The key lesson I took away from my mentor is to be courageous
By CAROLINE OKELLO | 2 weeks ago
When I had more time, I’d manage to squeeze in a morning run once I got up at 6am. But now I do stretches for about 10 minutes after which I read a book for an hour.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I don’t get to read because there is a class I take then. At 7.30am, I sit down for coffee and go through a to-do list that I’d have prepared the day before and start work at 8am
Because I’m in management, my work involves a lot of meetings but I try to block off some time in the afternoon for what we call “maker time”.
This is when I do focused work without a lot of facetime with people. In the evenings, I go for an hour-long run three times a week. Thereafter, I will have a light dinner then read a novel. This gets me ready for sleep.
I love my job because we are experimental. I like to say we think like scientists. There’s always a new challenge or problem to solve.
Trade is interesting because it captures movement of goods, market places and financial services, and every day there is a problem touching each of these areas and it is interesting to work with a talented team of individuals to try and solve those problems.
I had a mentor early in my career and the biggest lesson I got from him is courage. A lot of the things we’re scared of only seem scary in the beginning, but once you start you quickly realise the perception of it was much scarier than the reality.
This mentor, who happened to be an uncle who worked in the tech space, gave me my first internship opportunity while I was studying for my degree in computer science.
He took me to client sites at big insurance companies, put me in the server room, gave me a manual, and told me to figure it out. I learnt to be innovative and scrappy, not to be afraid to fail and keep learning.
We had a few service interruptions early this year due to system downtimes. At the time, customers couldn’t place orders and partners could not receive orders.
After we resolved the incident and services were back up, we did a post-mortem exercise to figure out what had gone wrong and how we could improve. Some gaps were identified in the processes yet it was my job to ensure our processes are failure-proof.
When it is so apparent that you dropped the ball, self-criticism can kick in, and this is especially true for women. What I tend to do in such moments, in order not to beat myself up, is put the moment in perspective. I notice what I am feeling, sit with the emotion and put it into perspective.
The situation was terrible for me as a professional and for the company because there were business repercussions.
Then I remembered that the incident was going to make us a better team, make me a better leader, improve our processes and also make us treat such incidences with a lot more urgency in future – this is what I chose to focus on. Learning from mistakes is critical, because you can pick yourself up and do the same thing again.
I think we have a flawed narrative of what a good leader should be. I think what I got growing up is that a good leader should be big, bold, seriously articulate, the smartest person in the room, someone who doesn’t make mistakes, and a disciplinarian.
I disagree with this narrative. In every situation I’ve found myself in with brilliant people who I think are deserving of leadership positions, these people don’t check those boxes.
They’ll be the awkward person who listens to what people have to say and are very thoughtful, vulnerable and willing to let you see their weaknesses – the complete opposite of the narrative we got.
Being authentic is something that has worked for me and the leaders I admire. It means letting people see you’re genuine in your intentions and this in turn allows other people to be themselves around you. People perform better that way.
I wish I knew that there would be a disparity in gender representation in the tech space, because then I would have done more to bring more women along with me.
When I first started out in my career I was focused on my growth and development, working with the assumption that other women were doing the same. By the time I got here I realised we are not as many as I wish we were.
There’s a big gender gap. Now, I hold casual meetings with the women I mentor and paint a picture of a day in my life. My aim is to demystify the narrative that it is hard to be a woman in tech or technical leadership.
I also hold talks to encourage women to take Stem courses and to transition to Stem careers, because what we’ve observed, for most, is that after a course in Stem they get into careers in other fields.
I struggle with anxiety and any tool or mechanism that can help me deal with stress and anxiety for me is self-care. I am naturally a jolly person and so it is easy for me to identify the things that make me perform sub-optimally.
These are usually stress and anxiety. My coping mechanisms include a walk in Karura, running, reading a book in nature, and listening to audiobooks and podcasts. Some of my favourite podcasts are Dare to Lead and Unlocking Us, both by Brene Brown.
Gratitude, too, is something I’ve been taking a lot more seriously since the start of the pandemic; I journal regularly and write down the things for which I am grateful.
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