Shehla Ali is founder of SA Digital Group, where she provides digital training and strategies for businesses, as well as working with agencies to implement strategies and content plans. She manages social media platforms and creates social adverts for business to business and business to consumer clients. Shehla also runs Cameratic, a blog she created to showcase her photography, filming and copy writing, as well as Drone 360, where she creates aerial photography.
“…The idea that you can create content from anywhere in the world is a perfect combination and it wouldn’t have been possible without technology. I really love the flexibility – last year I spent six weeks in South America working from my laptop…”
Discovering digital as a freelancer
I always wanted to be in a creative industry, from a young age I would write stories, learned how to use Photoshop and eventually created my own website when I was 12. After graduating with a journalism degree, surprise surprise, there was no job waiting for me at the end. I managed to do 16 placements whilst being unemployed for over a year. It was a difficult time but although I tried different industries my heart was set on the technology and digital industry.
I loved technology and always liked the idea of being able to create. Having worked in a few digital agencies and a non-profit I decided to go travelling to reach my goal of 30 countries before I’m 30. When I returned I started freelancing and then was selected to be part of the Google Digital Garage project as a trainer.
My work varies throughout the week, sometimes I am running training sessions on behalf of Google, other days I am creating strategies for clients and then producing content with my drone. There is plenty of coffee, meetings and networking involved and keeping up to date with the world of technology and how to produce better content.
My business grew from running a digital agency, a travel blog where I sell my photographs and then specialising in drone photography. The idea that you can create content from anywhere in the world is a perfect combination and it wouldn’t have been possible without technology. I really love the flexibility – last year I spent six weeks in South America working from my laptop.
Have drone, will travel
I love photography and travel so investing in a drone was the next thing for me. I enjoy going out of comfort zones and allowing myself to be as creative as possible. It’s becoming more trendy so I’m always looking for different angles and places to shoot. It’s an exciting time to be able to take aerial photographs.
I’ve had quite a few people shocked that I know how to fly a drone. There have been a few occasions when buying a memory card the sales assistant asked if I was borrowing a drone and whether I knew the difference between the different models. I also had someone question whether I was looking to be photographed by one at an exhibition and had to respond with: “No, I fly them…”
There was also a moment when someone was showing me how to switch the drone on and change the battery, even after I explained how long I had been flying. I often think it’s a reflection on them and try not to take things too personally. On the other hand, most people think it’s cool and people often stop and want to watch it take off or land.
Getting over the male dominated, brogrammer culture in tech
I’d love to live in a world where we were all treated equal but that’s simply not the case. We have come a long way especially in the tech world, about women being given a voice. I think by highlighting achievements and showcasing their journey to show it is possible and empower other women who may be thinking about working in the tech industry – that it is possible.
I have worked in a few organisations where there were more women in leadership roles and we didn’t make a big deal out of as it became part of the norm. There is still work to do but I think there have been some huge development with women in tech events and organisations who support the movement.
Advice to women and girls interested in getting into tech
First things first, my advice is don’t give up. Set yourself goals of where you want to be and don’t be afraid of asking for mentors or reaching out to people who are where you want to be. Find out what events are happening, set up your own website for your portfolio – you are your own product. I never used to understand and often thought a CV would be enough. With technology evolving, we have the opportunity to use our voice online and be found.
I’ve been noticed by travel and outdoor companies based on my pictures on Instagram. Embrace experience, every role will teach you something, even if it teaches you what you don’t want to do. I’ve been able to apply my experiences to my businesses and without it I wouldn’t have been as confident.
You can develop and learn in so many ways using technology, my career would simply not exist without it. There’s countless YouTube tutorials and support groups on Facebook based on interests, you can learn so much. A lot of it is having the right attitude and going for it.
I’m looking forward to growing my business and running workshops to support my clients with the world of digital. I will also be taking my drone to more locations abroad and (hopefully) selling more of my pictures!