Guest post by Nomusa Nyoni, 2015 Emerging Leader, Zimbabwe
My TechWomen journey began with an application in February, an interview and a series of congratulatory emails from the TechWomen team. The real affirmation of what I was about to experience came when I was notified that I would be mentored by Kate Slattery, a Data Scientist from SolarCity. At that point, I realised that TechWomen was not just the California visit that I had dreamed of – I was about to take my greatest professional leap yet.
Prior to my departure for the U.S., I had extensive discussions with Kate. She prepared me well for the mentorship by providing photovoltaic design training material. This helped a lot as I had no previous solar experience. I gave my input on what I wanted to gain while at SolarCity which then helped in coming up with project ideas.
The director of TechWomen, Arezoo Riahi gave a short speech in our first week that shifted my mentorship expectations into a more realistic gear. A mentor is not there to upgrade your technological skills and teach you everything you need to know. A mentor exposes you to their network, advises and inspires. This rang true when within the first few days of mentorship; I had a number of meetings and discussions with key staff members in various departments. Initially, I was skeptical as some of them had nothing to do with my current career focus but everything that was said in every ‘Lunch and Learn’ was fascinating, relevant and delivered in an engaging manner.
For my first project, I designed solar tutorial for the team travelling to Haiti to assist in the solar installation for the GivePower Foundation. The mock presentation I did got good reviews with the hope to further adapt for the local community in Haiti. I learnt a lot too about solar in short time through this exercise.
My second project was in collaboration with my mentor to build on previous research she had done on inverter selection in PV design. It was a great learning curve, introducing me to the latest energy design software and applications.
SolarCity gave me a platform to present about the Zimbabwe energy industry and share about where I come from. This and other presentations boosted my confidence and I felt pride for my country. I discovered a lot about my fellow emerging leaders’ countries: Tunisia’s 100% grid access, Turkmenistan’s free gas for citizens and Solar Sister in Nigeria. This inspired me to be part of the solution to Zimbabwe’s power crisis through small steps to reduce fossil fuel dependency, save the environment and still provide alternatives during power outages. When I asked Pete Rive, SolarCity’s CEO and co-founder on how to convince people to go solar, he simply said, “Make it cheaper.” I posed this question as a future entrepreneur to a current leader in green technology who was once part of a small start-up that also faced challenges.
Taking part in an actual solar installation with Grid Alternatives gave me appreciation of the hard work that goes into producing fully functional solar system. It was awesome learning from the experts, meeting the home owner, handling power tools and getting up on the roof. This is the plus of being an Engineer; I get to see designs come to life and thanks to TechWomen that happened in Oakland, Calif.
TechWomen is Only the Beginning
Overall, the experience was life changing. I will forever be grateful to have been awarded the opportunity to take part in the TechWomen Program. I look forward to giving back my knowledge, expertise and time to inspire young women to pursue STEM.
Nomusa Nyoni is an Electrical Engineer from Zimbabwe. She holds a Bachelor of Engineering Honours Degree in Electronic Engineering from National University of Science and Technology and has 4 years’ experience in electrical building services design. Previously, Nomusa worked at Speartec Electrical in Harare, Zimbabwe where she took part in tendering for, design and installation of electrical works numerous construction projects. Most notably, she was placed at a hotel refurbishment project in Libreville, Gabon for over a year where she gained more hands on experience in supervision, site administration and various aspects of project management. Nomusa recently joined the Electrical Engineering department at Delta Built Environment Consultants in Pretoria, South Africa, where she remains in the construction industry but focused more on design and consulting services. Connect with Nomusa on LinkedIn.