Celebrating Women in Technology

Celebrating women in technology is becoming a culture today. Women take up on very huge roles and responsibilities that inspire all of us in different kinds of ways. Who said we have to celebrate women on a specific day of the month? Okay, no one did but it’s just nice. Having celebrated the International Women’s Day within the month, as a community we also got a chance to have a chat with a few of the women in technology. We covered how they got into coding, their experiences, mentorship, challenges, inspiration, hobbies, and their views on women in tech and word of advice to those aspiring to take on the journey.

A Chat with Jacinta

Jacinta at Facebook's Developer Circle event in Eldoret, Kenya

Jacinta at Facebook’s Developer Circle event in Eldoret, Kenya

I’m @Jecihjoy, a back-end software developer currently working at Ampath, an NGO healthcare institution providing care to more than 80,000-HIV patients, 30,000 chronic diseases patients in western Kenya. On a normal day at work you would either find me writing a lot of Java Spring code, attending meetings with users and stakeholders, leading or participating on feature design calls, planning Scrum sprints and doing team demos or responding to my online mentees. I’m also equipped with skills around NodeJS, ReactJS, ORM tools, ELK, Containerization, AngularX, CI/CD and TDD technologies. I’m part of the extended leadership in Developers Circle Eldoret. I’ve also worked with IEEE student chapter leadership while in campus.

How I Got Into Coding

In my early two years in college as a Computer Science student, you’d always find me building up on database administration skills. However, after attending Google Developer Group event for my second time, I got really inspired by our speakers then to venture into software development. Among them were Mercy Orange, Developer Relations Manager Africa, at Andela and Eugene Mutai CTO & Co-founder at Raise. My true inspiration came from the people in the community. I remember starting with Java and felt like quitting severally, because it was really hard back then but persistence and consistency got me here, yaay!

Jacinta working on her projects

Jacinta working on her projects

My Experience As a Female Software Developer

In a team of more than ten software developers I’m currently the only female developer. But other than having to deal with sports talks every now and then, my team is supportive and glad to say I’m happy to walk this journey.

I don’t look up to my yesterday’s self. Otherwise every person I know and meet is an inspiration to me. I always want to learn something great from the people I meet especially those who’ve achieved my aspiration.

Jacinta helping out a coding learner

Jacinta helping out a coding learner

Mentorship

Have I ever mentored someone? Yes. I have participated in various mentorship programs; Girls Technovation and Google GCI to mention a few. The experience was pretty awesome. Seeing how mentees appreciate insights and guidance was amazing. Walking through the thought process of the mentees through the ideation process, seeing them refine their ideas into something achievable with guidance of course is the best part.

I think what fosters efficient learning in this field is having having a mentor. Being part of a community. Being around people who see the potential in you. Gathering enough insights and then focusing on the exact tech stack you want.

Jacinta at a developers community meet up

Jacinta at a developers community meet up

Gender Distribution In The Industry

There are few women in technology and generally in STEM, because the setting in which we’ve all been raised in made us believe the technical works are to be done by men. It’s time to change that. Do what makes you happy and don’t be afraid to go technical, because of societal views. I’m interested in seeing more women venture into technology fields. This could be achieved by mentoring girls from a young age empowering them to believe they can achieve anything. A big shout out to the all the platforms working really hard to see more women join STEM fields.

My inspiration comes from seeing how the systems we build help improve the quality of lives of the patients. It really is a huge motivation to keep going.

Jacinta hanging out with her friends

Jacinta hanging out with her friends

Being a developer doesn’t mean attending tech events every weekend. During weekends I glam up and attend parties; engagements, weddings, baby showers, music concerts. I also do hiking.

My Peace-Out Note

Aspiring women engineers, go after what you want. Forget that you’re a woman, forget that you’re young, forget that you might be a little older for it. Forget about all the distractions, silence the self doubts and the impostor syndrome and f*ing go after what you want!

Chatting with Cynthia Went

Image of Cynthia Wainaina

Cynthia Wainaina

My name is Cynthia Wainaina. A final year student at the University of Nairobi and a software developer at a startup called Imprint Africa.

How I Got Into Coding

I prefer not to call it coding, but rather software development. Software development is a holistic process of turning a problem into a solution/product. Coding is a part of software development. I’ve been interested in computers since the first time I ever touched one. I was about 7 years old. Technology has fascinated me since then. When I got to high school, I took a Computer Studies course, but coding lessons had been phased out at this stage which was disappointing. Immediately after high school, I joined the eMobilis Institute of Technology where I learnt web and mobile application development and it’s at this point that I knew that software was my calling.

My Experience In The Industry As a Woman

This reminds me, at the startup where I work. I’m the only female in the tech team of seven people. In December last year, I reached out to my boss telling him that I was tired of being the only female software developer. Clients are usually surprised when we have initial engagement meetings because if I can guess, they usually expect male developers. Female clients get more excited when they find out that it’s a female developer working with them. Navigating the field as a female is difficult because people don’t expect that we are able to take on challenges head on.

I look up to my boss, Kotsanai Matereke. He’s not in the technology field, but he provided a space for young people to work together and grow their skills. He leaves us to make decisions and to solve problems, literally making us our own bosses. He encourages us to learn faster. In addition, he lets us put our ideas on the table and helps us validate them business-wise. I would want to do this for a team of young people in the future.

What fosters learning in this field, may sound cliche, but practice is key if you want to survive. It’s like learning a new music instrument – you only get better if you do it over and over again. In addition, curiosity helps. You have to want to learn new things everyday.

Of course there are challenges just like in any other field. Keeping up with technology can be overwhelming sometimes. I came to learn this, but being able to communicate to users and clients is critical. Developing this skill is particularly harder because many people in this field always have a technical perspective about things. You have to be all-rounded. Tech needs to be business driven.

Gender Distribution In The Field

I think there are few women in technology, because historically it’s a male dominated field so people tend to be afraid to give women chances in the tech world. It’s a never-ending cycle – you choose male candidates over the female candidates, which in turn discourages more females to get into the field, because of the fear of not being employable. Women have also been known to be very self-critical. For example, you have an ad for a job with a set of requirements. If they find that they can’t do even one thing, they fail to apply for the job while their male counterparts can even apply if they have only one skill in the same job description.

Also, there’s gender bias coming from most employers. Many employers don’t care about nurturing people’s skills, but rather focus on quick results which is understandable since it’s the nature of business. But we need to shift this way of thinking, if you give people the right environment to grow their skills, they will do anything for your business.

What inspires me most about what I do is the fact that I love the process of solving problems. It’s not always easy doing analysis and synthesis but it gives me a thrill when I think of making life simpler for people. In addition, I like to create meaningful experiences with the products I develop.

Image of Cynthia unwinding during her free time

Cynthia unwinding during her free time

Outside work, I really love music and film so whenever I have a chance, I go for music concerts or I watch movies. I also love nature, so sometimes I visit places like Karura, Ngong hills, Kenya and the like to unwind also to spark my creativity.

Word of Advice

To aspiring women engineers, It’s not as hard as you think. So go for it by all means. Do a lot of practice. Develop a thirst for challenges and solving them. The technology world is your world too.

Hanging Out with Warukira

Warukira Theuri

I am Warukira Theuri, but everyone calls me Kirah. I am Software Engineer by profession and an IoT dev/Program Asst. at Code for Africa‘s envtal monitoring initiative called sensors.AFRICA. I build, deploy and maintain air quality sensors across the continent, and I also run/oversee DevRel i.e run our sensor community. I am a God-fearing young woman with aspirations of making the world a better place.

How I Got Into Coding

I always loved computers, but I started coding after enrolling into Software Engineering, which was second to architecture (a course I din’t get into for not meeting cut points) in my passions.

About My Journey In Technology

My experience in the field has been a journey of ups and downs. Sometimes people look down upon you just because you are woman, other times people applaud you and support you (learning, culture).  There are very supportive men, and women, who want to see you excel. It has been a journey of consistent learning and improving skills.

I look up to my boss Catherine Gicheru an ICFJ Knight Fellow and Code for Kenya country Lead, Dorcas Owino the Lakehub Director, Roina Ochieng’ a WTM Nairobi Lead, David, Vivian Akinyi a software developer and former Google SSA Community manager and Chris Kirubi an entrepreneur.

Image of Martha doing a presentation

Martha doing a presentation

I have mentored guys before. I was a Technovation 2018 mentor where I mentored young high school girls and teach them how to build apps to solve societal problems, was a Google Developer Group and Women Tech Maker lead in campus training and mentoring fellow university students. I also mentor university students at work, where I double as the DevRel lead for sensors.AFRICA. The experience was very rewarding. Imparting knowledge and helping someone realize how capable they are is one of the most rewarding feelings.

What I think fosters learning is openness (open source hardware and software), willingness to help each other and not competing.

There’s Always A Gender Bias Story

One of the challenges I’ve faced in the field is gender bias, a senior employee of a company X once looked down on me, because I am a woman, without waiting to sample my work. This has contributed to few women in the tech industry since some women are afraid to enroll into male dominated courses and career paths. I think that men also need to support Women In Technology and handhold them. What a man can do, a woman can do better. Employers need to be equal opportunity employers.

Image of Martha installing one of the sensors she had been working on

Martha installing one of the sensors she had been working on

I’m inspired everyday by what I do. I am currently working on E-CAD design which will see our IoT product move from the prototype stage to a product stage. My biggest motivation is seeing custodians with whom the sensors have been deployed to use the data to advocate for better air quality.

Outside work, coding and thinking I tend to water my indoor plants, play chess and board games.

To women who aspire a role in technology, I would like to invite you to follow your aspirations and enroll into engineering if that’s it. Do not let anyone discourage you.

Finally

There’s so much to do and so much to learn for women in technology and those aspiring to master the realm and from the look of things definitely need more female role models in the industry. It doesn’t matter that there are few ladies in the industry honestly, all that matters is that people get to do what they love and while impacting other people’s lives in brilliant new ways it also makes them happy. Tech is amazing, you should see how fast it gives people the opportunity to change the world. You get to create whatever it is you want and use it to make life easier for everyone. Technology is evolving fast and what it is going to do in the future is vastly hard to imagine.

More women should take advantage of this field simply because it is interesting. Yeah, there you have it, no technical way of trying to persuade you but give it a go. The other day, my friend told me she wanted to shave her hair, pretty long and it has cost her years of maintenance, but she wanted to cut it. So I told her, “Dreadlocks are low maintenance” (This is purely my perspective) also, the only way to get rid of them is by cutting them. See where I’m going? I was giving her a means to an end, “why don’t you try them out then you can decide on cutting it later”

Treat Life Like The Deep End, Swim Or Die

What am I saying? Give it a go girl, give it your all like you always do in other areas of your life and then see how it goes. Become a part of the women in technology movement. I won’t throw in if’s and when’s because I don’t want to jinx it. Learning is scary, but everything you have ever wanted is on the other side of fear. Will Smith once talked about leaping past your fears to realize that they are only standing between you and the best life you can have. Check it out here if you haven’t.

There’s zero fear. You realize at the point of maximum danger is the point of minimum fear. It’s bliss. Why were you scared in your bed the night before? What do you need that fear for? Everything up to the stepping point, there’s actually no reason to be scared. It only just ruins your day. The best things in life are on the other side of terror, on the other side of your maximum fear, are all of the best things in life.

– Will Smith

To all the women in technology all around the globe, you are awesome. We celebrate you, keep shining!

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