Lucy Njeri Maina is an ALX Software Engineering learner and undergraduate student pursuing a Bachelors’ degree in Medicine at the University of Nairobi. Her first five years in medical school exposed her to various problems in the healthcare sector and inspired her to look to technology to address them. Unfortunately, when she began her tech learning journey, Lucy had a hard time finding female role models she could reach out to for support. To tackle this issue, she decided to become one herself, using her platform to help others facing similar challenges.
In this spotlight interview, Lucy shares key learnings from her journey, offering valuable insights into how to overcome barriers commonly encountered by young women in tech and how to succeed in the ALX Software Engineering programme.
During my five years in medical school, I’ve encountered various gaps in healthcare institutions, patient care and management. This inspired me to explore the potential of technology to address these issues, so I took to online coding courses and developed a love for tech. When I discovered the ALX Software Engineering programme, I was motivated to apply, as I had read several inspiring articles by ALX graduates and learners. I wanted to start my own journey to make a positive impact in the field of healthcare.
I find the journey ahead exciting for several reasons. Firstly, software engineering offers endless opportunities for growth and learning, so I am eager to explore and expand my knowledge and skills. Secondly, the ALX programme, especially with the recent female-only cohort, creates a supportive and inclusive environment for women in tech, which is essential in an industry that has been traditionally male-dominated. This supportive network will not only help me develop as a software engineer, but will also provide a platform for me to contribute to the diversification of the tech industry. Thirdly, I am excited about the prospect of using my skills to contribute to real-world solutions that positively impact people’s lives. The programme will be a stepping stone towards my mission, and I am looking forward to this journey.
When people with different backgrounds and perspectives come together, they bring unique ideas and approaches to problem-solving. Having a more diverse tech industry with more women will definitely result in better solutions that are inclusive of different communities and needs.
When I first started out in tech, the only people I knew who I could reach out to for mentorship were all men, which made me a little concerned. I believe increasing the representation of women in tech will help to address the gender imbalance in the industry and provide role models and inspiration for young girls who are interested in pursuing careers in tech. It will certainly help to counter the perception that tech is a male-dominated field.
Having more women in tech is also important for closing the gender pay gap and ensuring equal opportunities for women in the workplace. Women still face significant barriers in the tech industry, including bias, discrimination and a lack of representation in leadership positions. By increasing the number of women in tech, we can help to create a more equitable and supportive environment for all.
Some of the misconceptions are that women are generally not interested in pursuing careers in tech, and that those that might be are not as good at tech as men and lack the confidence or assertiveness to succeed in the industry. It’s also perceived that women are not willing to work the long hours often required by the tech sector and that they are not well-suited to leadership roles in the sector.
These misconceptions have a damaging effect on the representation of women in tech because most of these assumptions are based on outdated gender roles that suggest that women are only interested in pursuing certain careers. In reality, women are interested in a wide range of careers, including those in tech, and they have the same right and ability to pursue their interests as men do and be equally successful. Time and time again, women have shown that they are highly capable of leading and making significant contributions in the tech industry.
The first barrier I encountered was the lack of visibility of female role models in the tech industry. This had me questioning whether it was really possible to be successful in tech as a woman. When I started my software engineering journey, I became very intentional about growing my network of women in tech. I started by becoming allies with the ladies in the ALX community and after, I started attending many networking events and connecting with the few women I found there. I also joined women in tech communities like She Code Africa Nairobi and attended their events. This way, I have grown my social network from knowing no woman in tech to knowing many.
Another barrier is imposter syndrome. This is something I know every woman in tech has had to fight at some point. Unconscious discrimination and bias caused by stereotypes about women in the industry don’t make things any easier. Again, support from mentors and peers has proven helpful in overcoming this barrier. I’m also taking steps to build my confidence and resilience by setting achievable goals. I recently started a blog on Medium to cover these issues and create a platform to mentor tech newbies, especially girls who are experiencing similar struggles to mine.
I can’t discuss the barriers I’ve faced as a woman in tech without mentioning work-life balance. Despite progress towards gender equality, traditional gender roles persist in our culture. Women are still expected to fulfil domestic responsibilities regardless of the careers they pursue. Balancing a whole day of programming with household duties, without assistance, is difficult, and has led me to burn out at times. I still haven’t found a way to completely overcome this obstacle, but I try to make the most out of my free time to get good rest, sleep and have a social life.
My strongest inspiration comes from Nelly Cheboi, the founder and CEO of TechLit Africa and the 2022 CNN Hero of the Year. Her phenomenal story of giving up the American dream to return to Kenya to help her community has always touched me deeply. Growing up, I witnessed many of my childhood friends – both girls and boys – forced to abandon their aspirations due to poverty. This has only strengthened my resolve to give back to my community and help young minds fulfil their dreams, regardless of their background.
Apart from her, I am grateful to have had numerous mentors in my life, and I only recently realised this. They have been the individuals who have supported me, encouraged me to persevere through challenges, and helped me grow both professionally and personally. They have provided guidance and resources, partnered with me on projects, and checked in on me regularly. My parents and peers have been my biggest cheerleaders, and I am forever grateful for their unwavering support and encouragement.
In just six months, ALX Africa has transformed me from a tech novice to a developer with a strong foundation in C and Python. One of the unique aspects of ALX is their approach to study material. Rather than providing learners with a surplus of materials, they challenge them to proactively seek out resources and develop a growth mindset. This has been a defining feature of my experience and has set me apart from other aspiring techies.
Not only have I grown professionally but personally as well. The most valuable lesson I have learned from ALX so far is the ability to tackle difficult tasks. My experience has taught me that with a shift in mindset, I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. I am confident that the skills I am acquiring through ALX will open doors for me wherever I go.
My goal is to use my training and skills to address some of the most pressing challenges in healthcare. I am passionate about women’s equality and reproductive rights, particularly in deprived communities. I hope to design innovative healthtech solutions that will improve access to information, healthcare and resources for women in need, helping to empower them to take control of their health and lives.
Pursuing a career in tech can be challenging for anyone, but it is also incredibly rewarding. Know that your gender should never hold you back from pursuing your dreams. Despite the challenges that still exist in the tech industry, women have made great strides in recent years. Now, there are many successful female software engineers who serve as role models to many. With hard work, perseverance, and a commitment to your goals, you can overcome any obstacle and succeed. Remember to keep up with the latest trends and put in the work to continually improve your skills and knowledge. This will position you to make the most of any opportunity that comes your way.
ALX is at the forefront of equipping young women professionals with the most in-demand career skills that will power the future. Find out how ALX’s female-only software engineering cohort is creating a space where women can excel, thrive and lead.