Today is the International Day of Women in Science. To celebrate the day, we talked to Carol Kariuki, a Software Developer Community Lead for Facebook Developer Circles Program in Kenya, on her accomplishments and how to deal with obstacles that are keeping girls and women from pursuing a career in mainstream tech. She also speaks on how to enhance gender equality. ‘We Need More Women In Tech’ is fair enough a theme for this course.
Throughout history, women have had to struggle against big setbacks for participation in IT field. Fortunately, some women have beaten the odds and become role models in these exciting fields. Carol Kariuki lives as a testimony that IT is not a men’s career – women too thrive in IT.
Inspired to enroll into a coding school due to curiosity that as she says, got the best of her, Kariuki is a Software Developer Community Lead for Facebook Developer Circles Program in Kenya. Growing up she was very curious and would often find herself trying to figure out things. She owned tech toys and had seen computers in movies what made her want to know even more about the computer world.
“When my parents first decided to enroll me to boarding school, they started weighing options but when they hinted at a school that offered computer studies, I undoubtedly chose it even though the school fee was a little high,” says Kariuki, a developer for Facebook in Kenya. Adding; “When I enrolled into boarding school, I was in class 5. So that’s when I started taking computer studies, so when I got into high school, I knew exactly what I wanted to choose as a subject.”
As a developer, she likes new adventures so she takes a lot of risks, being curious and wanting to see things. After she completed her programming classes, it was time to do a project. She wanted to create an app that would make the Matatu industry digital through making payments via the app but it proved harder than she had figured. She would then try a salon app, that turned out to be her first successfully developed app.
The salon app featured different hairstyles for ladies and how to make them. It also shows how to take care of hair; hair techniques and the business side to it. It helps salon users by listing salon businesses that are nearby. It went live on the Nokia store, got a lot of downloads, and I used to reap money out of the ads that ran in the app but the joy would live shortly as it got duplicated, killing the innovation.
“The Nokia platform got duplicated and the technology died out, so I moved to android and created other apps,” says Kariuki. “But that didn’t kill my passion for developing even more apps, it is something that I can always pick up, because I see good potential in that market.”
Kariuki is sad about the numbers of women in tech, she calls it bad. At facebook and in her department, Kariuki compares the percentage of women to men as being 25% to 75%.
She says; “That’s a very huge gap, we are trying to start conversations that can encourage women to join the tech community and not only just join, but be active in the community. Because we do have women, but they are mostly silent.”
To bridge the gender gap, Kariuki started a coding initiative to deliberately onboard women women into tech. Facebook holds women in tech sessions in which planned coding exercises bring women together to code and speak by recording short clips of women coders already in the FB community and using it to encourage others. It helps increase the percentage of women IT practitioners at FB.
The purpose of the event revolves around sub group of women in the Facebook developer circles. One such event is the recently launched ID8, a one of a kind event that Facebook introduced to inspired by the F8 conference that happens in Silicon Valley. Facebook introduced ID8 to spread the F8 experience to different cities. In Nairobi, when it happened last year we saw a lot of engineers who work at Facebook came to the local scene to interact with developers. More to that, Facebook developer program has also invested a lot into teaching the developers new skills.
“IT careers offer unlimited potential that should not lock out women. The world is changing, and these fields are becoming important by the day. Technological skills and the ability to think logically and critically will be key for participation in the workforce of the future, and we need to bring more women into the exciting space.” Carol Kariuki
FB brings developers to deliver this hardcore technologies through training courses that developer circles introduced where they are different tracks, such as web development, data science and web planning.
She singles out stereotypes as being the greatest challenge for women in tech or those trying to get into tech. Hate and envy from fellow women then follow. Instead of women supporting each other, some want to selfishly gain by other potential beneficiaries.
“I have experienced the same where if I introduce myself as a software engineer, they are shocked and think I am in a field like marketing. I believe both genders are able to achieve whatever they put their minds to.”
“I am always faced with the question, how can a woman be a software developer?”, she narrates her annoying ordeal.”At one of our panel discussions last year, we discussed how to get a seat on the table, and that was one of the reasons that were holding some women behind, to have more women seats.”
Facebook brings facebook engineers from their different offices to teach locals on the technologies they use. Engineers have invented new technologies so there was an AI masterclasses in 2017 for speech recognition, natural language processing and computer vision.
“It was amazing to see local developers present on some of their projects that they have been working on. I remember one girl who presented on an artificial intelligent project that detects whether a driver is asleep,” she adds.
In 2018 FB had masterclasses for augmented reality, creating filters and AR among others. The ongoing activity allows for developers to submit apps for review, from which platforms like instagram, messenger etc. get to have local developers who created solutions teaching the community on how they did it. It is very impactful.
“I remember when Huddah launched her products array on AR, so when you go to her cosmetics store, you can sample the lipsticks before you buy them. Those products are developed by local developers,” added Kariuki.
In her parting shot, Kariuki tells this to her fellow women; “The tech space was not made for men, it is for everyone. In the olden days, women were the ones who spearheaded programming, be confident and don’t let the stereotypes pull you back and take risks.”
Happy International Day for women in Science.
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