Discovering Your Passion Is Key to Career Success

Sheikha Latifa Khalid Al-Thani

Career decisions represent a crucial moment in any profession, and it was no different for Latifa Khalid Al-Thani who had to settle on a choice for higher education. Eventually, she opted for the Information Systems program at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar (CMU-Q). Information systems is not a popular choice for Qatari female students, but Latifa deemed it perfect. She had always been fascinated by the power of science in finding solutions to human challenges, and at the same time, she always nurtured a creative side and adored all forms of art. Studying information systems was the perfect choice, as it offered her a chance to combine both passions.

On campus, Latifa’s talents were apparent as she contributed to the success of major research projects, and was part of teams that developed award-winning applications, before graduating with University Honors, Dietrich College Honors, and Phi Alpha Theta Honors. An intern at first, Microsoft Qatar handed her the role of Education Sector Executive in February 2018, as she became the first-ever Qatari to be hired by the tech giant. She now works with the education industry entities in Qatar to support their digital transformation.

We virtually met with the inspiring young lady to know more about her academic and professional career journey and have a few tips on how to ignite career passion.

Can you first give our readers an idea about information systems?

Information systems is a broad field that uses technological tools to generate, process, and distribute information effectively and efficiently. In other words, it is about finding ways to use technology in enhancing our work and overcoming business challenges. It is an excellent field, and I recommend it to anyone who loves science and technology.

Why did you choose to study this program at CMU-Q?

I had options to study abroad, but in the end, I chose to stay in Qatar. The information systems program at CMU-Q is one of the best in the world, and it is amazing to have the opportunity to study while being near family. Also, the small-capacity classes in the Qatar campus, compared to universities abroad, allow students to build stronger connections with their professors, which means a better understanding of the subjects.

Do you hope to inspire more female students to pursue your field of study?

Definitely, as I am confident that women are more than capable of succeeding in this field. Perhaps they are demotivated to choose this field because they believe it is difficult, time-consuming, or more suitable for men. I think they just need to learn more about it, find the right motivation, and believe in themselves.

What is your advice to school students who are planning their careers at this point? How can they discover their best career passion as you did?

My best advice to them is to do as many extracurricular activities as possible, explore new fields, join courses, and read about different topics. That is precisely what helped me shape my vision of what I want to be in the future. It helped me know what I like and what I do not like, so I understood what I have to do next. It is normal at a young age to not know what you exactly want.

Should they wait until the COVID-19 crisis is over before taking any serious decisions?

Nobody can foresee the future effects of the current global crisis or predict how long it will last, but you need to know that the current situation is not here to stay. Keep planning and continue to pursue your career goals, while keeping an eye on the situation, so as to know where things are going. Also, benefit from the opportunities that exist due to the crisis. You now have more time to explore new fields and learn new things, so join an online course that teaches you something new and enriches your experience.

How is your feeling being the first Qatari to work at Microsoft?

I feel proud to be part of a global technology giant like Microsoft. It has been my dream ever since I went on a trip to Silicon Valley in the USA, organized by Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP). Visiting global and leading technology giants like Microsoft and seeing how they operate was an eye-opening experience. I was asking myself then if I would ever have an opportunity to work in a company like this one day. It happened while I am in Qatar; I could not be more grateful.

What do you like most about your job?

What I love most about my role is that it allows me to help people and directly impact the community. When I see our true partnership with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education during the COVID-19 crisis, and how we played a pivotal role in empowering the education model while enabling and encouraging distance learning, I feel proud being part of this journey and showing an impact with the power of technology.

I enjoy working on projects that shape and transform how people and organizations operate through technology. Working in a leading industry as technology and with a giant like Microsoft encourages me to work on more projects that allow me to give something back to my country that invested so much in me.

You have experience in coding, and many voices claim that it is essential to teach our kids coding because it is the language of the future. Do you agree with this?

When people hear the word “coding”, most of them think of it as something very complicated, but that is not true, and there are currently many platforms and apps that teach kids simple coding through games. Teaching kids how to code is important, but it is not about the coding itself; it is more about the concepts that the kids learn when they know how to code. They learn things like logical thinking, computer skills, problem solving, and project building which help them later during their lives.

Some parents might believe that technology is ruining their kids’ lives. Can this be true?

We should not be afraid of adopting technology; all we need to do is use it correctly. Technology has become an integral part of our lives, and I think the COVID-19 crisis has reaffirmed this. People need to  look at it as an enabler and not as a replacement.

Do you have any other hobbies?

I like baking and forms of art, as I have an artistic side in me. I also maintain an active lifestyle and practice sports regularly. It is essential to keep a balance between work and life. We live in a fast-paced world, and there is always something happening. Physical exercise is good to release stress, and it helps keep me on track.

Who is your role model?

My father has always been my role model, and that is mainly because of his work ethics. Even though he is a doctor, he never pushed me to follow a similar career path. Instead, he taught me that it is always important to do what I love and pursue what I believe in, and he always encouraged me to dream big and follow my dreams. This is exactly what I did.