The TechWomen program brings emerging women STEM leaders from around the world to the Bay Area for five weeks of mentoring and career development. Sponsored by the US State Department and run by the Institute of International Education, over the past six years it has brought more than 400 women here.
I spoke to two of the women that are taking part in the program, both are 32 and from different parts of Africa. Martine Mumararungu runs the core traffic engineering for a Rwanda ISP and has a BS in CS. She was one of seven women in her classes. “Most girls in Rwanda think STEM is just for men,” she told me. Luckily, she had an older brother and sister who were interested in science, and that sparked her own interest. She started out in programming, taking classes in C++ and Java, and got more interested in networking technology. She eventually earned her CCNA and CCNP certifications and has found them very much in demand in Rwanda and very valuable for her job at the ISP. She is using the program to learn more about IT security and how she can beef up her ISP’s profile in that area.
Umu Kamara hails from Sierra Leone where she is the assistant IT manager for a private shipping company. She got her BS in Physics and also got several Microsoft certifications. She switched to IT because she was always interested in systems and databases. She started out wanting to become a medical doctor but wasn’t accepted into the program because of low English grades. Now she is glad she didn’t go that route and likes being in IT. Her father (who died when she was four) was a mechanical engineer, and that motivated her to get interested in science at an early age. She is using the program to learn more about cloud technologies and data center security. She may try to switch her EDR products to more cloud-based ones. When I asked her about the relative bandwidth that she has in the States versus at home, she just laughed, agreeing with me that yes, here it is “a bit faster.” She also agreed that the Internet is here to stay no matter where you live, and even if you have just a marketing company you still need an online presence. “You can’t do without it.”
She experienced a data breach at her company; unfortunately, it was just after her boss left town for a seminar so she had to handle the situation. It was caused by an infected cell phone that was connected to the corporate network, and used malware-infused PDF and Word documents. She had to work long days to reinstall her servers and updates. “It was a good experience but I wouldn’t want to do it again.” The company was offline for several days and the revenue impact was huge, since ships couldn’t unload without the appropriate systems operating.