Tech Diary: Cultural Fit

sahara with her eyes clothes because sun is shinning in her eyes

I've been going over this idea a lot, mainly because I've experienced a lot in a field that professionally speaking (office life) I have yet to enter. I mention here and there about my freelance/temp work that I do, and a bit of the struggle it's been to enter my field professionally, from hoping to find my wave soon to not wanting to fit into a box that companies want me to come in.

Oftentimes I think I'm not doing enough month-month tech-wise, so this is where this tech diary idea came from. My blog is technically speaking a very public diary filled with fitness tips, self-reflections and history crash courses that probably show I'm always curious- the start of quality history tea crash courses was actually because I didn't want to forget the history of the paperclip after writing a thread about it on Twitter.

I've learned a lot this past year from freelance work and through attending tech events, and I wanted some way to document what I've been going through as well as help others with some things I've learned along the way. So, let's get started with this tech diary.

Months ago I attended a free event being given by a coding bootcamp.

The event was marketed to help put your best forward to get that first Software Engineering job. I attended because I was curious - there's always room to learn and fine tune whatever I'm doing in my job search. Up until this point, a lot of my rejection emails are either because I'm not technical enough or because I don't have enough experience. So the person giving the event, about mid-way through, said that when companies say that in their emails they're not actually being truthful.

Now I was curious, that was what every rejection email I was receiving said: We went with other candidates who more closely align with the years of experience, we went with someone with more technical ability etc.

"What they mean is that you're not a good cultural fit."

As the only hijab-wearing minority person sitting at the event, I felt people look over to me for a quick second. And I just remember thinking: Where does that leave me?

It's no lie that I stick out in a sea of white people attending these events. I was once at an event relating to sensors and motion, and I asked an event organizer about the sensors. Apparently I was the only person to guess correctly the type of sensor being used. For this same event, I was the first to arrive for it. After 20 minutes or so the regular tech bros arrived and the event organizers focused on them - asked them what they coded in etc. Apparently they didn't code at all and were just starting out, I wasn't asked what I coded in.

sahara standing with a hand up
my reaction to basically everything in life

A lot of tech events have alcohol as the main event.

So this goes back to the cultural fit phrasing. I don't drink for religious reasons (I have nothing against people who do drink, live your best life!). Anytime I'm applying, I notice that as part of the perks of working at a place drinking is always mentioned - happy hour, fully stocked beer in the fridge, Friday night drinks.

When it comes to tech events, some usually end with beer. I usually take this as my cue to leave and say goodbye to whoever I'm chatting with- that's usually met with hello this is the time to socialize where are YOU going?

Yes, live your best life drinking but it's not an environment I am comfortable being in and I won't put aside my discomfort for your comfort.

I'll tick every box on the requirements and still get a rejection letter, at least now I know the actual reason why.

I know that some companies use Artificial Intelligence to screen though names and only pass white-sounding ones through. My name funnily enough isn't even Arabic though, minus it being the name of a desert.  But it also isn't as white sounding as the name Sarah. So I'm not really sure where my name falls in the artificial intelligence side of things.

I get along well with people during phone interviews, some even mention that they'll be moving me to the next step only to ghost me after the call and never respond to emails. One thing I think a lot of is the new generation of tech, many of them young girls being encouraged to code. I'm all for encouraging just about anyone to code, but the tech industry is broken and the issue? Those in charge don't realize it's broken because it's working just fine for them.

sahara half smiling with the sun in her eyes
the sun was blinding me do you know how hard it was to take this pic without squinting

The tech world in some ways is similar to that of the world Daenerys Targaryen lived through in Game of Thrones.

It's a wheel that spins and is controlled by people who tick the stereotypical software engineering box. To them the wheel is working fine. The wheel may be spinning, but it is a broken wheel. Tech isn't so welcoming to 'other' - those who don't fit in the stereotype software engineers of the past always came in.

My sister and I recently did a guest post over on Instagram (fun fact: we both graduated with our bachelors in Computer Science together), we mentioned tech is especially in need of diversity as well as an environment that is welcoming of it. Anyone can learn how to code, but with an environment that does not welcome everyone the wheel spins on while brilliant minds believe the rejections telling them they aren't enough for this field.

I've been thinking recently of innovation in tech - the latest iPhone for example. There wasn't really anything completely new, minus three cameras instead of one, something Samsung phones had long before. It's just a new look masked over what's already been done before. I think this shows a lot about the tech industry. We haven't had, unless I haven't been paying attention, any massive tech innovation as of recent and I have a feeling I know why that is. 

Those who can take tech to new heights and change technology as we know it get sent not technical enough emails - the result? Innovation is practically submerged underwater. How many brilliant minds have left the field before they even entered it because they were told they weren't enough? The tech industry wheel may be spinning but soon (I'm hoping soon, that is) those with a seat at the table will realize that the spark of creativity that drives technology is no longer there.

sahara smiling in photo
this right here is a mama approved photo™

How can those with a seat at the table create something for a world that they themselves are so far removed from?

Tech isn't the only industry with this issue, though. Gatekeepers are alive and thriving in every field. Let's take Nabela Noor, for example. She's a Bangledeshi-American Plus Sized Muslim woman who is a YouTuber and CEO of her own inclusive clothing line, Zeba. She recently released a collection with Elf Cosmetics and mentioned in an Instagram post a lot of things that I relate to as a software engineer trying to break into an industry that gatekeepers are thriving in.

She mentioned that she felt like an outsider through her adolescence and that this collaboration was not one that she imagined for 'a girl like me'. What we see around us is what we ingest - if we don't see someone who we can relate to in our chosen fields we have two options: Leave the field or become the person you were looking to relate to.

I can probably write a whole blog post on the makeup industry and how it's inclusiveness is not really inclusive at all, quite like the tech industry to be honest. There's always that one minority person part of a team or at an event so the company can safely say they are inclusive and diversity is important to them.  I don't think I'll ever forget attending an all white panel and a black woman in the audience mentioning her struggles in the field and the women saying I think our company is very diverse. Nabela wrote this one line that I really related to: We can be in a spotlight shinning as we are, and the words of the people from our past will never hold the power over our future.

You don't have to change the person you are for a company that does not deserve you.

This is something my crochet class tells me all the time whenever I update them on my job search. And it's true. If they don't accept my brain with the hijab wrapped about my head that comes along with it, then they don't deserve me at all and aren't worthy of my time.

Let's talk about the sports industry while we're at it. And no, I'm not going to talk about running because there actually isn't a hijab wearing runner representing any country at this present moment and time at championship races (ya girl will open the gates if someone doesn't make it there before me.) but Team USA does have Dalilah Muhammad who specializes in the 400M Hurdles. She's amazing and a huge inspiration for me. There may not be a hijab wearing runner out there but that doesn't mean there isn't a muslim runner out there.

Okay, I know I said I wasn't going to talk about running but anyways! Let's talk ice. Let's talk Zahra Lari.  Zahra Lari is a figure skater for the Emirates, and there's one quote that she included on an Instagram post that resonated with the way I live each day and breathe through rejection emails: Be confident in yourself and believe that you're a winner. Your self-confidence will make you unstoppable.

Sahara laughing
laughing = the best medicine there is

I used to be a lot more confident in myself and my abilities before rejection emails.

And I'm trying to find the confident Sahara that I lost along the way. When you're confident, and know you bring value to any table, rejections don't really have any weight because it's their loss for not seeing the brilliance there inside you. When they do come to their senses and see the potential you've always had months/years later it will be them emailing you for your time, not the other way around.

I'm going to be honest, I've thought of leaving tech completely. At the time of writing this, I am thinking of a Plan B that doesn't involve tech. I have friends who graduated with Biomedical Engineering and Civil Engineering Degrees, they can't find jobs because they are met with 'not enough experience'. 

One day, those with a seat at the table will realize their real life Iron Man is no longer in the field because gatekeepers worked hard at the bottom tier to push them out before they even entered, they'll realize massive breakthroughs in prosthetic limbs lies in the brain of the Biomedical Engineer that they turned away, and they'll realize the problem they can't solve with their building layout lies in the mind of the Civil Engineer who changed careers.

I may not be a good cultural fit for companies, from the way I wrap my scarf to not drinking for religious reasons, but changing the person I am for a job isn't an option.

If you're also in the same boat in your field, whether that be as a software engineer, a digital marketer, an interior designer etc. here's my piece of advice to keep going after those opportunities: Be so good at what you do that you can't be ignored.

Your respective fields will wonder why innovation has suddenly gone dry not realizing that their inherent biases is to blame for their downfall. And you won't be there to pick up the pieces.

How was the journey of breaking into your field professionally? How many hurdles did you have to jump?


  1. What a well told story. The struggles you face are more real to me after connecting with your words. How you are learning to stand strong and be yourself is a wonderful lesson in putting aside the grim outlook hate brings us. It is a lesson for all of us who are proudly different!

    Thank you for sharing this. ��

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post, Jaya! It's been a long journey of being firm in the person I am and not compromising any part of me to fit into a mold that I wasn't meant to fit in, and I wouldn't have it any other way. 💕

  2. I think my heart broke about 5000 times reading this. Everything from 'not a cultural fit' and the room turning, to AI screening through names is wrong on so many levels. I would be very curious to see how your name did stack up on AI screening though. Stay positive! And listen to your crochet class (so cute). I'm very curious as to why there needs to be a cultural fit for your filed though? I see no logical reason why that's important? *sigh*

    I hope one of those emails is positive soon ❤ x


    1. 💕💕 One thing I never understood was how the AI screening through names even became a thing! It's just wrong on so many levels, not sure who would ever think to themselves 'I think this should exist'. I always wonder on the AI side of things how my name went through, I may have to dive deeper into AI to learn more on it because I'm super curious!

      My crochet class is honestly the best, they're all older than me and they're so so sweet - anytime I go I always leave a lot more positive!

      YESS EXACTLY! I understand seeing the persons' personality but by just screening names or by deciding someones ability to do a job based on the way a person looks it's mind boggling how these companies are even still functioning!

      Fingers crossed a positive one will find it's way to my inbox, thank you so much for reading! 💕

  3. GIRL this is the most relatable blog post I've ever read in MY LIFE! This line killed me, "Those who can take tech to new heights and change technology as we know it get sent not technical enough emails - the result? Innovation is practically submerged underwater." GAVE ME CHILLS THAT WHOLE PARAGRAPH! AND THIS:"Be so good at what you do that you can't be ignored." Your writing is pure gold girl, and I relate to so much. Even today (as pretty much every day) when I was working on my resumes, cover letters, videos/blog posts, I was like thinking WHY DOESN'T SOMEONE HIRE ME I'D BE SUCH A HARD WORKER AND I BELIEVE I'M GOOD like yeah I have so much to learn 'cause I'm fresh outta uni, I have little experience, BUT GIVE ME A CHANCE YOU WON'T REGRET IT! I feel like screaming it down companies throats! I feel like I have to distinguish myself so much, that I spend so much time making my cover letter "polished" to fit their needs, and try to do like a creative video reel component, or audio if it's for an audio company, things like that you know. It takes me HOURS, and then for what? To get that email after the interview (and that's if I get the interview! I've only been on like two these past 6 months), that they went with someone more knowledgeable. I GAVE YOU MY BLOOD SWEAT AND TEARS lol. It's so draining and sorry that I'm rambling but I know you relate. I really admire your honesty about tech companies and their stubbornness towards diversity, it's sickening! You're so right, the tech updates haven't been drastic in the last little while, they're not giving people a chance! Ahh sometimes you just feel like life isn't working for ya. I guess we keep going and keep revolutionizing (and yassss you go run girl run for your life!). ADORE this post <3

    1. AHH HEY GIRL! I’M SO HAPPY TO HEAR YOU RELATED!! I really wonder about the future of these companies who don’t give anyone starting out a chance, because if their pool of potential candidates is only a handful, then they do realize that those skilled ones aren’t always going to be there and when they need someone those bright young minds aren’t going to be there for them because either they moved on to bigger and better things or they changed careers to make ends meet.

      I live everyday with that advice, be so good at what you do you can’t be ignored - ever since having this mindset I just see every rejection as ‘it’s their loss’ .

      I 100% relate!! The cover letter struggle of trying to fit everything and show hello pls I can do everything you are asking for just give me a chance I know I don’t have the years of experience BUT I CAN DO IT AND IT’LL BE THE BEST DECISION YOU MAKE!

      I just went to a job fair and whew let me tell you girl! So this company works with brands for advertising, and since blogging I know a lot about how things work SEO and traffic wise etc. So I start talking to the guy representing the company, and on the poster it shows they’re hiring for Junior roles. So I ask about the role and the guy legit said oh actually no we’re not hiring for juniors I made this poster a month ago anyways if I get an application from someone with experience vs someone with little experience, experience is the main thing so…

      At that point I knew he wasn’t planning to hire juniors so I told him you do realize lack of experience doesn’t mean a lack of skill? And that by focusing on years of experience not skillset you’re keeping amazing talent out of this field?


      Some of these companies ask for so much!! ONLY TO GHOST US AND NEVER GET BACK TO US, it so so draining especially when it’s numerous companies that don’t value applicants at all.

      Yes 100% we just have to keep revolutionizing & be so good at what we do that we can’t be ignored, and when those same companies that rejected us want us, we reject them because they didn’t see what we saw in ourselves at the very start.

Thank you so so much for reading Carina, we’re going to do amazing things in our fields, companies aren’t ready for our awesomeness that we bring to the table!

  4. Crikey Sahara. This post. I had no idea about all of this - I think the artificial intelligence thing you said about screening "white sounding names" is absolutely disgusting and again, I had no idea this was even a thing. I love how you wouldn't change yourself for a job or a company. They definitely don't deserve you if they don't accept who you are - despite being knowledgeable and qualified!


    1. It really is the worst technology that's been created to screen through white-sounding names, although it's been a rough journey in my one year since graduating one thing I'm 100% on is staying true to myself and never changing for a company that doesn't deserve me at all. Thanks so much for reading Jenny!

  5. Honestly this post hit SO close to home for me and I found myself nodding my head in agreement and could really relate. As a fellow muslim woman who wears a hijab , I could really connect with your experiences professionally especially when it comes to environments where alcohol / a drinks reception is used as a social tool but I don't feel comfortable either, so I usually leave around then too! I want to work in publishing and the amount of drinks receptions etc at practically every event is a lot!

    I really admired the message behind this post and the strength it takes to carry on going despite setbacks. It's worth waiting and finding a company which values and respects who you are rather than finding one and giving your all for them for nothing. Overall, sticking to our beliefs and being who we are visibly and proudly is the most important thing and it's something to be cherished. Thank you so much for sharing xx

    1. It's a tough journey for us in just about every field I think - I really want to know how we went from casual coffee to alcohol must be present at every event to socialize. I try not to make that big of a deal but sometimes the organizers do just look at me like? Where are you going?? It really shows the event organizers don't know their target demographic or it shows their biases that they don't realize they have. We really need to get back to socializing without alcohol involved.

      It truly takes a lot of strength to not stay knocked down and to get back up every time but choosing to not allow my setbacks to define me but rather to act as a stepping stone is always the best option there is. 💕

  6. So many things in this post make me sad, I can't believe the. But it was so thought provoking to read, thanks for sharing x

    Kayleigh Zara ❄️✨

  7. Oh my god YES. I absolutely LOVE this post and I'm so glad you've written it! I can relate a tiny bit. Obviously this is nowhere near the situation you are in, but as a plus size woman I have walked into interviews I am more than qualified for and seen the eyes of the manager glaze over. They might as well ask me to leave before I've even opened my mouth. It's infuriating - what I look like or what religion you follow is not a representation of how we'd perform professionally. You are so bang on the money about these industries drying up creatively - the same type of worker cannot innovate outside of their lived experiences and their comfort zone. Diversity is a money maker for ALL industries! It is baffling that people still haven't realised that. You are an absolute star though and your self confidence is justified - you are going to smash your career and make huge changes! Believe in yourself :)
    Beth x Adventure & Anxiety

    1. It really is so frustrating to see companies using how a person looks to determine their skillset/ability to do the job when their resume/cv clearly shows they are capable of so much, but then their inherent biases takes control and dictates who get a job and who doesn't.

      Yes! If a worker is so far removed from the people they are creating something for then of course companies won't stay afloat for long, it's surprising companies haven't come to this conclusion yet!

      Thank you so so much for your kind words, it means the world! 💕

  8. This made me so very sad. It's good to see you're trying to stay positive - just remember it's them with the problem. not you x

    1. Staying positive can sometimes be hard, but being optimistic and positive is the best way to go through every day. It helps to remind myself that a company that values me for me is out there, I'm just taking a lot of detours to get to them 💕

  9. Than you for writing this! I am not in the tech field but I can relate to so many points. I actually have a full Italian name and I have lost count of how many people have done a double take when they see me after speaking to me on the phone. The words "oh sorry I was expecting someone different" have actually been spoken out loud. However I am not about to change my scarf or my skin colour. I am who I am and if someone cannot accept me, then it is their and their company's loss.

    1. Thank you so much for reading, Romina! I've heard of a few friends of mine going through that as well - and it really shows their biases they have right front and center, I just can't believe some people actually say that to the person they're speaking to. 100% the best way forward to stay true to yourself and not change anything about yourself for a company that doesn't accept you as you are, it's their loss and they won't realize that it's their loss until suddenly they as a company aren't afloat anymore/ not doing well.

      Inshallah the right company that accepts us as we are is on the horizon 💕


    1. THANK YOU SO MUCH!! It's so so so important to remain true to yourself and your faith - regardless of the hurdles that have been placed in front of me in this job search, I will hop over every single one, even if at times I think I won't be able to. God's got a plan, just have to trust the process and not chip away parts of me to fit into a mold when I was meant to create my own mold - thank you so so much for reading!! 💕

  11. I think it is really good and important that you don't keep yourself in situations that you are not comfortable in, and good people will understand that. So I didn't actually know that people use Artificial Intelligence to filter and keep white names but tbh I am not surprised. But what the hell?! The world makes me so angry sometimes(all the time).This reminds me of when people pronounce your name wrong but it isn't even heard to pronounce? They just see it isnt a typical white name and automatically can't be arsed.

    "There's always that one minority person part of a team or at an event so the company can safely say they are inclusive and diversity is important to them" Yes 100% and they will put their picture all over the company sites haha! My personal journey regarding work has been okay. I do always doubt whether or not ill get a job because of my brown skin and I probably have been declined before because of that reason but I have also had lots of job opportunities where I first felt insecure about getting the job because of my skin and I infact ended up getting the job and feeling comfortable in an inclusive environment. But then other times/ situations I have thought "oh they have only hired me so they can look more inclusive"....

    It sucks so bad that you are less likely to get job opportunities because of your skin colour and because you wear a hijab, but unfortunately the world is messed up and is full of racists. But, when you do get an opportunity, it will be amazing and you can be twice as proud of yourself because it has been harder for you to get to where you are and youve beat the injustice that happens in the world.

    I am 100% sure you are going to do great things in life. Great post and lots of love xxx

    1. Sometimes I feel bad for it with regards to leaving events when beer/alcohol is brought out at the networking part of tech events - and do get some tsk’s as I leave but if I’m not comfortable in an environment, I make the decision to leave because at the end of the day my discomfort will not be pushed aside for everyone’s comfort. Since tech centers a lot on alcohol everywhere, this makes me a bit of anomaly, but in that case then they can call me an anomaly - my comfort + inner peace is queen at all times ™

      YEP!! So many companies use artificial intelligence to filter through and keep white sounding names! It’s alllll inherent biases at work here. My name always gets messed up, I feel like I have accepted that my name is Sarah after attempting to correct people a few times, it’s really not that hard at all (I don’t personally think) - I even reference introduce myself as ‘Sahara like the desert’ to make it easier for people!

      Yes 100%! If you’re a minority attending an event the photographer will make sure you are visible on their website + for advertising for their future events. I remember I once went to this event, I was the only minority there, and literally the camera was just in my face the whole time!! I don’t even want to know how many images of me are on their website promoting inclusivity haha.

      I relate to feeling insecure about getting temp/freelance work but actually getting getting the work and them being so happy to have me onboard for the short time!! In one case I was actually the first Muslim the person I was working with ever met!

      People’s inherent biases are really going to be the downfall of companies, I have no doubt about it. It’s frustrating the amount of hurdles we have to jump through to ‘prove’ ourselves because of biases but when that right opportunity comes (really hoping soon!) I just know I’ll be proud of myself for not letting them win because as much as they make it seem as though I don’t belong in this field, I am right where I am supposed to be.

      Thank you so much for your kind words Sharnah, taking the time to read and comment, it really means the world! ❤️❤️❤️