Running around the globe has become something of a fixture for Sahar Ebadi from starting in her home of Mashhad, Iran to Selangor, Malaysia before bouncing to Medellin, Colombia.
If you're keeping score, that’s three time zones one way and 13 time zones going back the other way. Going to Malaysia was a product of going to school. Coming to Colombia was due to meeting her husband, who was from Medellin.
Ebadi, Playvox’s Vice President of Product and Engineering, admits not long after marrying her husband Jose Cristancho Rodriguez in 2012 that she didn’t know where Colombia even was. After all, it was in an entirely different hemisphere.
Sahar Ebadi and her husband Jose Cristancho Rodriguez pose in front of a classic car during a trip to Cuba.
“I had to find it on a map,” Ebadi laughs. “Google Maps - Colombia. I thought it should have been in Africa, but no South America.”
So she looked at some pictures, then thought “Shakira is from Colombia,” and it was time to pack the bags.
“I was good.”
Ebadi came to Playvox in August of 2020 to take over the staff of engineers, but she wasn’t recruited to join Playvox, she literally went on a hunt to be part of Playvox.
“I read the article on Oscar (Playvox founder and CEO Oscar Giraldo),” Ebadi said. "I was like ‘hello, I’m going to hunt this company down until they hire me.'"
Ebadi claims she turned down a position at Rockwell Automation, among others, for Playvox. At Rockwell, she would have been in the engineering department for a company that builds and supplies part for the Tesla Motor Company.
But that didn’t sell her. Instead, she wanted to be at a company in an environment where the employees were happy and great to work with.
“Everything that drives me toward what I do is my passion,” she said. “I need to be happy, excited and I want to go to work like I am right now.”
Giraldo echoed Ebadi’s dedication to her work ethic and added she doesn’t back down from any test of her ability.
“I saw in Sahar a highly passionate and driven leader with a growth mindset and no fear of taking on big challenges,” Giraldo said. “Also, I saw her power of motivating people to achieve great results. She aligns with our values and long-term vision here at Playvox.”
Start of a Journey
Ebadi was born in Mashhad in 1984 during the Iran-Iraq War, known as the First Persian Gulf War. It was during a time when the Iranian Government offered incentives for childbirth due to the number of casualties suffered during the eight-year war.
Ebadi rolls her eyes at that thought though.
“That was not the platform my parents had,” she says with a laugh. “What happened just happened.”
Iran experienced a baby boom as a result and its impact had an effect on Ebadi some years later when she was going to college at Islamic Azad University where she faced an overcrowded education system.
Following her college graduation, instead of trying to get into an Iranian university, she went to Malaysia for her Masters at Universiti Putra Malaysia.
“The country was not prepared for it and that left a lot of people going to university,” she said. “But we could not continue to do our masters simply because they didn't have the infrastructure to support so many students and what happened is they were picking like 40 people from 1.5 million candidates.”
She chose UPM because they had an excellent computer science program, it was affordable, and of all things, was an English speaking university.
Ebadi says from the beginning she has been interested in studying computer science, but don’t call her a nerd.
“I have two sides,” she said. “I’m completely into things like artificial intelligence, but I don’t do things like play video games. I love to create things, so when I see someone having a vision in their mind, like a client, the funny part is while everyone is thinking about that idea, I’m seeing it and testing it already.”
Rapid Rise in Her Career
After school, Ebadi began her career as a backend developer for Scubaplex, a dive company based in Kuala Lumpur, before moving back to Mashhad and working for Pardic, a pharmaceutical company as a project manager.
In 2013, she and her husband returned to his home of Medellin and she started working for Yuxi Pacific for a brief time as a software engineer.
Her big career advancement came in 2014 when she started as a Senior Project Manager for software development company Talos Digital. In her nearly five years at Talos she would leap up to Director of Project Management in just a year and then on to General Manager of the company.
As she has stated, she lost her passion with Talos and would go on to start her own consulting company. Ultimately, lack of interaction with others is what changed her mind to come back to working for a company and, of course, that was Playvox.
“I started my consultancy and I applied what I learned for clients who wanted to scale their company,” she said. “Eventually though, I really like working with people, I’m a people person. When I do something it’s not just for a company as a consultant. I want to actually do something for a company.”
Giraldo is excited about what the future holds for her team.
“As a Leader of our Product and Engineering Management team, we expect Sahar to create processes and practices to help us deliver high-quality solutions to our customers at scale,” he said. “Fostering a culture of innovation and continuing to build a great workplace for builders and Doers (engineers, product and designers).”
Ebadi jumped in the water with both feet and found her first impressions were that of a team that is passionate about what they do and that made her more than excited to get started.
As with any startup, there are always a few organizational "gaps" that occur. Of course, Ebadi feels these will be an easy fix.
“People are passionate and try to work together as a team, that’s the best thing I could ask for in a company,” she said. “I think all there is is a lack of leadership that has experience in scaling a startup and getting to a level of being consistent.”
Ebadi talked about her plans to implement the right processes and training for the engineers and the product managers.
“They need to have these processes in place and that’s what I’m here for,” she said. “I need them to feel they have a safe environment to say no and the rest of the company to understand why that is.”
Working from the Farm
Ebadi, still living in Medellin while working for Playvox, found a large farm just outside the city, which goes in line with Rodriguez’ job working in agriculture.
But when they bought it, she wanted to tear down the house, which is 170 years old and made of Tapia, or rammed earth. It’s a technique where the walls and floors are constructed using raw materials such as earth, chalk, lime, or gravel.
“I did, I wanted to demolish it,” Ebadi said. “But then I got into it and I was like ‘oh this is so beautiful.’”
Living on the farm gives Ebadi plenty of opportunity to enjoy her other passions, like growing orchids.
Ebadi and Rodriguez don’t have any children, but Ebadi does enjoy her “kids” consisting of five dogs and four cats. The animal lover doesn’t want to stop there.
“I’m planning on getting a cow and two horses … hopefully,” she said.
What she and Rodriguez have enjoyed is when friends come over for gatherings, all with the same conclusion. They want her to make cuisine from her native Iran which is plenty of rice dishes with plenty of vegetables and herbs like saffron.
Ebadi says she loves her home in Colombia and it looks like a permanent stop in her travels, although there is still one place she wants to get to - Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
“Oh, I’ve wanted to go there since I was a little girl.”
And with a Playvox team in Orlando, that may just happen some time.