One cannot pretend to be passionate; passion consumes your entire being, visible in your actions, and your belief that every step you take brings you closer to that which you seek. This is the first thing that you notice upon meeting Keziah Ntwiga, a mechatronic engineer, passionate about emerging technology and affecting the world positively using engineering. Our brief chat with her challenges us to keep learning and growing.
Why did I choose Mechatronic Engineering? An innate drive of curiosity, discovery, learning new things and adventure should sum it up. I have always loved tinkering with different materials since I can remember. Exposure through sci-fi movies and documentaries like Mega Structures also drove this curiosity. I believe that was my inspiration to choose Mechatronic Engineering as an enabler to actualizing my passion to make things and create solutions, however simple. Mechatronics covers a wide range of engineering areas, which I thought was great in building a multi-faceted approach of looking at problems and creating solutions, or inventing and innovating.
What is my typical work-day? I have recently completed my graduate training as an innovation and research management trainee in Copy Cat Ltd. My typical workday mainly involved researching different emerging areas in technology like Blockchain technology, Internet of Things (IoT), lots of ideating around these areas and documenting the research work done. Other roles included writing project proposals; creating user-manuals for solutions; doing user trainings; writing articles and research papers on the different areas of emergent technology; creating solutions for internal and external clients; doing client visits; attending different workshops, trainings and mentoring programs in engineering and IT. Though not the typical engineering job, every day is different and the tasks are done either individually or as part of a team.
What are the highs of being a woman in your position? Being given a level platform to contribute to the overall team goals as well as being respected and acknowledged for contributing intellectually. I believe this should be the standard! Getting a chance to challenge myself in a space where many of the professionals are male. There is a lot I have learnt individually from my male colleagues that I have found invaluable like being courageous enough to ask for help despite possible criticism, creating solutions without necessarily having all the information then iterating as the information is availed, and using networking time to discuss ideas – not people – with colleagues and friends. Being given opportunities to build capacity and skills through different fora: workshops, hackathons, conferences and trainings.
The lows of being a woman in engineering? Great question! There is, generally, some level of intellectual limitation that is applied to women: from leading a team to creating solutions. From being ‘ignored’ in a networking or workshop forum until you speak up and contribute; Others getting shocked when you contribute to the topic at hand; Being included in a conversation only after learning you are an engineer; or, getting shocked after learning that you have come up with a brilliant idea or created a solution. I think this is rather weird. Sometimes, it is being objectified directly or indirectly, through jokes or snide comments. In the workplace, I’d say being perceived as being too serious. Being an engineer requires focus and discipline, which may imply being engrossed in my work for a long while without having a chat with my colleagues. But I love me a good laugh. Being asked why I’d stay later than the normal in the office. I believe a person can work later if needed – reasonably so – to finish tasks or do more research. I sometimes found it easier and faster to work after 5pm as there were less disruptions.
What two things do you know now about your career that you wish you knew when you were just out of campus? One, the depth and dynamism of the field is far greater than I was exposed to in campus. Two, a degree in Mechatronics – as learnt in campus – is not the end. It is just the beginning.
You are a mentor at WomEng Kenya. What impact do you feel it is making? Wow! Joining WomEng is one of the best decisions I have made becoming a Fellow in 2014. Together with the WomEng Kenya team, we challenge, inspire and run sessions to up-skill the ladies and girls in Engineering and STEM. My mentoring role includes engaging the ladies – 3rd to 5th year engineering undergrad. students – through different projects, interactive activities and sessions during the annual Fellowship Week to challenge them to think outside the box and work on their soft skills that are vital for an all-round engineer. Also, through the GirlEng program – an engineering information program for high school girls – I get to engage the girls though interactive sessions, activities and technical challenges that highlight the different fields of engineering and the possibilities thereof.
I believe it is making a great impact in the lives of the ladies and girls who attend the different programs. I was delighted recently to learn that at least two of the girls that had come for the GirlEng program in August 2016 are taking up an Engineering course or a related STEM option like Architecture in university. After the April GirlEng session this year, one of the girls attending said that she had made up her mind to do Mechatronic Engineering in university. From the Fellowship program, some of the Fellows have started applying the concepts they learn. Some have started their own mentorship programs where they go to their former high schools and mentor the girls there. Some have started their own engineering ventures, written technical papers, travelled internationally to present and participate in global engineering fora, invested in up-skilling in different areas and even taken up leadership roles in their universities. These are some of the outcomes from the impact of the program. Some are yet to be seen and I believe they will in time. WomEng purposes to have 1 million girls in STEM in 10 years. I believe through our efforts, this will be possible.
How important has networking been in your career, if at all? I have found networking to be very essential in my career: from getting to find out about career opportunities, seeking mentorship, linking up with different professionals for the sake of doing business or collaborating, to making new friends. I believe it is important to step out of one’s comfort zone and speak to other people, especially in a setting where you are less likely to meet them again. I’ve got to meet people I wouldn’t have imagined meeting. It may be in a bus, on the street or in at a function. The people in your network do have an effect on your net worth. I’d advise that one starts from high school or university if possible. It is also important to keep in touch with the people in your network as best as possible.
What is next for you? Investing more in my personal growth and in the future generation. There’s a lot of work to do.
Your gift will open room for you and bring you before great men.
~ Proverbs 18:16
Any hobbies? Yes. A few would be listening to music, playing the violin, playing board games like Scrabble and draughts, writing, and watching documentaries and movies.
Parting shot? Sure. Perhaps on how to make a mark or stand out: I encourage women in the tech space to keep learning, unlearning and relearning. That may mean initiating a project, forming a trusted (professional) support system to challenge and push you to maximize your potential, investing in yourself: buying resources and tools to better your skills or attend an up-skilling workshop, not be afraid to try, making time for people that matter, volunteering and giving back through your field. Your work and giving will never be in vain if done to positively impact your sphere of influence.
About Keziah: Keziah is a feisty innovator with a background in Mechatronic Engineering. She avidly volunteers in WomEng Kenya and relishes seeing more girls and women doing exploits through the STEM and Music.