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Top telecoms engineer rising still

By | January 16th 2010

By Kariuki Muthui

Perched on the third floor of Longonot Place is the K24 office, a frenetic space. Macintosh computers stand like misarranged dominoes while cheerful young reporters, earphones crawling out of their ears, are hunched over keyboards editing footage they brought in from the field.

A bank of television screens line against one end of the newsroom, showing local and international channels. In the studio, news anchors are constantly trading places in front of the cameras.

Hands-on: Marion undertakes repairs at the K24 studio.

That is where Marion Njoki, head of the Technical Department, spends her days. She plays a key role that keeps everybody here in business. Her duties also involve taking care of equipment at Kameme FM, a sister station to K24.

She is also the group’s procurement officer and recommends suppliers and what models of equipment to buy — from cameras, to transmitters, vision mixers, satellite and microwave links.

Professionals of Marion’s particular expertise and experience aren’t many, but she cruises effortlessly in a tough, male-dominated world.

She is in charge of recommending, buying and keeping in mint condition the equipment required to record and broadcast 24-hour news.

She graduated from high school with solid grades and was, like most youngsters, uncertain of the path she wanted her life to follow.

That is why her father, a teacher, took matters into his own hands and came home one day with application forms for Kagumo Teachers College.

Choosing career path

Marion left the forms unfilled and took a bus to Nairobi where she moved in with her sister, who worked for Kenya Airways.

She soon learned of a specialisedcourse called Telecommunications Engineering at the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication.

Recalling her childhood fascination with the workings of radios and TVs, a light bulb went on.

So she applied and enrolled. Back then and probably even now, not too many girls hankered after the challenges of the technical world. Thus Marion found herself one of only two girls in a class of 21.

Being surrounded by a sea of men did not intimidate the young woman however.

She knuckled down to her studies and was hired soon after college.

As a child , Marion was always fascinated with how radios and TVs work. She now hasa job to indulge her curiosity. Photos: Martin Mukangu/Standard

But she recalls that time with an amused nostalgia: "One of the reasons I loved the course I was doing was because though I would end up in the world of media, it wouldn’t be as a journalist. Those guys are always on the move, going where the story takes them," she says, adding: "I wanted a quiet, enjoyable job in which I wouldn’t have to travel so much"

But she has had to travel wide on the job and is currently going to different parts of the country supervising the installation of transmitters.

Her husband and son have had to put up with her absence as she is often away troubleshooting on technical problems.

It’s always been like that. Her first job was at a company called SELGO, where she mainly worked with wireless communications devices.

It was interesting work but she soon moved to Skytech where she serviced and installed equipment countrywide for firms like NTV and Kencell.

She, for instance, was involved in the rollout of Kencell’s public phones, a pioneering service at the time.

She says: "I remember it took me a while to get adjusted to the unpredictable nature of this job. I would arrive at the office at 8am like everybody else, only to be asked to go back home and pack an overnight bag and leave for some place immediately."

The United Nations was another demanding client. She vividly remembers spending sleepless nights at the UN complex at Gigiri servicing their telecommunication equipment before major conferences.

The pressure would become relentless if Heads of State and the Secretary General were expected. The margin for error then was absolutely zero.

Another firm called Broadcast Solutions International (BSI) soon came calling, and her wanderlust led her to look for new challenges.

"I am lucky because I have never ‘tarmacked’", she says, adding: "I just tend to get new job opportunities all the time."

FM stations

Her time at BSI coincided with the explosion of the media industry.

Every day it seemed there was a new FM station being launched in the country and Marion was right in the thick of it.

One of BSI’s clients was Regional Reach, proprietors of Kameme FM.

When they launched Kenya’s first 24-hour TV station, Marion was naturally a key technical point person from the consulting firm.

When K24’S contractor returned home to Uganda, the station was left flapping without a technical manager.

Lucky for them, Marion had not lost her wanderlust.

They presented her with the chance to be at the center of a new station and it proved irresistible.

Where next? "Whatever!" she says, adding: "I am open to opportunities, but for now, I will ensure that the machines in thisstation runs smoothly and that my department has effecient and able technical assistants."

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