Self-taught programmer and stay-at-home mom Naveera Ashraf on how to stay curious

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Interview by Breanne Thomas

Hi Naveera! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?

My name is Naveera and I am originally from Pakistan, now living in South Africa. I am a Muslim, stay-at-home mother, and we unschool. I created my web identity “The Niqabi Coder Mum” to refute certain stereotypes about stay-at-home mothers and people, especially women, in tech.

I am the owner of Creative Melon, a web and print design company in Johannesburg. I am also the owner/editor/writer at Shift Click educational technology magazine, a first-of-its-kind magazine targeted towards self-learners of all ages.

I have taught myself to program in Python and JavaScript. Currently, I am learning about fundamentals of computer science, programming in C language, digital forensics, and ethical hacking.

I have also learned Arabic on my own and currently teaching an Arabic class for ladies here in Johannesburg.

I am an avid vegetable gardener and I love reading, anything and everything. I also love to bake artisan breads. Fun Fact: I own a 4-year-old sourdough starter named Frothy the Warrior. Frothy because, well, it froths, and warrior because of the number of times it has vigorously revived from near death after I forgot to feed it 😊

What’s been your favorite project or endeavor you’ve worked on recently and why?

There are lots of projects I really enjoy. For example, I really enjoy writing content and designing for my magazine Shift Click. Being an autodidact, I appreciate all the resources and support out there for life-learners/self-learners. But being a parent, I realized that while we encourage people who take their learning in their own hands, we are not extending the same freedom to kids. We still expect them to follow an institute or decisions made by other adults about what should they learn. As an unschooling parent, I have seen the wonders kids can achieve when they are in the driving seat of their own learning, when they are learning to satiate their ever-growing curiosity rather than trying to achieve good grades in a test.

So, in a spirit to extend this culture of autodidacts to kids, I have launched this magazine, which is free for all and can be read online or downloaded as a PDF. It focuses on topics like problem solving and computer science, web and media literacy, design, collaboration etc. These are all crucial skills in a changing world, but are not widely taught in traditional educational setups.

On the programming side, I currently enjoy making chatbots. They bring me into the realms of artificial intelligence. Plus, they are quick to make and as the mobile app gold rush is coming to an end, chatbots are taking over the marketing and communication front.

You’ve mentioned that you love to learn for the sake of learning. What inspires you to continue to teach yourself new things and how have you applied this in your career?

If there is one thing I am certain I am really good at, it’s learning. I was that kid who would read their textbooks before the new school year started. (Yes, Hermione Granger is one of my favorite characters 😊 ) But in the later part of life, what kept me motivated to keep learning was unschooling my kids. Unschooling is not just about how we are educating our kids, it’s a lifestyle. And to keep our kids interested in learning new things and keeping their passion for learning alive, we must cultivate this atmosphere in our lives and our homes.

We are a family of autodidacts and a large part of our day is dedicated to expanding our knowledge and improving our skills. This kind of learning finally enabled me to freelance as a developer and programmer. But more than that, I enjoy discussing new ideas and new technologies with my kids and husband who are my biggest supporters.