Home NewsNational Women In IT: One Woman’s Journey In A Male Dominated World

Women In IT: One Woman’s Journey In A Male Dominated World

by Daniel Sabiiti
1:48 pm

Ms Geek initiative is one of the activities which awards and inspires girls in ICTs

March 8, is the International Women’s Day, an opportunity to reflect on how we move forward in addressing challenges women face towards gender equality. The role that education and skills (hard and soft) play are inevitable pathways to ensure girls and young women have equal opportunities to explore their potential.

KTPress spoke to Isabelle Bucyeyeneza, the Managing Director of TestSolutions, a software testing and quality assurance company that opened in Rwanda in late 2022, and Vice president of Rwanda Software Testing Qualification Board (RWSTQB) to share her story on how technical education and early inspiration informed her path to becoming a successful IT engineer (ITian)

Isabelle Bucyeyeneza

From a low-income family background, Bucyeyeneza joined technical education in 2010. Even when she didn’t see it (like many other young people) as a good path to success in life, it turned out to make her what she is today.

KT: How did you choose to attend an Integrated Polytechnic Regional Center (IPRC-Tumba) instead of attending university?

It was not my choice for sure because that is how the structure is, when you get a scholarship you go to university or college. At the time, I didn’t see it apply as an opportunity but later on, after graduating I realized that what I learnt ( IT) was much more useful.

I was lucky to get a scholarship at the IPRC where I graduated with an advanced diploma which at the time was not seen as an interesting level compared to a university bachelor’s degree, but I had to go because I couldn’t afford to pay for a private university.

However, after starting studies and seeing how I was intensively taught by qualified lecturers, I couldn’t see how I would apply the skills, since we had no role models in the local market. But the teachers told us that these skills were advanced in other countries, so I gave it a shot.

So I wanted to succeed in the two years of study so that I wouldn’t miss out on two things – a job opportunity in the local market and avoid failure, which could lead to the cancellation of my scholarship.

Women in STEM and TVET careers remain fewer at advanced levels

KT: What did you do after graduating at IPRC Tumba?

After graduating from IPRC, it was evident that those who graduate at IPRC are very good at tech, so I immediately got a short consultancy contract with World Vision in Computer Literacy in Kiramuruzi. Later got a job with RBC as an IT Manager for one centers’ for the implementation of its pilot project “OpenMRS system”.

KT: How would you compare yourself to university graduates in IT?

You could find the KIST and AUCA graduates earning more and we had equal hands-on jobs because our classes were all practical tech skills and a few soft skills- English and entrepreneurship- the other five subjects were practical and we spent hours on computers.

I knew I had the skills and all I needed was the advanced papers (degree) to get the same pay. This motivated me to go back to school to get a bachelor’s degree (Mount Kenya University) where there was no typical IT course but Business IT.

Honestly speaking, what I got from there was more business management skills because I had the technical ones. All I wanted was to get a degree to fit in the market, to have a comparative advantage, and to be able to apply for better-paying jobs.

At the university level, we would help coach other students in practical IT skills and they would help us with business skills to graduate successfully.

KT: Can an IPRC graduate fail to get employed here in Rwanda?

It is unlikely for them to fail to get employed. For example, 80% of all graduates in our class were immediately employed. Many have jobs and others have created jobs- in general 80% of them are working.

This is because the chances of getting employed are possible even in the first year of IPRC. Some of our classmates, and other IPRC graduates have created new job opportunities with their initiatives such as “Nyereka Tech”, “Kosmotive”,” Ardilla ltd”, “The click ltd”, and “Livetech ltd”, among many others.

In brief, IPRCs have a good and well-planned curriculum that responds to the job market in terms of skills and the courses are what the market needs- ICTs, electronics, engineers, mechanics, plumbing, renewable energy among others.

An IPRC female students inspiring other youths

KT: What have you benefited from graduating at an IPRC?

Remember IPRC was not my choice because I had different choices, but the root that I picked there is what is pushing me to date. Of course, I had to acquire more skills (soft) because of dealing with the international market.

KT: Why does one have to learn soft skills besides technical ones?

I had to learn more soft skills because when you are working with international markets, soft skills tend to be a priority, and technical skills are second to be evaluated. This is because international employers want to see if you can explain your ideas, and communicate properly; the rest they can invest in you.

The difference here is that you can be good in tech but fail to fit in the international standards where they need and pay is interesting. Some of my fellows have failed to meet these standards because they failed to explain the tech product they have created (innovated). So, we need to work the soft skills alongside the hard skills for Rwandans to succeed outside the country and get better pay.

Hands-on and soft skills go hand in hand, and hard skills are the foundation. If you are in STEM, you cannot say you will conquer the market, you have to have the technical skills, and adding on soft skills makes you shine more than the one who doesn’t. I’d recommend colleges to adopt dual education training as a sustainable system to get young people into work.

Education statistics show 66% of male students and 51% of female students in upper secondary education were enrolled in STEM programs.

A students tech camp organised by RAWISE

KT: What motivated you to take these subjects and how can we encourage more?

At high school (FAWE girls school), I studied Mathematics and physics and the school was more of Science. I liked the school because it didn’t only have sciences but had a structure of empowering girls to dream big and beyond sciences.

At FAWE, I felt protected and that they were contributing to my growth outside the classroom setting, showing me a bright future ahead- and that is how I got grades to attend IPRC.

This means that to encourage more girls in STEM, we need mentorship programs and structures or policies in schools because girls need to know they are protected out of class but also see role models such as ICT Minister Paula Ingabire to shape their ambitions.

KT: There are girl empowerment initiatives such as the Rwanda Association of Women in Science and Engineering (RAWISE) and “Girls in ICT”. Is this enough?

I was inspired to be what I am today because of the initiative and structures where girls and women in STEM went on field tours to see and experience the real world of science, but also hosted inspirational speakers as role models.

If we have several doctors in STEM who have started such initiatives, that means they need support in terms of partnerships and membership, especially for those who have become successful and contribute to reaching more girls.

This will reduce the rate of STEM dropouts who have enrolled in big numbers. If you start at this inspiration earlier, girls are most likely not to give up at later stages of education because they grew up with this mentality and refer to it when they encounter challenges.

TestSolutions Rwanda women and men together with Peter Primus (in a suit), the Counsellor and Deputy Ambassador of German to Rwanda. The company has roots in Germany

KT: As a successful lady, what is your personal role in empowering other girls and women?

I am going to apply to join them so that I can also give my contribution, which needs to go beyond STEM centers of excellence to reach more rural girls then we need to come together to do this because the government (of Rwanda) has played its part to provide all we need, and what remains is us women to act upon those opportunities.

Some of us have benefited from these opportunities and now it is time to give back, maybe as a mentor and doing knowledge sharing based on my inspiration from others above.

KT: We are trying to motivate girls on women’s day. Is failure part of the journey?

It is but they need dedication. I had a startup called TechSolver with a project on financial inclusion for women and refugee camps but it didn’t get funding. I didn’t continue to place it on the market but it didn’t stop me from re-working it in terms of strategy and portfolio so that I can go back and pitch it for investors with the missing points covered.

My team didn’t resist failure and they moved on to find jobs but the project didn’t die inside me and the investors are asking me to invest (money and effort) in the product to ensure it is workable, then they will invest more.

On one hand, I failed to roll it on the market because of capital but on the other hand, I know the impact that I wanted to make and thus am still working on the idea.

Failure is part of the journey but the way you reverse it is by looking at the failures and correcting them and turning these into an advantage to become an opportunity.

KT: How are you integrating women in your company? Are women able?

Women are the majority in the company, we have eighty percent women. I give opportunity to whoever is eligible but also give a chance to women who believe in themselves and are passionate. No favoritism for women.

I think I have more women because they have been in the industry for many years, and men didn’t know quality assurance (software testing) as a core career in software development. So our goal as RWSTQB, is to give a chance to make QA a hot topic for everyone as well as for guys by creating a space, training, and providing international certification.

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