#InterviewSeries | Chiedza Calpurnia Ishemunyoro
The #InterviewSeries is a collection of intimate discussions with people who identify as a woman or non-binary in the technical & digital spaces. They are entrepreneurs, developers, students, cyber-security experts, managers, designers, researchers and social media queens. The aim of the series is to increase the visibility of women and non-binary people in tech, to prove that no person's journey is linear & to celebrate their successes.
Next up in my #InterviewSeries is my fabulous friend Chiedza. Chiezda has motivated, inspired and encouraged me on a personal level for nearly two years. She is a straight talking, insanely smart and kind woman. She's given us some very useful and practical advice and allowed us insights into her thought process. Enjoy!
Tell us a little bit about yourself
My name is Chiedza Calpurnia Ishemunyoro. I have been working in tech related roles for two and a half years. I work as a Cloud Security Engineer for HMRC. I work in a team that uses AWS to create a platform for processing unstructured data. I use mostly Python, SQL and AWS Tools in my day to day job.
Tell us a little bit about your journey into your role
A few months before I joined HMRC to be a Tax Officer, I saw an ad on Facebook for the Web Summit 2015. Web Summit is an annual technology conference previously held in Dublin but now held Lisbon. The ad was offering students free attendance to come and learn about technology. As an economics student I hadn’t really given technology much of a thought. But for the first time as I read the ad, questions flooded my mind. How does the internet really work, how does Facebook make money and why does the computer enable me to do so many things? As a result I clicked to register to attend and the next thing I knew I was on a flight to Dublin to experience an event that has now shaped my career and interests. It was at the Web Summit that I saw for the first time lines of code. It was at this event that I got to experience so many aspects of technology in one, I saw my first startup pitch there, spoke to leading experts in technology, attended workshops by leading tech companies such as Google and IBM. Before I left the Web Summit I had already decided that I was going to work directly with technology. When I went back home I made it my mission to learn more about technology. Coincidentally when I started my job at HMRC, HMRC was driving a campaign about making tax digital. They were ample opportunities for on the job training for those who wanted to move to digital roles. Just as I was finishing my first year in taxation role, I had just secured a place in a digital role. This is how I moved from Nottingham to London.
How do you personally use technology in your day to day?
I use internet facing applications everyday. I use them in my job role, for communication, shopping, learning, keeping up with the news and also for health and fitness. I work on the cloud, so when I am at work, 90% of the time I am on the internet.
I limit the use of social media to weekends and during holidays. I do not have any social media apps on my mobile phone, I can only access them via my laptop. I removed social media apps from my phone to reduce the ease of reach and therefore to limit my time spent on social media. This helped me to be more present. I do not have Snapchat/ Instagram/ Pinterest. I use Twitter to keep up with the news.
"I am now constantly engaged in a cycle of prioritisation, reprioritisation and evaluation of my commitments. Before I commit to anything, I have to ask myself how that fits in with the larger vision of myself. I have also given myself permission to let go of commitments that are not delivering what is expected of them." how Chiedza manages burnout.
How do you use technology in your role?
I am working in a team that is 100% reliant on cloud services. Therefore in my job as a security engineer, I am working online full time. In order to implement any solutions, I have to go online to read the documentations from AWS and use services such as stackoverflow to learn from the wider tech community.
What have been the best learning resources for you?
Reading - I run a bookclub focused mainly on reading books about startups and businesses. We meet up once a month to discuss our thoughts. I found this accelerated my learning about technology and business in general.
Networking with other professionals. I attend conferences, meetups and workshops.
Online education. I use edx.org, udemy, acloudguru and numerous other resources.
As a woman, do you think you have faced any challenges that a man would not face in your position?
This is a very important topic which I do not want to tackle superficially. On the subject of gender, I am very curious about why agreeableness differs between gender and how that affects what type of challenges we face in the workplace and in life in general. Is the cause of agreeableness innate, social or cultural? I ask this because I have witnessed events which I found myself torn on whether it was sexism or if I just witnessed an agreeable person get trumped over. I therefore find this question hard to answer.
On a personal level, since joining the tech industry, I have worked in male dominated teams. I have received immense support from my teams and I feel my interests have been served in all the teams I have worked in.
What HAS been your biggest challenge to date?
Understanding discrimination of any kind, especially discrimination on things that require intellectual capacity. A society that depends or is designed to fit largely the intellectual alignment of one group of people will lead to a great /persisting inequality and leave most needs unmet. It is still a challenge for me to understand why people do not realise this.
"A society that depends or is designed to fit largely the intellectual alignment of one group of people will lead to a great /persisting inequality and leave most needs unmet. It is still a challenge for me to understand why people do not realise this." Chiedza on the challenges our industry faces.
With regards to technology/ digital, what do you think will be our biggest barrier to success in the future?
Ignorance. Over the last decade, we have woven technology into our social, cultural and political fabric. Billions of dollars are being invested in the digital economy and the resulting innovations are sparking ethical and legal questions without clear answers. We don’t know how the technology we use works and therefore cannot appropriately discuss its implications. We witnessed this during the questioning of Mark Zuckerburg by congressmen throughout the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica saga earlier this year. The questioning revealed that the gap between technical discussion and technical literacy is dangerously wide. Governments across the world do not have the adequate 21st century technology knowledge necessary for them to implement effective policies and comprehensive laws to protect personal data. This has implications on our democracy.
If our politicians and policy makers do not understand the technologies, what hope do we have for the general users? End User License Agreements (EULAs) are a potent symbol of the general public’s asymmetric relationship with technology firms. People click on them without thinking and without fully understanding what they are agreeing to. The length, language and presentation of User Agreements makes it very difficult for users to want to read them even if they have interest. With more media attention being drawn on privacy and data scandals, we are seeing a continued deterioration of public perception and trust. We need leaders in technology to take ownership of these shortcomings and make deliberate efforts to have a positive, responsible impact on society. The consequence of not doing so is that new disruptive innovations are being met with cynicism. It is the new incumbents who suffer as they do not have the money to pay for marketing and PR like the big organisations. If we want a successful and long term adoption of technology, we need an educated and empowered society, we need effective policies and we need responsible business leaders.
The consequences of an ignorant society goes beyond the issues of Facebook/Cambridge Analytica saga and the reluctance of people in using technology. We have topics that require a technology literate society engaged such as;
The threat of a superintelligence and bias in machine learning algorithms
The ethics of technology in military, usage of smart bombs and drones
The use of Virtual Reality in the criminal justice system to reconstruct crime scenes in court and how that can result in bias depending on the perspective chosen
If people do not understand the technology they will continue to be susceptible to technology that is exploiting them and they will continue to be skeptical of new technology even if it could benefit them and is being driven by an ethical company. We have a workforce problem in technology, if people understood the potential of tech, we might have more people taking computer science degrees and wanting to work in technology. The European Commission believes there could be as many as 756,000 unfilled jobs in the European ICT sector by 2020 . This is rather paradoxically in the startup scene, where the small companies with their innovative new technologies disrupt the industry but fail to sustain continued growth due to IT skills shortage. Whilst larger organizations can attract considerable interest in the technology job market, they struggle to reskill their existing workforce in the fast-changing technology industry.
On the bright side, I think that governments across the world are making considerable efforts to catch up with technology advancement. For example the introduction of GDPR in the EU and the California Consumer Privacy Act in the USA have been a great step forward in realising the importance of data privacy. Nonetheless, it is important to remember that computers are still relatively new, we can be forgiven for not knowing as much. However when technology is central to the function of democracy, it is reasonable to ask people to know what they are using.
"We don’t know how the technology we use works and therefore cannot appropriately discuss its implications" Chiedza on our barriers to success.
Who makes up your support squad?
A range of diverse people, from family, friends, colleagues and mentors.
How do you prevent/ manage burnout?
Since I have set my goal, decided on what I want to achieve and how I want to live my life, I feel that I have reduced my tendencies of verging close/into a burnout state. Before setting my goals, it was easy to be a yes woman. I did everything and anything without much thought about how those activities/meetups/conferences fit with my larger vision. I learned a valuable lesson from that as the more things I did, the further I got away from what I really wanted and the more I got the feeling of stagnation. I would often wonder how I could be experiencing so much and yet be feeling like I wasn’t moving forward and hence stressed.
I am now constantly engaged in a cycle of prioritisation, reprioritisation and evaluation of my commitments. Before I commit to anything, I have to ask myself how that fits in with the larger vision of myself. I have also given myself permission to let go of commitments that are not delivering what is expected of them.
Even with my goals set, I find that if I do not make time to reflect or to temporarily disassociate/detach myself from my job, people, social networks , messaging apps for long enough period for my brain to rewire and organise itself, stress can easily start building up. I have also realised that I need to reserve my energy for making decisions that matter. So I make sure not to fuss about little decisions.
The advice I would give to someone on the verge of experiencing a burnout or in a burnout is ask yourself this question, ‘What do you have going on in your life that you can temporarily or permanently let go of?’. Remember it is often not possible to have a healthy social life and deliver a high quality project/business, and meet all your fitness goals at the same time. Most people who can achieve all this usually have some level of support.
What’s your favorite piece of advice to offer entrepreneurial/ techy/ digital women?
“Anything Worth Doing is Worth Doing Badly, Until You Get it Right.", Les Brown. A well lived life is messy, there is no way of avoiding the ups and downs. To avoid the mess is to avoid learning opportunities and therefore ultimately is to avoid growth. Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat!
The services and products we consume are just a manifestation of other people’s perspective and ideas of how the world should be. There is room in this world for your perspective and ideas. Different people have different likes and dislikes. This means people embrace choice. This is why Windows exist alongside the Mac for personal computing, this is why you have iPhones and Android phone, and this is why you have more than 12 banks on the British High Street. Sometimes ideas prevail not because they are the best but because they are just different. Challenger banks are changing the financial industry because they are exactly just that, different.
Some successful entrepreneurs have made it from an out of the blue random idea, some have made it from deliberately strategically planning a business and others have become successful by accidentally landing themselves in an environment where opportunities are rife and available and others through association. I am highlighting this point in the hope this makes you realise that there are so many ways to achieve what you want. You do not have to follow anyone’s path, it is possible you can experience all these roads to success that I have mentioned before you get what you want and it is equally possible you can be a one hit wonder and make it from your first attempt. Strangest thing is that 99% of the adults I have met up to date do not realise this, that there is really no recipe for success. Since most people do not get this, you are going to get a lot of , ‘ Nos’, ‘Won’t work,’, ‘What are your credentials?’, ‘ How can you go against the big guys?’ and my favourite one, ‘Your competitors have a lot of money, you cannot compete’. If you ever hear any of these statements said to you, think about the Wright Brothers vs Curtis, think about how the Apple rose from the shadows of IBM. Broaden your horizons and find out how the world is going to experience your ideas. Move on from rejection until you meet those who understand your vision. However it is important to remember that most people who say no, are not totally out of line, so take their criticism on board and use it to improve your offering.
If you have just read these last few paragraphs and have no idea about Curtis or Apple’s story, pick a few books on startups and read. The books that I would recommend to illustrate the last question are The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz and Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog. Get in touch if you would like a full list of my recommendation.