How 10,000 Women in Tech Are Being Trained in Kenya by Linda Kamau, Managing Director and Co-Founder of AkiraChix, Over the Next Decade.
Linda Kamau, Managing Director and Co-Founder of AkiraChix, is no stranger to striking new paths because she is an inherently inquisitive and self-assured individual.
In her all-girls school, there were four possible career options, and computer science was typically the least popular. To the astonishment of her peers, Linda enthusiastically chose computer science because she liked computers. She also had an innate desire to improve things, a skill that her elder brother cultivated by spending time with her around the house fixing everything from radios to the roof.
Many African universities find it extremely difficult to switch undergraduate majors after being placed in a program. Linda received placement into the business information technology path, not the computer science program she originally applied for, but still relevant to her goals. She worked at a technology startup to expand her technical skills. There, she learned coding and open source software, allowing her to land a role as a software developer at Ushahidi.
At Ushahidi, Linda asked to lead an upgrade to a vital tool for crisis crowdsourcing. She was unsure of herself, but her boss assured her she was more than qualified. Thanks to Linda’s leadership, that tool is now translated into almost every language, changing how information flows during a humanitarian crisis.
“The people around me knew my skills and that I was more qualified than I thought. They knew I needed a push. Since then, I’ve been more assertive in my career.”
While attending an “iHub” (“Innovation Hub”) meeting in Kenya, Linda noticed there were less than ten women present out of more than 300 attendees. Afterwards, Linda decided to arrange a meetup for women in tech, creating a safe space for them to show up and support each other.
Still, she struggled to get more than ten women to attend despite the myriad of technical jobs available in Kenya’s now-booming tech industry. To fill this gap, Linda and her coworkers hatched the idea that would become what is now known as AkiraChix.
The plan needed some structure, but the idea was to teach as many women as possible to code. The core focus of AkiraChix is to build tech talent by investing in training for young women who may not otherwise have access to higher education. With the goal to train 10,000 women in the next ten years, not only will this ensure there are more women in the tech job market, but these women have the necessary skills to succeed and stand out in the workplace.
“We recognize the things that hinder students from succeeding…financial barriers, gender roles and not feeling believed in, a lack of encouragement to move into technology…and we want to break down as many of those barriers as possible.”
One of the flagship programs under AkiraChix is a residential program named codeHive. Students from more than 25 regions of Kenya and various parts of East Africa come to AkiraChix to complete a coding program.
Often, these students don’t just lack the same educational resources as higher-income areas, but they may also lack access to the transportation infrastructure required to physically reach any available resources. The residential program mitigates most of these challenges, allowing students to focus on cultivating their technical talent.
Linda’s current focus is working with companies to create a hiring pipeline for the top talent in the AkiraChix community. Tech companies now often come to Linda asking for more diverse talent, of which Linda knows plenty. In November of 2019, AkiraChix graduated 47 women, 33 of whom are now employed. (That is a 70% success rate for those doing the math, higher than most colleges!) Her students are not only joining the tech industry but gaining empowerment along the way.
“Happiness stems from my students doing well in life. You can see it transfer back to their homes, siblings and parents…we’re not just getting more women into tech, we’re empowering more women to have rights and take over the world!”
This story was originally written by Laurel Kremer, Wogrammer Journalism Fellow and published on Wogrammer.