I am all about technology and people

Josephine Ndambuki who is a senior engineer at Safaricom. PHOTO | NATION

What you need to know:

  • The Graduate Engineer opportunity allowed me to work across the company, understanding its functions and solving problems for different departments.
  • After one year, I was given an opportunity to work in the most challenging team, providing resilient, high-speed connectivity for the core network of Safaricom.

Q: How did you get interested in engineering?

A: My passion in technology was a combination of curiosity and mentorship. I was first exposed to technology in Form 1 and was amazed at the power of a computer. I soon found myself glued and eager to learn more and more.

My dad also played a key role because he always told me computers would transform the world, and encouraged me to learn how to use a computer.

Did you always love the sciences in school?

I enjoyed learning mathematics and science from primary school. I easily related to and enjoyed them more as they were practical.

How did you get a job at Safaricom?

After my first term in high school, I got myself hooked to the computer. I decided not to drop it as a subject until Form Four. 

After high school, I got a job as a production clerk at an EPZ company. I was doing manual data records but made friends with an office secretary who allowed me to use her computer to check e-mails.

Over time, the production manager noticed that I was good with the computer. He tested my skills and I did well. I was transferred to the production manager’s office to assist in production forecasting using excel and database applications.

I began attending senior management meetings to help explain the graphs and numbers I had prepared.

That was big for me at just 18 years and it cemented my persuasion that computing was the next big thing. I loved the job and only left to pursue a degree in computer science.

After college, I felt it was time to go for what I always wanted; the coveted chance to work as a graduate management engineer with the leading telecommunications company.

It was a tough interview with more than 1,000 applicants. In the end, there were six finalists, with only two ladies.

The Graduate Engineer opportunity allowed me to work across the company, understanding its functions and solving problems for different departments.

After one year, I was given an opportunity to work in the most challenging team, providing resilient, high-speed connectivity for the core network of Safaricom.

What does your job entail?

My current role involves ensuring that the Core Network Transport (the backbone of Safaricom’s business) is up 24/7/365 (throughout).

I work with fibre optic technologies, IP networks and microwave links. A lot of my time is spent in making sure everything runs smoothly for our clients.

What projects have you done that you are proud of?

Being part of the team that delivered the first submarine cable to Kenya, TEAMS.

As a commissioning engineer and network administrator, I was responsible for ensuring the project was completed within the set time lines. Being the gateway to the world, I am proud to have been a part of such an important project.

Why do you think there is such a small percentage of women in engineering?

While the number of girls in technology is slowly increasing, girls are still not pursing careers in science and technology. This is because there is still lack of information and career guidance. Girls drop science subjects in high school because they are “hard”, thereby locking themselves out of the tech careers. For example, in university, we were 10 girls in a class of 120.

There’s a huge gender gap in this field. Did find get any female mentors?

My biggest role model who turned to be my mentor is Gladys Muhunyo. I first read about her profile on a Saturday newspaper, when she was the Head of Africa programmes at Computer Aid International.

She is now Director of Strategy and Business Development at Tangazoletu Ltd. I wanted to be like her, and contacted her using the journalist’s e-mail. She has since become my mentor and continues to inspire me even today. 

On a global scale, I admire Sheryl Sandburg  her influence in helping grow the tech giant that is Facebook, it was such an honour to meet her in person last year.

Which woman do you look up to?

My mum, a strong resilient woman with a heart of gold. She constantly makes me think of success from a different angle. 

What are you most passionate about?

Two things — technology and people. My life revolves around impacting people’s ives through technology and social work.

What would you advise girls aspiring a career in engineering?

They need to get out and go for what they really want. I have worked in men-only teams throughout my career and many of them are very supportive.

You just need to feel equal, act equal and collaborate with them. Seek help where you need.

Men also need women’s input in the work place as most often women bring in another angle to the way of doing things.

What are you most passionate about?

I have a passion for two things – technology and people. My life really revolves around impacting change to people’s lives through technology and social work.

How important is marriage and parenthood to you?

I very much value family and parenthood. I grew up in a very closely-knit family where we used to take dinner together every night.

I love my siblings and get in touch almost on a daily basis. This has had a great influence on my perception of family.

Are you married?

Yes! I am blessed with a beautiful family.  I am married to Mr Francis Mwangi, a man with a big heart, and together we have one daughter called Mercy. She is eight.

What car do you drive and would you change your tyre if you got a puncture?

While not in the double cabin pick-ups that I use to execute my work, I drive an Audi A3. Yes! I would change a tyre any time. Have actually done it many times before.

Which is your dream car?

The engineer in me loves big cars; I took up lorry driving for my driving lessons. My dream car is a Range Rover Evoque.

You participated in the highly competitive TechWomen programme in the US. What was the feeling like? What was the programme all about?

 I was honoured to be a part of the first Kenyan TecWomen delegation to the US, late last year.

The mission of TechWomen is to empower, connect, and support the next generation of women leaders in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) through providing them access and opportunity to advance their careers, pursue their dreams, and become role models for women and girls in their communities.

The programme brings emerging women leaders in STEM from Africa and the Middle East, together with professionals in the US for a mentorship and exchange programme with the goal of empowering them to reach their full potential.

Being a part of TecWomen provided me an opportunity to work with one of the top tech companies in the silicon valley as well as learn from the many networking opportunities that were presented by all other big tech companies (Google, Facebook, Linkedin, Oracle, Netscape, Twitter, Wallmart etc). These lessons have been very useful in my work. I also connected with many tech women across the 16 countries participating. With this experience, I formed Women in Technology Network together with some colleagues at Safaricom to mentor high school students in technology.

If you were comfortably rich would you work hard for more or rest on your laurels?

If I was comfortably rich, I would still work and increase my giving to charity. Work keeps one healthy, intellectually stimulated, engaged and young. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

Describe your favourite holiday destination?

I love holidaying at sea/ocean fronts because the expansiveness of the ocean/sea reminds me of the power of God and limitless opportunities around us. The sea front provides the perfect refreshment and relaxation destination for me.

Do you cook for your family

Yes, I do, but not always. I have a good nanny who helps at home. However, I always love treating my family to a good meal once in a while.

A dish of chapatis served with stew, some veggies and fruits ranks high at home.

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