From Pakistan to CERN's fellowship programme: meet Natasha

Here I am, living my dreams, being a part of an organization that’s helping me grow every single day. 


Hi Natasha, tell us a little about yourself and what brought you to CERN?

         I am from Pakistan - that's the first identity for me. I was brought up in the narrow streets of Lahore in a conservative household, by my open-minded parents. From my early childhood, I have always been questioning my parents about the things that did not make sense to me. Sometimes they tried to answer me, other times not. But the good thing is they never stopped me from asking or trying things out, which was not a norm back in those days, and in that society. So, as a whole I was a difficult child who was always inquisitive, questioning everything around and wanted to go further a little bit more. And that is my second identity, a talkative girl, always speaking her heart out, always curious, always ready to try something new. That's the reason I applied for a fellowship at CERN. I remember when my interviewer, who is my supervisor now, asked me "Do you want to come and work with us?", and I thought to myself, ‘In a completely new world with new people’; I answered "Yes sure". And that’s how I came to CERN, where I am currently working in BE-CO-SRC (Beams Control Group for Real Time Software) as a Fellow.

    How did CERN come to mind and into your life life?

A lot of people (students) don't know about CERN back in Pakistan. I came to know about CERN when we chose the LHC as a project for a course presentation. We were supposed to go through the management cycle of that particular project, do research on it and present it. It was really interesting, but the perception of CERN at that very moment was, "Okay, so they are doing some great Physics and Engineering stuff there". At that point if someone had told me that I would be there as well, my answer would be  "It's not Google or Microsoft or a software company, probably there would be some low level programming close to hardware going on there and that’s it". And my answer was the same when my brother suggested I apply to CERN, where he was working as a technical student at that time, I gave him the same answer. Nevertheless, I applied and then forgot about it. And it was the interview with my supervisor that motivated to be a part of CERN: the way he conducted the interview was a learning experience and made me realize that I would love to work with such competent people.

I joined CERN on September 2017 and iI have been here for 1.5 years. It is incredible for everyone, including me, that I have been working here for this long, away from my country, home and everything I was accustomed to. But yes, here I am, living my dreams, being a part of an organization that’s helping me grow every single day. At the start, it was a little difficult for me as it was a huge shift for me in a lot things, but CERN and the people at CERN turned out to be major support. They helped me to progress professionally, as well as a person. :).

What do you do at CERN today?

I am working in BE (Beams) Department, CO (Controls) group, SRC (Software for Real-Time and Communication) on the French side of the CERN site (CERN sits astride the French/Swiss border). It’s an in-house software development group, where equipment-specialists are our clients. In our group, we provide services that are needed for the real time control of the devices in experiments. I am working in Front-End Software Architecture (FESA) framework, a comprehensive environment for equipment-specialists to design, develop, test and deploy real-time control software for front-end computers. I am working mainly on the usability and the maintenance of the FESA plugin. I have learnt, and  gained experience in, the whole software development process cycle of assignment, development, testing, review and re-assignment of a particular problem or task. Every day there’s a lot of new things to learn, but the most interesting and challenging is the support week. We are 4-5 people in the team and on support any sort of query can come up, and in resolving that issue you explore and learn a lot. Owing to this, my technical knowledge is expanding every day.

What is working at CERN like for you?

As from my statements earlier, you can get the hint that I love working here. I hardly ever have the case of Monday Blues. I am always excited to get to work. Sharing ideas, thoughts and jokes during quick morning coffee, with my super sweet colleagues, is a must in my routine. Helping each other in resolving a problem is the custom here, and all the colleagues help you till the very last of resolution of any issue. A day starting with excitement, ends at the satisfaction of work done well. But I must admit, reaching this level was hard for me. CERN houses a considerable diversity of backgrounds, educations, skills, and exposure. When I came here, I got overwhelmed at the beginning, therefore I was very hard on myself as I wasn't able to work like the people around me. But eventually, I realized that I am supposed to grasp as much knowledge as I can. So instead of stressing, I started to focus on acquiring knowledge. CERN is a hub of knowledge enriched with different cultures, languages, skills, ethnicities. Help is at your disposal all around here, but the only thing you need to do is to reach out.

What advice would you give potential applicants?

Apply away! There is nothing to lose in applying. Sometimes people think that CERN is only doing work in physics, which is not true of course. CERN is working in a lot of different fields, especially in Computing and many other engineering disciplines. There is a lot of work going on in High Performance Computing, Machine Learning, Data Science, Cloud Computing etc. Not only do you work here, but you also get to learn a lot form workshops, talks, computing schools and professional development experiences. So do your homework, try to keep your application as clear and concise as possible and most importantly, believe in yourself. Best of Luck!



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