Dami Fawehinmi interviews Siba Munsanje

Mar 28, 2020

In this instalment, our resident blogger Dami Fawehinmi interviewed tech enthusiast and coder Siba Munsanje. Siba is currently working on helping the women around her get into the tech industry and gain accessibility into the coding field as well as continuing her own incredible roles in her career. She has worked with an array of tech companies raising awareness while in these spaces, sharing the amazing programmes available for women inspired by tech. Her journey is motivating for anyone curious about tech or already working in the field to keep persevering, and her interview sends a powerful message that tech should be open for everyone regardless of your background. Because of Siba, doors are opening to continue to help Black women enter this remarkable industry.

What inspired you to get into tech and why did you change careers?
Initially, I started learning how to code to keep my skills current, up-to-date and improve my employability. I utilised social media to connect with people that were learning how to code, and in so doing, discovered that I could code for a living. Out of curiosity, I attended tech events and met women who were working in tech. One such occasion was the BYP: Tech Unmasked panel and networking event. The panel was quite inspirational. One speaker stood out. She was a managing director at Accenture, and she spoke of her experience as a woman in tech, and the amazing things she accomplished in her role. To work in this industry presents a great opportunity to work at the forefront of change, and to create a positive impact on the world around us at scale. I felt a strong sense of purpose after that event, and three months later, I was offered a graduate role at the company.

 

What advice would you give to someone that wants to start coding?
Curiosity and a desire to solve problems are useful traits to have if you want to start coding. If you start coding with a specific aim in mind, let’s say, to build an application that recommends a bottle of wine based on your favourite foods, you are more likely to stay motivated long enough to see progress and enjoy the process of learning to code. JavaScript is a beginner-friendly language to learn. I’d recommend newbies start with this language. In my humble opinion, the best source to learn how to code is Freecodecamp, you don’t have to download any software – you can just log on to the site and everything you need to start coding is readily available. In terms of companies offering help and support, I highly recommend Makers Academy. They are famous for their ‘Demo Days’, where you can watch new developers demonstrate apps they built, ask questions about software engineering and meet newbie coders.


What has your experience been like as a Black womxn in the tech industry?
The sense of community around black women in tech is profound. As a community, we are aware of the challenges of being underrepresented in the industry and so there are great efforts to create events/groups for black women in tech to find support. I am lucky because my company has a strong African/Caribbean network that adequately caters to black employees in the firm through events, workshops and mentorship. A challenge that I face is being underestimated. I find that project managers tend to underestimate how good my skills are. This is evident through the rigorous assessment I am subjected to when I put myself forward for a project, compared to my male colleagues who are often taken at face value and face far less scrutiny despite us having similar skills and experience.

 

What do you hope the future will look like for womxn in the tech industry?
I hope to see more visible role models on corporate boards and at C–suite levels. The path to the top is not highly visible or obvious, especially for black women. Tech companies must create meaningful career paths for women, black women, by improving career progression
in the industry. One woman that inspired me to get into technology, is a managing director at my company. I was lucky enough to have met her at the BYP: Tech Unmasked event, before I joined the company. And it is because ofher testimony on the panel that day, that I am an engineer at the firm today. She is a trail blazer in the company because she is one of only a handful of black women MD’s in the company. She is a north star for which young black professionals, at the start of their career, can follow. You can’t be what you can’t see. Therefore, her presence at the top of the company provides a meaningful example I can aspire to, and a trail I can follow.

 

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Network! Life is about who you know. A fun story I love to share is the story of how I landed my first and current job in tech. A senior manager at Accenture shared an inspirational tale of his journey into technology at the BYP: Tech Unmasked event. A tale that inspired me to successfully apply to the company. I was pleasantly surprised to find that he would interview me for the role following a rigorous, yet innovative, assessment day (Accenture use Virtual Reality simulations to help assess candidates). To this day, that interview remains the most pivotal event on my journey into tech. We immediately hit it off, we were acquainted, albeit briefly, from a past tech event. I enjoyed my interview; he affirmed my ambitions to transition into tech and reminded me that there is no such thing as a glass ceiling. I thrived in that interview because I was relaxed, and the person interviewing me, happened to be in my network. Networking can open more doors and opportunities than simple applications ever could. Attend events that are relevant to your interests, follow people in your industry and engage with content that inspires you.

 

What do you believe will drive change in the Black community?
I believe sponsoring aspiring black professionals can drive positive change in the black community. To be sponsored is to have an advocate and supporter who will actively speak for and champion us in the organisation. When black resources are highly represented on corporate boards and in the C-Suite, I believe that conditions will improve for others in the firm. For instance, I recently had a black managing director step in and speak up for me when a certain project owner insisted I was too inexperienced to join his project. When this MD caught wind of what was happening, he actively spoke up on my behalf and insisted I be taken on. Having high ranking advocates within the organisation can help mitigate the promotional practices that leave us languishing in middle management and entry level positions.

 

Who is your inspiration in the tech industry?
There is this woman by the name of FALKYOU on Instagram who is an advocate for sex tech. I’m inspired by how bold, and authentic she is in her representation of women in sex tech. Her story on how she transitioned into tech is like mine, and her bravery helped inspire me to
take the leap. I also connected with Kike, founder of BYP, on her ethos that black professionals should be more visibly represented and celebrated in the corporate world akin to how celebrated we are in other industries like sports and music. We need visible role models in the corporate world too, and she’s making that possible through her app.

 

What is your biggest failure?
I don’t believe in failure, only learning opportunities.

 

What is your biggest success?
After studying Marketing at degree level, I travelled to Ghana on an international development campaign. During my time in Kumasi, I worked with a juice manufacturing start-up run by a husband and wife duo. It was an incredible experience to witness the impact their business had on the local community. This experience triggered what would turn into an 18-month soul – searching journey that would culminate in a brave career transition from marketing into technology. Working in tech has allowed me the opportunity to lead a dynamic lifestyle, the skills to help develop technology that is inclusive and the privilege of working with passionate and creative people.

 

What three pieces of advice would you give young black professionals?
I. Find a mentor or accountability partner; this is someone who will join you on your personal development journey. They should desire your success, help you when you need support and provide guidance.

II. Believe in yourself; you must see value IN yourself to add value TO yourself. A great way to lift your self-belief is to serve others and work to add value to their lives. You feel good when doing something good for someone else. Adding value to others makes them value you, which then creates a cycle of positive feelings from one person to the other.

III. Cultivate curiosity – in other words, ask why; the world opens up to those who are curious, there are few limits on how you can develop and what you can learn. The greatest way to remain curious is simply to enjoy life.

 

How do you seek out opportunities relating to your field?
Attend events that are relevant to your interests, follow people in your industry and engage with content that inspires you. Also, talk about/share your goals with other’s. This may lead to people putting you in touch with their contacts or recommending you for certain opportunities.

 

Do you have any exciting plans for the future?
Yes. I’m going skiing for the first time in my life next month, as part of a group of young, diverse professionals who are passionate about increasing representation of ethnic minorities on the slopes.

 

Would you like to add anything? 
Life is about who you know. Nurture your relationships. My relationships have brought me far in life. I would not be a womxn in tech, without the love and support of my network.

 

Connect with Siba on LinkedIn.

 

Follow Dami Fawehinmi here


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