Guest post by Priscilla Okechukwu, 2023 Fellow from Sierra Leone.
Editor’s note: Priscilla Okechukwu is a 2023 Techwomen fellow who has been invited as guest blogger to share her voice, perspective and experiences with the program and community.
My voyage to TechWomen 2023 started the night I decided to apply for the Emerging Leader’s program. Over the years, as a tech-enthusiast with a deep commitment to imparting digital and entrepreneurial skills to women and girls in Sierra Leone, I have discovered that this passion has been profoundly impactful and life-transforming.
Indeed, I was filled with joy when I received the email that read, “Congratulations, you have been selected for Techwomen 2023.” I was swept off my feet, and couldn’t contain the excitement of being amongst women promoting science, technology, engineering, an mathematics (STEM) from over twenty different countries. My husband and kids were very happy for me because they recognized that it was a significant step forward in my professional and personal growth.
It was quite amazing to note that while I was still in Sierra Leone, the TechWomen team had already begun preparing for a fully packed 5-week engagement, filled with impactful learning and a life-changing mentorship journey that has shaped me into an outstanding leader and change agent.
On the day I arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area’s Silicon Valley, I couldn’t help but feel inspired. Despite the vast distance from my home, I was encouraged by the sight of the magnificent tech companies harnessing technology to make a positive global impact. Being in Silicon Valley was truly a dream come true for me. I also discovered that several of these companies had partnered with TechWomen to help showcase the compelling success stories of emerging leaders from various countries.
I had the privilege of attending numerous enlightening and interactive sessions, seminars, workshops, and networking events hosted by prominent tech industries and educational institutions in the Bay Area. Some of the notable hosts included the University of California, Berkeley, Stanford University, Intel, Marvell, Autodesk, Salesforce, Synopsys, Google, Chime, and LinkedIn. The experiences gained with these companies have molded me into becoming a passionate leader and a change agent, committed to transforming and impacting my community.
As part of TechWomen’s commitment to providing professional development opportunities, I was matched with a mentor at Veritas Technologies, a company dedicated to enhancing the protection, performance, and cyber resiliency of enterprise data and applications across diverse cloud environments and scales. Given my professional background and interest in business intelligence, data analysis, artificial intelligence and cloud solutions, I was fortunate to have three mentors assigned to me during my three week tenure: Niti Trimbake, Director of HR, and Snigdha Das Sharma and Anila Adhikari, both senior managers at Veritas.
The knowledge I gained in various aspects — business strategies, policies, and business analytics — cannot be over-emphasized. I received unwavering support and guidance from my mentors and their team members. They were not only receptive, but also warm, caring, and friendly. They ensured I received all the necessary support required for both my professional growth and personal development.
In addition to the professional mentorship, TechWomen matched us with Impact Coaches and Cultural Mentors. This experience provided me with a unique opportunity to delve into cultural and socio-economic issues, which, in turn, enabled my country team and I to develop an impactful project aimed at addressing community challenges in Sierra Leone. Through engaging brainstorming sessions, we collaboratively designed a business model to address the issues identified in our community. With the invaluable support of our Impact Coaches, including Katie Penn, Head of Global Marketing at Twitter, Laura Draxler, a computer science teacher and entrepreneur, and Kathy Giori, CEO of Tricycle Corp, we were able to harness their exceptional expertise and insights. Their guidance played a pivotal role in the success of our project. They were not only incredibly kind, but also beautiful inside and out. They were wholeheartedly committed to ensuring our comfort and made our experience unforgettable. From the sumptuous lunches to the organized tours around San Francisco, the networking events, get-togethers, picnics, and hiking adventures are memories I’ll cherish for a long time to come.
Though I really did not want this program to come to an end, there is a saying: “Anything that has a beginning has an ending.” The journey ended at the graduation ceremony in Washington D.C., where we received our certificates of participation. The event was grand. I am deeply grateful for this life-changing opportunity.