Guest post by Manali Rane, Professional Mentor
“We are the ones we are waiting for.”’ As I hear Megan Smith, CTO of the United States inspire us with these words, I cannot help but think what an amazing journey these five weeks with TechWomen has been.
This is the second year I participated in the TechWomen program as Professional Mentor. TechWomen program is an initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. It was initiated by former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in 2011, with a mission to power, connect, and support the next generation of women leaders in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). TechWomen is a project based mentorship program and as a part of the program every year smart and talented women, rightly called Emerging Leaders from Middle East, Central Asia and Africa are selected for a five week program. Each individual is hosted by a leading technology company from Silicon Valley to work on a project of their interest. Many leading companies participate in the program. Mentors are selected by a rigorous application process to TechWomen. Each Emerging Leader (mentee) is supported by two mentors, the Professional Mentor with whom she works on a project at the mentor’s company during the day, and the Cultural Mentor who introduces her to melting pot that the Silicon Valley is after the work hours. This year, I was matched to mentor the very talented Valentina Thompson from Sierra Leone at Ericsson.
Valentina works with the National Telecommunications Commission (NATCOM) at Sierra Leone and is the first woman spectrum engineer in the entire Sierra Leone. Valentina’s story is very inspiring. She is the only woman spectrum engineer in Sierra Leone and while most of her female classmates left education at a very young age and settled into matrimony, a common trait in her country, Valentina completed her bachelor’s in electronics and engineering and is currently pursing her master in development management at an eminent school in Sierra Leone. Valentina is very passionate about bringing change in her country by engaging more girls into STEM fields and helping them continue their education and wishes to be their role model.
At Ericsson, Valentina worked on writing a proposal for freeing up 500 megahertz of Federal and nonfederal spectrum for mobile and fixed wireless broadband as per the guidelines in 500 Mhz initiative plan and worked closely with Ericsson Research. She also gained knowledge on evolution of wireless technology in the United States, and emerging technologies like Software-Defined Networking (SDN). While Valentina was gaining insight in the IP and telecom industry in the United States, conversations with her lead me to understand how spectrum are assigned, how unlicensed users are detected and more. It also made me realize how the penetration of wireless and broadband in the United States has helped the country grow economically. It is something she stresses she would like to change is Sierra Leone which uses 2G networks.
I feel very proud to be working for Ericsson, a company that has been a part of the TechWomen program since its inception in 2011. I am extremely grateful to executive management at Ericsson and my colleagues for extending a warm and wholehearted welcome to Valentina and for providing me tremendous encouragement and support to complete the program. I cannot thank IIE and TechWomen enough for the incredible support they provide not just to the Emerging Leaders but also to the Mentors.
After four weeks of projects, seminars, conferences presentations, we headed to Washington D.C., the last leg of the program. The following days are filled with meeting Department of State officials. This also provides a great opportunity to contribute to further enhancing the program and an opportunity to meet the Department of State officials. On the last day, the State Department hosted an official lunch at the Benjamin Franklin Room and everything started to come together when we were awarded a certificate of being Ambassadors to United States.
Mentoring Valentina has been a great experience for me and it’s very inspiring to see how individuals with very limited infrastructure and resources, can achieve so much in their lives with their determination and will power. It’s a good reminder that many times, we take for granted so many things that are easily available to us. This mentor/mentee program is a two way street and it’s very humbling to notice that though we are divided by our cultural, regional and social backgrounds we are so united in the challenges we face, some that are visible and some not so visible to us. We all feel the same need to excel in our lives both personally and professionally, give back to our society, empower and engage our communities, inspire the next generation and bring about change in our small way. As I bid a teary good by to my friend and my Emerging Leader Valentina, I remind myself a quote by M K Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see.” I thank TechWomen and Ericsson for providing the platform to be that change!
Manali is Senior Software Engineer with Ericsson and currently calls the sunny Silicon Valley of California home. She holds a Master’s Degree in Computer Science from University of Southern California and leads several talented teams in a wide variety of Mobile, IP Networking and Cloudprojects on Ericsson’s routers and considers emerging technologies her forte. As a core member of Women in Leadership initiative at Ericsson, Manali actively leads activities to inspire ambitious women to lead. Manali host a tech-focused public radio show at Stanford University, and actively blogs about new technology. Outside of work, Manali enjoys traveling and a good cup of chai. Manali was a 2013 TechWomen Professional Mentor.