This International Women’s Day, we present a special edition of Fashioning the Future, where we turn the spotlight on inspiring individuals who are forging their own paths in male-dominated environments and find out what keeps them going.

Nurul Jihadah Hussain, founder of The Codette Project, believes technology is the key to bettering career opportunities and achieving long-term success for women. Founded in December 2015, the non-profit ground-up initiative aims to get minority and Muslim women into tech through technical workshops and community-building programmes. The social impact organisation has also launched Codette Cares in partnership with the Zendesk Neighbor Foundation to provide funding and mentorship to women pursuing tech disciplines.

In 2018, Hussain was selected as one of 115 global community leaders as part of Facebook‘s global Community Leadership Programme. Two years later, she was named one of Singapore’s 100 Women in Tech (SG100WIT) by the Singapore Computer Society (SCS) and the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA). Today, the globally recognised diversity advocate and community leader continues to empower women and reclaim the narratives of underrepresented groups in tech.

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IWD Nurul Hussain
Blazer, & Other Stories. Scarf, Longchamp. Inner, Hussain’s own.

Here, Hussain opens up about what it means to be successful, inclusivity in tech, and assumptions of women she’d like to change.

Tell us about yourself and what you do.

I’m Nurul, founder of The Codette Project. We’ve been around since 2015, training minority and Muslim women in tech. We were the first in Singapore to run an all-women’s hackathon in 2018; we were also the first people—possibly in the world—to create a set of structural tools imagining what tech would look like if it was more diverse in 2018; we were also the first people in Singapore to do a physical exhibition of stories of women in tech, in March 2022.

How did you discover your passion for tech and what do you love about it?

That’s a good question because I don’t have a passion for tech and I’m not technical. I have no tech background. I chose tech as the focus of The Codette Project because it’s our belief that tech is the most level playing field. If we want to look at long-term economic growth, tech is the most logical way forward.

I think the narrative of following your passion and that your passion should be your career is actually very damaging. My belief is that successful careers and projects are done through practice and skill. Passion will come when you see success in your field. Rather than passion, you have to figure out if it’s something you want to do and if it’s something you can do. I think that the intersection of that and the nebulous concept of passion is where a lot of the confusion lies. You don’t have to have passion to be successful; sometimes it might be more useful to do something that gives you stability to do the things that help you have a better life.

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Why the name ‘The Codette Project’?

When we started out, we envisioned to be a long-term training programme. ‘Codette’ sounded nice, and then ‘The Codette Project’ came about because we were constantly figuring out what else to do, what next to do—a project is something that’s not really complete.

What are your biggest triumphs and struggles as a woman in tech?

What has been consistently challenging for us is getting funding to run long term projects. We were really grateful in 2018 because we got funding from Facebook and over the years, we have had funding from Zendesk, Alteryx as well as individuals who contributed and that’s been powerful but it’s always been a question of ‘Can we run next year? Can we continue the work that we do?’ That is always a struggle. Over the years, there’s always been people who don’t necessarily believe in what we do and what we stand for. We’ve moved from trying to justify the work that we do to only working with people that understand the fundamental equality of underrepresented women in tech.

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IWD Nurul Hussain
Top, Longchamp. Jeans; scarf, Hussain’s own.

How does your work positively impact Singaporean women and/or women of the world?

I think our work positively impacts everyone because we really try to broaden the narrative of success— there is no one fixed way to be successful. There is no one look to success. When we think of successful people and women, our ideas, definitions and individual/mental representations we hold have to be more diverse for us to create opportunities for success and success for different kinds of people.

Are there any assumptions of women you would like to change?

I would like the assumption that all women are the same, or that we can make generic assumptions of women as a whole, to really shift—to look at how we can talk about more inclusive definitions of women and success, of successful women, and how do we diversify that.

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What inspires you?

My team inspires me. I have a team of about 15, and the amount of learning I’ve had trying to lead my team in the last 7-8 years has been enormous. The learning has come from the understanding that I’m not the best at what I do—I’ve just had the opportunity to build an organisation and a community of some of the best people I’ve met. They are people who do this work still, for free. They all have full-time jobs outside of The Codette Project. The fact that they are sacrificing for this cause and that they do such good work is incredible for me. The fact that a lot of them have gone on to bigger and better things in and outside tech, in their career and personal lives—I’m really proud of that because at the end of the day, community is what I want to build.

If you could have dinner with three inspirational women, dead or alive, who would they be and why?

Joudie Kalla, one of my favourite cookbook writers. She has written Baladi and Palestine on a Plate and has an amazing Instagram feed—the food looks delicious and it’s so approachable. The way she writes and photographs her food makes it much more like a narrative and history of her identity as a Palestinian woman. I love her work and would love to have dinner with her (also because I know it will be delicious).

I’d also love to have dinner with Jacinda Arden. She was a really interesting and charismatic figure during her time as Prime Minister of New Zealand and I have so many questions about the process and challenges she faced. We probably won’t ever know a lot of what has gone on behind the scenes so I’m super curious.

Rihanna, because I feel like she’s really underrated, not only as an entrepreneur but also as a humanitarian. Her work with Fenty Beauty has been transformational because she was really the first person to diversify what beauty looked like at the scale that she did. It was immediate from the response to Fenty Beauty that there was this pent up demand for diverse beauty products that no one had respected before Rihanna and she had the power to do that. My questions for her would be about leadership, how has she envisioned her projects and carried them out, how she hires people to bring her projects to fruition, and how she continues her commitment to diversifying what these things look like.

Photographer: Wee Khim
Stylist: Gracia Phang
Digital Editor: Gloria Tso
Digital Content Manager: Navin Pillay
Producer: Cindy Ow
Video Camera Operator: Lawrence Teo
Hair: Karol Soh using Keune Haircosmetics
Makeup: Manisa Tan using YSL Beauty
Stylist’s Assistant: Isabella Low