Her mission: to make Twitter accessible to all

Tuesday October 2 2018

Rabiah Damji, who works on Consumer Product

Rabiah Damji, who works on Consumer Product Marketing at Twitter, has deep Tanzanian roots. PHOTO I FILE 

By Khalifa Said @RealKhalifax ksaid@tz.nationmedia.com

Rabiah Damji loves writing and reading – she says it helps her organise her thoughts.

The California-born 23-year-old traces her ancestral roots back to Tanzania as a proud African and a Person of Colour (POC) working in the US tech industry.

The young ambitious Rabiah works on Consumer Product Marketing at Twitter, a giant US-based social media company. She and her team are responsible for driving awareness and education around new products and features launched by the company. “Essentially,” says the 2017-graduate of B.A in Media Studies from University of California, Berkeley, “we serve as a bridge between the product and the consumer, to ensure that Twitter is easy to use, informative and relevant.”

Journey into tech

Growing up, Rabiah, like so many young people of her age, never thought she would come to work in tech. In fact, when she was younger, motivated by her passion for reading and writing, she had the idea of becoming a lawyer.

Rabiah’s father, Mr Jules Damji, migrated from Dar es Salaam to the US where he currently works as an engineer, but doubles as a staunch lover of writing. This passion for writing trickled down to his daughter Rabiah, who lists writing atop her list of hobbies.

When Mr Damji moved to the US from Tanzania, he knew that writing alone could not support him financially, nor will it help meet his future family plans. So he decided to pursue Computer Science instead. This would have a significant influence on Rabiah’s later decision to embark on tech as a life career.

But this was in no way an exclusive factor to Rabiah’s current career. She recalls that when in her third year at university, taking a course on marketing, speakers from large tech and business corporations like AirBnb, Facebook, Google and Nike used to pay visits there and held talks with students. “It was during one of these sessions that I learned about product marketing and I fell in love with the idea of bridging a gap between a product and the people using it,” says Rabiah, underscoring the importance that the link between universities and businesses can play in shaping students’ future careers.

Not walking in the park

But as a woman, Rabiah confesses that working in tech is not just a walk in the park. “It’s no secret that things can be challenging from time to time,” she makes her honest confession.

From her perspective, what makes her life in tech enjoyable is the unique support system through the people surrounding her. Rabiah is in the world of tech for a special mission as she understands the duty she needs to perform for the next generation of people like her – not white, in the US.

“Representation is incredibly important,” she says, “and I know I would not be here without mentors, specifically women of colour, who paved the way for me. We all belong in tech, no matter our gender, skin colour, or where we come from and the more of us at the table, the more diverse perspectives we can bring forward,” she adds.

Though not born in Tanzania, Rabiah identifies herself as a proud Tanzanian and her unconditional love and pride for the land of Tanzanite cannot be overstated. She doesn’t feel ashamed to confess that it is the Tanzanian – typical African roots that forms an integral part of her identity.

“It is part of who I am, who my parents are, their parents, and so on,” she cheerfully says.

That Tanzanian blood which boils in her Swahili veins has shaped much of her experiences as she grows and learns about who she is and where she comes from. “I have been back to visit several times over the years,” she reveals about her visits to Tanzania.

But Rabiah’s connections to Tanzania has not been shaped by her visits only but also through literature. Thanks to her father’s novel which explores the experience of living and growing up in Dar es Salaam-- Oyster Bay and Short Stories – Rabiah has fully grasped the intricacies of living in the commercial capital of Dar es Salaam as if she was a slum dweller at one of Temeke’s scariest slums.

“It’s a beautiful book,” she says of the novel. “I will be traveling back again very soon, and am very excited as always.”

Working on Twitter Lite

Rabiah is modest, she is a little reluctant to talk about her accomplishments as she believes that most of the desirable and greatest accomplishments lie ahead of her. But this doesn’t mean that she hasn’t accomplished anything at all in her career.

Her acceptance at Berkeley, tech experience at Twitter, and working on Twitter Lite are some of the accomplishments that Rabiah is willing to proudly share, at least for now.

She is one among the people behind the idea of Twitter Lite, a mobile app available on  Android  mobile devices that is designed to use less data than the original and traditional Twitter app.

It is a lighter version of Twitter made for people who face high data costs, device storage limits, and slower or unreliable networks.

Though the project took an entire team to build, and Rabiah saying that she “was merely one part of a very dedicated and driven group of people,” she was so excited to have the idea officially launched.

Perhaps the easiest way to establish this is to visit her Twitter’s profile and one will find how she has pinned to her profile the tweet from Twitter announcing the launching of the product.

It appears that it is the product’s ability to satisfy consumers’ needs that really excites Rabiah. “With Twitter Lite,” she offers candidly, “our hope is to continue to reach people where data, space, and bandwidth act as barriers for those accessing news and what’s happening in the world right now.”

Rabiah loves working at Twitter. The job is as challenging as it is rewarding at the same time, she offers. While she sees it as very exciting to work on products that will be used by millions of people, Rabiah says that it can also be scary. She however was not able to elaborate the scary nature of the job itself.

As unstoppable as a warrior

Drawing examples from her own experience, Rabiah believes that empowered girls always tend to make for unstoppable women. To her, the word girl is synonymous to warrior. “No matter what definition people have for a girl,” explains the Rabiah, “we need to be the ones who control our own narratives and we all need to be able to do just that.”

She believes that life isn’t always as smooth as silk for there are always going to be some obstacles along the way. This is why she thinks it is important to find one’s mentors.

“Reaching out and building connections with women who look like you and are in positions you aspire to be in and stick with them” is the best advice the young lady has ever received and only best she can honestly share.

“Don’t let how you identify [yourself] make you feel like you don’t [belong to certain places]. Don’t let others deter you from your dreams. Be hungry, always be humble, and work harder,” she concludes.

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