As soon as she showed an interest in technology, Melika Farahani’s family encouraged her to pursue that path. Despite being a young girl, her curiosity in her father’s engineering work with computers sparked an early interest in working in the same field.
Melika first started to explore this interest at Farzanegan High School in Tehran, Iran. As a student, she chose to participate in the Iranian National Olympiad in Informatics, an optional competition in which winners often receive admission to top universities. After several rounds of exams, Melika won a bronze medal in the competition and established a great ranking in Konkour, Iran’s annual university entrance exam. Melika then received admission to the Sharif University of Technology, Iran’s most renowned technical university.
During her first semester as a computer science major, Melika searched for a part-time job that would allow her to work with professionals and improve her technical skills. She soon joined Cafebazaar, a famous software company that offers more than 170,000 downloadable Iranian and international apps to over 39 million active users.
“I learned a lot from my coworkers and became familiar with cutting-edge technologies in programming, development and software engineering,” Melika says.
Melika continues to work at Cafebazaar part-time. During her four years in this role, she says her greatest accomplishment has been the recommender system project she worked on with a team of five data scientists and engineers. The main goal of this tool was to help users find apps they are most likely to download, making recommendations based on their interests and preferences. To do so, Melika’s team built a model to process the data of users’ interactions with Cafebazaar’s platform and suggest related applications in a list format.
“A big challenge [I faced] was time management. Handling university and a job together was a difficult problem, [but] having this amount of work makes me more organized,” Melika says. “Before this project, I never directly saw my work’s effects but this project had a real result and we got lots of positive feedback from our users.”
Melika used those same time management skills to participate in other projects for both school and work. As a college student, she was a member of the first women’s team for numerous local STEM tournaments. Melika was also a technical staff member in the 2017 International Olympiad in Informatics. To hone her communication skills, she became a teaching assistant for database, data structures, advanced programming and game theory courses.
Melika says she struggled with and overcame the challenge of low self-confidence in the first few months of working. She says that over time, it was a matter of targeting her areas for improvement, such as public speaking, that helped her gain confidence.
“In Iran and even in the world, there are fewer women in tech than men. Also, all my coworkers were older than me, [so] it took some months for me to have confidence to make big decisions at work,” Melika says. “Of course my work teammates had a huge effect on this, but more importantly, I tried to change my attitude. I decided to accept roles, take risks and improve my soft skills, such as speaking.”
Melika currently supports research projects (on a voluntary basis) in machine learning and data science with university research groups in Denmark and Canada. She plans to leave Iran for three months this March to intern at the National University of Singapore’s Institute for Application of Learning Science and Technology research group. Melika aims to pursue graduate studies in other countries to further her career.
“My family’s support really helps me so much. From the beginning, they supported me during the Olympiad,” Melika says. “It’s not very common in Iran for girls to be working at the age of 18, but my family got permission for me to do it. I really appreciate their support and trust.”