Today, however, her career journey, spanning almost a decade in the digital healthcare industry, is a booming success, and did not involve going to medical school.
Although excited at the prospect of a medical career in her early years, Al-Harbi was dissuaded from becoming a doctor by her family.
“They feared the long nightshifts at the hospital and essentially giving up my life,” she said. “So I thought OK, I’ll follow my older sister’s lead and pursue software engineering instead.”
Indeed, Al-Harbi went on to earn a BA in information technology (IT) from King Saud University (KSU) in Riyadh. She fell in love with analytics and software engineering the day she attended her first lecture.
After graduation, Al-Harbi worked briefly at a local bank, providing IT treasury back-office support.
“I worked in the treasury department, which was a core section of the bank. While it was a very challenging experience, I was still able to prove myself,” she said.
“But I could tell that working in finance — 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in a cubicle, with only the computer to keep me company — wasn’t for me. Yes I love software engineering, but I also love to interact with real people, solving problems together. Most importantly, I wanted to utilize my skills to improve the quality of life of those in need.”
So Al-Harbi decided to bring her IT expertise to the healthcare arena and joined King Fahad Medical City (KFMC), one of the largest medical and research centers in Saudi Arabia. “I remember the first day after I got the job, I thought yes, this is me, I belong here,” she said.
Ironically, her family’s concerns about her spending all her time at a hospital did come true. “I practically lived there, from morning to late at night. At one point, I even slept in the ER because I was working on an important project setting up the ER system,” she said.
“Despite all the sleepless nights, however, I was happy and passionate about working together with my team on something tangible. You could see the impact of our work on the people — the patients whom we served. It was really satisfying.”
Over the next few years, Al-Harbi won a number of awards, including the Saudi Healthcare Innovation Award at KFMC for designing patient pathways to reduce crowding in different departments.
That year, not only was she the youngest person to be considered for such an award, but she was also the only woman to receive one.
At that point, she was faced with another dilemma as her work had earned her a scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in the US.
She enjoyed her job so much she did not want to leave it behind, so as an efficient multitasker, she continued working while studying part-time, earning her MBA from Prince Sultan University.
‘Wings to fly’
Shortly after getting her MBA, she was approached by GE Healthcare and “jumped” at the opportunity.
“It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. GE has given me the wings to fly, so to speak,” she said.
“I’m grateful for the opportunities that GE has provided for both my professional and personal growth — from project management to presales, from purely analytical roles all the way to the commercial world.”
Today, Al-Harbi is a senior solution architect with GE Digital, responsible for the business aspects of customer solutions.
This means she is well-versed in understanding customers’ needs and pain points, and is well-equipped to design solutions that deliver optimal business results.
“What I love about my work is that I’m constantly on the lookout for new ideas finding solutions to problems. Each project is like a jigsaw puzzle that needs to be solved,” she said.
“This is the beauty of our work — no two days are ever the same. We strive to be innovative and challenge the status quo in every situation, and every customer has their own set of challenges and opportunities.”
While at GE Digital, she has supported the Saudi Health Ministry’s major electronic medical records digital transformation project, as well as its highly regarded Mawid patient appointments app.
Notably, she created a patient journey blueprint for ministry hospitals called the “Golden Package.”
This initiative has been implemented in ministry hospitals across the Kingdom, and is considered the standard that needs to be followed.
Perks and challenges
Al-Harbi has attended many international conferences throughout her career, and has actively participated in a number of panel discussions, including the 2018 Top CEO Arab Women Forum on empowering women entrepreneurs in the Middle East.
She spoke about the key role women’s empowerment plays in advancing businesses and the customer experience, as well as women’s careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and beyond.
Looking back at her career so far, the most important piece of advice Al-Harbi has for young Saudi women is: “Invest in yourself — it’s the best return on investment you’ll ever get.”
She also puts great weight on being authentic and true to oneself. “Be real. Present yourself as you really are,” she said.
“With social media platforms nowadays and everything being remote and virtual, we sometimes crave authenticity and care.”
That even extends to one’s job title. “What does it really mean?” she asked. “Find a vision you truly believe in, and contribute your skills and gifts to help advance that vision.”
Lastly, “don’t take no for an answer,” she said. “Go above and beyond the call of duty, and give 110 percent.”