Guest post by Henrica Makulu, 2022 Emerging Leader of Zimbabwe
Editor’s note: Henrica Makulu’s guest post is part of our series, Emerging Leader Voices, which invites TechWomen Emerging Leaders to share their voice, perspective and experiences with the TechWomen community.
Silicon Valley here she comes!
If my younger self could see me now, she would be in disbelief. I’ve always felt like a fluke when it came to what I studied. Never in a million years did I see myself as a leading woman in tech traveling to Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area for a five week mentorship and exchange program. Neither did I ever see myself as one of the first female data scientists in my country!
Journey of a fluke mathematician
I passed my arts subjects better in high school, but because I was a “tomboy” I joined the science class just to show I was tough. Looking back, I think it was an unguided decision because I was honestly not strong in those subjects. While I didn’t do too well in my final exams, my highest scored subject was mathematics. When it was time for university, I applied for sports science but was given mathematics instead. I just settled for it, and had to get on with it, but it wasn’t really of interest to me then.
Throughout university I faced challenges: I failed all my mechanics courses and ended up repeating a year due to the difficulty of the degree as well as financial constraints. A four-year degree took me five years. One thing I realised though was every time people asked me what I was studying, answering “applied mathematics” always left them wowed. Those moments started making me feel like maybe what I was doing had value.
I first heard of TechWomen from a family friend just after graduating in 2012. I applied, and all I could mention in the application was a few activities I had done in high school and that I had a maths degree. I received a “we regret to inform you” email. I then applied again in 2017, this time with a few years of work experience to add. To my disappointment, I got another “we regret to inform you” email. In 2020 I mustered the courage to apply again. This time I was selected as a semi-finalist but later received yet another regret email. For 2021 I had decided not to bother applying, but then two different friends sent me the application and encouraged me to apply. Both friends thought I was a great candidate for the program. The rest is history! I am now preparing to go to Silicon Valley in a few week’s time! Looking back, I am glad I get to go only now because I now know exactly what I need in my career. I am looking forward to learning under the wing of a Silicon Valley data scientist!
What the future holds
Only 15 to 22 percent of data science professionals are women (Boston Consulting Group). As one of only two females to graduate in my mathematics degree, I know firsthand the need for guidance for young women who want to venture into this field, and those who do not even know data science exists. So what does the future hold? Being one of the first female data scientists in Zimbabwe is an honour for me, but I don’t want it to end there. In the next five to 10 years I see myself leading other African youth into the industry so that data can be used to solve challenges that are unique to us as Africans. As they say, “Without data you are just another person with an opinion.” That’s why I have made it my mission to harness the power of data to solve business and community problems – one person at a time!
Henrica is one of Zimbabwe’s first female data scientists. Passionate about data storytelling – as a data practitioner, providing insights that inform business decisions and in her community using data from life’s experiences, Henrica believes “stories are just data with a soul.” Using the notion that “data speaks,” her desire is to transform lives. She currently does this through her role as a data scientist for one of Africa’s leading technology companies as well as through her work as founder and lead trainer of HM Digital, a consulting practice offering training, mentorship and advisory in digital literacy and data analytics. Henrica is also a mentor and has impacted over 3,000 people through technical training and mentorship both locally and internationally. She is a recognised thought leader and speaker in the Zimbabwean data science industry and was recently recognised as one of Africa’s leading women in data analytics by TECHBUILD.Africa. Learn more on her website.