Part of this piece originally appeared on the UpNairobi. And since it is the day when we are celebrating World Telecommunication & Information Society Day with the 2012 theme being “Women and Girls in ICT” , i think it is appropriate to hear from one of the leading women in tech in Kenya
Here is my full chat with Ms. Kaburo Kobia of Kenya ICT Board
Kachwanya: For those who don’t know you, like me, tell us what you do?
Kobia: I work for the Kenya ICT Board, a government agency under the Ministry of Information and Communications tasked to promote ICT in Kenya. I am the Project Manage for Local Digital Content.
Kachwanya: How did you get there?
Kobia: I was always fascinated about computers, but my original love was for art and design. I studied Fine Arts at university and was fortunate to be exposed to computer generated art. In the late 1990s I started designing websites and that lead to a career in digital media and communications.
Kachwanya: Your thoughts on Kenyan women in tech?
Kobia: Women are underrepresented in the tech industry in Kenya. In our programs at the Kenya ICT Board, we find that only about 15% of our participants are women. If, as a country, we are to reach the goals outlined in vision 2030, then we must get more women to work in the ICT industry.
Interventions to address the low numbers of women choosing a career in ICT must come from all angles. I’d like to share two perspectives.
1. Target girls and young women: we need more programs designed to demystify technology and expose girls and young women to the exciting side of technology.
The University of Nairobi’s FabLab Outreach program already does this. They use these colorful blocks and tools from Picoblock and GogoBoard Kits to teach kids the basics of science, engineering and robotics. Programs like this and other home-grown programs must get the support they need to reach schools across the country.
2. Target media to raise the profile of women in tech. Having strong and visible role models can go a long way in growing the industry. Role models allow women, especially young women, to see their aspirations reflected in public spaces.
The Kenyan women in tech are awesome. We’ve got software developers and entrepreneurs, engineers and inventors, bloggers and designers… you’ll find women across the ICT spectrum working hard and achieving great things. Their role and their voices need to be amplified.
How I’d like to see this happen is by having an open database or public list of women in tech that the media and event organizers can consult. If there’s a need for a tech perspective in a news story or a conference on tech, Kenya’s tech women must be easy to find to fulfill the needed role. Such a list will help eliminate the excuse “We could not find any woman to interview or speak”.
Kachwanya. What are some of the mistakes you have made in the course of your work or life?
Kobia : I made a big mistake early on in my career. I was still in university and the desire to create websites got the better of me. I had just completed designing a five page brochure for the Theater and Dance Department at my university. The brochure looked great. I used this success and my design portfolio to land a web design job with the Sociology Department. The head of the department was looking to expand their online presence by creating a mini website off the main school’s website.
I knew how to create beautiful designs, but I had no clue how to publish them online. I asked a friend who was studying computer science to teach me about ‘servers’, but by the end of the semester and the end of my contract, I still had no clue.
Meanwhile I focused on repackaging the sociology department content for web, built a very functional and easy to understand content flow and site map. This did help me understand the importance of information architecture and in later years, i focused my career on information design. But, by the end of the semester, the department did not have a website.
The head of the department was very disappointed and had to hire another student to complete my work. I felt awful. I had overestimated my ability to learn a new skill that was crucial for the job I had undertaken. My ‘fake it ’till you make it’ attitude failed. I learnt that an honest approach is crucial. Ask for help, be honest about your ability. I still challenge myself by taking on projects that will stretch my ability, but I’m more forth-rite in asking for help. Besides, search engines have vastly improved since the mid 90s… making it a lot easier to learn new skills on the job.