Microsoft Lead Kendi Ntwiga on career and leadership
By JACQUELINE MAHUGU | 2 months ago
Kendi Ntwiga is an exemplar of the phrase, “Still waters run deep.” She describes herself as “naturally an introvert”, so much so that when she began her career, she really kept to herself and did not really ask questions.
“I did not know how to seek for assistance or for help and reach out. I overcame that by realizing that I had to research and put myself out more. I had to learn to raise my hand, ask questions and share what I was struggling with and I found that people were more than willing to assist,” she says.
She broke out of that shell so fully and completely that she rose to become a leader in the largely male-dominated tech industry, holding leading roles at HP, Oracle, Intel Corporation and is now the country leader at Microsoft Kenya.
All this might never have been if it wasn’t for her family shifting from Embu town when she was 12 to an upcountry area of Meru, and her father, a water engineer, deciding to go back to school and study Computer Science when IT and computers started becoming more commonplace in the 90s.
“That was the first time I got interested in Computer Science. I wanted to do what he was doing. I would ask so many questions and he reminded me that I needed to do well in sciences. My mum was a maths teacher as well as a science teacher, so she also influenced me in terms of the subjects and she would coach me,” says Kendi.
She had also loved the relatively easier and faster pace of life in town while in Embu and found it difficult to adjust to upcountry. “I knew that I needed to find my way back to town. The only way to find my way back was if I was going to do right in education and if I was going to be diligent in what I did,” she says.
While reflecting on her life in 2017, she realized that that move may have been the major turning point of her life, and may be the reason she worked to be where she is today. “So what I have strongly believed since then is that if at a young age we can give young people a reference point to look at then they can take that and use it to make a difference in their lives,” she says.
As a result of that, and the fact that it was her father who influenced her to take up sciences and get into computer science, she decided to become the same for younger girls and now mentors girls mostly in highschool, specifically before they do subject selection.
“The reason I do that is because I saw the difference it made to have an influence when I was at that particular age. Those are the moments, when I’m indoors, that I find to be the most fulfilling when I think about it,” she says.
As well as she is doing now, she also had to struggle for a bit before landing a job. She had loved town life back in Embu but city life in Nairobi on her own was a whole different ball game. She had been a student at Technical University prior to having a short stint at Kenya Polytechnic before settling in at Nazarene University. Despite having done Computer Science and International Business Management, she first worked with a marketing promotional company for three months, doing odd jobs like giving out flyers at roundabouts before she landed a job in her field. Her career skyrocketed from there.
In her estimation, she has always been on equal footing with the men in terms of leadership. “I have been fortunate to work for organisations which promote equality in the workplace and promote diversity, so I wouldn’t say that any challenges I have faced were because of gender, but normal career challenges like maybe having a tough financial year in terms of performance and needing to up that.
“Or you know like how we keep talking about the imposter syndrome?” she asks with a chuckle. You show up and you’re like, am I really up to the task? But because of constantly having mentors and people around me who are able to see what I’m able to do and who are able to call it out, I am able to overcome it,” she says.
Beyond that, from an organizational perspective, she says that Microsoft supports one to thrive. “Again, as a professional, not just as a woman. When I show up as a professional, I have the support around me that is needed for me to address any challenges that are expected.
She is also a proponent of the popular acronym, ‘YOLO(You Only Live Once) but not in the conventional sense, but rather in the sense that she is aware she only has one life to live. Her acute awareness of it keeps her going.
“So if there is anything I can think of doing, why not? And if I can do it now, why wait for tomorrow? If I do that, that by the time I am at the end of this live-once life, when I look back I won’t have regrets of ‘I would have, or ‘I should have’. There is so much out there. Why not do it?” she asks.
Her advice on success is to lean on accountability. “There is something I like to tell young people, and I tell them that so that I can remind myself of the same: do everything to the best of your ability”. When you are lying in bed at the end of the day, it is so hard to lie to yourself because you know the truth. At that moment of reckoning, what is that truth?
Specifically for women, she says this:
“If we are in a group somewhere and they start counting, they say, ‘how many people are here?’ And then they will say, ‘Of the ten, how many are girls, how many are boys?’ So when we show up, we show up first as people. All that means is that our competition as women is not other women. Our competition is both men and women. So show up as a person. Compete from the person perspective. Not from the gender perspective. When you approach it from that perspective, you won’t be promoted because you are a woman. You will be promoted because you will be the best person for that role.”
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