Dr Nazish Aslam is the Founder of forWhereIAm Ltd. holds an MEng in Computing and Electronics from Heriot-Watt University and an EngD in System Level Integration from the Institute of System Level Integration.
She was awarded the BAE Systems Chairman's Bronze Award for Innovation 2003. She was also awarded IEE Prize 2004 for being top student on her degree course, from which she graduated with merit.
Dr Aslam pursued a four year industry-sponsored Engineering Doctorate (EngD), sponsored by Spiral Gateway Ltd - a semiconductor start-up from the University of Edinburgh. Her main areas of research were mapping digital signal processing applications to their novel reconfigurable processor, and memory compression.
She was nominated for the Industry sponsored Europe-wide Elektra Award, Student Engineer of the Year 2008 by her academic supervisor, which she subsequently won.
After graduating, Dr Aslam worked for ARM Holdings plc before deciding to pursue her dream of starting her own hi-tech business. In addition to running her own startup, Dr Aslam is a consultant to some other hi-tech businesses too.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Growing up, my family moved around a lot (not just between cities, but between countries too), so from a young age, I learned to quickly adapt myself to new settings and environments. Each move meant a new school, new culture, new language, and so on. The longest we stayed at the same house/school was 4 years - but typically, we moved much more frequently than that. It meant that my sisters and I found ourselves continuously having to navigate through new surroundings and cultural differences, to find unique solutions that would allow to prosper in the society, while remaining true to our beliefs.
So, I think that this ability to quickly adapt to ever-changing environments, to find motivation within myself to aim to excel, whilst remaining true to my core values, has made me who I am today.
How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at forWhereiAm Ltd (FWiA)?
My Engineering Doctorate was sponsored by a semiconductor start-up company which was a spin-off from the University of Edinburgh. It gave me excellent first-hand experience of hi-tech start-ups, and gave me an opportunity to experience the challenges faced by innovators in that environment. This extremely valuable experience definitely prepared me for what I am doing now, and it helped me align my expectations when founding forWhereiAm.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at FWiA?
There have been many highlights, such as securing our SMART grant from Scottish Enterprise to kick start our research and development activities. Successfully seeing the project through to a functional prototype was also a highlight, as was getting a patent granted, conducting a successful pilot with a large supermarket and a local authority, and of course, securing our first sale.
However there have also been many, many challenges along the way. For me personally, the biggest challenge of all was in the all-important area of marketing and sales. Coming from an engineering background, this area definitely fell outside my comfort zone. Engineers like doing things for themselves, but you have to identify where your limits are. Sometimes seeking a professional to do certain tasks for you is the best possible option, even if don't think you can afford it. You can't afford too many distractions either - or you will lose focus.
What advice can you offer to women who want to start their own business?
Perseverance and patience is very important. Good things don't happen fast. But bad things often do. It's important to watch the big picture - so you know where you're heading, and can see and appreciate just how far you have come and how much things have improved along the way.
Secondly, confidence is the cornerstone of respect, especially in business. As women, it's often hard to be outwardly confident. But if you believe strongly in what you're doing and what you're trying to achieve, confidence is the natural result. But take every opportunity to learn more - I joined the Royal Academy of Engineering's Ingenious Women scheme. It aimed to raise the profile of female engineers in the UK and it really helped to develop my confidence as a communicator.
I'd also say, for girls interested in engineering, know that it's a subject that is about more than hardhats - my own path demonstrates the breadth of career options that engineering can open up. There are a number of great campaigns that help put it into context, such as The Royal Academy of Engineering's Engineering for Growth campaign, and demonstrate that engineering is really all about innovation, and that it makes a tangible difference to people's lives. It's easy to believe that engineering is "not for you", but it has so much to offer so be proactive and get involved, I couldn't do my job without it!
What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
You make your own way in life. Don't wait - you need to find and make opportunities for yourself and just work very hard to make your dreams a reality.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
For me, my work is part of my life too. I enjoy what I do that I don't really view it as a separate, standalone aspect of life. My work and life fit around each other. That's one of the benefits of being self-employed.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
At least in the male dominated engineering environments, despite being equally capable, women tend to be less assertive and boastful. As a result, this often means that they are less visible in the workplace, and tend to have to work much harder to achieve the same level of recognition as their male counterparts.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
It depends on the type of mentorship and how close/distant it is. Whether for professional or personal purposes, I feel it is important to have someone you can trust and can look to for advice and guidance, or to simply debate matters with. I have been lucky enough to have a few such mentors in my life, each of whom I can turn to when I need assistance; their input and thoughts usually have a huge impact on the route I take.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
From the technical industry, Katie Cotton - Apple's (ex) PR chief. She was the gate-keeper to the public image of one of the world's most famous companies. And she was quite formidable at it too - her ferocity scared off many journalists who dared to give bad PR to the company. I only found out about Katie recently; I guess that's often the case with female leaders - they are often under the radar in the public eye, but well-known and respected in their professional circles - and the effect they have on the world is significant.
What do you want FWiA to accomplish in the next year?
I'd like to see explosive growth in user base, so people get to really benefit from the power of forWhereiAm's technology.
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