Women Leading CleanTech: 5 Questions with Founder and CTO, Maryam Antikchi
By Cameron Lust, ecoation Marketing Coordinator
The Canadian CleanTech economy, supporting family-owned businesses, and amplifying the voices of womxn leaders - These are some of the core things that inspire and drive me forward professionally. After months of purpose-driven post-grad job searching, I find myself working for Ecoation Innovative Solutions Inc., an agricultural CleanTech company based in North Vancouver, Canada. Over a decade ago, ecoation was founded by University of British Columbia (UBC) Alumni Dr. Saber Miresmailli (CEO) and Maryam Antikchi (CTO), who also happen to be married. I’m currently settling into my role as part of this family-owned and operated company where I work alongside extremely capable colleagues, combining robotics and machine learning/AI platforms to support ag and create a more sustainable food system. While I work under the business development portfolio, I see Maryam lead the technical efforts at ecoation every day.
ecoation’s values are deeply rooted in inclusion and diversity, but even so, I couldn’t resist asking for some of Maryam’s time to talk about her experiences as a woman in tech, starting as an engineering student, all the way to where she finds herself now: Founder and CTO. After graduating from UBC with B.A. Sc. in electrical engineering, Maryam worked in various software engineering roles. Today, Maryam champions the data and engineering components of Ecoation’s platform and leads several technical teams composed of over 25+ engineers and scientists.
1. Can you share a little bit about your role as CTO and what a typical day for you is like?
As a CTO, my focus is mainly to help put together a vision and strategy for our technology and leading the engineering team that builds this technology. AgTech truly has some of the most interesting and challenging technology problems, and this has forced us to dive deep into many aspects including hardware, software, data engineering, and even data science.
As a founder, over the years I’ve had the opportunity to wear many hats. It has been a very interesting and rewarding journey. First, having to define a role and structure and then hire more and more people, consequently ever expanding my role. My day-to-day is never the same.
2. Did you always know that working in STEM was what you wanted to do? How did you decide to go into engineering?
Growing up I truly enjoyed math, science, and literature. My parents played a great role in ensuring that I developed these skills. I realized I was good at math around grade 7 or 8, and after doing much better than my classmates, this encouraged me to read more books and take courses outside school. Physics and astronomy became subjects I really loved as a teenager, and I picked engineering physics as my major because of my love of physics. At the time, I felt engineering would give me the applied knowledge and skills to build something.
3. Do you notice a lack of women in technology? If so, why do you think that’s the case?
On my first day of university, standing in the physics department in Hennings Building, I quickly realized that there were not many girls around. This was both apparent in my classes and on the walls from the pictures of past graduates.
People usually pick subjects they feel confident in. In order to feel confident, you need to feel that you can succeed on that path. I think the education system and environment play a big role in building an individual's interest and confidence. Perhaps the reason that there are not many girls in technology is that the environment they grow up in doesn’t let them develop this passion and confidence.
4. Do you think our world would be different if more women worked in technology roles?
That is an interesting question. When I think about most technology that exists in the world today, it was built and designed by men. Had there been more women in the mix, would the technology today be different? That makes for a good social experiment. To be honest, I am not sure. What I do know is that it would make for a more balanced world.
5. What advice would you give to another woman considering a career in tech? What do you wish you had known?
Let your curiosity drive you, not the thought of what others think of you. Don’t be intimidated by the overconfidence of those around you or the fact that there are not as many women in the role you are pursuing. If you have an idea and an opinion, speak up. Focus on the problem and take joy in solving it.
I want to thank Maryam for taking the time to speak with me and share a bit about her story. This blog post was inspired by and created in support of Foresight’s ‘Shining the Spotlight on Women in CleanTech’ initiative. In the days leading up to EDC’s Women in Cleantech event, hosted during Cleantech Week, you’ll find me supporting and feeling inspired by women leaders in the CleanTech space by keeping up with the hashtag #womenleadingcleantech. I invite you to join me.
Ecoation Innovative Solutions Inc.