Managing Director & Co-Founder of AkiraChix
Removing Barriers and Taking Over the World: How Linda Kamau and AkiraChix Will Train 10,000 Women in Tech in the Next Decade
As a naturally curious and confident person, Linda Kamau is no stranger to trailblazing.
There were four paths in her all-girls school, and computer science was usually the path least chosen. But for Linda, computers were a passion, and she happily chose computer science to the surprise of her peers. She also had a natural interest in making things better, a talent encouraged by her older brother with whom she would spend time around the house repairing everything from radios to the roof.
At many African universities, it is extremely difficult to switch undergraduate majors after being placed in a program. Linda received placement into the business information technology path, not the computer science program she originally applied for, but still relevant to her goals. She worked at a technology startup to expand her technical skills. There, she learned coding and open source software, allowing her to land a role as a software developer at Ushahidi. At Ushahidi, Linda asked to lead an upgrade to a vital tool for crisis crowdsourcing. She was unsure of herself, but her boss assured her she was more than qualified. Thanks to Linda’s leadership, that tool is now translated into almost every language, and is changing the way information flows during a humanitarian crisis.
The people around me knew my skills and that I was more qualified than I thought I was. They knew I needed a push. Since then, I’ve been more assertive in my career.
While attending an “iHub” (“Innovation Hub”) meeting in Kenya, Linda noticed there were less than 10 women present out of more than 300 attendees. Afterwards, Linda decided to arrange a meetup for women in tech, creating a safe space for them to show up and support each other. Still, she struggled to get more than 10 women to attend despite the myriad of technical jobs available in Kenya’s now-booming tech industry. To fill this gap, Linda and two coworkers hatched the idea that would become what is now known as AkiraChix. The plan needed some structure, but the idea was to teach as many women as possible to code. The core focus of AkiraChix is to build tech talent by investing in training for young women who may not otherwise have access to higher education. With the goal to train 10,000 women in the next 10 years, not only will this ensure there are more women in the tech job market, but that these women have the necessary skills to succeed and stand out in the workplace.
We recognize the things that hinder students from succeeding…financial barriers, gender roles and not feeling believed in, a lack of encouragement to move into technology…and we want to break down as many of those barriers as possible.
One of the flagship programs under AkiraChix is a residential program. Students from more than 25 regions of Kenya and various parts of Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania come to AkiraChix to complete a coding program. Often, these students don’t just lack the same educational resources as higher income areas, but they may also lack access to the transportation infrastructure required to physically reach any available resources. The residential program mitigates most of these challenges, allowing students to focus on cultivating their technical talent.
Linda’s current focus is working with companies to create a hiring pipeline for the top talent in the AkiraChix community. Tech companies now often come to Linda asking for more diverse talent, of which Linda knows plenty. In November of 2019, AkiraChix graduated 47 women, 33 of whom are now employed. (For those doing the math — that is a 70% success rate, higher than most colleges!) Her students are not only joining the tech industry, but gaining empowerment along the way.
Happiness stems from my students doing well in life. You can see it transfer back to their homes, their siblings and their parents…we’re not just getting more women into tech, we’re empowering more women to have rights and take over the world!
This story was written by Wogrammer Journalism Fellow, Laurel Kremer, for Reinvented Magazine’s fourth edition.
Wogrammer has been acquired by AnitaB.org, a social enterprise that supports women in technical fields, the organizations that employ them, and the academic institutions training the next generation. We proudly join the AnitaB.org/365 suite of programs which are fueling the movement to achieve intersectional gender equity in the global technical workforce by 2025 and will continue to amplify diverse voices of women in technology around the world.