Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Streets of San Francisco



“I've dreamed of an adventurous journey in Silicon Valley for a long time, I made it last year!”

The first time I heard of the Techwomen program was in 2012 from my sister Dr. Amal Khtira, the owner of this blog. I was very excited about it. It was like I found the key that would open for me the door of the Silicon Valley. So I visited the website and read the list of requirements. After a long hesitation, I decided to make my dream come true. In 2015, I sent my application but the door was still closed.


Even though I was disappointed, I tried to maintain a positive state of mind and do everything possible to reach my goal. Failure pushed me to accumulate more experience, to be more creative in my application and to prepare myself to the big challenge. Then, I sent another unsuccessful application in 2017 before the door was finally open in 2019. Few months after my application, I received an email of congratulations from Jillian Scott, the program director at that time, that said I was selected following a long competitive process. I read every word of the message with a lot of attention and enthusiasm. I was so proud and grateful to be able to achieve my dream and delighted to be one of 108 women chosen out of 3,260 applicants from 21 countries.

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“I believe that my first website visit was actually my required first step to the big adventure. It's that easy!”
If I have to describe the Techwomen experience by one word I will say “adventure”. For me adventure means engaging in an unusual and exciting experience and challenging myself out of my comfort zone. It is a journey taken to learn new things, to meet new people, to visit beautiful places, to experience all kind of feelings and emotions and to see the world from a new perspective. Indeed, the program allowed me to do all this and much more. 


During one month in San Francisco, the program brings more than one hundred bright and inspiring women from Africa, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East along with 209 professional mentors, 63 impact coaches and 40 cultural mentors working in leading companies in Silicon Valley. Women with different profiles and backgrounds participate in several workshops and networking events, develop their leadership skills, learn about innovation with purpose, engage in mentorship projects, discuss social impact projects and work together as a team to solve leading challenges. In the last week of the program, participants and mentors travel to Washington, DC to meet with powerful and distinguished women leaders at the U.S. Institute of Peace PeaceTech Lab, the World Bank Group, embassies and the U.S. Department of State and much more. Every day was a new adventure full of excitement, inspiration and enrichment both at a professional and a personal level.

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“In my first day in San Francisco, I received the warmest welcome and the kindest words from all the people I met, which gave me more strength and confidence to face the busy and challenging coming days…”
I arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area on the 28th of September 2019 after a long flight from Paris. I was exhausted and full of worries. My mother was very sick. Me too! I had some health issues and was taking medications that made me all the time tired. At the airport, we were met by the Techwomen team at IIE who welcomed us with open arms. Their hospitality, their energy, and their smiles were contagious. It put me in good mood and made me feel better. It’s amazing how such a smile or a hug can leave an indelible impression upon our mind.

Afterwards, we met with some ladies from other countries and we were transported by car to an apartment complex called 399 Fremont, located at 399 Fremont Street. The driver was a friendly man. I really appreciated his care, his generosity and his kindness. During the trip, I was listening to the driver talking to another lady from Morocco about San Francisco culture. At the same time, I was looking at the city through the window. I had this feeling of "déjà vu", but it didn’t surprise me. Actually, it’s an old story!


I heard the name of San Francisco for the first time when I was just a little girl in the TV series “THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO”. I can’t remember the story and all the actors, but I still remember the bridges, the streets and the places. I still have this old picture in my mind of how I was sitting with my late father Abdallah and the whole family in the living room around the dinner table watching the TV series. It was such a strange moment because I experienced all kind of contradictory emotions and feelings; a mix of excitement, tiredness, sadness, nostalgia, gratitude, and many other feelings. In this moment, my body was in San Francisco in 2019 looking through the window at the streets and the buildings. My mind was in another dimension in Larache, the small town in the North of Morocco, in the eighties, watching TV with my family.

Finally, we reached the building where we met other women who had arrived before us. This night, after receiving some important logistics and information from the Techwomen team at IIE, I felt myself fortunate and privileged for three reasons. First, the building was located in San Francisco Bay Area, only twenty minutes away by bus from my host company Twitter. Second, I could see from my bedroom the amazing San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge! There, I have spent a long moment contemplating its beautiful lights. Third, I was glad to meet my roommate Immaculate Bih, a beautiful soul from Cameroon with whom I would spend some memorable moments during the next weeks, cooking, joking and talking about our dreams and worries. Immaculate has an inspiring story as a woman living in a country where the majority of women are supposed to get married, have kids and stay at home. She struggled to overcome the stereotype. Now she is a wife, a mother and the first female to start a construction company in the North West Region of Cameroon.

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The Rabbit is now running. I should follow him. I have the key now. I am going to visit a mad world and meet some “people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world”. In the next posts, I am going to share some memories and stories from my visits to leading companies in the Silicon Valley like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Netflix, Airbnb, Symantec, Microsoft, CZ Biohub, Synopsys, Salesforce and much more.

Stay connected and be awake!

To be continued…
 


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The first photo by : Mai Abu Thra'a

Image Credits : Pinterest