…they should actually take time and understand their target customer and how they would be providing value to them

Real recognize real. That is why, Maria Kyamulabye, who is currently the launch operations lead and Community manager technical talent at Andela Uganda is working in that position. She was recognized as a talented young lady and now, she is also helping the talented young developers at Andela to realize their full potential and grow.

Maria’s has a passion for technology and believes that it can change people’s lives and businesses both in urban and rural areas. She is particularly passionate about helping young women to tap into the ability of business and technology to change their lives and those around them. She has therefore trained and mentored a good number of women and youths with Africa Entrepreneurship Award, We-Link Uganda, Zimba Women, and Andela.

Maria is the sort of person you can call a pool of skills, for she possesses quite a remarkable skill set which includes; Project management, Marketing and Communications, Business Development and Strategic Planning. She has volunteered as a Project Coordinator with Smile Charity Uganda, and as a Global Shaper with Global shapers Kampala

It is no wonder that Maria is who she is, an achiever, an inspiration, an influence. She has vast knowledge to share, some of which she shared in this interview. If this was a TV show, this is the part where we would sound the drum rolls and have a standing ovation while she takes the stage. Oh wow… the lights, the smiles…

At what age did you start chasing your dreams, considering your accomplishments at such a young age?

I started my first business when I was eighteen. I became an entrepreneur out of necessity rather than passion. Over the years, I have managed to align my dreams/passions to what I do day to day either as a volunteer, at Andela or in the businesses I founded.

As a social entrepreneur, my focus has been in two sectors. I am very passionate about people and business and how technology can be used to change lives, not only in the urban centers but also in the villages. I have varied hands-on experiences through working with different organizations such as NGOs to global IT consulting company.

In your line of work, what are your specialties/ areas of strength?

I have been part of the tech community in Uganda for more than 8 years. The people that I have met and relationships that I have built have played a vital role in the journey at Andela while launching operations and then as the community manager.

In terms of specialties, I see the world in terms of different systems that work together to deliver outcomes. Given that my role involves working with different people and designing different programs to support them, systems thinking has played a lot role in this.

Do you code? If yes, what inspired this?

At some point actually, I believed that all I ever wanted to do was code. I was fascinated by programming, in general,and I have always loved machines and figuring out how they work. Also, computers were easy to figure out for me as they did what you instructed them to do.  

At the same time, I was volunteering for a couple of NGOs. While working on the Village Health Team project with John Hopkins in Mpigi I realized just how big the gap was in-terms of literacy and technology cover. At that point, I told my team that my focus was going to change to understanding our end user and ecosystem in-order for us to provide solutions that solved problems versus creating tech- products that had no place in our Ugandan context. I have been a social entrepreneur since then, adding technology and business specialties to different organizations.

I still code but for fun. Currently learning python to teach my nieces and nephews who I am teaching how to code.

What challenges did you face starting out and which ones do you face now as a woman in IT?

The challenges haven’t changed much as woman in sectors that are mostly male dominated (Entrepreneurship, Technology).

When I started out there were always more males in my class than females. Physics class, programming certificate class etc. That hasn’t changed much in-terms of numbers. I learned to combat the imposter syndrome by understanding that I added value. My perspective was different and my approaches too. I delivered solutions which helped me earn a `sit on the table.  As a woman now, I am working hard to create more seats for women. I am a mentor with several organisations such as Zimba women, Django girls, African Entrepreneurship award etc. Also championed the women tech leadership program at Andela that is a flagship programming supporting women to consider tech as career.

What opportunities do we have as the youth in this country in the field of entrepreneurship and IT?

Uganda has been ranked more than 2 times as the most entrepreneurial country in the world. This indicates that there is real hunger and desire for people to venture into business. The opportunities are still imensive in this market.  

Most of these businesses rarely survive their first year and that is because of the research put into them at the beginning. The advice I would give entrepreneurs here would be to actually take time and understand their target customer and how they would be providing value to them.

Women are generally underrepresented in tech, more so in engineering roles. How do you think this can be changed?

Women have to start appreciating technology as an actual career path. When more women consider tech as an option, they will be encouraged to consider it.

We’ve seen progress in Andela when we focused on 3 pillars. Leadership (confidence gap, role models), entrepreneurship (delivering solutions versus writing code) and software delivery skills(programming fundamentals at global standards).  

What opportunities do you feel the girl child in Uganda has that have not been exploited?

I think there is a lot we can achieve as Africans, in general, both male and female. We have such amazing talent and the youngest population in the world… in form of the girl child.

How is Andela trying to elevate girls/ladies in tech?

Through the Women tech leadership program, a flagship program for Women in Technology. The program equips the ladies who participate in software delivery, entrepreneurship and leadership skills in preparation for the job market.

Outside the certificate that participants receive at the end of this program, the ladies also grow their networks and have a closer chance to join Andela. This program is being targeted for women currently in Uganda.  

We also have programs like teen code where Andela developers go to high schools to facilitate learning for programming. Through interactions like this starting at a young age, young girls can see that both males and females can do programming. Providing role models to them.

Are there any specific things you have done to keep growing, glowing and developing as an individual? If yes, what are they?

I read a lot – I try to read a book every month and something interesting every day.  This could also mean courses that I do online.

Outside of that, I am a polymath so I keep trying out different things and that keeps me excited. At the moment I am into DIY so I have several projects at home. For Example, I just finished making my coffee table and are now making side tables.

And that is our #WCW today. To all the young ladies in tech out there, your confidence is key. Also, for all those that are not a part of the tech eco-system yet, tech is an actual career path and you are important.

 If there is anyone you would like to see us feature in one of our #wcw series, please drop their name in the comments section.

Please remember, this initiative was taken to inspire more ladies to take on tech careers. Please join us in this pursuit and celebrate these ladies by sharing this story with your followers.

Doreen is on the Marketing team @ Kanzu Code, a Ugandan company providing world-class digital solutions to enterprises and individuals