Meet Nina Tan, one of our talented Fellows in Accelerate Her Future’s (AHF’s) inaugural 2021 Winter Fellowship Circle cohort.

Nina Tan is a computer science student at the University of Waterloo. She was previously a STEP Intern at Google, a Technology Consulting Intern at Deloitte, and a Software Engineer Intern at Fleet Robotics, a start-up that grew out of the Harvard Microrobotics Lab. She will be returning to Google as a Software Engineer Intern this summer. 

She has also been involved in research activities at the Shih Microfluidics Lab at Concordia University and the High Performance & Quantum Computing Labs based in Waterloo. Nina is interested in pursuing a career in entrepreneurship and solving problems with an interdisciplinary approach.


Changing Paths from Medicine to the Tech Sector 

For some, their calling into the tech sector is loud and clear. Nina’s path started in an unlikely place, “just two years ago, I was set on pursuing a career in medicine and hadn’t seriously considered tech,” Nina recalls. “When it came time to choose a university program, I ultimately decided on studying computer science because I was very curious about how we could leverage technology to solve the world’s most pressing problems. Pivoting fields was difficult, but I was very excited to explore a new field.”

Doing so takes a great deal of self-compassion – something Nina felt she was missing. “It was challenging for me to be as kind to myself as I would be to a friend,” Nina reflects, “I had the habit of holding myself to very high standards and being self-critical when I wasn’t ‘perfect’.”

Nina eventually balanced her expectations and goals with organization and most importantly, patience. “I still hold myself to ambitious goals,” Nina explains, “but I accept that I might not always fulfill every single one of them.”

Nina chose to move towards the tech sector as she was inspired by the variety of industries she could work in, the diversity of people, and the creativity of tech solutions. One of Nina’s most significant accomplishments was interning in three different tech roles at exciting companies over one year.

“I have many interests but tech appealed to me the most because the skills are very transferrable, and I can work in many industries and roles as a computer scientist. I could explore product management, design, software development, and more.”

Whether it is during an undergrad program or after many years in the workforce, transitioning into the tech sector can be a challenging risk. However, polls show that 92% of workers claim that the jump into tech paid off, and they were happier with their work life.

Nina’s approach to entering a new pathway reflects that of successful trailblazers. Proactive involvement, engagement, and participation provides newcomers with learning and development opportunities.

Nina found that she enjoys interacting and learning from people with different skill sets. “I love learning about the innovative applications of technology in different spaces and hope to contribute to impactful products as I progress in my career.”


Reciprocal Mentorship and Paying it Forward

As an AHF Fellow, Nina recalled her motivation to apply for the program, “my first year of university was remote, and I was looking for opportunities to connect with and learn from more women in tech.” She expressed her admiration for the program’s emphasis on reciprocal mentorship. Also known as Co-mentoring, Reciprocal Mentoring is a model in which both parties are equal in the learning process and both take on the role of mentor and mentee.

It is considered to be a developmental model of mentoring as both parties aim to learn and grow from the alliance. This may look like mentors receiving feedback and new perspectives from the mentee, while the mentee may gain key mentorship skills such as challenging, guiding and asking meaningful questions. Learn more about the benefits of reciprocal mentorship in this Women of Influence article by Dr. Golnaz Golnaraghi, AHF Founder.

“I felt that this made the mentorship experiences I had more unique and meaningful,” Nina explained, “it was easier to be vulnerable and ask for advice when I saw that my mentors were also willing to be vulnerable in sharing their personal experiences.”

“My connections from AHF were lasting and helped my professional growth.”

When asked to shout out an individual who has greatly impacted her life and career, Nina said, “there are many individuals who come to mind! Fellow students at my university have been wonderful mentors, either directly or indirectly. Many student clubs at my university are run by ambitious students who are dedicated to inclusion, tech, and community.”

Participation in extracurriculars is key to advancing one’s career development through networking, skill advancement, and exploring new interests. Nina found that “these groups foster a great environment for personal, academic, and professional growth.”

Finding a group of like-minded individuals brought together by a common trait or interest builds a sense of strength in community. Nina explains, “I have also had the opportunity to build relationships with inspiring women in the tech industry who motivate me to be adventurous in my career.”


Celebrating Accomplishments in the Community

Involvement in initiatives outside of her academic program has proven to be fulfilling for Nina. “I have been involved with the University of Waterloo Women in Computer Science (WiCS) committee since my first year as a student,” Nina says. WICS’ mission is to promote women interested in studying computer science and wanting to pursue careers in computing.

“I first joined WiCS because I was looking for a supportive community to be a part of throughout my academic career. I entered the university’s computer science program with almost no knowledge of coding and working in tech,” explains Nina. “Through WiCS, I had the opportunity to attend many insightful workshops and speak with inspiring upper-year mentors. These resources and connections were invaluable to me in my first year at the university when I was looking for my first internship.”

According to Statistics Canada, women’s representation in various STEM fields, including computer science and engineering, was much lower than their male counterparts. Only 15.8% of first-year students enrolled in a computer sciences program at the university level were women-identifying students.

Often considered a “non-traditional” career path, women were dissuaded from entering the tech industry. However, increased representation prompts diverse perspectives for greater commercial success and social development. This is especially crucial in a continually innovating field such as computer science. Giving space for more women, notably Black, Indigenous and women of colour, to be involved in the future of tech is a great benefit for all involved.

Interested in learning more about the importance of gender diversity in computer science? We suggest this great read from The Guardian: Women in tech: why female representation matters by Aleks Krotoski.

The next step in community involvement is paying it forward and sharing the resources given to you. Nina later decided she wanted to be on the organizing side of the committee, hoping to provide more wonderful opportunities to her peers.

“Since joining WiCS as an executive member, I have collaborated on and led the organization of various events focused on mentorship, community-building, and networking for hundreds of students,” Nina says. “It is extremely fulfilling to be able to empower other women and have a positive impact on my peers’ academic and professional journeys.” 

Thank you Nina, for your introspective reflection and motivating story!