Africa, Interviews

Maria Kyamulabye – Community Manager Technical Talent at Andela

Meet Maria Kyamulabye, Community Manager Technical Talent at Andela, a company building distributed engineering teams with Africa’s top software engineers.

What role does technology play in your everyday life?

I would say that I am a digital hybrid. I had the privilege of getting access to a  computer from a really young age, so I have always been fascinated by how computers and machines in general work. My initial fascination with programming started when I managed to hack the home PC such that I could play super mario. It was the moment that solidified that technology can work for you — versus you working for it. Because of my work at Andela and as a social entrepreneur, I am typically accessible.

I make it a point-to-point all technologies down such that I do other things that I love such as DIY Craft projects, gardening and spending personal time with family and friends.

Tell us a bit about your journey? How did you get to where you are now?

At 17, I started out my entrepreneurial track selling plantain at the local market. It is during this experience that I realized there were a lot of young people struggling for basic needs like me. Only ten minutes from Uganda’s largest university, most of the youth around that market were unemployed and illiterate.

I was incredibly disheartened by what I saw around me every day but also driven to be part of the solution. I joined a nearby NGO as a volunteer, and since 2008, I have been working as a youth leader, community organizer, and advocate in the most vulnerable communities. Leveraging the power of technology as a computer scientist and a geek, and entrepreneurship to build the rights systems, models and ups killing people to create businesses, products and solutions for African problems.

I have worked in over 25 districts in Uganda where I have supported over 3,000 businesses as a mentor and business trainer leading and growing initiatives like the Innovation Village Hub and the Village Health Teams. Globally, l have also led and supported initiatives like Black Girls Code in South Africa, Rwanda, Ghana including volunteering with global organizations such as the Africa Entrepreneurship Award.

With over 80% of the Ugandan population living in a rural setting and most under the poverty line, there is still more work to be done. My goal is to scale my impact and enable other organizations to scale their impact, which I have started in Uganda through programs like Women Tech Leadership.

My role at  Andela  is responsible for the growth of technical talent by defining community building and engagement strategies for the region, in partnership with other organizations and institutions within the ecosystem. Through programs such as women in technology, university level up, I lead the talent development upskill initiatives and recruitment of all the aspiring technologists to Andela Uganda. This has led to over 200 youth accessing global markets and full-time employment in less than two years of operations. This is a combination of the passion for system building and talent development.

What and who were the influencers of who you are today?

My role model is actually my older sister. My family struggled a lot financially in the past and I saw her thinking creatively and leading in an enterprising way to ensure that we are supported. She has also from then established herself growing businesses and assets and leaving an inheritance for her children. This showed me against typical expectations of a Ugandan woman that women can chart their own destinies and also thrive as mothers and business leaders.

What is the hardest lesson you have learned as a founder and woman in tech?

Uganda has just started to appreciate the power of technology and its effects in everyday life. There are plenty of opportunities for innovation and growth in every sector looking to harness technology as a tool. This has been two fold, organizations trusting a Ugandan woman do to the job and ensuring that ugandan women are ready with the right skills.

Personally, as a woman there are multiple times I have been looked over without a chance irrespective of my qualifications and extra qualifications at that because I have always been an extra achiever. It is simply not common to see women in Uganda as lead programmers or net workers. Luckily I had a family that supported and encouraged me, so I have always had people in my corner saying, yes, you can do it as the rest of the world said no.

The great news is that the landscape is changing, not just for Uganda but for other countries as technology becomes part of our lives.
Whereas there is a lot of interest in the youth and the government, there is a debilitating lack of infrastructure and leadership. There is still a skills gap that needs to be developed in order to fully utilize technology to produce world-class solutions and this is where I have focused my career in ensuring that there is opportunity and the talent is ready when that opportunity comes knocking.

Andela does a great job through the free curriculum, workshops, sessions and upskill initiatives. We supported over 6000 Ugandans halves of last year through such programs. And we also offer those who choose to apply, employment where they get to work for high growth startups looking for tech talent all over the world. We have close to 200 of these working with Andela.

What are three tech trends you see happening in the next 5 years?

1. The future of technology is distributed. There has to be more investment in equipping people with the right skills to be able to do distributed work that requires a lot more soft skills to do properly.

2. Big data: There are loads of opportunities for businesses to use big data that is available out there to make better decisions. There seems to be a bias to have only big companies investing in this and yet the tech exists today for it to be more widespread. For an ecosystem like Africa that lacks resources in terms of money, every single unit of resource should be used efficiently and Big data can drive that.

3. Reverse innovation: We don’t need to always copy what has been in the past. We can think creatively about what can work differently in Africa. Things like mobile money are proof that reverse innovation is possible.

What is the thing you’re currently most excited about?

Accelerated learning through holistic programs such as women in technology for work.

In my life vertical farming. I am currently experimenting with that in my garden.

Which job in tech, other than your current one, would you like to have?

I recently met Christyl Johnson, Deputy Director for Technology and … – NASA.

at the Women in Tech challenge, and I was really enthralled by what she does supporting all of those different local innovations and thinking about the next step in Mankind’s habitation of the moon and other solar bodies. Obviously it wouldn’t be the exact one as she is an amazing lady with a great professional background but anything that supports both the local innovators and is also thinking about championing new technologies is exciting for me.

If you could host a dinner party with 3 influential people in tech, who would you invite and what would the setting be?

It would be set somewhere in the gardens overseeing the setting sun. I love the outdoors and I would use any excuse to be out there.

  • Fred Swaniker: Ghanaian entrepreneur and leadership development expert
  • Ada Lovelace: Computer Programmer, Mathematician (1815 – 1852) 
  • Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook

Maria is a social entrepreneur with over ten years of experience creating business and technology opportunities. She has worked for a diverse portfolio of companies ranging from non-governmental organizations to global consulting companies. Maria is a highly motivated thought-leader, writer, speaker, facilitator and coach with a track record of leading teams and organizations to achieve their potential for results and impact.


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