Changing the world one technology at a time 

Caroline Mukiira, the first-ever female general manager at International Business Machines Corporation East Africa.

Caroline Mukiira, the first-ever female general manager at International Business Machines Corporation East Africa.

Photo credit: Pool

When Lifestyle caught up with Caroline Mukiira, these were her opening remarks “I believe that in this new era of cloud, quantum computing, data and AI (Artificial Intelligence),  nearly every enterprise will become a technology company.

What does your current role entail?

I work with clients in mobile, cloud, Artificial Intelligence, blockchain, cognitive, automation, analytics, the Internet of things and large-scale enterprise transformational programmes.

My current role is to oversee sales, marketing, services and global delivery operations at International Business Machines.

It's an exciting position and I am fortunate to work with the public sector, the private sector, and non-profit organisations to help transform corporations into cognitive enterprises.

My passion for technology has grown stronger over the years and I believe that it has the power to change the world for the better. If you learn how to take your rightful seat at the technology table, then you will succeed. 

I help organisations leverage these new technologies to reinvent themselves, develop new business models and digitally transform their operations to achieve growth.

It's a fascinating time to be in the technology industry and I'm thrilled to be part of it. Working with a wide range of clients across different sectors has given me the opportunity to witness first-hand the impact that technology can have on businesses and communities. It's incredibly rewarding to see the positive changes that can come about when technology is used in the right way. 

But challenges abound. For instance, pitching a business idea, making an AI design suggestion or making a case for a promotion.

What ignited your passion to join the AI space?

I still remember the day I started my career in the 90s during the Internet Boom. I was just 18 years old, fresh from high school and eager to start working. I joined Nairobi Net Online and started pursuing a part-time diploma in management information systems at the Kenya School of Professional Studies.

Working at Nairobi Net was a turning point in my life. It was there that I discovered my passion for technology and understood the crucial role it played in improving society's social and economic conditions. I saw how technology could help businesses grow and succeed by enabling their strategies, gaining market share, cutting costs, developing new revenue streams and increasing profitability.

As a young person, I was amazed at how much technology had transformed the world around me. It was clear to me that technology was the future, and I was determined to be part of it. I worked hard to learn everything I could about the latest technological advances and how they could be applied to different industries.

What challenges have you faced in the male-dominated field and how did you overcome them?

I have always worked in fairly male-dominated environments and I don’t have many female role models.

The few women who were senior to me seemed to lead in a way that wasn’t authentic and they adopted behaviours that they felt were needed to succeed in a man’s world. I didn’t want to approach leadership with that mindset, so I have always strived to be true to myself.

As a leader, I have been intentional about creating teams and environments where psychological safety is present — I see that as something that all leaders should promote. 

Women in tech—how is that for you?

Technology is a great, challenging career with lots of opportunities. While the industry has been male-dominated, it is changing. As a woman in a male-dominated industry, I have always stood out. This has both pluses and minuses, but if you understand that you must not take no for an answer and take your rightful seat at the technology table, then you will succeed.

Advice to young women who are just starting out in tech or considering a career in the field

Don't be afraid to take risks and try new things. The tech industry is constantly evolving and there are always new opportunities. Don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and take on new challenges.

Also, seek mentorship and networking opportunities. Having mentors who can offer guidance and advice is invaluable, and networking with other professionals in the industry can help you build connections and learn about new opportunities.

 You were appointed to head IBM EA at a time when the world was grappling with COVID-19 and the company was going through a major transformation as it acquired Red Hat. How was that?

At the end of that year, we achieved revenue growth for our entity, and we continued to gain market share within East Africa. I believe that today, more than ever, we need innovation to meet the demands of many of the significant challenges of our time — from models to create sustainable growth to addressing future pandemics and climate change to enabling energy and food security. To address them, we need faster discovery, open collaboration, efficient problem-solving and the ability to push science and business into new frontiers.

Your plan for 2023?

I aim to onboard many universities, Tvet TVET colleges, and senior and junior primary schools onto this our free digital skilling platform, SkillsBuild. Our objective is to enable learners to access free IT skills and bridge the gap to in-demand opportunities in the digital economy, all this through providing the latest learning content and globally industry-recognised digital credentials.