Up&Ap: Fatma Ali on using her tech skills to positively impact the community

It’s said that nothing can be as rewarding as sharing – be it our time, resources or our various God-given talents and acquired skills. This is something Fatma Ali (pictured) has become aware of (and appreciate) in her professional life as the Software Developer at AMPATH has had the opportunity to learn from and gain invaluable lessons from her mentors. And now, to give back by sharing her knowledge and experience with others, she serves as the the co-lead for Developer Circles Eldoret, a community of developers and techies sponsored by Facebook. Here is her story…    

Question: Who is Fatma Ali? Give us an introduction about yourself

Fatma Ali (FA): I’m a Software Developer at AMPATH, Kenya based in Eldoret. My work mainly involves developing and maintaining the first Point of Care System in Kenya used to care for patients across Western Kenya. I also serve as the co-lead for Developer Circles Eldoret, a community of developers and techies sponsored by Facebook, that comes together frequently to share ideas and knowledge in technology by hosting both online and offline events in the town.

Q: Tell us the journey of how you became a software engineer. What influenced you to get into a tech career?

FA: Growing up I was always that nerd that everyone called to fix their TV or mobile when it broke down. I had a deep passion for technology and decided to take Computer Science in University. I was introduced to programming back in the first year at University. It was a Python unit and to be honest, it was quite difficult but the ability to solve real-world problems by just writing code intrigued me. To enhance my skills, I also enrolled in several online coding courses and competitions that helped me build several apps from mobile to web applications. The online courses also built my confidence to take on more challenging problems.

Q: How did you end up working at AMPATH and what does your job entail?

FA: I began working with AMPATH for my industrial attachment before my graduation back in 2017. I completely fell in love with the mission of providing healthcare to remote areas of Kenya and made it my own. During my attachment, I began contributing to the source code of the electronic medical records system, and I was offered an internship soon after my graduation. After the internship, I then got a job as a fulltime Software Developer at AMPATH. My job involves developing new features for the Point of Care System used to care for HIV patients and is quickly growing to cater to patients with other ailments as well.

Q: How did you get into the Facebook Developer Circles space?

FA: Developer Circles Eldoret was launched in early 2018 by my co-lead Gertrude Nyenyeshi. I became a member of the community soon after. I became very involved in the community

meetups mainly because I felt a responsibility to give back to the local community while gaining mentorship from experienced members of the community.

Q: As a co-lead for Developer Circles in Eldoret, what are your responsibilities?

FA: Each Developer Circle is led by members of the local community who act as leads for the circle, organizing events offline and managing a local online Facebook community of developers and people with an interest in STEM careers. Events range from workshops to talks to study group meetups. Another important role is growing the local tech ecosystem through the mentorship of community members and partnerships with other key players in the ecosystem.

Q: How did Facebook get to partner with your Developer Circles in Eldoret?

FA: Developer Circles is a community-driven program launched in 2017. It is free to join and open to any developer sponsored by Facebook. It is a program supported directly by Facebook.

Learn more about it here

Q: How does Facebook assist with your skills and development growth?

FA: First, access to mentorship and free quality online courses has been extremely essential to my growth as a leader in my community. Before developer circles, I was extremely very shy and an introvert. Being a co-lead has enhanced my confidence and communication skills to a whole new level. Secondly, the travel opportunities to conferences have enabled me to gain a wider and open view of the world and the problems that we all face and needs to be solved. Finally,

networking opportunities with key players in the local and global tech space has enhanced my opportunities for jobs and further studies.

(Fatma Ali assisting one of her mentees during one of the Developer Circle meetups).   

Q: Since you joined and became involved in Facebook’s Developer Circles, what are some of the key milestones in terms of projects and solutions developed?

FA: Being part of developer circles, our members have been able to gain knowledge through competitions and online courses provided for free in partnerships with course providers. We also recently launched university programs in five universities in and around Eldoret. This is a hands-on program that aims to build the technical skills of students and increase their chances of getting employment after graduation. Finally, every year, we host at least one event to celebrate and encourage more women into technology careers. The event usually includes experts from different STEM backgrounds to speak, as well as panels that discuss inclusivity and equality in tech.

Q: Who has been your mentor(s) in both your personal and professional life and why?

FA: I have several people that I really look up to both in my personal and professional life. However, the two main people are:

i) Nicky Kimaina: Nick is the current Technical team lead at AMPATH and has been both my professional and personal mentor from the beginning of my career. He’s been a software developer for over 7 years and he’s my role model for what I plan to achieve in my career.

ii) Gertrude Nyenyeshi: is my co-lead at Developer circles Eldoret and is also a software engineer by profession. Being a woman in a career that doesn’t have so many women, it’s essential to have a female mentor that shares the same sentiments as you. Gertrude has been one of my pillars ever since I met her and is someone I go to in relation to career advice as a fellow woman in the same industry.

Q: What programs and pieces of training have you participated in that have contributed to your skills development?

FA: With the world going digital, there are many avenues to learn new things using the internet.

Nowadays, there are many websites that offer free online courses to learn almost anything. I have used the internet quite extensively in my career to learn new things. In fact, I began learning how to code on an online course. A few of the websites that I have used in the past and learned a lot from include Free Code Camp, Code Academy and Hacker Rank.

Q: What are your thoughts on STEM courses in relation to girls especially?

FA: After graduation and when I landed my first job, I was the only woman in the office. STEM courses, unfortunately, have not always been the first pick for most girls because of the misconceptions and stereotypes that STEM careers are hard (or manly). With women constituting more than half of Africa’s population, it’s essential to have more of them in the tech space. Initiatives need to be put in place to break the stereotypes by us, the women already in STEM careers. There are a lot of opportunities for women in tech right now, we need to make sure girls know this and take full advantage of them to achieve their full potential.

Q: Being relatively ‘young’ in your career journey, where do you see yourself in the next 5 years, what lies ahead in your career journey?

FA: In the next five years, I see myself as a senior software engineer at my own startup building products to solve Africa’s problems. Africa has a lot of problems that can be solved by the use of technology. From corruption to education to health care to food security, all these problems present a way that we can utilize technology.

Q: Any final comments?

FA: Being in the tech industry has been extremely rewarding and fulfilling for me as a young African woman. It might seem intimidating or difficult, and there were times I questioned if I would truly make it. However, looking back, the decision to choose a career in tech has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.

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