I am a hugger, take pleasure in the simple things in life and can find humor in any situation. I am also a friend who will be there through thick and thin and a romantic! Oh and did I mention I am highly accident prone?

Career challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it:
The same challenge that every other woman in tech faces, i.e., the dichotomy of dual expectations. Dr. Deborah Gruenfeld (social psychologist and professor at Stanford Business) defines this beautifully as playing High which means you show your authority, power and influence and playing Low which means you are more approachable and likable. As leaders in tech we are expected to play high but as women we are traditionally expected to play low. So when we play high, we are deemed as not likeable and we play low, we are deemed as not competent enough! It’s a continuous balancing, at times juggling, act. Patience and good judgement have been my friends in this journey.
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Would you rather be liked or respected?
I hope one day women would not have to make that choice, but perhaps we have not reached that point yet. I would, without a doubt, choose to be respected.

As I see things, respect emanates from the strength of your character, consistency of conduct and principles. It is something that you yourself define and own. Likeness, on the other hand, is conformity to the expectations and values of another person. It’s a reflection process that you neither define nor own and if you continue on this path for long, there is a high probability that you will lose yourself completely in the quest to be liked. Also, in my experience, genuine respect does lead to likeness in due time.

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How do you define success and how do you measure up to your own definition?
My criteria is quite simple. Whenever you look at yourself in the mirror, you should feel like you are looking at a friend and are not tempted to throw a vase at the reflection. Now I do understand that on some days, bad hair or a horrific shade of lipstick may make us do that, but it should not be the feeling of contempt, disdain or discomfort. And yes, I am good friends with myself and hence do consider myself successful.

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What knowledge would you impart to women in order for them to REIGN their lives?
I would like to share two of my rules that have helped me steer my life and career positively.

First, learn to let go the fear of making a mistake. Learn to avoid the paralysis by analysis trap. Time box your analysis, give weight to your instincts and learn to take the leap of faith.

Second, understand that most of our judgments of others are our own ego strategies to avoid uncomfortable feelings. Whenever you find yourself judging someone, please stop for a second and introspect as you have just identified an ego-wrapped hidden area of self improvement.

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