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January 22, 2014

Passport to Prosperity

Technology has helped Lamia Al-Azzawe Find Her Way Around the World
As a student in Iraq in the late 1970s, Lamia Al-Azzawe was always very good in math and science. When she finished high school, she sailed through a computer science degree and began a job for the Iraqi government as a programmer and analyst, a job that lasted nearly a decade.

But in the late 1990s Iraq’s economy started to free-fall. She and her husband looked around for better options, but the only country that would accept them without a visa was Libya. There she worked as a computer instructor until 2005, when her application for an emigration visa to Canada finally came through.

That’s when Al-Azzawe’s IT career began in earnest. While her husband worked, she began training at a Micro Skills Development Center where she earned several certificates and certifications, including MCSA, CompTIA A+, Security+, and MOS. She then worked in Toronto as a technical support and as a network technician and system administrator, then followed that with a three-year contract doing desk-side support for a fuel company in Alberta, during which time she earned CompTIA PDI+, ITIL v3, and CCNA certificates.

Finally, Al-Azzawe found her way to Acrodex in Calgary to work for the City of Calgary as a desk-side support technician and server hardware support. In her job, she earned her CompTIA Server+ and Lenovo hardware certificates (server, desktop, laptop, and tablet), and most recently, her HP ProLiant and Blade hardware server certifications.

Her duties have changed radically since her programming days. “Now I have to have lots of general knowledge about different languages, different operating systems, artificial intelligence, and computer structures.” Working as a programmer would have been difficult after her hiatus, she admits, because she would have had to learn several new programming languages in order to catch up. “So I found a way to be a support analyst technician instead.”
“Those certificates have helped me a lot. I not only studied the questions to prepare for the exam, I studied ‘hands-on.’" Lamia Al-Azzawe

Certifications have been crucial for Al-Azzawe, now 46, to remain competitive for jobs. “Those certificates have helped me a lot. I not only studied the questions to prepare for the exam, I studied ‘hands-on.’ So when I applied for a job as a technician, I felt confident in going to fix a computer.”

She adds: “I can’t say I know everything. No one knows everything. But I know where to find the information. And employers like to see the certification.”

As a woman in a mostly male occupation, Al-Azzawe has some interesting stories to tell — most of them positive. “People smile to me and say thank you in a very nice way. One woman told me, ‘I’m happy you are a woman doing this.’”

Now a Canadian citizen, Al-Azzawe believes she has skills that are transferable anywhere in the world. Her success in a tech field has inspired her son, age 9, to focus on technology in his studies. “Whenever something comes on the TV about computers, he tells me. He has a laptop and he can use the iPad and smart phone.”

She wants somehow to give back to the people in her home country, especially female Iraqis, who are struggling against an uncertain future.

“They work hard but they are struggling with the circumstances there,” says Al-Azzawe, who is always on the look-out for nonprofit programs that facilitate cooperation between Iraq and the West.

Al-Azzawe isn’t done acquiring new skills. She wants to explore server-side work by learning SQL Server and Oracle.

For her, the IT field is a passport to prosperity. She sees automation being a strong technology trend that helps people in their everyday lives. “Working in the IT field brings a lot of challenge that gives a lot of confidence. At the same time, it’s a secure job. It’s in demand in the market, and it’s growing every day.”