Q: Tell us about yourself, how you figured your way into tech and your field of work?
I grew up in a rural area in Uganda. I was raised by a single parent and attended a public school at my primary level. I did not have any ambition to be a doctor or an engineer, like most children who attended private schools. In my community, the highest level of education was a primary or a secondary school teacher. I didn’t want to be a teacher mainly because most of my aunts and uncles were teachers and I didn’t admire the career life so I worked hard in my studies and performed well at my primary level.
My father took me to a good secondary school and this opened up my mind and challenged my career ambitions. In school, on the day of orientation we were asked to write down three careers, we would like to pursue in the future, I had no idea what to write, so I copied my friend and wrote down doctor and veterinary. I don’t quite remember the third selection. As I proceeded with my studies I realized I didn’t quite enjoy biology. I then started saying my career would be in engineering and concentrated in physics and mathematics. The school noticed my interest and performance in the two subjects and students started calling me an engineer.
In Uganda, we have three levels of academia, primary, O level, and A level.
After my O levels, my father wanted me to be a doctor. I had performed well in all the other subjects apart from biology. This disappointed my father, however since I wanted to be an engineer I proceeded to Makerere University and pursued a career in telecommunications engineering.
In university, I realized things were diverse such that in my class with a total of 60 students only 5 were female. This was quite challenging, one received unwanted male attention and it seemed harder to win or perform well as a female. It was also my first time using a computer since we had compulsory programming units.
In my second year, I enrolled in an android scholarship program by Google for 3 months at a local tech hub called outbox which I enjoyed a lot and gained more insight into programming. I was also selected as a class representative. This was quite challenging since it is not easy to lead a group of young men who are physically bigger than you with deep voices and I have also never been in any leadership position prior to this point. Sometimes the students would not want to be told certain information from the lecturers and whenever I would let the lecturers know that they would challenge my leadership. There were also dating rumors that I was unaware of but would spread amongst the students. To handle these challenges I decided to develop goals for myself, for my life in school and after school, and focus on achieving them. I was able to successfully finish my studies.
Looking for a job after university was not easy, there were a lot of demands like giving bribes, that were not aligned with my Christian values. I decided to partner with a friend and started a company together known as Code Academy Uganda, where we train on coding.
As we employed more individuals we had male employees join us, this was challenging in that they would undermine my authority and I had to keep reminding them of the company’s vision and their position so we could accomplish the goal together. Working on team projects was also challenging since most men would not like to be in teams led by women, even if they are uninformed in the subject matter. I had to figure out how I would work with the men since there are few ladies who are in tech. I set goals that we would achieve then work as friends, this helped the men to not feel as intimidated.
Q: How has it been working with women?
In university, whenever I had any serious projects I would work with women since we were few and determined. Whenever you find a serious lady you won’t have any difficulty and decision making is easier since they don’t mind being led by a lady. However, also working with ladies who are not in STEM has been challenging in that they sometimes need to be pushed to accomplish something or unwilling to learn even with access to the internet.
Q: How do you create a team especially as a woman in leadership to achieve a project?
I ensure I understand the goals and roles needed for the project. I then look for individuals who are flexible in their way of thinking, who can unlearn and relearn, work with minimum supervision, time management, and communication.
Q: How did you figure out how to be respected as a woman in a position of leadership especially by male colleagues?
As a Christian I have personal values I uphold, this goes back to understanding the vision of the project or organization, making it clear that men/women may run with it, and finding out how they contribute to the vision. In addition to that is being open-minded and taking on the leadership position with love. Of course, sometimes I have to be strict with love since we are people and need each other. Definitely, leadership becomes easy and fun.
Q: How have you dealt with presenting your craft as a woman? There’s a tendency women encounter of not being fully confident in showcasing what they know and that they need to be perfect at it so as to showcase it.
This is something I have experienced a lot in my life. In fact, in primary school, we were once asked a question and I knew the answer, however, I did not say anything and the whole class was punished for not knowing only for the answer to be revealed and I would have been right. There’s always a need for ladies to be experts or truthful to themselves. However, males would even go for an interview with a lot of confidence and be determined to learn the skill later or on the job. This is an area I am learning how to overcome.
Q.How did you figure out to be a leader?
Since I was young I was always good at meeting deadlines and doing whatever task I had at hand excellently. Even on campus, it was my classmates who appointed me to be a class representative, mainly because in group projects I would coordinate and have them done in time, I would volunteer to help out whenever there was an issue in class and I would be early for classes. That’s how the students decided to have me as their class representative instead of the elect. I also joined campus ministry and become a leader as well. That’s when I fully embraced leadership.
Q.How did you figure out how to deal with letting go of a teammate?
Earlier when working with friends, I used to do a lot just to make sure I was pleasing them and that they were comfortable while I was hurting myself. I would be worried about a task someone was supposed to do yet they were enjoying their lives. This really affected me when I was a class representative and I almost messed the whole class. I learned my lesson then and grew as a leader. Now I normally have an open conversation with a particular person involved with the task on why they aren’t performing as expected and if there is no valid reason I keep the companies best interest forward and let them go of their duties. I also make it clear to the employees that they need to show their value in the company and just being part of the team is not enough.
Q.What does Code Academy Uganda do? Which solution are you providing in Uganda? What has been the impact so far?
Our vision is for every child in Uganda to have access to computer science skills. We teach programming from the ages of 7 years. We have code clubs in school with computer labs at a small fee. We also have a program known as code school where we train programming to everyone for 2 weeks a month for free. Currently, since the COVID-19 regulations which led to the closure of schools, we are now running our programs online. We also have Code Camp programs for in-depth learning which run for 2-3 hours a day for 2-3 weeks. The older youth, learn for 3 months and join the workspace. We also develop software for companies. We have now reached 5000 kids, with 1000 kids being females. As for the youth, we have impacted 100 and most are working.
Brenda Agnes Tugume is the operations manager at Code Academy Uganda. She is also a telecommunications engineer. To follow her on social media on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AgnesBrenda777 , LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/brenda-tugume-032319122/ .