Can you tell me a bit about your background and how you began coding?
I graduated from Strathmore University last year with a Bachelor of Science in Informatics. Even though the program was pretty programming intensive, I wasn’t particularly interested in programming until my third year. I did love tech though, so I thought I’d wind up in something like technical project management or UI/UX design. But in my third year I discovered Python and Django and it seemed much easier than what we were learning in school (C++, Java) and had a really active community. So I got hooked! Sought out internships to learn more Python, worked on personal projects with Python, that kind of thing.
Interesting, is programming a common job in Kenya?
Common is relative, I wouldn’t say it’s very common, but it’s not very rare either. I know plenty of programmers, but that could be just because of the circles I run in.
Tell me about how you became involved in django girls?
I heard about Django Girls when I was still trying to find my way around Django for a personal project a couple of years ago. My colleague Joan Ngatia told me she was thinking of reviving Django Girls in Nairobi so I jumped in and we collaborated on organizing it.
What was the experience like from the student’s point of view?
We actually had lots of positive feedback! A lot of the participants were excited about using the command line for the first time to do things like create directories and files, and actually understanding some code. We did however get some feedback that the tutorial was a little too overwhelming for beginners to cover in a day. We did encourage them to continue with the tutorial (it is free online) and reach out in case they need any help, and quite a number did follow through to the end.
Our post-workshop feedback form asked if they would be interested in being programmers and 100% of respondents said yes.
Are there any challenges particular to these girls when it comes to becoming a developer?
I would say most of the challenges have to do with social perceptions. Not just that women can’t be coders, even though this perception is widespread. But also that coding is really hard and you have to be some kind of genius to be able to do it.
Another common challenge was the learning curve and the lack of resources or mentors to guide them through learning the in’s and out’s of being a good developer.
Yeah, the idea that coders must be geniuses is pretty common. I remember feeling overwhelmed in the beginning. I’m wondering what changes you saw in the girls from the start of the event to the end.
(laughing) We definitely busted the genius myth. They were able to learn that with just a few lines of code you can actually get your program to do something cool. Most followed along with the tutorial and were able to make sense of it, and of course the coaches were such a big help.
We have actually had a few of the a participants apply to be developers at Andela. Just the fact that they feel confident enough to be able to actively seek out programming jobs, is such an awesome thing. And one has gotten the job, so far!
That’s awesome, what advice would you give to a young woman starting down the road to becoming a developer.
That’s a great question. I have technical advice, and not-so-technical advice.
With regards to technical stuff, definitely being in the know about tools and resources that many developers use. Knowing what’s happening in the ecosystem. Things like version control tools, and new deployment resources like Docker. It’s what makes you relevant as a developer.
The non-technical: I would definitely emphasize about the myth of the genius coder. You don’t have to have been top of your math class and you don’t have to understand everything instantly. Don’t give up; it’s practice and experience that make a good developer, not some genius gene.
Finally, in a profession so dominated by men, who are your heroes? Who would you recommend as good role models for a young female developer to emulate?
That’s an interesting question, especially because it can be tough to find women who have been developers for a long time. But I get very inspired when I think of the early women programmers who had to program back when they didn’t have half the resources we do today, and several of them faced (gender and racial) discrimination.
I’m reminded of the movie Hidden Figures, such an inspiring story. Have you seen it yet?
Yes! I was actually really honored to be a panelist speaking about STEM careers to young girls during a screening of Hidden Figures here in Nairobi that was sponsored by the US Embassy here.
I have daughters and will be watching it with them annually.
Thank you so much for your time and letting us get to know you.
Thank you for reaching out!