People of Intel – Sahar Alialy

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Sahar Alialy,
Manufacturing Operations Manager

Following my job as a Post-Doctoral Researcher at Trinity College in Dublin, I joined Intel in 2019.

I am originally Kurdish, from Mahabad. It is one of the rare cities in the world that has a Dam running through the city and all surrounded by mountains. The history of Kurdish people goes back to the Medes dynasty around 11th Century BC. The spoken language in Mahabad is Kurdish and despite the cultural diversity in the region, Kurds have managed to preserve their culture including their language, costume, wedding tradition, Kurdish dance, music and literature. Kurdish people with 45 Million population have mostly spread across Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

I developed a passion for science from an early age when my father surprised me with a microscope for my 7th birthday. I started to discover a new world in a smaller scale by observing items under the microscope. I was a successful student at school and progressed to participate in scientific national competitions. At the time, I spent most of my after-school time reading about Persian Art and Literature. I was enjoying Khayyam, Hafez, and Rumi books. Reading their poems and life instructions shaped a big part of my personality from a young age. This changed my viewpoint toward the world and over became like a creed to me. Books were always precious in our family. My Mom and Dad are still splendid readers. It was important for my family and especially for my father to build my independence. His encouragements pushed me to travel from West to East of Iran, my first trip alone without family at the age of 11, when I was elected for national bright student camp. I remember that I was very upset on the bus for being alone at such a young age. It was the first time that I was away from my family for 25 days. It was my first challenge of becoming independent…

My father was a very disciplined man. One day when I was a high school student, I was searching between his books to find something new to read. I suddenly found a few old pictures of my Dad between the pages of an old book. I was impressed to find out my father was a Karate master when he was younger. When I told him one day “Dad I want to learn Martial Arts”, I saw happiness in his eyes. At the time Taekwondo was very popular as an after school activity, especially for girls. I started Taekwondo in high school and after a few years I got my black belt in Taekwondo. I participated in events such as National Taekwondo competitions after joining university, in which I progressed to semifinals. Taekwondo has certainly given me a lot of confidence when I was travelling on my own, acknowledging that I can defend myself in any condition. Practicing Taekwondo for years positively impacted not only my body but also my mind. Taekwondo’s discipline has improved my resilience and I feel braver in facing new challenges and conditions and I know it has translated into other areas of my life, including my career today. I believe it is very beneficial for girls to learn Martial Arts.

I was always curious about science especially physics and this passion made me to pursue my Bachelor and Master degree of Science in Physics. After I received my Bachelor degree, I was lucky to find my best friend of life, and I got married. We set up a successful business together. However, after few years being in the business, I felt like a part of me was missing. I decided to continue my education. Despite of the fact that I received excellent and high-quality education in Iranian universities, unfortunately there were not enough jobs in my field of interest. Therefore, I decided to leave my homeland and follow my dreams in a different part of the world. I continued my Ph.D. studies in Turkey. I lived in Ankara for 4 years away from my husband and family. It was a tough time but thankfully I received my Ph.D. in 2015 in Physics with AA grade. I continued my research in Nano Technology as a postdoc researcher for another year in Turkey. I participated in many International conferences across the world to deliver talks about my research. During all these times, my husband was my greatest supporter. He had a big role in my success today and I am so thankful to have him in my life. My journey as a scientist has gifted me a wonderful exposure to different cultures across the world. Meeting people from different countries and backgrounds has enabled me to expand my professional network, and to make lifelong friendships. In addition, I had the privilege of learning different languages and dialects. Today I can read and speak six languages fluently.

In 2016 I got a job offer from Trinity College Dublin to join Prof. John Boland as a Post-Doctoral Researcher to a €2.5 million funded ERC (European Research Council) project on Neuromorphic computing. This opportunity made me very happy.

I moved to Ireland having never previously visited the country. On the day I arrived it was raining, and I didn’t know a single person in the whole country. Accommodation was difficult to find, and I couldn’t open a bank account as I didn’t have any address. It was a tough start, but I always tell people that if you survive the first three months of your stay in Ireland then you’ll want to stay forever! My husband eventually joined me after a year, and we are very happily settled here now. Ireland is my lovely home today and I believe Ireland and its kind people, are different from any other country in the world that I have visited or lived in. I think with the love of music, dance and literature, there are a lot of similarities in Irish and Kurdish culture. We are both talkative and chatty people!

In Trinity I was a part of a very diverse group of students and researchers. We developed new materials that mimicked the function of the human brain. In a simple word we created a human brain in the lab using Non-Biological systems. These electronic chips exhibit Non-Volatile permanent memory that is always accessible. I carried out researches on TiO2 Nanowire devices which I received an Outstanding award in Germany (Berlin) in 2018. I also received the Marie Curie Actions Seal of Excellence Award in 2017. I published high impact factor papers, many of which are accessible on Google Scholar.

In my opinion, as a person coming from another background, and differences I observed, I can say the female population of Ireland are more interested in subjects around business and social sciences rather than STEM. The majority of females back in Iran are more interested in studying engineering and science subjects. In fact, 70% of the highly educated people there are women based on UNESCO statistics. This difference motivated me to join and collaborate with CWIT (Connecting Women In Technology) where I joined panel discussions in different Schools, Universities and events to encourage young Irish people, especially females, to get into STEM. I actively use social media platforms to spread awareness around gender equality in STEM.

It was a big decision for me to join industry with a successful research background despite having opportunities to stay in research and university. I see engineering as an important skillset that enables us to create and invent whatever we can imagine in our mind, to solve an existing problem and make life better for all the humans on earth. It drives me every day to learn and discover more. Therefore, I decided to bring my knowledge to an engineering field and into a real production line that can impact people’s lives directly – and of course Intel was the best place for this goal. Before starting my job with Intel, my Trinity colleagues informed me that I will not have the same intellectual freedom at Intel and my role would be very defined as a tool owner, but my experience was completely different. At the start of my role as a process engineer in the Metals group, I had the opportunity to work on a project that required me to carry out research and to design experiments in order to solve an existing problem in the module. I had freedom to do research and I also progressed to a new role as a manager where I can reflect my technical and behavioral skills together. I came across this many times during my career – that a team where everyone feels included, respected for their differences, and valued for their perspectives always delivers better results and metrics. I believe a good manager firstly requires having behavioral excellence to motivate and inspire people in her/his team to bring out the best version of them at work. Therefore, from the start of my job I tried to create an environment that everyone in my group feels the psychological safety to speak up and bring issues to the table. I see problems as opportunities to improve. This is all about “Authentic Communication” and “Exceptional Teamwork” that drive efficiency of delivering better results at work.

As a woman coming from a different culture, inclusion and diversity has always been important to me. Today at Intel, to create this inclusive environment we have created our own inclusion team in Metals to promote inclusion and diversity at Intel. As a team we are determined to raise awareness around cultural differences and to respect each other’s backgrounds. We delivered an “Unconscious Bias” class to spread awareness to employees. We also enjoy celebrating events from different cultures, and we introduce our heritage to each other. As an example, I organised a celebration of Kurdish/Persian new year called Nowruz taking place on 21st of March. I decorated a Haftsin table for people, made a presentation about my traditions and we enjoyed Persian food, pastry, and desert together.

It’s been almost three years since I’ve been home, as my last trip back was when I was working at Trinity. Although I am missing my family and friends, I feel Ireland has become my home now.

People around me always ask how I balanced work, study and personal life while living in different countries? I say knowing yourself well is essential and having a goal in life will add value and drive your life journey. Ask yourself why you were born into this world and what is your ultimate goal of life that makes you happy to reach. I always had clear short and long-term goals which I write down on a piece of paper at the start of the new year. The other important thing that helps to keep the balance is to create your personal formula that works for you. I mean, something that recharges you when you lose energy and motivation. This should be based on your personality and preferences. For example, I use these things as my usual refreshments: A good book which I usually enjoy subjects around psychology and personal development. Good music that fills my soul with happiness (I never prefer to listen to sad music). A nice break in nature that heals my soul, and good exercise that releases my negative energy (Taekwondo and cycling works for me). It is a fact that many people just look after their physical wellbeing, while I feel that mental wellbeing is much more important. I meditate sometimes and try to be mindful during my daily tasks to come out of my autopilot mode. As a woman I also take care of my beauty and I enjoy following fashion and art. I always hesitate to live a one-dimension life like “just to be a scientist or engineer” because I believe life is not all about one goal, it is about a delicate balance of enjoying life and contributing to the world in a constructive way which requires us to be flexible enough with the concept of “Change”.

At the end I have few words by Rumi which couldn’t be more relevant today:

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”

Read more from of our People of Intel series.