Miski Abdirizak of State Farm Insurance: “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes”

…I amgood enough. I mentioned in my previous story how I was so intimidated by my initial interning experience that I felt that I had imposter syndrome. But then I remembered I went through the same application and interview process as everyone else. I was chosen because I had the merit to do the job […]

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…I amgood enough. I mentioned in my previous story how I was so intimidated by my initial interning experience that I felt that I had imposter syndrome. But then I remembered I went through the same application and interview process as everyone else. I was chosen because I had the merit to do the job and they decided that I was a good fit. I deserve to be here just like everyone else.

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Miski Abdirizak.

Miski Abdirizak is the daughter of two Somalian Refugees. At 18 years old, she enters her fifth STEM internship with State Farm® Insurance in its Technology department. Miski has also finished her first semester at Georgia State University, where she is studying Computer Science on a full ride scholarship.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Absolutely, thank you for this opportunity! It actually all started in high school, when my guidance counselor recommended the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program. Girls Who Code works to close the gender gap in technology by helping girls like me develop STEM skills. My guidance counselor knew I was interested in STEM, but I didn’t have a clear direction towards what I wanted to do. I figured it couldn’t hurt to apply, as it seemed like something I would be interested in. Little did I know, this whole experience would lead me down a path to a very bright future.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

During my first summer interning with State Farm, several of us interns created an all-high school team for the State Farm Hack-A-Thon. It was my first time doing anything like this and I was still new to coding. I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to contribute anything! Luckily, the team was amazing and everyone was so encouraging and supportive. Since it was Hack-A-Thon, which 24 hours, most participants spent the night in the State Farm building here in Atlanta, Georgia.” People played games, sang karaoke, and watched shows between breaks from the project. It was one of my favorite and first of many experiences at State Farm. Our team even won “Fan Favorite” for the website we built!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

My first project as an intern was to develop an “About Us” site for my product suite. The only formal coding experience/training I had at the time was what I learned from Girls Who Code, and this was my first time building a website on my own. I wasn’t confident in my technical abilities and I felt extremely underqualified compared to everyone else (to the point I was afraid to ask questions or seek help). Looking back now, as I enter my fifth internship with State Farm, I realize how ridiculous that thinking was! Back then (and now), I’m surrounded by an entire team that makes me feel comfortable. They encourage me to ask for help, because interning is a learning experience. Now, with every project I take, I’m not afraid to ask questions and just learn as much as I can, since that’s what I’m here to do. Additionally, with everything I learn, I grow into a stronger developer and coder.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

What’s so unique about State Farm is the company is focused on creating an environment set on making people feel welcome. Even in the midst of a pandemic, the company finds ways to keep morale high and exciting. Over the summer internship we still had trivia activities and our annual Hack-A-Thon. We even had our own Intern dance party through Zoom with an actual DJ, which was really incredible.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I’m currently working on a data mapping project, where I analyze and screen through inconsistencies between multiple reports. This helps my overall team as it provides a clear blueprint to where certain data is stored and who it is owned by. I also provide business logic to lines of code, so if someone without formal programming knowledge needed this information, it’s translated into a more understandable format.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

There has been tremendous growth with women in STEM. But there is always more work to be done. I believe groups like Girls Who Code and companies like State Farm are really important because they are actively trying to diversify the workforce with talented individuals, regardless of gender and background. I genuinely think that true change is implemented through exposure. I would have never pictured myself with a career in STEM if I wasn’t exposed to it at such a young age through Girls Who Code.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

I think people underestimate a woman’s skillset in STEM. I feel when women actually make it to the “big-league” they’re not given the same amount of attention as their male counterparts. We have to work twice as hard to be seen. It’s not just enough to be on the same level skill wise, you have to go the extra mile to make yourself visible, whether it be speaking out more, or proving your knowledge in the tech space. I believe in order to address this we have to reflect on ourselves and check our bias. There should be equal opportunities to display our skills. This is something that applies to all — — not just women.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?

I think it’s strange that women still hear phrases like “Wow, a women in STEM!” but you never hear, “Wow, a man in STEM!” I just want to be a person in STEM that just so happens to be a woman.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Lesson 1: I am good enough. I mentioned in my previous story how I was so intimidated by my initial interning experience that I felt that I had imposter syndrome. But then I remembered I went through the same application and interview process as everyone else. I was chosen because I had the merit to do the job and they decided that I was a good fit. I deserve to be here just like everyone else.

Lesson 2: Speak up. My first project at State Farm started out as a hot mess. I was afraid to ask for help and ask questions because honestly I didn’t want to look incapable. However, it’s much better to ask questions for clarification so you can provide high quality work, rather than being stuck and delivering something of lower quality.

Lesson 3: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Nobody is perfect, and nobody should expect you to be. It is okay to mess up every now and then, it’s not the end of the world. As long as you’re able to accept that you made the mistake, learn from it, try to fix it and keep pushing — you’ll come out better on the other side.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Don’t feel intimidated because you are a woman, or young, or an intern. Your ideas and opinions matter. It takes a lot to summon that type of courage and to put yourself out there, but once you do, you’ll begin to grow into your role as a leader.

What advice would you give to other women leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

I think it’s important to recognize every individual. Try to incorporate different ways and activities that allow everyone to voice their ideas or concerns. Everybody brings something different to the table, and I believe a characteristic of a great leader is to be open to try different things to ensure growth.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are many people to thank! I am so grateful for my family, especially my older sisters, who are so successful in their specific fields. They created a home environment for me where women being successful is the norm. I would also like to thank my mentors, host managers, and intern coordinators at State Farm, who gave a really inclusive learning experience, and helped me bring out that confidence I needed. I would also like to thank my high school counselor that introduced me to Girls Who Code. My success would have never been this great if it wasn’t for these people, I am forever thankful and grateful for all of the advice, guidance and opportunities they gave me!

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I hope the opportunities to share my story and experience can inspire other girls to find the courage to venture into fields that are historically male dominated.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

As a Black, Muslim woman, I think it’s hard to inspire just one single movement. There are so many aspects of my identity, and of others that are disadvantaged that I think the world needs a wave of movements and help. To be frank, I believe to make a meaningful change in the world we all need to look at how we treat others. We need to think of issues not as one being more important than another, but rather how can we achieve other people’s goals while being true to ours.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

A common saying in my household is, “It doesn’t matter where you start, but it matters where you finish.” I apply this motto in practically every aspect of my life. I can start a new chapter of my career broken with nothing, but if I let myself end that way, then what does that say about my strength?

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

As corny as it sounds, I would love to hang out with Rebecca Sugar. She’s one of my favorite cartoon animators, as I am a cartoon nerd. She worked on a lot of my favorite Cartoon Network shows, including Steven Universe, and she’s not afraid to touch on some sensitive topics in her shows, like diversity and mental health. She was also the first woman to independently create a series on Cartoon Network, so she is definitely an inspiration.

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