Passport to Prosperity: Iraqi Woman’s Career Boosted by Information Technology

by Eric Larson | Jan 24, 2014

Certifications often help people grow their careers, but for Lamia Al-Azzawe, IT training went beyond this. It helped her pivot from an uncertain future in her home country to a world of job opportunities.

 As a student in Iraq in the late 1970s, Al-Azzawe excelled in math and science. When she finished high school, she sailed through a computer science degree and spent nearly a decade as a programmer and analyst for the Iraqi government.

In the late 1990s, when Iraq’s economy started to free fall, she and her husband scouted their options. They moved first to Libya — the only country to accept them without a visa — where she worked as a computer instructor until 2005, when her application for a Canadian emigration visa finally came through.

That’s when Al-Azzawe’s IT career began in earnest. While her husband worked, she trained at a Micro Skills Development Center, earning several certificates and certifications including MCSA, CompTIA A+, Security+ and MOS. When they moved to Toronto, she worked in technical support and as a network technician and system administrator. While working a three-year desk-side support contract for an Alberta fuel company, she earned CompTIA PDI+, ITIL v3 and CCNA certificates.

Finally, Al-Azzawe found her way to Acrodex, working for the city of Calgary as a desk-side support technician and server hardware support. But she didn’t stop learning: There, she earned CompTIA Server+ and Lenovo hardware certificates for servers, desktops, laptops and tablets. Most recently, she earned HP ProLiant and Blade hardware server certifications.

Certifications have propelled her career since her days as a programmer. “Now I have to have lots of general knowledge about different languages, different operating systems, artificial intelligence and computer structures,” she said.

Now a Canadian citizen, Al-Azzawe believes her skills are a passport to jobs around the world. Her success has also inspired her nine-year-old son to focus on technology: “Whenever something comes on the TV about computers, he tells me. He has a laptop and he can use the iPad and smartphone.”    

Certifications have been crucial for Al-Azzawe, now 46, to remain competitive. “Those certificates have helped me a lot,” she said. “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.”

Looking Ahead, Giving Back

Al-Azzawe’s work in a male-dominated field gives her a unique perspective and plenty of interesting stories. “People smile to me and say thank you in a very nice way,” she said. “One woman told me, ‘I’m happy you are a woman doing this.’”

She’d like to use her opportunities to benefit people in her home country, especially female Iraqis struggling against an uncertain future. “They work hard but they are struggling with the circumstances there,” said Al-Azzawe, always on the lookout for nonprofit programs that facilitate cooperation between Iraq and the west.

And while her certifications have put her in a great place, Al-Azzawe isn’t done acquiring 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 as 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,” she said. “At the same time, it’s a secure job. It’s in demand in the market, and it’s growing every day.”

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