I sat down with Fariba Pacheleh, BCIT Computing Program Advisory Committee (PAC) Chair, to learn more about her experience as an immigrant woman in STEM and to find out what led her to be such a dedicated leader and mentor in the technology community.
Choosing a tech career path
After success with the extremely competitive national annual exam in her birth country of Iran, Fariba grabbed the opportunity to follow her first choice of a career in computer science and engineering, learning about both hardware and software.
“I knew it would be dynamic, not boring, every day learning something new and applying it,” she explains. “It was this balance of challenges and accomplishments that kept me there.”
While sanctions constrained the country, technical people had to do a lot of work themselves, rather than import solutions. They had to take on production and assembly from scratch.
Though she had a thriving career in Iran, Fariba decided to emigrate to Canada over twenty years ago, seeking to be free of the gender-based career limitations she saw happening.
She’s worked for a number of international Companies – Siemens, Finning – and now finds herself at the BC Liquor Distribution Board (BCLDB). The learning hasn’t stopped, with business analysis and project management added to her expertise.
“One of the things that attracted me to the BCLDB is that it’s very diverse, even at the leadership levels,” she says of her current organization. She loves the opportunity she’s had to build a team, delivering a lot of value. “Building more business efficiency at BCLDB actually helps BC pay for education and health care — it feels good to be involved.”
“I knew it would be dynamic, not boring, every day learning something new and applying it” -Fariba Pacheleh, regarding working in the tech sector
Throughout her career, Fariba has invested a lot of time and energy giving back and contributing to the sector. She describes five things that drive her involvement:
1. Influencing the talent pipeline
“I’m enjoying my role as BCIT Computing PAC Chair, because I feel able to influence the talent pipeline in BC, and impact new programs that help our province.”
Working with a real mix of people who represent the BC tech sector – from small companies to very large public sector organizations, from C-suite professionals to those in more technical roles – Fariba leads the group in meeting the talent needs of companies. She’s also ushered in a new subcommittee structure that helps the industry representatives add value to BCIT’s decisions and be involved more often.
Not one to only take on the big picture, she also teaches a course in part-time studies, giving her a close-up look at students who are moving into – or up – in the industry. “In teaching my own course, I enjoy creating a structure where students can support each other, and I think this helps build a talent pipeline with better collaboration and communication skills that can serve us well.”
2. Having a strategic impact
With tech moving so fast, Fariba says it’s important to be strategic about areas of focus and expansion for computing education.
“We’re hearing about the fourth industrial revolution. It changes how we work, live, and connect with one other,” she elaborates. “There are so many improvements happening: Internet of Things (IOT), robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data, Machine Learning (ML).”
“We could invest a lot of effort in a new technology that doesn’t end up being that beneficial – like the old saying: ‘step back to jump better.’ You can’t do everything.”
Some new technologies are first brought into individual part-time Studies courses. Fariba emphasizes that core BCIT Computing diplomas include the basics and foundational knowledge of technology that don’t change – the code, the network infrastructure – with new things layered onto these foundations.
“That keeps us ahead of the curve when changes are coming so fast.”
As to what’s most exciting, “AI seems to have the biggest market and impact right now, plus cloud computing and hybrid solutions and I think there’s a lot of potential to make improvements in these areas to help this province and the organizations going through change.”
3. Representation yields innovation
“Canada is made up of so many people representing over 200 countries, by having different perspectives, we get a much better picture of the whole range of needs we should address,” Fariba explains. “In everything we do, it’s key not to work in silos: representation yields innovation and creativity.”
Yet she points out that the over 40% of the BC population that is foreign born are often not represented in many contexts. She’s been taking on the challenge of bringing forward more voices for many years, most recently through the Gender Equality Network Canada (GENC), and her work with PAC to broaden the BCIT Computing student population.
“At PAC we’ve been looking at further outreach to specific groups, such as people coming back into work after a break, Indigenous students, and women who might be considering tech.”
“At PAC we’ve been looking at further outreach to specific groups, such as people coming back into work after a break, Indigenous students, and women who might be considering tech.” – Fariba Pacheleh
4. Mentorship really works
“I know the impact of mentorship is huge for career development,” advises Fariba. “Whether as consultant, counsellor or cheerleader, you usually need one or other of those most of the time.”
The best foundation for mentorship is to know your own strengths, and natural abilities: “we need to find ways to use our actual strengths.” Fariba recommends exploring strength-finder self-assessment tools.
While you need to own your own career path, a mentor can often better assess what’s realistic and the best next steps.
Whether informal or formal, Fariba believes “mentorship has helped me most when I’ve been able to receive candid feedback about my goals and challenges from someone with more experience than me, someone who understands where I’m going.”
She also highlights that at a certain point you need a sponsor more than a mentor. A sponsor is actually invested in your success, and will advocate for you, rather than just advise you.
5. Helping is energizing
Fariba has been involved in many organizations that support immigrants and women in technology, and others. She’s been president of SCWIST (the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology), founder of IEBCA (Iranian Engineers of BC Association), board member of many other organizations, and speaker in a wide range of events. She’s worked with the WEB Alliance of Women Business Network, United Way, WiredWoman Society, Unicef Canada, and Engineers Without Borders (EWB).
All this community involvement beyond her day job might be too exhausting for many, but Fariba is invigorated by helping others. “My family were hardworking people, at night you wanted to feel like you did your best, and that included helping others.” She recognizes that immigrants sometimes have to take extra steps to show their value.
“In my home country, if I’m talking to someone, they know my general capabilities by learning where I went to school, what I studied, the kind of conversation we’re having.” It’s different getting that same message across in another country in a different language.
“I’m energized when I’m working towards clear goals, whether for myself, other women, newer immigrants, or the tech sector more broadly.”
The BC tech sector is lucky to have people like Fariba who are energized by propelling it forward.