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This week will mark one year since the day that I set foot in the United States for the first time. It was part of the TechWomen exchange program that I mention in this article. It is a program sposored by the US Grovernement and dedicated to women in STEM in Africa, Middle East and Central Asia. Today, a year later… What have I become? A year later, how did this program influence my career? How do I apply the lessons learned today in Cameroon or around me? I will tell you about it in the following lines…
Since the program is technology-related, it’s a bit natural that TechWomen is taking place in California, precisely between San Francisco and surrounding areas (Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Palo Alto, etc.). I was going to spend 5 weeks in Sunnyvale, including 3 weeks of professional internship at GoDaddy whose offices were also in Sunnyvale. It was a period rich in emotions but also in learning. I remember that at the end of the program, just like when I returned home two months later, people asked me what I had learned from this experience and my stay in California. What I could pass on to girls and women interested in Technology, etc … So many questions that I needed time and perspective to answer. A year later, when the next cohort of “TechWomen” is preparing to travel to live this year’s edition. I thought it was also time for me to share with you what I learned, and a bit of what I gained from my TechWomen experience in 2018.
Five weeks in California. Five weeks dive among those who lead the technology field in the world. Five weeks of visits and discoveries in major technology companies (Google, Salesforce, LinkedIn, Twitter, Symantec, Juniper, Autodesk, etc.). Five weeks when I mostly had to learn about myself. Five weeks during which my vision of things has changed somewhat. Five weeks that I will try to sum you up through 5 things that I drew from this program and that are:
1. The importance of having a mentor
Before TechWomen I had never experienced what it was like to be accompanied by a “mentor”. It was during my stay at GoDaddy that this word took on its full meaning. As part of the program, Maya Bisineer and Shradha Balakrishnan, two Indian women working at GoDaddy, respectively Director, Product Management and Senior Product Manager at GoDaddy chose me to be their mentee. The first shock was to have not one but two mentors. The 2nd shock was that they were both Indian. It was the first time for me to work with Indians and I was a little panicked. I did not know what to expect, especially given the difference in culture. In short, I really dreaded.
During my stay at Godaddy, they were of great support. They made me meet people, find places for conferences (like Launch). They even arranged a pitching session with GoDaddy’s Team Aquisition (GoDaddy’s acquisition and buyout / start-up company) before which I was able to present one of my project. Beyond that, each of them was of a particular support. Maya was the professional side of business and product development. I still remember how Maya, being the most senior, took two or three afternoons to dissect my Snuggig project. She slashed that on the board, it was a savage! Lol ! It was like a project cut into small pieces, lol! It hurt but it helped me better understand how to develop my platform and gave me some recommendations afterwards. Shradha meanwhile, has been more of a moral and psychological support. I arrived in the United States confident, sure that my integration would be done in a natural way, but it was unfortunately very difficult. I fell back on myself with the flow of things that I had to absorb and manage during the program. I was under some external pressure on a family business and to top it off, I had a big heartbreak issue I had to mask and manage in silence. At one point, I could not take it anymore. I just wanted to go back, I was so down… Luckily, Shradha was there. I was psychologically exhausted. I think Shradha was as surprised as me to see myself in this state, lol! She asked me questions, we talked, she comforted me. From there, I assure you my attitude has changed. I was more open, more comfortable now. Unfortunately it was already at the end of the program, I could not make up the time.
In 3 weeks, they did what they could to hold my hand. Literally. Yet mentoring requires time, attention and human investment from mentors. It’s also an opportunity to give another nod to another TechWomen mentor, Ivonne Mejia. I am grateful.
2. The desire for bigger challenges
There is really nothing to say, but evolve in a stimulating environment makes you want to go beyond your limits, to want more. I felt it deeply when I returned home. When you live in such a dynamic environment, you feel like coming back with super powers, lol! I understand better why the repats (those of the diaspora who decide to return to Africa for a professional project) come back with the thought that they will only change the
world country, revolutionize things in Africa, lol! Before my trip, such attitud annoyed me, but today it makes me laugh, especially with the fact that these people return very far from the realities of the country despite the energy and good willing they were inculcated in the West.
I returned from the United States in November 2018. Four months later, I felt more and more uncomfortable. Four months later (08 months after my return), I resigned from the incubator I worked in. Simply because I wanted more … More (new) challenges, more responsibilities, more changes, more results, more impact. Devoting myself to my projects offered me this possibility, and I do not regret it at all. It’s certainly difficult, especially now that I’m wearing my business cap. To tell the truth, it’s even now that I’m discovering what entrepreneurship is (beyond paying taxes, lol). It’s a whole school that still allows me to challenge myself while finding a certain personal balance. Today, I work full time to develop my company EN Group, (although I remain open to job opportunities, you never know). EN Group specializes in support services in:
- Digital Communication (Training, Influence Marketing, Digital Strategies, etc.)
- Community development (community programs, old digital, etc.)
For more information, please feel free to visit our website www.engroup-hub.com (we are currently working on more content).
3. Cameroon has lessons to give in terms of Women’s Leadership in Technology
I still remember the surprise of my mentors at GoDaddy when I told them proudly that in my country, Technology is led by women. I took pleasure in quoting the women who marked the Tech scene in Cameroon. Whether it be :
- Our Minister of Posts and Telecommunications (MINPOSTEL): Minette Libom Li Likeng
- The previous CEO of Orange Cameroon: Elisabeth Medou Badang
- The previous CEO of MTN Cameroon: Philisiwe Sibiya (although she is south african)
- Our Minister of Scientific Research and Innovation (MINRESI): Dr. Madeleine Tchuinte
- And finally, the most influential African woman in tech in Africa is… Guess what? Cameroonian! In the person of Lady Rebecca Enonchong.
I do not even speak of those that make Cameroon shine at continental and even international level. Whether is Fadimatou Noutchemo, Monique Ntumngia, Danielle Akini, Arielle Kitio, etc. So for real, put some respect on Cameroon when it comes to Women in Tech. I think this is a considerable advantage for Cameroon, to allow more participation and impact of women in the field of Technology in Africa and not only. During my interviews and visits to Silicon Valley, I felt it was really a community problem on that side. As many blacks are not represented in this part of the world, women find it difficult to access high positions of responsibility. Now we need more African/Cameroonian women in Tech startups, who develop solutions, raise funds, etc…
4. Be Global
My trip made me understand how limited we were geographically. Do not be afraid to leave your comfort zone. And in my case, I apply it through the slogan “Build local, think global”. I had already begun to appropriate this expression since 2017. So far, it works pretty good with me. So with TechWomen, I decided to apply this slogan further. Technology breaks so many barriers. I wonder if in Cameroon we are sufficiently aware of it. For example, how many freelancers are thinking of registering on freelancer.com or fiverr.com to offer their services to the world? Of course, the means of payment remain a major problem in Cameroon, but some manage to find solutions, at least it pushes the reflection. Or, how many artisans think of using platforms like afrikrea.com or Amazon (or Amazon Craft), of course again there is probably a problem of logistics. But if we already ignore the possibilities open to us to be part of this global village pushed by “Globalization”, how can we talk about it to make things happen?
Once, I attended a conference of ANTIC in Douala at the beginning of the year. Of course since they evoked the digital economy, I did not fail to ask them how it was that we still can not make withdrawals with a PayPal account in Cameroon. The lady who represented this institution responded by saying that she did not understand my question since Paypal works well in Cameroon, she had a Paypal account that she used by a bank account opened in France … Like? Open in France, lol! Ok, you do not have an account in Cameroon? Have you ever tried to make a paypal withdrawal linked to a bank account domiciled in Cameroon? It doesn’t work. Cameroon is not authorized to do withdrawal with bank accounts based in the counntry. So if we, as ordinary citizens do not see far, if we do not integrate international opportunities in our way of doing things, we miss many things. Who will be able to make everyone understand what is missing in this era of digitization (supposed to make our life easier)?
5. Have / Give the opportunity
“You spent 5 weeks in the USA for TechWomen, what did you win? What are the opportunities you had there? ” Lol ! I admit that this is a question I already had in mind without having to ask. While preparing for my trip, I was already in the optics that I had to come back with a business, a business opportunity. Except that in the United States, everything is large, everything is big! Starting with the meal portions, lol! To tell you that it is not enough to go and say “I want to do business”. The capitalist mentality is very anchored in Silicon Valley But you have to go with big numbers. You want to do business, what are your numbers? What do you have to offer?
In my case, I was lucky, I must say. I knew I had to go home with a business opportunity with GoDaddy, but I still did not know how or for what service. At the end of my stay, I was surprised whenproposed me to receive not only a free domain name (www.we-tech.org) that I use today as the domain name of my initiative “WETECH: Women in Entrepreneurship and Technology“. In addition, I received a Reseller account from GoDaddy. Therefore, you can also buy at any time your web hosting, domain names, professional e-mail addresses, etc., on my available page by clicking HERE. You can have below, a view of the package for web hosting.
Unfortunately with some blockages in Cameroon, especially on the means of payment, I admit that I do not take advantage of this opportunity yet. But hey, this is just to give you an idea, that a lot of things are possible in 5 or 3 weeks. I also remember that one of the 2018 Fellows from Jordan I think, had had a job proposal at Stanford University. Yes, Stanford, the prestigious American university ranked among the best in the world. In the United States, everything is possible… Opportunities seem to be easier to obtain through Technology. At least, it’s really this impression that I (want to) keep concerning my stay with the TechWomen program.
To conclude, I will say that the 5 points mentioned in this article, determine today most of my initiatives, at least those social and for the community. This is well represented with the WETECH community that I founded, which is based on the development of african women through Entrepreneurship and Technology. We give them access to resources, opportunities and training in a spirit of mentoring and leadership that marks their personal and professional development. Currently, we have the WETECH WIC (Women In Code) program, which is a free training program for women to learn to code. This is a practical case of what I learned from my trip to the United States as part of the Techwomen program so far. You can find out more about WETECH (Women in Entrepreneurship and Technology), by visiting our website www.we-tech.org, registering as a member (only open to women), or as mentors (men and women with experience significant in the fields of Technology, Entrepreneurship or Management). There are still some projects in the pipeline that you will discover when the time comes.
Questions ? Let’s chat in the comments section.
Above all, do not forget to walk … For your health, but also to stay connected to the world!
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