Africa, Interviews

Vivian Opondoh – Co-founder and CEO at Farmula

My advice would be to have more conversations around women in STEM and provide other females support in accessing STEM programs.

Vivian Opondoh is an Aerospace Engineer, Software Developer, Women-In-Tech Mentor, Software Entrepreneur and soon to be Data Scientist. With all these titles and experience Vivian refers to herself as a farmer. Reason being in the agricultural industry which is her current main industry of operation such titles are not recognized.

Vivian always aims to upskill and grow in her career and her tech journey is strategically thought through and planned out. Her passion lies in using tech in the fragmented agricultural industry because agriculture is the most important sector of the African economy and the way out of poverty for Africa.

Vivian is confident that now is the right time to disrupt the African agricultural industry via use of technology and she will be part of this disruption.

In a nutshell, tell us a bit about your job, and what role technology plays in it?

I am co-founder and CEO at Farmula. My team and I run a startup that uses technology to enable precise produce sourcing while taking a predictive approach. My day to day involves strategies with the team on the best approach and the right technology to use in delivering our services. The role technology plays in this is it is the core of the services we provide our customers. 

  • Through customer historical ordering data we credit score them and give them access to produce on credit
  • Our Quality Assurance application users image recognition to enable quality check remotely
  • Using our price prediction model farmers are able to price and lock down their produce prices creating price transparency

Where did your professional journey start and how did you get to where you are now?

My professional journey started at Solar-E-Cycles Kenya, I had just come back home from Michigan USA where I was undertaking my undergraduate studies in Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering. The plan was to take two months off school to raise my fees and go back for my final year. I decided to search for an internship during these two months, and I was fortunate to land a position at Solar-E-Cycles Kenya. 

At Solar-E-Cycles we were developing solar-powered 4 wheeled cycles. The founder was based in Morocco and wanted to remotely monitor how the vehicle was being used. From this request, I saw an opportunity for merging hardware and software.

I decided to join the Moringa school to gain Software Development skills. I ended up grasping the concept of learning to learn while here and this has played a huge role in my tech journey. Upon graduation, I immediately landed a job at Health-E-Net as a Software Developer.

My aim for joining Health-E-Net was to gain Software Development experience and to learn whether this is where my passion lies. While there we developed a Telemedicine platform using AngularJS and NodeJS. After one year I knew I was passionate about tech.

I left Health-E-Net and joined Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) with the aim of gaining Entrepreneurship skills. I graduated as a certified Software Entrepreneur. This is also where I met my co-founders and started Farmula.

I am co-founder and CEO at Farmula where we use data to enable precise and predicted produce sourcing. This requires me to have data analysis skills in order to analyze the data we collect and build models that predict sourcing thus I am also enrolled at African Leadership University undertaking my postgraduate in Data Science.

What is the greatest transformation in technology you’ve witnessed in your career?

The greatest transformation in technology I have witnessed in my career is Artificial Intelligence. I find some of it scary like self-driving cars, I think AI will take some getting used to. But the number of ways AI can be used is impressive. Take for example in Agriculture, many African countries are facing the crisis of the youth not engaging in farming yet we have drones that can be programmed to monitor crops and execute precise farming. This is where my passion lies and I think the focus is not getting more youth in farming but instead getting youths to improve on technologies that will contribute to precision farming.

We always hear there are not enough women working in Tech. What needs to happen to change that? Using your own words, why do we need women-focused groups in the tech community?

What needs to happen to change the narrative of “not enough women in Tech” is getting men involved. I have been in situations where my male colleagues have shown some unconscious bias towards me. On several occasions, I have made suggestions and they would not be considered but my male colleagues would make the same suggestions and they would be implemented. This I believe stems from males working alongside other males from their education level straight into their career. Thus this battle will not just be won by women but by engaging men and having them onboard.

I believe stems from males working alongside other males from their education level straight into their career. Thus this battle will not just be won by women but by engaging men and having them onboard.

From running Women in Tech in partnership with Moringa School, women-focused groups are needed in the tech community for the following reasons: To provide support for other women, to have more examples that upcoming women can look up to and share experiences and how we dealt with different situations in our journey.

What skills do you need for a career in tech (aside from the actual tech skills)?

Soft skills and this is overlooked a lot. Developing technology is part of it getting the technology out there testing it and getting people to use it is something else. We find most “techies” are introverts and work best alone. But if one has to work with a team then this proves to be difficult especially in coordinating tasks. Thus I think it is key to have soft skills on top of tech skills.

Which was the best decision in your career?

I have found my footing in tech and I currently get to use the hardware and software to monitor agricultural practices and enable precise farming.

The best decision in my career was to dive into Software Development. This enabled me to grasp the skill of learning to learn and since I have never looked back. I first got into Software Development with the aim of using Software to monitor and manipulate hardware. Back then I did not even know the terms such as the Internet of Things/ Machine Learning. But for sure my journey has come full circle from where I began. I have found my footing in tech and I currently get to use the hardware and software to monitor agricultural practices and enable precise farming.

How different would our world be if more women worked in STEM?

A lot more will get done if more women worked in STEM for the following reasons:

  • 1 Women will spend less time proving ourselves and more time delivering on their tasks
  • 2 With diversity comes diverse views
  • 3 There are more women in the world and inclusivity converts to impact

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your 14-year-old self?

At 14 years I was not aware of how privileged I was to have the support I did in getting access to STEM programs. I assumed everyone was as fortunate as I was. Thus my advice would be to have more conversations around women in STEM and provide other females support in accessing STEM programs.

Vivian Opondoh is an Aerospace Engineer, Software Developer, Women-In-Tech Mentor, Software Entrepreneur and soon to be Data Scientist. With all these titles and experience Vivian refers to herself as a farmer. Reason being in the agricultural industry which is her current main industry of operation such titles are not recognized.

Vivian always aims to upskill and grow in her career and her tech journey is strategically thought through and planned out. Her passion lies in using tech in the fragmented agricultural industry because agriculture is the most important sector of the African economy and the way out of poverty for Africa.

Vivian is confident that now is the right time to disrupt the African agricultural industry via use of technology and she will be part of this disruption.

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