These are the star qualities that landed us our jobs

From left: Mike Wainaina, 22, a TV Director with NTV, Gati Wambura, 27, Project Coordinator, Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) and Timothy Otieno, 25 a reporter with KTN News. PHOTOS| ONDARI OGEGA, COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • To stand out at your place of work, you have to display winsome attributes, characteristics that embody ability and reliability

The workplace in Kenya, and indeed all over the world, is getting younger and younger, as it is, millennials constitute a significant fraction of the workforce in most organisations. Some industries such as broadcast media and tech firms have been quick to tap into this young talent, energy and elasticity, and even entrusted them with central roles. International auditing firm PwC, had aimed for an 80 per cent composition of youth in its personnel globally by 2016. Though conservative companies have been slower to engage the youth in focal roles, generally, the tide of a more youthful workforce is fast rising. 

This week, we engage a young TV director, a TV reporter and a scientist, who reveal the qualities that propeled them to their current roles, the contributions they have made in their organisations, the challenges they face and how this mix has moulded them into the professionals they are. 


Mike Wainaina, 22 TV Director, NTV

At 22, Mike is one of the country’s youngest TV directors in a mainstream TV station. He is charged with directing primetime bulletins and leading productions.

“My directing role involves managing various personnel, such as studio technical operators (STOs) who include camera persons, sound operators, autocue personnel and graphic designers and anchors in the studio,” explains Mike.

A TV control room, he says, is constantly humming with activity, all which must be well-coordinated to ensure an exceptional viewership experience for the audience.

“I direct the personnel on what to do when, where to go and when to take breaks. I also manage time on their behalf, such that all behind-the-scenes events happen harmoniously for a seamless show or bulletin on air,” he explains. 

As the pulse of all these studio activities, the director will be, at any one time, speaking with more than eight different people on talkback (a two-way communication system through loudspeaker or headphones) and telephone.

News time, he says, is a pulsating moment in a TV studio like NTV’s. While it is easy to admire his agility and precision at work, Mike emphasises that vigilance and mental acuity are vital on this job.

“A slight lapse in concentration  as the director can potentially compromise whatever is on air. The presenter relies entirely on guidance from the director, for instance, on when to move from one story to the next, which camera to face, and even when conducting studio interviews,” Mike expounds.

 “It’s both a challenging and exciting job. It is fulfilling to know that millions of viewers in their homes enjoy smoothness of TV content as a result of the effort we put in behind the scenes. This role has made me believe in my ability to do even bigger things,” he says, adding that the enormous role has inculcated in him a sense of responsibility.

He studied mass communication at the Nairobi Institute of Business Studies (NIBS), where he graduated in 2015.

How did he land such a plum role so early in his career?

“Persistence and initiative have been key in my journey. I started out as a studio technical operator (STO) intern in 2015 at NTV. I was then 19 years. Inside though, I nursed a strong desire to do directing. One day, the director was taken ill and one of us had to stand in for him. While all other STOs were hesitant, I took up the challenge, confident that the skills I had gathered watching the director work would enable me do a good job,” he recounts. 

“I started with directing daytime bulletins and smaller shows, and gradually learnt how to control the nervousness that tends to heighten during news time, for instance, and how to act swiftly in case of a technical hitch in the gallery. My bosses were impressed with my work, and with time, they allowed me to manage main bulletins from time to time,” he says. 

Such was the genesis of his now fulltime career in TV directing. Today, Mike is fully in charge of the TV control-room, directing more than nine top shows, such as The Trend, Victoria’s Lounge, Press Pass, and AM Live, in addition to tens of news bulletins every week.

On his contributions to the gallery, he says:

 “I watch many international entertainment TV shows such as VMA, BET and Grammy awards to draw inspirations from them, and then discuss with my bosses ways of incorporating exciting segments to inject flair into our productions. I also suggest what equipment to invest in to boost the quality of our productions. As a result of such engagements, our productions have significantly improved over the last few years.”


Gati Wambura, 27 Project Coordinator, Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI)

Gati works at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) in Kisumu under the Integrated Human and Animal Health Programme (IHAHP) since 2016.

“I am the project coordinator for Rabies surveillance, a programme that is currently being implemented in Siaya and Makueni counties. The programme is a partnership between Siaya and Makueni county governments, Zoonotic Disease Unit, Washington State University and the World Health Organization,” says Gati.

Gati graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from DePauw University in Indiana, US, and later a Master’s of science in public health from the same institution.

“I’m charged with supervising field research activities, providing technical support pertaining to rabies surveillance and coordinating special projects such as mass dog vaccination and marking the World Rabies Day,” she says. 

Her start though was not easy.

“I had to leave my family in Nairobi to work at a station in Kisumu, which was my first experience away from my family. It was also quite intimidating because most of the professionals I worked with at KEMRI are older and more established in the academia. It was easy to feel overwhelmed,” she says.

Gati was therefore lucky and thankful to have a supportive mentor who helped her to settle down quickly.

“Prof Thumbi Mwangi, a senior researcher at KEMRI and my supervisor, challenged me to embrace positive thinking, which helped me to overcome the self-doubt that I had at first. It took me about four months to fully acquaint myself with my new position,” she says.

For two years now, Gati has significantly impacted the organisation, enhancing productivity and efficiency.

“I have influenced the adoption of technology since I started working here. Beside my roles as a scientist, I coordinate our surveillance social media groups for both Makueni and Siaya counties in a campaign we have dubbed #RabiesFreeKenya. Employing technology has led to higher impact in less time. For instance, we were able to raise money through use of our social media platforms within two days last week in support of a family in Siaya whose young son died of Rabies after a dog bite while returning home from school,” Gati says.

Occasionally, she lends her creative acumen in the design of communication material such as posters for use in the campaign against rabies, “which lay people can easily relate with”.

“I don’t have my own family, which makes me more flexible to offer my time to the project at hand. Sometimes I work even on weekends to ensure that project targets are accomplished on time,” she adds.

Gati says that IHAHP is based on the idea of “One Health” which embraces the idea that human health is connected to animal health and the environment.

“This allows young scientists like me to work with people from different professional backgrounds such as veterinarians, medical officers, epidemiologists, social scientists and environmentalists. This has helped to expand my knowledge spectrum beyond what I studied in school while widening my professional network,” she says.

“As a professional, and especially a young professional, you are not confined only to your roles at work. With the understanding that an open mind and flexibility are important ingredients in career growth, I have been trying out new roles such as writing research publications,” she says and adds, 

 “Consultations and teamwork are inevitable in the world of academia. I have, therefore, learnt to work with other people in projects. It takes courage and humility to ask for assistance even when something appears so easy.”

Gati disagrees with the notion that millennials are slackers and inherently detached from their work.

She says,

“This a misunderstanding of the youth which stems, in my opinion, from failure or refusal to embrace newer ways of doing things. Millennials need the right channels and support to realise their full potential at work.” 

Gati takes pleasure in the leaps she has made so far in her career.

“Fighting the spread of rabies impacts directly on communities. Knowing that I’m shaping the narrative of public health in Kenya as a young professional is my every day source of inspiration.”


Timothy Otieno, 25 Reporter, KTN News

Timothy reports on current affairs and human-interest features on KTN News. He is a journalism graduate from Moi University.

“I started out in 2015 as an intern. While interning, I did several feature stories that generated a lot of reaction from our audience and admiration from my editors and even colleagues. When my fellow interns left the media house at the end of our internship, the editors asked me to stay on so that they could nurture me,” he narrates.

Timothy’s engagement with KTN continued even after he went back to university to complete his studies. A few months after graduating, the station hired him. He describes his experience of working in a TV newsroom as a mixed bag: exciting, challenging and a learning curve.

He explains,

“Earning the trust of editors is the biggest headache for any journalist. Editors assign you stories only if they believe in your ability to deliver quality work.”

“In a newsroom with nearly 100 journalists, all who are competing for the thin space on air every day, you have to constantly sharpen your craft to tell your stories in a more creative, incisive and appealing fashion to survive,” he adds.

Technology, Timothy says, has disrupted the playing field for the 21st century journalist.

“By the time the viewer sits down in the evening to watch the news, he has already watched or read the top stories of the day on social media. So, then, how do you make your stories worth watching? That has to be the bee in the bonnet of a newsperson who wants to thrive,” he argues.

It is for this reason that Timothy has had to carve a niche in the less preferred but popular human-interest news stories and features, which are now his main beat at KTN News.

Want to know how to stand out at work?

Being a reporter on prime time news comes with massive responsibilities, according to him.

“The expectations on you are high from the editors and the public, all who strictly hold you to account. This leaves no room for complacency. My personal challenge, therefore, is always on using my roughly three minutes on air to not just report events, but also to trigger meaningful debate on socioeconomic and political issues as a way of influencing change,” he says.

Timothy’s stay in the newsroom has refined his journalistic capabilities since he joined KTN News as a budding journalist in 2015. 

“I neither had any knowledge of editing skills nor knew anything about editing software. I took the initiative to learn different components of journalism that I hadn’t studied in school. Today, I edit my own features with ease,” he says.

He adds,

“Live coverage of events are usually tense, but they have greatly built my poise. I’ve also become more assertive in confronting issues of social justice. From some of the moving and inspiring stories I do, I have learnt to be thankful about my life. After all, I’m a human being first then a journalist.”

His tips for journalism students?

“Use the space you have now to do what you wish to do in future on a much bigger scale. Employers don’t consider academic qualifications, rather, the solid practical work you have done as a trainee journalist. Get tips from experts on how to craft an appealing CV that will sell you at first impression and always trust God to take you through your career and life,” he advises.



Want to know how to stand out at work?

Gloria Michelle is a human resource expert at human resource consultancy firm Recours Four Kenya Consultants Limited. She offers insight on how to stand out at work as a millennial. 

Create efficiency: be the lever around which solutions are found, not where problems start. Being younger means that you have an abundance of fresh ideas that can help to achieve your company’s goals. Share them freely.

Take on more: ask for additional roles at work to showcase your talent. Such initiative will definitely be received warmly by your workmates. And bosses. Shadow your mentor and ask for new tasks to do. Be proactive and keen in whatever you do.

What you do away from your job description is what ultimately sets you apart from your peers. Besides, additional roles help to widen your scope of skills and will inevitably help you down the road.

Project a positive attitude: approach your tasks with positivity and avoid colleagues who have a habit of complaining about everything at work.

Be a good communicator: when unable to meet deadlines, for instance, notify your supervisors early enough to avoid possible crises.

Be accountable: this helps to build trust among your peers and bosses. Being accountable also means being ready to communicate your concerns at work. 

Keep your word: It is important to have a reputation as a reliable person. If you offer to undertake a task, follow it through to the end. It is wiser to only accept those assignments you can handle. Failing to meet deadlines more than once, for instance, communicates unreliability. It would be hard to believe your word in future if you keep failing to keep it.

Keep you CV updated: It is important to regularly update your professional portfolio with an eye on the future. Keep track of your work and record all achievements.

While good deeds at the workplace may soon be forgotten, bad deeds tend to stick around longer. Stay away from anything that is likely to dent your reputation. Remember that strong character appeal holds more sway than your ability to achieve spectacular results.