#WCW Michelle Noorali went into a male-dominated field and smashed the glass ceiling. She's a software engineer working on open source software at a tech startup called Deis. Check out her interview with us here:
1. What's your story? What makes you unique?
In college, I would do half a major, drop it, and go on to the next. My roommate thought I was crazy because this process was so casual for me. She joked that she wouldn’t know what major I’d choose until she saw my diploma at graduation. The truth is I loved some classes so much that I would sit front row and center every day. I was extremely bored in other classes, so I just didn’t bother to attend. I’ll admit that was not the best habit, but I’m just a really curious person who is all too comfortable with chaos.
Chaos is exactly what my life became as soon as I started diving into all of the different tech-related projects at the University of Georgia. At first, it was being involved in a project for creating a mobile app for real-time tracking of campus buses. Then, I founded a website that helped students sublease their apartments. Eventually, I started taking Computer Science classes and couldn’t stop taking them although they were super hard. It was not easy sitting next to people who had been programming since they were five years old while I barely knew what a hard drive was. During senior year, I got the opportunity to co-found a fan-to-fan ticketing platform called Miracle Ticket. It was through Miracle Ticket that I got to help build a team, learn a ton about web development, pitch to investors, travel, and make lots of mistakes. That was truly a defining and impactful experience for me.
I did end up graduating with a Computer Science major, and my roommate was proud of me at graduation for finally picking a major. I am currently a Software Engineer for a startup called Deis. I love working on open source software, building collaborative communities, and exploring new problems.
2. What motivates you?
Really hard and complex problems. The process of breaking down the big problem into smaller ones, solving the smaller ones, and seeing results is intoxicating to me. I learn more than I can measure through this process, and the pressure and complexity is exciting.
Being around brilliant, passionate, hard-working, and kind people. They embody the qualities I would like to see in myself and remind me that people are more important than objects.
3. Who is a hero of yours?
My entrepreneurial, kind, strong mother, Amina, is absolutely my greatest hero. She acts like one of those humans that every human should be. Several years ago, my mom and I were in a grocery store. A lady was holding a jar of coins in front of a cashier and kept saying “dollars” and something else in broken English. I guess the cashier didn’t understand what the lady wanted because she was pretty rude to her in a loud and dramatic way for quite some time. I noticed the uncomfortable exchange as my mom and I were in the checkout line. My mom noticed too, so she walked over to them. She showed the foreign lady to the coinstar machine, dropped the coins into the machine, showed her which buttons to press, and put the receipt in her hand as it came out of the machine. My mom escorted the lady back over to the same cashier and had her hand the receipt over in exchange for cash. Then, my mom left the store like it was no big deal because to her, it wasn’t a big deal. Out of the 20 something people standing around watching the drama, my mom was the only one to so humbly do something about it. Over and over, my mom helps people who have been forgotten or that many people just don’t see anymore. It’s not glamorous. She is not going to get an award for it, but she sets a darn good example for the rest of us.
4. What's your future plan? Your goals?
I’m always working on side projects, so I’d like to do that full time at some point. I get really excited about working on a problem in a holistic manner. I’m grateful to have experience not only in tech but also in marketing and business. I’d love to put that to use to make a positive impact.
5. If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?
Be good to the people around you. Be invested in their growth. Give back to them even if you feel like you have nothing to give. I know that I would not have been afforded all of the opportunities I have now without the beautiful people that have invested so much in me, so I try to pay it forward.
6. What is something you feel strongly about (a cause, belief, etc.)?
A woman has the right to do what she wishes with her body. I am tired of society putting women down consistently by reinforcing a culture of shame. We shame women for things like clothing, menstruation, breast-feeding, body weight, abortions, and even rape. This shaming culture is a form of oppression, and I’ve had enough of it. It is holding us back from progress. This is the United States of America, and we can do better. We need to grow out of this repressive mentality, and I am incredibly exhausted by people telling us how we should act, speak, dress, look, and exist. We, women, have better things to worry about like curing diseases, building robots, and leading communities and countries.
7. What's one of the coolest things you've ever done?
I camped out in the Sahara Desert for a night in southern Morocco a few years ago. Most of us learned about the Sahara Desert in school, so before this trip, I knew that it was going to be sandy, hot, and dry. What I didn’t know was just how many stars I would see in the sky. The sunrise was windy, gorgeous, and surreal. I had never been in a more peaceful place. I also learned you can hear whispers clearly from far away in the desert and that climbing up sand dunes is no joke. That experience made me realize how small I am in this giant world and how much I don’t know about it.