From Nyandarua to the world: How Waithanji is conquering tech scene

Diana Waithanji

Diana Waithanji is a cyber security specialist and recipient of the top 35 under 35 youths in Kenya.

Photo credit: Pool

Diana Waithanji works as a cyber security engineer at software company SAP, based at its global headquarters in Germany. She also volunteers as the deputy chairperson in the Kenyan chapter of the ASIS Women in Security Network. She also sits in two technical committees at the Kenya Bureau of Standards – the IT security committees and the software and systems engineering committee. The 27-year-old who believes that privacy is a human right and that gender equality is achievable spoke with Wanja Mbuthia on her career journey

“I grew up in Nyakariang’a, Nyandarua County, with a loving family that I value dearly. Family forever comes first. Growing up, I loved mathematics and never really understood why it was regarded as a boy’s subject because I was a girl who excelled in it. Of course I understand the patriarchal notion that women don’t excel in the subject. To be part of the change, I run a mentorship initiative to encourage young girls to take tech and engineering courses, and most importantly to believe in themselves and go for what they want.

Since my career took off, I have worked in various companies in their IT support and security departments. I have also implemented projects on non-profits in gender equality (SDG 5) and climate change (SDG 13). I still remember my first day at work. I was excited to join a new world of work after studying. Also moving to a new country and starting to live there in 2021 was such a massive move for me.

The key driver in my journey thus far has been: ‘Eyes on the ball.’ I love football and one thing I have learnt from it is that you only win once you score. There can be bad days where you will even lose a final. But you have to stand up, dust your feet and prepare for the next season. Consequently, I like learning new things. This would be from the internet, professionals in my field or outside, older, younger or peers. On principles, I believe in integrity and commitment.

There are a couple of accomplishments that I am really proud of in life: First, joining Afrika Kommt tops my list of accomplishments as well as key decisions that I have made in my career journey. Afrika Kommt is an initiative of the German industry for future leaders from Africa. The programme is held in Germany for one year and targets various professionals with over two years of experience. I applied for it while I was 23 years old and was selected among the 40 participants out of 9,100 applicants in Africa in my first attempt. I successfully finished the programme and was offered a role in the same department I worked in during the fellowship.

Another accomplishment that I am so proud of is that when I was aged 22, I was competitively selected and participated in the Ms President reality show by Media Focus on Africa which aired on KTN. This show focused on women leadership and wanted to encourage the Kenyan population to appreciate and believe in women leaders.

I have also won awards and recognitions that I am proud of as follows: Top 50 SAP Heroes 2022, Top 50 Cybersecurity Influencers 2022, Cyber Leadership Program Skills Embodiment 2020, CyberSecurity Woman Barrier Breaker of the Year 2020, Top 35 Under 35 in Kenya 2020 and Top 50 Women in CyberSecurity Africa 2020 among others.

Also important is that I have gotten global exposure and travelled to various countries in Europe. I am now 27 and looking back this is one of the best career decisions I ever made. I advise anyone looking to get into something: just go for it. The worst you can get is a no.

My advice to the youth is: work on your passion. Most of us identify our passion and proceed to work on it. In the book Coloring outside the Lines, the author states that people are more likely to engage you if you look like you enjoy what you do.

Another thing is to encourage them to learn from failure. When I was selected to represent Nyandarua County on the Ms President Show in the beginning of 2019, I hoped to emerge the winner but I didn’t. When I was eliminated, I felt that I had failed my family and my county. But I made a resolve to grow my career and brand myself better by speaking in international conferences. By the end of 2019, I had my first work-related travels to Germany, Ethiopia and Tanzania during which I branded myself as a cyber-security professional.