Mahalinoro Razafimanjato is a second-year student at the African Leadership University in Rwanda and a recipient of the Mandela Centennial Scholarship. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. She is passionate about Python programming, data science, front-end web development, IoT technologies and graphic design. She is also an advocate for women empowerment in the STEM fields. She believes that women can do great things, especially in technology-related areas. That is why she decided to join local communities such as PyLadies and Django Girls, and become part of the organizer team to empower women through coding workshops and technologies-related events.
Why did you get into STEM?
When I was at a very young age, I was fascinated by everything related to computers. I remember at that time, instead of me playing hide and seek outside with the kids in my neighborhood, I was behind the screen of the only computer that we had back home. I considered that computer as one of my childhood friends even though he didn’t communicate explicitly like a normal human being. Then, in high school, teachers started to ask the critical question, “what would be your future career?”. I was asking myself what I wanted to be, and the answer was very pretty obvious: “a Computer Scientist.” Back then, it was not very clear, but I knew for a fact that it was my perfect dream job. After that, I started to do some research about coding languages and why they are essential. No one could guide me because my surroundings didn’t have any experience in coding or anything related to technology. I was on my own, but I found an interesting book on C++ programming. I started to install all the necessary environments and then began to code my very first small program. It was a pretty significant achievement for me. Since then, I was more curious to learn about the world of technology and what this world had to offer. After that, I attended my first Django Girls Workshop.
During the event, I got introduced to the Python and Django framework. I learned the fundamentals of Python programming and I fell in love with it instantly. But most importantly, I was inspired by the women who organized the event. Those women were in the technology field and their main goal was to empower women by encouraging them to contribute to the STEM fields. That was the main reason why I decided to take my chance and deep dive into the technology field even if I know how challenging it might be. Also, I believe that with the help of technology, I can solve most of the problems that my community is facing.
What do you consider your greatest achievements?
One of my greatest achievements is when I joined the organizer team of the fourth edition of Django Girls in my community. Being an organizer was a way for me to give back to my community. But what makes it the most significant achievement was the impact it had on each of the workshop attendees. By the end of the event, each of them would have been transmitted with a new passion and a new perspective on programming. They would start to envision technologies in a different way than the way they used to think of it. I realized that doing things that are related to your passion is more valuable and contributes to your personal growth as an individual. Also, one of the things that I considered the most significant achievement was when we took the initiative to form the first-ever “Women In Tech Club” on campus. Starting from scratch, not knowing all the ups and downs involved in starting a club, it was and is still challenging. But when we began to pull everything together as a team and to welcome the first members with our club launch, that was our moment of rejoicing. The journey was not easy, but we managed to attract enough students at least to join our club even if it was just the beginning.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in STEM and how did you overcome them?
In my journey, especially in a world that is led by men (mostly), I cannot find myself accurately. I always have the feeling that I do not belong anywhere because I am constantly judged by every single decision that I take. I still feel like I have to do more than I should just because I am a woman. While on the other hand, when it comes to men, everything seems to flow so smoothly. But I know it is not true because each person is experiencing things differently. From what I have seen in my entire life, people have a different perspective on you, especially if you are a woman in STEM. Sometimes, they underestimate you just because of your gender, even if you have the same skills. I realized that at the end of the day, what matters most is the way we are reacting and responding to the situation. Yes, the world is unfair sometimes, but that is why we have to overcome those challenges because we are able to.
What is your advice to budding women in STEM?
One piece of advice I would say is that we are able. We, as women in STEM, can do great things and achieve whatever dreams we have dreamed of. Adversity should not stop us from what we are doing, and those should instead make us more robust than ever before. Life is a journey, and the ride is full of challenges. Don’t stop learning from those challenges life has given to you. If you have time, give back to your community because you will never know the impact you can generate and how life-changing it could be for some people in your community. Do not forget as well that you are not alone in this journey. You can join communities that will help you learn, discover, and connect with amazing people in your fields.