Young women that define success in the society

Today, International Women’s Day, is a day the world acknowledges the role women play in the society on a large scale. I get to spend the day with some youngins from different girls high schools in Kenya at the Microsoft Digigirlz event.

Today, we focus on the girl child who could be a toddler, a teenager, a college student, a working class lady, a mother, a grandmother – all collectively making up the women in the society.
Being in the IT industry, I choose to highlight and appreciate a few women who have fought through odds to be where they are. They are an inspiration, not only to their peers but to other young girls in primary and high school.

I have known Fridah Oyaro for the last two and a half years in her capacity as both my student and a consultant( yes you heard that right). This aggressive young lady showed lots of interest for the Akirachix training program back in 2011. Coming from a very humble background, so humble that I once dropped her home and I almost turned back with her to my house. Interestingly this never deterred her, it was actually a source of motivation, and this led to her being the best student Akirachix class of 2013. It did not end there, her attitude and openness has led to enormous growth, and she is now among the best designers sought at the iHub, currently consulting with her alma mater – Akirachix. She is our in-house designer and a role model to the current Akirachix class. To know more about her and her work visit her profile here

I love working with young ladies and Wangechi Mwangi caught my eye back in 2011 when she was in her last year at Precious Blood Riruta. She is not only smart, but she is also aggressive and highly opinionated, the kind that believes in herself and will not see a problem go without a solution. We managed to safely secure Wangechi to the IT industry – she had earlier been thinking of being an economist and her parents were also encouraging her to take up medicine. Her parents had a hard time coming to terms with the fact that she was going to “waste” her A’s on another career besides medicine. Nonetheless, she fought and secured herself a full scholarship at Strathmore to study BBIT. This course is an interesting blend to her new found interest in technology and passion for economics.Currently in 2nd year, she is already providing a challenge to other university students. She has teamed up with two fourth year students to start a virtual stocks trading platform called Valuraha, read more here. I once jokingly said, she might be our next college dropout turned billionaire; she has what it takes to be the next Mark Zuckerberg.

“Never judge a book by it’s cover.”. Many a times, we meet people and make conclusions about them, which end up being wrong after interacting with the person. I met this young lady – Cynthia Abura back in 2012. From our visits to Precious blood for outreach, I had identified two girls who were really interested in technology and I knew the only way to keep this fire burning is mentoring them, keeping them engaged and showing them its possible to make it in the technology industry. Later in the year, I came across Google code-in competition for kids under the age of 17 through the Systers Network. I became curious and asked one of the two girls to give me a few of her classmates she thinks would be interested to participate. I got four and one of them was Cynthia. By the time she was coming out of high school she was a music student and her career path was in that direction. After signing them up for the competition, three of them would come to the iHub where we worked from, as the challenge was Internet based. Cynthia had to go to Uganda and see her parents and this meant she would miss out on mentorship – I was worried she would not continue with the competition but surprisingly among the four she was the best, even got a prize from Google. Read more about Google code-in 2012 here. Now this is ambition, passion and determination. Currently she is a first year student at University of Nairobi studying computer science and you will find her trying out other coding competitions and playing with new gadgets – she comes to play with my pair of Google glasses and is working on building an app for glass.

Today I celebrate these young women, they epitomise success in the society, inspire me and the rest of the AkiraChix team, and also give me hope that one day the ratio of men: women in technology will shift. It might take time, but we will get there, one Akirachic at a time.

Recapping the first Girl Rising Event

On 1st and 2nd November, Akirachix, in collaboration with Intel, held a training on how to use App Inventor for a group of about 25 girls. This was the first of a series of similar trainings to high school students, pre-University students, University Students and generally any girl interested in dipping her feet in the waters of code, and especially mobile programming.

The session began with a series of short talks from: Linda – Programs Director at Akirachix, Agatha -Software and Services group lead for Intel East Africa and Dorothy, the Communications and Public Affairs Manager for East and Francophone Africa at Google. Linda and Agatha introduced Akirachix and Intel to the girls and the Girl Rising Initiative. Dorothy’s talk was an inspirational one that was themed ‘Unencumbered’. Her aim was to help the girls a mindset of being unencumbered; living without perceived barriers and striving towards greatness.

Check out this cool video that introduced the training session. It goes a little bit like “Everyone in the world should know how to program…”

The training session was facilitated by John and Kelvin Yonga who took the girls through an overview of the App Inventor, assisted them through the installations, and did the conventional – built a hello world program! The proceeding session involved girls coming up with ideas of simple applications to develop. The ideas were presented and the developing began. The trainers had very few minutes to themselves after this part because of the numerous questions that were being asked by the trainees.

Busy bees

Day 2 was characterized by more questions and people finishing up on their applications. It was also marked by the showcasing of all the applications developed, and the gifting of students with certificates and goodies! Among the apps that were showcased, were music apps, SOS apps, breast cancer awareness app, an app on saving, pizza delivery app and many more. There was plenty of food, drink and snacks to go around for the two days.

At the end of the end of the training program, it was unanimously agreed that App Inventor is a great tool for introducing people to the world of mobile programming. However, everyone expressed interest in diving deeper to learn using tools like Eclipse and the Android SDK. How great! Some more feedback showed that the girls wanted longer training sessions, more advanced coding, training on database manipulation, and more on GUI.

Akirachix hopes to plan similar training sessions on a monthly basis to teach different skills and technologies. The aim is not only to increase numbers but to develop superior quality. We plan to have some of the girls who were trained to assist us in training girls from high school on how to use App Inventor later this month during our high school boot camp.

The event was concluded by a short talk from Rachel Gichinga and give-aways. Some of the words that stuck included: “Learn who you are and the best you”, “Be willing to accept failures and that you’re not good at some things”,  “Be cross-platform – think broad and be willing to be adventurous and discover new things. You never really know until you try.”

Group photo :)

We continue nurturing an army of geek girls…

Gearing up for Girl Rising

It is now 2 days to the much awaited Girl Rising Event. As mentioned earlier, this is a collaboration between Akirachix and Intel. It is a 2-day session that will see girls interested in code, create apps from scratch to finish using the Intel AppInventor tool! All preparations have been done and finalized. We are now anxiously waiting for Friday so that the magic can happen. We hope that the girls are half as excited as we are.

Below is a program for the 2 days:
Download Program for the Day

Lady droid

We encourage the participants to begin cooking up ideas so that when we meet, we just go full on geek-mode!

The process of nurturing an army of geeks continues…

Galz in Tech: Wangechi Mwangi

Who is Wangechi Mwangi and what do you do?
I am a BBIT student at Strathmore University and a super volunteer at Akirachix. Further than that, I love learning, understanding, challenging and improving the way systems work.

Wangechi Mwangi

Do you have any formal training in the field of tech?
Yes. I am currently a 2nd year student studying Business and Information Technology at Strathmore University.

What application(s) are you working on or have you worked on?
I founded AZMA, a social enterprise that aimed at consolidating the efforts and energy of high school students and pre-University students. The aim was to get them to hold intellectual discussions, debates and to coordinate efforts to engage in outreach activities that build the community and solve societal problems. The initiative is now managed by Mary Njoki, a former Precious Blood Riruta student. I am now working on a mobile application in the finance sector. I am also a super volunteer at Akirachix. I believe in their goal of building up and supporting a successful force of women in technology.

Why did you choose to be in the field of technology?
I previously wanted to pursue Economics and statistics, and even got an acceptance letter from Nairobi University to do the same. However, as a result of my interaction within iHub Research, Akirachix, and the iHub community, I chose to pursue BBIT because of how the technology scene has been growing and will continue growing for the next many years. I felt that there were so many opportunities in tech that existed and that I could tap into and that is why I chose to pursue it. More importantly, I found it very fascinating and interesting. I love how tech is not, and will never be a lone ranger. It takes shapes and form in other industries. This gives me the opportunity to be as diverse as I would like. It also falls very much in line with my life philosophy – ‘Learn, Understand, Challenge and Improve’.

What challenges have you faced in the tech industry so far?
It is an intense industry. In order for one to excel in it, one needs a lot of dedication in terms of time, and a real commitment to learning. Becoming good in tech is an individual effort. A school may create a conducive atmosphere, but ultimately, it us up to an individual. We have to read a million books, have a thousand resources, explore different things.

What would you do if you were not in the field of tech?
I’d probably do economics or finance, but I know I’d get bored along the way and start learning some programming or some new ways of different things, and these new ways would always lead to tech.

Tell us something interesting about you?
In another life, I would be a dancer and have a talk show! :) I love talking to people, laughing, music and dancing is my first love. Anything from traditional dances, African dances, salsa and zumba to simple head bobbing and hand movements!

Parting Shot?
Live life in a way that your contribution to humanity will be felt, during and beyond your years on earth!

Follow her @WangechiM