From The Straits Times    |
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Do you like your job? Or wonder what it would be like if you’d gone against your parents’ advice and pursued your dream career? Her World’s Career Confessions column spotlights the professional journeys of its subjects and reveals how each individual’s career path and the choices they have made can have an impact on their personal finances, psychological health, and interpersonal relationships.

Nurul Jihadah Hussain’s decision to convert her education scholarship into funding for The Codette Project kickstarted the non-profit organisation, which aims to better career opportunities in tech for minority and Muslim women.

The 36-year-old was inspired by the work of Black Girls Code (a US non-profit that provides STEM education for African American girls) and – despite not having a tech background – had wanted to establish a similar platform in Singapore.

Nurul shares that because she was already finishing her Masters in Business Administration (MBA), she put in a request for funding The Codette Project instead if her social impact pitch for Yayasan Mendaki’s 2015 Ridzwan Dzafir Community Awards was successful.

Since then, The Codette Project has clocked some notable milestones, including being part of Meta’s inaugural Facebook Community Leadership Programme in 2018, an international initiative that supports the social impact efforts of 115 community leaders with over US$10 million in funding, as well as launching the very first women-only hackathon in Singapore the same year, an event that saw 50 participants.

Last year, The Codette Project launched a photo exhibition “Success Looks Like This”, an event attended by Guest-of-Honour President Halimah Yacob, which showcases works featuring minority/Muslim women who have challenged traditional narratives of success. Nurul reveals that the event was held just a couple of weeks before her pregnancy due date.

“My team had a Whatsapp group that was about ‘what happens if Nurul gives birth before this event’. They didn’t tell me about it, because I think they didn’t want to stress me out,” says the mother of one. 

It comes as no surprise then, that time is the one thing that Nurul wishes she has more of. Not only is she helming The Codette Project with a team of 15 volunteers, she’s also a full-time programme manager at Accelerating Asia, a venture capital firm.

“It’s like trying to keep different balls up in the air. Some of these are glass balls, and some are rubber balls, and you’re not going to be able to juggle all of them. You have to decide which are the rubber balls to let go, and which are the glass balls you want to keep,” says Nurul.

This is her career confession.

Name: Nurul Jihadah Hussain
Highest Education: Masters in Business Administration; Master of Arts, Arabic and Politics
Job Title & Industry: Founder of The Codette Project, Tech / Social Impact, and Programme Manager, Accelerating Asia 
Years of Work Experience: 12 years
Salary: Prefer not to say

What’s your day-to-day schedule like?

My daily schedule is not great – I don’t recommend it to anybody. My one-year-old wakes up fairly early, so [my husband and I] get up together and get ready. I have a full-time job, so that takes up most of my time. Sometimes, I try to clear some things for Codette during lunch. It can be a challenge. 

I have a team of 15 volunteers. We all have full-time jobs (other than my interns which I pay), and we’re on Whatsapp. We’ve tried so many ways of using different organisational tools, but we always come back to that. 

I try to dedicate my Saturday mornings to Codette and also spend meaningful time with my child as much as I can. I’m very grateful because I do have a good support system. My husband’s a great partner, and our extended family is super supportive.

Is this the career path that you envisioned for yourself, or do you wish you were doing something else?

It’s definitely not the career path I envisioned for myself. I remember being quite young and imagining that as an adult, I would have lots of animals, and live in a place that is very green. I’d also be reading lots of books all day. I thought, “This is what adults should do right? They have lots of time for hobbies.” Unfortunately, that’s not the case in adulthood.

What were some of the significant challenges that you’ve faced so far?

We are fundamentally a non-profit and we are still volunteer-run. So that means our funding has always been an issue. Covid-19 was extremely disruptive, especially for our signature program, which is our hackathon, Tech for Good. We grew the event from 50 in 2018 to 100 participants in 2019. In 2020, everything stopped, and I really wish that we had been able to put on one more hackathon [before the pandemic happened].

And your proudest achievements?

It would have to be Codette’s inaugural hackathon in 2018. No one thought that a women-only hackathon would be successful, and we had quite a lot of pushback from people who didn’t understand why it was important. But we sold out, and it went really well. We were the first hackathon in Singapore to provide a breastfeeding room, and a meditation and prayer room. We were also inclusive in how the event was structured – the hackathon was held for just one weekend, from 8am to 8pm, taking into consideration that most women are carers.

How do you juggle a full-time job with running a non-profit organisation?

Very badly. I forget a lot of things, I’m not gonna lie. I think I’ve had to say no to a lot of interesting opportunities. I don’t really have a hobby either. It’s really important to have a really good team behind you, and I can’t reward my team enough for the work that they are doing. There’s no amount of money that I could give them that would adequately compensate them for the love that they’re showing our community, and I have so much gratitude for that.

What’s your vision for The Codette Project for the next five years?

Codette is built on three pillars. Our first pillar is skills building; the second pillar is community building, providing a safe space for women to explore connections, opportunities, and access into the tech industry; the third pillar is about reclaiming narratives of success. We want to reclaim the narratives that we see in traditional and social media on who gets to be ‘successful’, and who gets to be considered a woman in tech. 

We’ve impacted over 4,000 women in Singapore so far – and it’d be really good if we can continue doing so for the next five years. We’ve never had an office, and my dream is to have a physical space that we can use as an area to organise more in-person events and build in-person relationships.

My vision is actually a bit different. What I like to see is for us to have deeper, long-term connections with a lot of the tech organisations here, and to work with them to really create more access and opportunities for minority women. I think a lot of organisations and programmes tend to focus on one-off events. We’ve done that in the past, but I want to focus on building something long-term. 

Do you have any advice for women who are interested in working in the tech industry?

My advice is to connect with people who can help to amplify your voice, and who can also be very honest with you about their challenges. So don’t just connect with people who are there for 15 or 20 minutes. You want to really look at people who can believe in you in the long term. Relationships are the cornerstone of establishing a long-term career.

Read more about Nurul Jihadah Hussain’s career journey in Lifting Half the Sky, a book by the EtonHouse Community Fund that celebrates successful female entrepreneurs in Singapore. All proceeds will go towards making quality education accessible to underserved children.

Main photo credit: EtonHouse Community Fund