African Woman Tech Entrepreneur Develops Software & Women
Called the “unofficial headquarters of Kenya’s tech movement,” iHub began in Nairobi as a business incubator and coworking space in 2010. Angela Oduor joined them as intern. Today, she is increasing the ratio of African women in tech.
The women Angela met at iHub became fellow co-founders of AkiraChix, an organization that helps develop African women in technology. Akira is a Japanese word that means energy and intelligence, which is what they are bringing to the table in an effort to change Africa’s future. Through mentorship, networking and training they work to increase the 15% of women working in tech in Kenya.
And AkiraChix is only what Angela does on the side. She currently works at Ushahidi – a nonprofit tech company that develops open source software – as a software developer. Ushahidi and means “testimony” in Swahili, and its specialty is building tools related to information collection, aggregation and visualisation. Among other things, they are currently kickstarting BRCK, “Your backup generator for the internet.”
We were grateful to interview her about her path to success and vision for the future.
1. Tell me more about what do you now, as a developer for Ushahidi and its vision for Africa.
AO: I started off as a software development intern, before joining the team as a developer in 2011. During that time, my work would involve building in new features, working on documentation and squashing bugs. Beyond that, I have been handling tech support for our cloud-based service crowdmap, helping our users understand how to use the software, and serving as a link between them and our developers. In April of 2013, I became the Community Developer Liaison and work to build and grow the Ushahidi technical community, as well as mentoring members of our open-source developer ecosystem.
2. How did you get to where you are today in your career?
AO: My parents are both engineers, so diving into tech is a case of the apple not falling far from the tree. My dad introduced me to computers at a young age, and was intrigued. After completing high school, I joined Strathmore University in Nairobi, taking up their diploma course in Business Information Technology; I graduated with first class honors with my bachelor’s degree in Business Information Technology. It was during my 3rd year that I was introduced to the iHub by Jessica Colaco, current iHub research lead, who was the iHub manager then. I ended up interning at the iHub between April and June of 2010. It’s during this time that I got to meet my AkiraChix co-founders, and got involved in the Ushahidi community as a volunteer.
3. What do you think has made you so successful?
AO: Of course, God’s grace. Beyond that, I work with amazing people at Ushahidi and AkiraChix, who I’m constantly learning from, and create opportunities for me to explore my talents and skill. I also have an amazing support system in my family and close friends.
4. What are your future dreams and aspirations? How does working in the tech field play into that?
AO: I’m striving towards gaining enough technical skill to be classified as a good software engineer, and eventually becoming a leading woman in the tech industry in Kenya. Working with Ushahidi is leading me in that direction, as I get to learn a whole lot from my colleagues, and they are constantly creating opportunities for me to explore my talents and skills. Beyond just gaining these skills, through the work we do with AkiraChix, I’d like to help and encourage girls out there to take up a career in tech, and hopefully pass on that courageous spirit for generations to come.
“I’d like to help and encourage girls to take up a career in tech, and hopefully pass on that courageous spirit for generations to come.”
5. Why did you co-found AkiraChix?
AO: During the launch of the iHub in 2010, we realized that there were very few women in the room. Our general aim when founding AkiraChix was to create an avenue to encourage and mentor young women to take up careers in tech, and to be confident in the fact that they actually can. We are trying to create a successful force of women in technology through mentorship, training and networking. We mentor high school girls as well as university students, and introduce them to career opportunities in tech. We train young women from poor socio-economic backgrounds, taking them a free one-year intensive course, hoping that at the end of the course they can use some of the skills gained to improve their economic situation. We also hold networking events, to help women in the tech industry get to know each other and collaborate.
“We are trying to create a successful force of women in technology through mentorship, training and networking. We mentor high school girls as well as university students, and introduce them to career opportunities in tech.”
6. What are some obstacles you faced, and how did you find the pathways around them to overcome or succeed?
AO: When we started the AkiraChix training program in 2010, we had absolutely no funds to run it. It was entirely from our own pockets. We had no laptops, no space to run class from, and juggling our day jobs and training these girls ourselves. At first, classes were running off of a mobile class (a bus fitted with machines), before our friends at the Social Development Network (SODNET) donated an office space for us to work out of. The first year we ran this training program taught us that we require a little structure, and help. For this reason, we applied for funding from various sources, including Google RISE and SIDA, to help offset costs of new computers and space, as well as sourcing for dedicated trainers who are experts in their respective fields, to help give these girls the best quality of education possible.