1in10 Success Stories: Bushra Anjum

I am a Health IT data specialist currently working as the Analytics Manager at a San Francisco based startup, Doximity. I received my Ph.D. in Computer Science at North Carolina State University in 2012, then served in academia (both in Pakistan, my birthplace, and the USA) for a few years before joining the tech industry. I joined Amazon and worked for Prime, where I was a backend engineer for four years. Then I became curious about the world of startup, which brought me to Doximity. 

My first encounter with Dr. Holmes was in 2010 at the Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing conference. I remember passing the doorway of a conference room and, in my peripheral vision, saw people flapping their arms as if pretending to be birds. Somewhat bewildered, I peeked inside, and Raquell was there leading an improvisation and performance exercise during a Birds of a Feather discussion session. I watched, curious, as she invited the audience into various poses. I didn't participate that day, but I was intrigued by the playfulness and a sense of connection I saw there. Following the conference, I emailed Raquell sharing my intrigue and saying I would enjoy meeting her at a future event, which she kindly replied in the affirmative.

We met in person the next year at a conference and ever since at various Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing and Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing events. I have also attended many of her ad hoc improvscience workshops and "play" sessions. I discovered a certain sense of freedom available in play, which my adventurous side enjoyed. Still, more than that, I learned the principles of improvisation, which, to my surprise, are directly applicable to the work of an engineer. While people may visualize engineers as working-in-their-basement-alone beings, the truth is, the brilliance of tech innovation comes from open communication and collaboration. Magic happens during problem-solving sessions where people brainstorm together, are genuinely interested in listening to one another, and build on each others' ideas and contributions. That's improv right there! The principles of "yes and," the mental agility to stay present in the moment, and the desire to make the ensemble look good, rather than stealing the limelight for yourself, are just some of the improv learnings I gathered along the way. 

Our friendship grew strong, and in 2019, Raquell and I co-led a workshop titled "Performing Confidence" at the Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing conference. The session aims to augment underrepresented STEM professionals' career skills, boosting their self-confidence through performance and improvisation. The workshop was well-received, with such positive feedback that in early 2020 we planned on offering it to community college students. This plan was waylaid by the pandemic, however.

What I learned with improvisation and performance, I use every day, even more so in my role as a manager. I am able to bring consensus to discussions and enable everyone to have a voice in the conversation. I also internalized that I do not have to take myself too seriously to make an impact! Instead, a playful approach to problem-solving not only puts others at ease, people appreciate when their leaders are authentically themselves, with mistakes, goofs, and all.

My interactions with Raquell and the world of improv made me a better engineer, a better manager, and I would say just a better human being overall.