Meet Fatima Zohra Benhamida, Assistant Professor at Higher National School of Computer Science (ESI ex INI), Algiers

December 15, 2019


Fatima’s Bio

Fatima has over a decade of experience in both scientific research and higher education sectors. She earned an Engineer degree (2006), a post-graduate diploma (2009), and then a PhD (2015) in Computer Science from the Higher National School of Computer Science, Algiers (ESI); where she is working now as an Assistant Professor. 

Previously, Fatima has worked for three years as Senior Engineer in the Algerian National Company of Oil and Gaz. She has supervised network and security systems, managed IT team, held workshops for non-IT users, and worked as a board member for ISO certifications program. 

During her working hours as a teacher and researcher, Fatima shares her many years of expertise in project management, web development, Internet of Things, and communication reliability. Her research interests include topics related to wireless sensor networks, Internet of Things, and delay tolerance. The studies of these topics help to solve socio-economic challenges as for eHealth and smart environments (agriculture, urban traffic, city, etc.). She has supervised more than 40 Engineer/Master dissertations with one ongoing PhD thesis. In addition to her areas of expertise, Fatima has participated in many international projects within multidisciplinary teams. Projects were related, but not limited, to multi-agents systems for water monitoring (France), smart vehicular area network architecture (Tunisia), high performance code optimization (MIT, USA), Supply chain prediction (Norway), and security in fog computing (Algeria). As a researcher, she is involved in several international collaborations because of her various movements as a visiting professor in universities such as; UTC Compiegne France, DeustoTech Spain, and SJSU California USA. 
Why did you get into STEM? 

During high school, I loved studying maths. I wanted to pick a major that fully put forward skills related to logical thinking and problem solving. I had the chance to get a computer and internet access at home, which were, by that time, two rare things to find in a rural region. I decided to enroll for the best Computer Science university in Algeria. I was selected among very competitive candidates. 
What do you consider your greatest achievements? 

I can cite two great achievements. Completing my PhD in Computer Science was really challenging considering the obstacles I have faced during the thesis period. I was working as a full-time teacher while I had to work remotely with my advisor on my PhD. It was difficult to have resource access (digital libraries, physical platforms, machines…). For these reasons, I consider completing my PhD under such conditions a great achievement. Another great achievement came two years later when I was selected in a Techwomen program ( Techwomen offers a mentorship and exchange program to 100 Top women in STEM from 22 countries during five weeks in Silicon Valley. My participation in this program has strongly contributed to my professional and personal development. I particularly feel a sense of achievement when I have brought back all the skills from the Silicon Valley and made many volunteering projects which help the community in general, and enable technology access for girls in rural areas in particular. 
What challenges have you faced as a woman in STEM and how did you overcome them? 

I have faced many challenges in several periods of my life as a woman in STEM. As a student, I was often questioned on where I brought the ideas from, especially when I have the best solution – as if women are supposed to be less smart and cannot think on their own!!! I have worked as a senior engineer in a 100% male team. My boss, peers and even subordinates were all men and they were showing their uncomfort being seated with a female who is perfectly doing her job, dealing softly with communication processes and ignoring all the threats she was explicitly and implicitly receiving. Now that I have decided to make my voice heard and be visible even internationally, the spectrum of people having bad assumptions becomes larger. During my research communications in scientific conferences, talks in big events, or stays as visiting professor, there is always a bunch of people (hopefully a minority in most cases) who show astonishment (not to say denial) of having a veiled woman, coming from an Arab country on the African continent, being so assertive with great achievements. 

What is your advice to budding women in STEM? 

If I had listened to all the “castigations”, I wouldn’t be able to write here today. I am sharing my experience not as a drama (it is not!) but as a lesson to understand how you can always transform any obstacle or criticism to a challenge then, to an achievement. There is only one obstacle that can prevent you from following your dream. It is your mindset! For this, I won’t invite you to follow a career in STEM only to prove to others that they are wrong. However, if you really want to be an engineer, a medical doctor, or a genius mathematician, make sure that nobody can stop you from living this dream. If your instinct is whispering to you to go for STEM, just go for it!

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