Sharon trained as a Telecommunications & Information engineer, works as a Product Manager, and is passionate about Innovation and ICT4D. After graduating from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in 2014, she joined Safaricom PLC as a Graduate Management Trainee, and later Senior Products Officer for Social Innovation & Technology for Development. During her time at Safaricom, Sharon managed the development of a number of innovative products in EdTech, Green Energy, Civic Participation and Refugee affairs. She then joined Andela as a Product Coordinator and SCRUM Master for teams building systems that facilitated learning and helped companies effectively manage distributed engineers. After one year at Andela, Sharon moved to Germany under the Afrika Kommt! Program. She is currently a Fellow in the Innovation and Acceleration Department at B. Braun Melsungen AG – one of the world’s leading providers and manufacturers of healthcare solutions.
Sharon is a founding member of the Kenya Flying Labs community, an affiliate of WeRobotics. In 2018, she completed the Drones in Humanitarian Action certification, and is excited about advancing her training to become a Certified Drone Pilot for Humanitarian response. She is keen on exploring the use of Robotics for Social Good in Kenya.
Sharon is a Fellow of the Techwomen program, an initiative by the U.S. Department of State and Institute of International Education (IIE). As a Techwomen Emerging Leader, she undertook a 5-week intensive mentorship program in the United States, which included a month-long internship with a Product Management Team at Microsoft.
Why did you get into STEM?
My entry into STEM was more by happenstance and not a conscious decision that I made. Back in high school, Physics was my favourite subject thanks to an amazing Physics teacher – Mr. Bunguswa. That said, I really had no idea what career I wanted to pursue. When the time came to select University courses, I picked Telecommunications Engineering because a friend told me that people who love Physics should study engineering. And so based on the advice of a fellow teenager, I ended up studying engineering at the University. Despite being an Engineering student, I still had no idea what I wanted to focus my career on.
During my first internship, I worked with the Sega Silicon Valley project, which aimed to digitize a village in Western Kenya by providing computers for the schools in the village, providing internet connectivity for these schools, and setting up a Digital Community Knowledge Centre. This internship introduced me to the world of ICT4D, and I became a volunteer with the Kenya Telecentre Network, and by extension the Telecentre Foundation. Because of my volunteer work with the Telecentre Foundation, I was selected as one of the representatives at the Beyond 2015 Global Youth Summit organized by the International Telecommunication Union. At this summit, I listened to various speakers present on emerging trends in technology and how to leverage these advancements to build a better future for everyone. That was when I had my “Aha!” moment. From then on, I knew that I wanted to build a career centered on developing tech solutions that address challenges in my community.
What do you consider your greatest achievements?
The greatest joy in my career journey has been managing education products and programs that positively impact the education of children across Kenya. This includes being the product manager for Shupavu291, a collaboration between Safaricom and Eneza Education which has reached millions of learners across the country, and was awarded the GSMA Global Mobile Award for Best Mobile Innovation for Education in 2018. I am also proud to have managed the Instant Network Schools program by the Vodafone Foundation and Safaricom, which improves the quality of education for thousands of children living in refugee camps in northern Kenya through digital technology.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in STEM and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge I’ve faced in my career journey has been building my confidence and overcoming the impostor syndrome. I choose to highlight this over the other challenges because, while the other challenges are from external sources, this one is deep-rooted in one’s own mind. External challenges will be faced along the journey, but self-doubt and self-sabotage threaten to stop one from even starting the journey.
One strategy that I’ve used to overcome this challenge is becoming very good at my trade. I read a lot, research, and keep updated on what is happening in my field. This enables me to speak up knowing I am giving meaningful input on the topic. Second, I have built a support system of friends and mentors who push me to reach for bigger opportunities and to put myself out there, even when I doubt my own ability. Finally, I strive to control my mind and my thoughts, silence negative self-talk and ignore the (often very loud and persistent) inner critic. With time I have learnt to raise my hand, participate, and be confident in contributing to professional conversations and sharing my expertise. I am no longer afraid to take up space and to shine bright.
What is your advice to budding women in STEM?
First, know your stuff! Whatever your field is, actively seek out opportunities to gain more knowledge and improve your skills. Become an expert, and do not be afraid to share this knowledge with others. Second, be open to mentor and be mentored. Be active in networks and communities where you are challenged to grow and be better, and in which you also help others who may face the same challenges that you have faced. Finally, do something that scares you. Take on a challenge that you feel might be too big for you and find the right resources and people to help you tackle it. Whether you succeed or fail, you will have learnt invaluable lessons and will have conquered your fear.