Mentor Spotlight: Saverna Ahmad
Updated: Jun 26, 2019
Today we're talking to Saverna Ahmad, Senior User Experience Engineer at Oracle.
Her love for creation and attention to detail makes her look forward to what she does everyday.
She previously served at the startup tech company Rydelinx as Director of Innovation and Operations. She attended The University of New Hampshire and Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering. Her academic background is Computer Information Systems, Software Engineering Business Administration, Cyber Security and Systems Engineering. She takes pride in finding the balance in being a mom to her three kids, wife to the love of her love life and her career. Her passion is to help empower more women to follow STEM paths.
Hey Saverna, could you tell us a little about your career path and what brought you to your current work?
I have always been interested in how things work and how things are created. In college, I studied computer science. I have always had careers that are IT related and I tend to get bored doing the same thing every day. I just started at Oracle in January as a Senior User Experience Engineer.
You mentioned always being curious about the why and the how things work—but do you think there were other reasons you were led to become a user experience engineer?
I grew up in a liberal home where our parents guided the way we wanted to go and pushed us to our strengths. My sisters were better at writing and grammar than me, but thanks to my mom, I followed my passion and always needed to feel fulfilled. For me personally, I think I always had it in me. I've always had the passion for solving problems not necessarily as an engineer or a specific profession.
So how did you get into mentoring? How would you describe your approach, and what you try to achieve when working with mentees?
I’ve mentored a lot before. My mom is very active in mentoring. I’ve had wonderful mentors along my journey. They have taught me how to balance life overall and question if I was taking on too much or not on the right path. My mom always taught us if things feel too easy, look for something else because you need to challenge yourself. I like to give back and feel like I gain so much; it is very rewarding to be a mentor.
My approach depends on many factors including the time we have together, the mentee’s personality type and the openness of the relationship. I usually start off casually to bring the mentee's guard down and show them that we are all human. This helps set the stage for mutual learning and then I try to identify goals with my mentee.
What’s the biggest buzz you’ve got during your time mentoring?
I love when they come back to find me and say, "hey remember this time when you said....you were right!" Today people strive for perfection and that defines people. I tell people about my failures and how I have learned from them.
You have to fail before you can learn.
What would you say that you get from mentoring, both personally and professionally?
Being a mentor is a constant reminder to be humble. As much as you want to make a difference in someone's life, you also have to be an active listener and put yourself in that person’s shoes. Simple things you take for granted - like patience.
Mentoring helps me work on being patient which is a weakness for me. I am grateful to have the opportunity to make a difference in someone else's life.
One word -- verb, noun, adjective, adverb -- that describes a Mentor's role.
Are there any tips you’d give to new mentors who are unsure what they’re letting themselves in for?
Have an open mind and don’t close off the idea. Talk to others who have mentored and been mentored before to hear about their experience.
Try to improve who you are from this morning to this afternoon. Give it a chance.
And how about mentees who’ve never experienced 1-on-1 mentoring before—do you have any advice on how they can approach the experience to get the maximum benefit from it?
Ask if there is an option available in different areas/organizations of your life. You might not feel like you need it, but think about it. If it results in one thing that could make your life easier, give it a chance.
How do you think mentoring can help create an inclusive culture?
Differences attract. Mentoring a student from a different background is exciting and really enjoyable to hear a different perspective. It wows me because they think completely differently. They are so artistic and so expressive, and so patient! At the end of the day, we are humans trying to get ahead and can use all the help we can get. Why not?
Finally… funniest story from your career so far?
A month after I started at Oracle a new receptionist said to me "Oh my god this place is so cool but only geeks and nerds work here."
Apparently she thought I was a receptionist too. So I asked her, "What makes you think I’m a receptionist?" and she responded, "Duh - you’re a lady". I’m the only woman on my engineering team of 5 people so she hadn't seen many women. People assume based on your appearance that you are only capable of certain things. She was innocently expressing her view and was genuinely happy she could relate to me, but it certainly showed me how stereotypical we all truly are. I am a nerd and I celebrate it!
You can find more information on becoming a mentor and participating in our next program here.