With DataGirl, Selma Ndi is helping over 3000 young women in Cameroon to acquire tech skills

Onyinye Okonkwo
Selma shares with us her journey from being a trained accountant in Cameroon to becoming a full-stack developer and subsequently founding the DataGirl…

Selma Ndi is an accountant by training. When she caught the tech bug, she made the pivot and picked up some tech skills first and has since gone all the way to becoming a pathway for others.

For our women in tech series, this week, Selma shares with us her journey from being a trained accountant in Cameroon to becoming a full-stack developer and subsequently founding the DataGirl, an ed-tech startup that equips girls with ICT skills which help land tech jobs. 

Selma Ndi’s brief

Selma Ndi obtained a BSc in accounting from the University of Buea, Cameroon and a masters in business administration from the ICT University ICT.

The decision to study art at the ICT university changed her life and career trajectory. It was while studying at the ICT university she got exposed to coding, programming and all things tech and she was hooked. She fell in love with tech and decided to make a career switch, ditching her accounting career for tech. 

However, the switch wasn’t immediate. Selma tells me she had to work as an accountant for two more years to raise money to follow her newfound passion to avoid relying on her parents for support. In the university.

” I had to work as an accountant for two more years to save up money, so I didn’t have to bother my parents when I wanted to do what I was interested in. Especially seeing as I had studied accounting like they wanted me to, I worked as an accountant and made money from it so I was able to save up something to take care of my needs as I studied to become a full stack developer. This reduced whatever pushback there may have been from my parents. which reduced their interference in my decision to move to tech”, she says.

she studied accounting in line with the expectations of her parents who wanted her to either become a doctor or a journalist.

But, she didn’t feel connected to any of those options.

Selma’s first tech role was working as a frontend developer at a small startup called Green Business. From there she move on to work with international companies like Career Foundry and others before starting Data Girl Technologies, a feat which is quite impressive as she only wrote her first line of code in 2018. 

Selma Ndi and participants of the DataGirl program

Selma Ndi on starting Data Girl

Selma had several motivations for founding Data Girl one of which was giving people options for other career paths.

She reveals that growing up, her career choices were limited as her parents wanted her to either be a journalist, banker or doctor and she didn’t see herself in any of these fields.:

“I only realized accounting was not what I wanted t do for the rest of my life after I got introduced to tech and I realized that a lot of people have this path that has been laid out for them without knowing they have options”, she explains.

“I decided to found DataGirl as a way of raising awareness, letting people know that they can pursue a career in tech”, she adds.

And, I made it a women’s program because women had fewer opportunities and options giving women and girls who are interested in building a career in tech the mentorship, resources and awareness they need to successfully build a career in tech.

DataGirl was officially founded in 2019. But, there is a backstory,

Selma told me that she had a group of friends that usually pool resources together to either pay the school fees for a young girl or train them in a vocational school. They named the group the womb initiative.

Selma tells me the result wasn’t exactly what they wanted and eventually some in her group were no longer up to the task of sponsoring the girls..

Selma
Selma accepting the techwomen22 certificate

Going ahead. she took it upon herself to continue this initiative but with a strict focus on tech. She explains:

“After the rest of the group decided they weren’t up to the task, I took it upon myself to reinvent the wheel and move away from things like hairdressing and tailoring. I focused instead on teaching these girls about tech and ICT skills since I am familiar with that. I also reformed the name from the womb initiative to DataGirl technologies. So you could say that this initiative was inspired by what I was doing with my group of friends as it was what pushed me to found DataGirl which had been running for a while before I officially registered it in 2019.”

Since its inception, dataGirl has trained over 3000 girls, equipping them with relevant tech skills with which some of these girls have gone on to get various jobs within the tech space. 

Challenges

While DataGirl is a great initiative, it is not without its unique challenges.

Top of the list of challenges, she tells me is the difficulty posed by the parents of these girls. Oftentimes, they stop them from learning these skills as they do not see the point. This, Selma tells me, is one of the biggest hindrances in getting young women in Cameroon to pick up tech skills;

“The parents of some of these girls do not see the importance of it even though the world has become very digital. Some of them would not allow their daughters even to take their holiday period to come to learn and it is an orientation problem which we tackle by sensitizing these parents, helping them understand the importance of allowing their daughters to learn tech skills in today’s digital world” she says. 

Another challenge for Selma and her team is getting some of the girls to finish their programs. Often, they would start the program and get distracted along the way either by some responsibilities or other factors.

Challenges as a woman in tech

As a woman in tech, Selma said that her biggest challenge as a full-stack developer is that tech companies sometimes have reservations about hiring female developers as they feel that they would be distracted by starting their families.

So, there is a nagging challenge of women having to prove that they can commit the time and focus required as software developers, unlike their male counterparts.

“Despite the current rules and policy about gender equality in the tech space, some tech companies still feel women cannot commit that much due to the distractions of raising a family and don’t take us female developers too seriously which puts us in a position of having to prove we can intensively work and deliver just like the male developers,” she says. 

Personally, Selma told me that her biggest challenge as a woman in tech is that she has so much she is trying to juggle at the same time. While she runs DataGirl, she also works full-time, has a family and also codes on personal projects.

Selma sometimes pays for success in all with her health. 

She also confesses to having to deal with impostor syndrome in the past but says she is working on leaving that mindset behind. 

“ I don’t know if it’s modesty but I used to struggle with impostor syndrome. I feel like I couldn’t do this or I am not good enough but getting accolades, especially from colleagues and clients who make me begin to think that I really can do this. So I intentionally had to leave this kind of mindset of doubting myself and accept that I am a woman in tech and in the tech space. I can make an impact, and I can bring change with what I do. It is a struggle sometimes but it is a work in progress” 

– Selma says

Memorable moments

Her most memorable moment Selma tells me was being selected to go to Silicon Valley earlier this year.

“The day I landed in SILICON VALLEY in February this year was very memorable for me. Being chosen by tech women to represent Cameroon and having to spend five weeks interacting with tech founders, visiting the offices of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.”

“Just seeing how they work, and watching and learning from policymakers, was a highlight of my tech career. That experience broadened my mind and made me realize that I could achieve all of these as a woman in tech”, she adds.

Selma Ndi
Selma at the Twitter office

Advice for women in tech

For women that are already in tech, Selma gave this advice to give

” keep learning, keep trying to be better and never give up. and for those still having difficulty getting into tech due to all the myths surrounding the industry, I want them to know that everything is possible so long they the intensity and the push. tech is the language of the future so I feel like Every woman or girl should be able to learn that language t be able to compete in the future and also benefit from the opportunities that are opening up in tech.

For those in different careers looking to pivot to tech, she had this to say; ” it doesn’t matter how long you have gone on the wrong road it’s never too late to turn back.”

“Like me, I studied all my life to be an accountant, Bsc, or master but when I realised it wasn’t for me, I switched to tech and four years down look at how great things have turned out. So for women interested in tech, there are a lot of resources and opportunities for women who want to go into tech. Do not let your environment stop you from taking advantage of these opportunities and getting into the space.

Read also: https://technext.ng/2022/08/16/onyinye-olisah-traditional-banking-budpay/

Looking forward

Selma has big plans for the future and in five years she hopes to be in the position to do much more in training girls in Cameroon.

She told me that she hopes to be able to provide the girls who go through DataGirl with more opportunities in the coming years.

“We want to be available in the 10 regions in Cameroon as right now we are only available in two regions but in the next 5 years, we want to make sure that half the country has access to what we have to offer. we also want to include cyber security, blockchain technology, AI, Machine learning and data science in our coding program so that the girls can have diversification in what they want to learn. we plan to achieve all of these in five years and believe it is very achievable.”


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