Women have great potential in IT

Channel Post speaks with Maya Zakhour, Head of Distribution and Alliances, Middle East & Africa at NetApp about her experiences and her journey in the world of technology.

Maya Zakhour, Head of Distribution and Alliances, Middle East & Africa at NetApp

Tell us about your leadership style and philosophy.
I have always believed in leading by example–giving enough room for your team to play out their expected roles while also making them feel that they are part of building the strategy. This in turn, plays a key role in ensuring that the team is strong enough to deliver on time and exactly what is being expected from them. Leadership is showing your team mates the path to success and placing trust and confidence in their abilities.

What made you choose IT as a career opportunity?
Ever since I was a child I loved math, which prompted me to take up computer engineering as my major. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science from Notre Dame University in Lebanon. When I was younger, I also developed a strong preference for practicing logical thinking– a key feature that gave me the motivation of changing the world through IT. In college, I believed in doing something different and led to me not taking the usual common courses.

After university, I saw that there were a lot of opportunities in the IT field. I knew that the competition back then was fierce–so I told myself that I should be prepared to take risks and to be able to confidently step outside of my comfort zone. With this, I ended up working on projects that had direct business impact.

Over the years, I have chosen roles that are strategically important to the business. I have learned to be clear about how my work will fit into the company’s goals. I am also lucky to have worked with mentors who were able to guide me in understanding the bigger picture.

How has your unique background prepared you for success in the industry?
The knowledge that I have gained over the years–from school and from the industry–has allowed me to gain key intellect and experience to achieve success. I have also learned to always be at the top of my game by being fully committed at what I do; embracing the ability to grow and do things differently.

What was your most interesting job?
The channel has always been my passion. However, I find vendor management also interesting. In fact, the most interesting job today for me is at NetApp where I manage NetApp’s regional distribution landscape and growing channel coverage in the MEA region. I find the job refreshingly dynamic, demanding, and challenging—where no two days are the same.

What advice would you give to women looking to break into the field of computer technology?
Just like any other industry, women have great potential in IT. With this in mind, my advice to women who want to build their career in IT is to learn what IT really is—its aspects, trends and what’s coming in terms of new technologies. It’s not only about software or hardware engineering and technicalities, it is also about having a deep understanding of the different layers, applications of different technologies, underlying factors that form the backbone of the industry, and of course, the IT channel and its landscape. By keeping track of the latest technology trends and how it will drive businesses and economies of the future, I believe they will start to appreciate that they will be playing a role, big or small in an industry that is transforming businesses.

While women prefer more admin related roles and roles in other industries, women today have also expressed an interest in technology. In order to address this, women should feed that hunger and believe in themselves; because like any other industry, IT offers immense potential for women and offers them the chance to develop and with the right guidance, possibly break the glass ceiling.

What is the greatest transformation in technology you’ve witnessed in your career?
Essentially, it is how fast technology has evolved–from basic computing, selling hardware and networks, to IoT, Cloud and Virtual Reality. Today, it is more of selling a virtual solution that even the customer or the partner would not really touch, which represents great transformation. We’re heading into a seamless and connected future and this is something that will keep evolving.

What are your thoughts on the next transformation in the tech industry?
Industry analysts have always described technology as quick silver—widely evident in the continuous presence of emerging technologies like Cloud and IoT, which are game changers and are expected to drive the need for a more solutions driven market. I believe that technology is about enabling faster and efficient business processes and it will continue to transform to adapt to the manner where businesses and individuals function. With all of the expected changes, the transformation will be bigger–bringing more and more organizations together. For example, the Smart Dubai initiative best shows what the future could be like for the UAE. We are not too far from that day when we could have a virtual line that will allow us to call everywhere in the world.

Are you involved in any sort of volunteer work? Can you give us some details?
I strongly believe in giving back to the community and society. Right now, I am actively involved in charity work, especially across initiative that help the underprivileged. As much as I would like to talk about it, I feel that charity work should be seen more than talked about.

At NetApp, three volunteer employees launched Women in Technology (WIT) as a grass roots organization, sponsored and funded by the CTO office in 2009. Since then it has grown to over 1060 members.

WIT is an organization that assists women in their careers at NetApp. The organization exposes young women to career opportunities in technical fields and influences our corporate culture to further embrace diversity in the workplace.

WIT is further guided by a mission that looks towards supporting and fostering a sense of community at NetApp via the provision of a forum for mentoring, networking, communication, and professional development; participating in community outreach endeavors and partnering with NetApp’s leaders to positively influence NetApp corporate culture.

With such a great opportunity, I also aim to guide and support more women within and outside the organization in their road to success.

What’s next for you in terms of your career in the tech industry?
If it was not the tech industry, who knows? I have an entrepreneurial spirit, so I would definitely want to lead an organization–be it technology focused or any other. If it is within the technology space, my passion would remain in the channel. It would be developing even bigger and bigger partner eco-system and growing my network accordingly.