THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE, KARACHI, 21st SEPTEMBER 2013:
In what could prove to be an inspiration for women, especially ones with skills in information technology, Salma Noreen of Attock – a small town in northern Punjab – tells The Express Tribune how she found a way to earn a decent living in a city that offers limited opportunities to women and has ‘a negative perception’ of those working in the field.
“In Attock, work opportunities for women are rare,” Noreen, a web developer said, “People are not well educated,” she said, “and have negative perception of working women.”
Despite financial backing from her father, Noreen’s exposure to education and work remains limited to her home town. She completed both her Bachelor of Arts and Post Graduate Diploma in IT from Degree College for Women, Attock. Although, she also acquired an MBA but that was from Virtual University.
Attock is not an advanced a city in terms of IT, Noreen said, only a few people are aware of freelancing. Since work opportunities are limited in Attock, the skilled workers move to urban areas or other countries, she said.
By contrast, the young web developer found a way to make money and that, too, from the comfort of her home – thanks to the online freelancing platforms that helped her avoid any discrimination she may have faced for stepping out of her home for work.
Freelancing, according to Noreen, was the only option because it allowed her to work from home but its benefits stretch beyond that.
“Freelancing provides me the opportunity to make my own schedule and give time to my family and social networks at the same time,” Noreen said.
With expertise in WordPress, Noreen’s example is interesting of how a woman from a small town has benefited from working as a freelance IT professional but there are hundreds of skilled IT workers in Pakistan who have made fortunes out of online platforms such as oDesk, freelancer and elance.
Responding to a question about her earnings, she said, “It depends on how much time one devotes to freelancing and how well one performs.”
Noreen requested that her earnings not be mentioned, but Pakistani freelancers had earned more than $13 million from freelancer.com alone as of March, 2013, according to Adam Byrnes, international director at freelancer – making a small but significant contribution to the countries remittances that amounted to $14 billion for fiscal 2013.
Noreen started working for local clients and later on found clients from various forums, and after gaining experience and expertise, she switched to bigger platforms. “When I heard about freelancer and elance, I joined them as soon as I could,” she said.
Her circumstances may have forced her to opt for freelancing but she said it was a better option than a regular job. “There is no guarantee of how much one can earn each month,” she said, “but if one works the way a regular worker does, freelancing will pay more than a regular job.”
Although she has established a good profile on elance and freelancer but she does not seem to stop here. After learning about Bug Bounty Programmes (BBPs) through social media, she is now testing her luck with web security – she is, arguably, the only female white-hat in the country. BBPs are run by world’s leading websites and offer monetary rewards to those reporting security vulnerabilities in these websites.
According to documents reviewed by The Express Tribune, she has already reported security bugs in Microsoft, Yahoo and freelancer.com. According to freelancer’s security team, she was the first one to report a security bug in their website after they started their own Bug Bounty Programme.
Bounty hunting, according to industry experts, is a common trend among the country’s young IT workforce. However, if one is offered a job, it is something substantial. Whether or not Noreen achieves this milestone, she has certainly set an example for others to follow.