In commemoration of LGBTQ+ History Month, OneTech is highlighting and celebrating trailblazers, entrepreneurs, founders and progress-makers in the tech ecosystem and beyond. In this blog post, we’re invited to experience a journey in tech through the lens of a South Asian migrant in London’s tech scene.
London’s tech scene is a vibrant one. There is no doubt about it. But 12 years ago, as someone who moved from a South Asian country, I had no idea this would become a natural ‘work’ home for me. As February is LGBTQI+ History Month in the UK, I thought it would be a good time to look back and reminisce on my journey in tech.
In 2009, when I moved to the UK as an international student, the plan was to finish my degree, complete a masters degree, get a job in a bank and live happily ever after. Fast-forward a few years, I did manage to graduate with both my bachelors and masters degrees, but I landed a job in tech instead.
The journey was not an easy one. Within a few weeks of attending my bachelors business classes, my tutor suggests I get tested for dyslexia. Being unaware of dyslexia, I was confused and went to the student centre for an assessment. This is where I came across, what I now would call, structural bias. The assessor concluded I did not have dyslexia. Instead, they told me it was just the standard of my English language as a South Asian migrant. It wasn’t until years later when I attended UCL for my masters, that I was diagnosed with severe dyslexia in my first week. Looking back, I am very aware of my first university’s shortcomings in regards to supporting international students, compared to UCL’s decades of experience.
One of my first jobs was working for a large tech giant. A company that had its float at the Pride in London march. At this job, we worked in rotas that are published every week in advance. Knowing this, and how important Pride is to me, I informed my line manager over a month in advance that I will be unavailable on the day of Pride, as I was a senior-level volunteer. Nevertheless, a week before Pride, I find my name on the rota to work that very day. When I asked about my request, I was told my volunteering at Pride was not important and he went on to mention “business needs”. But for me, Pride is a very important part of building an LGBTQI+ identity and a sense of community. It is especially important for someone like me who comes from a country where LGBTQI+ rights and freedoms are not always upheld. So I got in touch with my manger’s line manager, explaining how important Pride was for me at that point in my life. He completely understood, expressed this to my manager and I eventually got the day off!
one of my main challenges was finding a role model I could relate to. I came across many Asian founders and lots of white gay founders, but I never came across anyone who was an Asian queer immigrant founder.
My next few roles were in small tech startups ranging from AI to Crypto. During this time, it was very informative and I learnt a lot about the tech sector. But one of my main challenges was finding a role model I could relate to. I came across many Asian founders and lots of white gay founders, but I never came across anyone who was an Asian queer immigrant founder. To this day, people like me are far from seen and represented in this space. I can say from my experience, there is elitism in the tech industry and so many barriers to entry.
Yet, I must admit that having a masters from UCL has helped me to navigate through the elitism. Going to a reputable UK university has worked in my favour to a certain extent. But what do you do when the system-at-large is seeming against you? One of the moments I realised this was when I applied for residency in the UK as a migrant with a same-sex partner. I applied around the same time as my Canadian friend who applied as a migrant with an opposite-sex partner. So two unmarried couples, a South Asian with an Irish partner and a Canadian with a British partner. Guess whose residency application took longer? My friend’s application took two months. Whereas, my application took about two years! In those two years, I was consistently asked to provide more and more evidence that I lived together with my partner. Of course, we complied and submitted the evidence asked. Then, they asked for proof that we were sleeping in the same bed! It was only when my partner, who happens to be a lawyer, indicated to take legal action that things started to move in a more positive direction. But what if my partner had not been a lawyer? The interrogation would have continued beyond the two years.
As a curious person, I have always wanted to figure out why things don’t work out for me as it has for my white friends. Initially, this was confusing, but since joining an organisation that values and champions diversity everything makes sense. I would consider myself lucky or privileged in some way as I have supportive parents, went to a great university and have a supportive partner. But this is not the case for everyone.
By journeying through a system that was built to make your life difficult in every step, I have learnt not to take anything for granted and, now, I look forward to how I can make an impact with people that align with my values and passion for positive change.