AMA with Junior Academy Mentor, Zainab A.
Published December 22, 2022
Zainab is an information technology expert, digital citizenship advocate, and Junior Academy and 1000 Girls 1000 Futures mentor working in Saudi Arabia. We had the opportunity to connect with Zainab this month as part of our Stevens Initiative Alumni Instagram Live series to ask her about technology in STEM, her own career in tech, and how we can all be better digital citizens.
After the Instagram Live, we put pen to paper to capture Zainab’s experience with the Global STEM Alliance as a mentor. Check out the “Ask Me Anything” below that showcases the Academy Q+A with Zainab.
Q: Can you tell us about your scientific journey? How did you get to where you are today?
A: I would say my science journey is just beginning now. I always had a liking for technology, but I never planned to have a tech career. Instead, my high school plan was to be a medical Doctor. After high school, I had to move to a different country, and I had very limited options to continue my education. I ended up taking Computer Science Major in College. Initially, it was difficult to change my career path as I didn’t have any prerequisites for CS. Let me tell you that up to the high school level we were not even taught computer science basics. When I started my CS degree at college I had to start from the ABCs. I struggled, it was difficult, and I wanted to quit but I took it as a challenge. This was my only chance to complete my education. It took me a year to get settled in CS and there was no turning back. After my undergraduate degree, I started my career as a teacher at a local school. Along with teaching, I started Online Masters in CS. My master's degree was more research based focusing on Security, Privacy, and Trust Issues in the internet of things.
After my master's I got connected with a 100% virtual school. Initially, I started as a teacher. I was assigned a project to manage database migration for my school. After successful project completion, I was promoted to the role of IT lead. IT is a vast industry and my job role is more focused on education technology or EdTech.
Q: Last month’s IG Live topic was “Collaboration in STEM.” Could you tell us a little about how teamwork and collaboration are used in your work?
A: “Collaboration in STEM” is the key to having a successful career. Think of all the apps and devices you use for your schoolwork. There is hidden communication and collaboration between these apps that make your experience seamless. There is also a team behind each of these apps that collaborates with other teams to make your experience seamless.
We work on “digital integrations” to connect multiple educational apps at the backend. This makes user navigation across apps seamless, and users won’t have to worry about data transfer and copy-pasting information again and again. These integrations require a lot of backend maintenance and regular check-in meetings. We have internal and external meetings. Internal meetings are within your organization. External meetings will be with other organizations that are providing you with services.
Teamwork is another key factor. No one can do all the work alone. We need support from other people. It goes down to taking responsibility for your tasks and excelling in those. Teams grow when all team members contribute their part. We have to look at the team goals and not the individual goals.
Q: You work in information technology. Could you tell us a little bit about how technology is used in modern education?
A: IT is a vast industry and my job role is more focused on education technology or EdTech.
Digital technology tools can be overwhelming. Again, think about how many new educational apps are being introduced. If each of these apps is isolated, then students and teachers will struggle to keep up with logins and grades pass back from one platform to the other.
To solve these problems, we have a different set of agreed-upon rules called protocols. One of these used widely is learning tools interoperability (LTI). 1EdTech has certified implementations of LTI in over 250 products. 1EdTech enables better usability and data security through LTI. The objective of the instructional technology is to support and facilitate learning through these tools. By using applications that support 1EdTech LTI protocols it has streamlined cross-platform integrations that provide a secure and trusted exchange of data.
You no longer need to worry about how to manually enter grade data or how to link student rosters from one app to the other. These technologies make it easier for teachers to work. There is another standpoint for looking into this as an IT Lead: Better Security and Data integrity.
Q: If a student is interested in getting involved with a career in technology, what are some resources you’d recommend? What kinds of classes should they take? What programs should they learn?
A: I would recommend they start exploring Coursera for short courses and professional certificates. These certificates help you explore the IT career way before your complete your undergraduate degree.
IT is a vast industry. Find your area of interest. For example, I had a keen interest in software quality assurance and testing so I started looking for freelance Software QA and testing projects. Focus on your interest. Start your freelance career during your college. You can easily find opportunities on Upwork or Fiverr etc. I should emphasize here that students should always complete their undergraduate degree. That would help them a lot in their career.
Q: What are some common problems people have when working with technology?
A: The ever-evolving tech industry can be a challenge. People can feel overwhelmed by the amount of technology we have and how rapidly it's changing. Working with technology demands that you also evolve and learn new skills. Technology is different from other careers as you cannot rely on what you learned last year to suffice for what you will get tomorrow. Every tech issue that we face, we have to study in light of its newest release version.
Another problem is cyber security. As technology is getting advanced, the dark side of it is that hackers are also getting smart. We have to make sure that we don’t leave a gap in our systems for hackers.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about data security and how it effects social media?
A: Data Security and Privacy are one of the biggest concerns of our times when it comes to social media. Our systems are secure, and they keep information private but there are looking for this information. The question is why?
There are many reasons. One is targeted advertising. Social media habits speak about preferences. Another reason could be identifiable information shared on social media that can be a security risk. Here it is worth mentioning that even our mouse clicks are being saved. When you scroll your feed, the video you stopped on for a few seconds is added to a recommendation engine.
We leave a trail of our actions behind on the internet known as a digital footprint. If you haven’t heard of a digital footprint before, here is the definition: “Digital footprint” or “digital shadow” refers to one's unique set of traceable digital activities, actions, contributions, and communications manifested on the Internet or digital devices.
Remember the common phrase “think before you speak”, now it is also “think before you post.” I will leave the digital footprint research part for you all. After all you all have amazing STEM skills.
Q: Could you explain the term “Good Digital Citizen?” How can our students be good digital citizens?
A: Common Sense Education describes digital citizenship as all aspects of your presence online, including:
- Privacy & Security
- Relationships & Cyberbullying
- Copyright & Fair Use
- Information Literacy
- Digital Footprint
If we look at this list, we will understand the idea of what makes a good digital citizen. I would like our students to do some research on this topic. There are many short courses and games designed specifically for this purpose, such as this course from Common Sense Education (videos and lessons for high schoolers available here).
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