Raheeq Al Harbi received nearly perfect grades in her secondary school exams. In Saudi Arabia, that usually means a career in medicine. Today, however, her career journey, spanning almost a decade in the digital healthcare industry, is a booming success, and did not involve going to medical school.
Although excited at the prospect of a medical career in her early years, Raheeq was dissuaded from becoming a doctor by her family. “They feared the long night shifts at the hospital and essentially giving up my life! So, I thought, OK I’ll follow my older sister’s lead and pursue software engineering instead.”
Indeed, Raheeq, went on to earn a BA in Information Technology (IT) from King Saud University (KSU) in Riyadh. She immediately fell in love with analytics and software engineering the day she attended her first lecture.
New beginnings and finding her passion
After graduation, Raheeq worked briefly at a local bank, providing IT treasury back office support. “I worked in the treasury department, which was a core section of the bank. While it was a very challenging experience, I was still able to prove myself.” She elaborated: “But I could tell working in finance – eight to five in a cubicle, with only the computer to keep me company – was not for me. Yes, I love software engineering, but I also love to interact with real people, solving problems together. Most importantly, I wanted to utilize my skills to improve the quality of life of those in need.”
So Raheeq decided to bring her IT expertise to the healthcare arena and joined King Fahad Medical City (KFMC), one of the Kingdom’s largest medical and research centers. “I remember the first day after I got the job, I thought, ‘Yes, this is me, I belong here!’”
Ironically, her family’s concerns about her spending all her time at a hospital did come true.
“I practically lived there, from morning to late at night” she said. ”At one point, I even slept in the ER because I was working on an important project setting up the ER system. Despite all the sleepless nights, however, I was happy and passionate about working together with my team on something tangible. You could see the impact of our work on the people – the patients whom we served.” She added, “It was really satisfying.”
Over the next few years, Raheeq won a number of awards for her work in healthcare, including the Saudi Healthcare Innovation Award at KFMC for designing patient pathways to reduce crowding in different departments. Remarkably, that year, not only was she the youngest person to be considered for such an award but also the only woman to receive one.
At that point she was then faced with another dilemma as her excellent work had earned her a scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in the United States. However, she enjoyed her job so much she did not want to leave her work behind. So, as an efficient multitasker, she continued working while studying part-time, ultimately earning her MBA degree from Prince Sultan University (PSU).
‘Wings to fly’
Shortly after getting her MBA, she was approached by GE Healthcare and “jumped” at the opportunity.
“It was one of the best decisions I have ever made,” she said. “GE has given me the wings to fly, so to speak. I am grateful for the opportunities that GE has provided for both my professional and personal growth – from project management to presales, from purely analytical roles all the way to the commercial world.”
Today, Raheeq is a Senior Solution Architect with GE Digital, responsible for the business aspects of customer solutions. This means she is well-versed in understanding customers’ needs and pain points and is well-equipped to design solutions that deliver optimal business results.
“What I love about my work, is that I am constantly on the lookout for new ideas finding solutions to problems. Each project is like a jigsaw puzzle that needs to be solved. This is the beauty of our work – no two days are ever the same. We strive to be innovative and challenge the status quo in every situation, and every customer has their own set of challenges and opportunities.”
Indeed, while at GE Digital, she has supported the Saudi Ministry of Health’s major electronic medical records digital transformation project, as well as its highly regarded Mawid patient appointments app.
Notably, as part of her work with the ministry, she created a patient journey blueprint for ministry hospitals called the “Golden Package.” This initiative has been implemented in ministry hospitals across the Kingdom and is considered the standard that needs to be followed.
Perks and challenges in the tech world and workplace
Raheeq has attended many international conferences throughout her career and actively participated in a number of panel discussions including the 2018 Top CEO Arab Women Forum on empowering women entrepreneurs in the Middle East. She spoke about the key role women’s empowerment plays in advancing businesses and the customer experience, as well as women’s careers in STEM and beyond.
However, Raheeq’s professional achievements did not come without certain challenges that many women frequently face in the workplace, especially when it comes to gender equality. This has often included being ‘manterrupted’ or ‘mansplained.’
Thankfully, over time she was able to demonstrate her technical expertise and come up with creative solutions that eventually become heard and implemented in the final piece of work.
“To be honest, I had to prove myself twice over that I’m worthy – first as a woman and secondly because I’m young. Fortunately, things are now improving, but we still have a long way to go,” she stated.
Looking back at her career so far, the most important piece of advice Raheeq has for young Saudi women is “invest in yourself – it’s the best return on investment you’ll ever get.”
She also puts great weight on being authentic and true to yourself. “Be real. Present yourself as you really are. With social media platforms nowadays and everything being remote and virtual, we sometimes crave authenticity and care.”
That even extends to your job title. “What does it really mean?” she asks. “Instead, find a vision you truly believe in and contribute your skills and gifts to help advance that vision.” And lastly, “Don’t take ‘No,’ for an answer, go above and beyond the call of duty, and give 110%.” Hopefully these tips can inspire the next generation of Saudi women in the tech field.