I moved to Palo Alto, CA from Karachi, Pakistan when I was 7. This was rare for immigrant families like mine; not many settled in affluent neighborhoods with top rated schools like we did. So I knew from an early age that I was very fortunate, and I was also very aware of the differences between myself and my new friends. Every summer, my friends participated in exciting and prestigious summer camps. I babysat. In high school, my friends had access to incredible mentors and internships through their parents’ connections; I started working at the age of 14 to make sure I could work my way up to an internship. By the time I entered college at the University of Southern California, I had four years of part-time jobs and internships under my belt, and a wonderful network of mentors I met along the way. I thought everyone else would too, but I quickly came to realize that was not true. Even though my peers had access to all of these resources, the majority had not taken advantage. Not because they didn’t want to, but because they didn’t know how to or didn’t know that they should… Many had the misconception that as long as they did well in their academics, they would be successful.
I was tired of the misconception that success is simply defined by grades, test scores, and college admissions. I went to competitive schools but because I was forced to step outside my academic bubble at a young age, I had a greater sense of awareness, independence and agency, and a skill set that would serve me for years to come. I was also able to see how much value I could bring to an environment outside of school, as well as see the reality of the working world - adults are actually not that scary, my bosses value me, and everyone faces fears and successes. This awareness kept me motivated through professional and academic challenges.
So in 2012, I joined the entrepreneurship program at the University of Southern California and launched Project SuitUp (now Skillify). My mission: re-define success for students by encouraging them to step out of the academic bubble and experience the real world, where your value is much more than your GPA, and your success is determined by your skills.
With the support of USC faculty, trusted advisors, and incredible mentors, Project SuitUp was officially rebranded to Skillify in 2014, and I decided to pursue Skillify full-time after graduation. Since then, our six-hour conference has grown into a six-month program, serving students from 180 high schools and colleges in California.
It has been incredible seeing students transform into confident and independent young professionals within such short periods of time. I know we can all confidently say that we love spending our days working to empower students to step out of their comfort zones, know their value, and most importantly, define success for themselves.