Pakistani Women in Computing

She's Got Game(s): How Asema Hassan channeled her passion for art into creating video games that fight dementia

Asema Hassan ● VR Programmer ● DZNE

Asema Hassan ● VR Programmer ● DZNE

Asema Hassan is addicted to developing video games. She has channeled an early interest in art into a career creating and programming video games. Asema has a particular passion for games that can change the world for the better; games that can be used to improve education, promote personal growth, and build communities. Asema had her first full time job as a software engineer at a game studio while completing a Master’s Degree in Computer Science at COMSATS Islamabad. She developed over 35 educational games before moving to Germany to complete another Master’s in Digital Engineering at Otto von Guericke University, specializing in Artificial Intelligence. She now works as a Virtual Reality, VR, programmer for DZNE, the German Center for Neurodegenerative diseases, developing simulations and games to fight Alzheimer and dementia. Asema is especially excited about how advances in VR can increase the power and influence of games.

Asema doesn’t just create games, she is also an advocate in the game development community. She volunteers at gaming conferences and co-founded the International Game Developers’ Association (IGDA) Pakistan in 2018 to help build a community network for game developers in Pakistan. Asema is currently an Advisor and International Representative of IGDA Pakistan and actively mentors game developers in the community to create a viable career path in games and to help improve the quality of game production. She is also working with Pakistani Women in Computing (PWiC) to establish a PWiC Europe — Berlin Chapter.

Asema started her education in a school founded by her parents to educate the children in their village in Azad Kashmir, Pakistan. They had lost their jobs in Kuwait after the first Gulf-War (1990–1991) and had returned home. Asema’s experience in the Jhelum Valley Public School watching first hand her parent’s passion for education, has been a constant motivation to always strive to learn and accomplish more. When she finishes one project, she is ready to move on to another. The Jhelum Valley public school has now been operating for more than 20 years and currently serves more than 350 students ages 5–16. Although the students are in a rural area where electricity and Internet access is scarce, Asema dreams someday of bringing gamification to the school to help improve student outcomes.

Asema has faced her share of challenges, but always looks to the positive. She encourages others to try to do the same.

“Never give up, no matter how hard the situation gets, keep moving forward. Enjoy every step of your journey towards a goal. But remember once, you have reached a goal you will look for another one. It’s a natural human tendency to evolve and grow with time and circumstances.”

Asema is optimistic that more women in tech will help improve the culture in ways that improve circumstances for everyone. Such as opportunities for part time work, remote/flexible work schedules, and the recognition that working too much is counterproductive. “Crunch time can be avoided by planning ahead!”

For women interested in getting into games, Asema advises not to be afraid. There are lots of opportunities and women already in the gaming industry. Look for a mentor.

“It is tough for women, but you have to stay focused on what you want. Keep learning and keep improving yourself. Find someone to support and push you.”

The Data Scientist Who Mastered Multitasking: How Sundas Khalid Became the First Female in Her Family to Pursue a Degree and Career

Sundas Khalid ● Data Scientist ● Amazon

Sundas Khalid ● Data Scientist ● Amazon

Sundas Khalid had never considered attending college, let alone a profession in engineering. As a young woman coming from a conservative family in Faisalabad, Pakistan, she says receiving an education and building a career was unheard of.

Shortly after finishing high school in Pakistan, Sundas got married and came to the United States in 2004 to live with her husband. After a six-year gap in her education, she decided to pick up where she left off and further her studies. Sundas attended a community college for two years before transferring to the University of Washington in Seattle in 2012. While earning her bachelor’s in business administration, she simultaneously raised her 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son.

During her time at UW, Sundas interned at Amazon as a financial analyst intern and worked with databases. She won first place for her presentation among all the interns and was offered a position. At Amazon, she recognized a newfound passion for technology.

“I never considered tech as an option because no one in my family or friend circle studied tech,” she says. “And it was a bit late, as I was three months away from graduation.”

In the last three months before graduation, Sundas took a database management certification course and began interviewing for Amazon’s technical and analytical positions. In 2014, she graduated from UW as valedictorian and gave a speech to an audience of 3,000 students, parents and faculty at the Husky Stadium.

The path to success has not always been easy for Sundas, especially because she has been raising two children while building her career. In difficult times, she says she reminds herself of her husband’s support and stays inspired by those around her.

“I look at where I was and where I am. Compare yourself to yourself, not to another person,” Sundas says. “Don’t compare yourself to other people because everyone has different journeys.”

Sundas started attending the Grace Hopper Celebration in 2016 and has not missed a conference since. In 2017, she took part in the local Seattle chapter as a member of the speakers’ committee and was in the data science committee the following year. In 2019, she plans to be on the mentoring committee.

Through the AnitaB.org community, Sundas connected with the two co-founders of Pakistani Women in Computing (PWiC) in 2018 and now leads the PWiC Seattle Chapter.

“To overcome imposter syndrome, I’ve started surrounding myself with women who look like me and pursue similar career paths,” Sundas says. “[I have been] mentoring young women who are entering tech and helping them shape their future.”

Sundas currently works as a data scientist in Amazon’s A/B testing platform and Weblab, the centralized science team for testing and launching new features for the Amazon site worldwide. She has given over 20 presentations and has worked with several Amazon teams, including Alexa, Amazon Music, Search (A9), Amazon Devices, Amazon Kindle and Prime Now.

In November 2018, Sundas won two awards for exemplary work at Amazon with her non-Prime experience (NPX) team. After five years at Amazon, she says that she has taught herself data engineering, statistics, machine learning, SQL, R and Python with the help of courses and the people around her.

“If you have a dream, make sure you have the right people around you,” Sundas says. “It’s about who you involve in your life and surrounding yourself with people who believe in your dreams.”