PERSONALITY OF THE WEEK:  Dr Chao Mbogo - Daily Nation

Rejection is part and parcel of growth

Thursday May 3 2018

Dr Chao Mbogo is the head of Computer Science department at Kemu. PHOTO| COURTESY

Dr Chao Mbogo is the head of Computer Science department at Kemu. PHOTO| COURTESY 

By DAISY OKOTI
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Dr Mbogo graduated with a PhD in Computer Science from the University of Cape Town.

Her research focusses on supporting learners from resource-constrained environments to learn computer programming using their mobile phones.

She holds an MSc in Computer Science from the University of Oxford and a BSc in Mathematics and Computer Science from Kenya Methodist University.

Computer Science is one of the most marketable courses in Kenya. What challenge does this present to students and graduates?

The primary challenge is that students and graduates need to continually improve their skills, considering that Computer Science is a dynamic field.

And given that not all skills are, or can be taught in the classroom, students must be proactive in learning new skills. Sharpening and improving one’s computing skills can be achieved through the numerous online resources, attending tech events, forums, and conferences, and being part of active mentorship circles.

Computer Science students also need to develop their soft skills. It is not enough to be a good programmer or network engineer, students have to improve their communication skills, professional preparedness, and leadership skills.

Such skills can be achieved through taking up voluntary or paid work, initiating various ventures, taking up leadership roles, being part of communities that focus on these skills, and increasing your knowledge through reading and staying up-to-date with what is happening in the world.

What qualifications do you require of those that you take into your mentoring programme, KamiLimu?

KamiLimu’s target group is students who are taking undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in IT-related courses and have at least six months left to complete their studies.

Students who are studying for other courses must have an active component and interest in computing to be considered.

The applicants should also have a minimum average performance of 50 per cent in their current course since the program requires mentees to commit extra time and effort, in addition to their school work.

The applicant also writes at least two motivation essays in the application. Apart from these fundamental requirements, we also look for students who can demonstrate commitment and believe in the goals of the program, as one can only graduate from KamiLimu after completing at least 70 per cent of the mentorship curriculum.

The program accommodates at most 40 mentees for every cohort, with a 50-50 representation of male and female students. Upon graduation, and in addition to skills acquired, students receive certificates and personalised recommendation letters. You can learn more about the program on our website (www.kamilimu.org). The next intake is in October this year.

You have received over 20 awards, fellowships and grants! These are hard to come by. How did you position yourself for them?

First, I continually work on believing in myself enough to apply for most of these opportunities. I say this because it is very easy to think that one is not good enough and therefore the fear of putting yourself out there sets in.

Second, I have had outstanding mentors at each phase of my journey who consistently believe in me, which has also given me the much-needed impetus to forge on even when self-doubt kicks in.

Third, I am very deliberate about the opportunities that I seek, and they mostly have to align with my professional and life goals. This means that I actively look for opportunities that would add value to my research, academic, and mentorship work in the present and in the future.

Lastly, I strive to be an all-rounded person, not just a bookworm. Most, if not all, great opportunities would seek people who are skilled in their craft, who show initiative, leadership, community involvement, and impact in their socioeconomic communities.

What goes into graduating with a first class in mathematics and computer science?

The primary thing that helped was that I was passionate about the course. I was already innately good in Mathematics, and then when I first started learning Computer Science courses at university level, I fell in love with it.

I am a planner, so making sure that I managed my study time as well as time for extracurricular activities was instrumental in obtaining good grades. I also devised a way to prepare for assessments and examinations, where I first studied throughout the term (not just nearer the exams) and then two or so days before the exam I set for myself a mini-exam for the entire course.

What was your worst academic score when you were in university? Why do you think that happened?

My worst grade at undergraduate level was a C in one course. I misread the examination timetable and showed up prepared for one exam only to find that a different examination was slotted for that time.

How would you say your upbringing shaped the professional that you are today?

My parents encouraged and supported us to work hard right from primary school, so the home environment was conducive for me to thrive academically.

My parents were also very supportive financially as they ensured that they prioritised our education in spite of any financial challenges they had, which cultivated in me the discipline to take school seriously.

Additionally, my family did not dictate what career paths I should take, so I was free to choose any path that I wanted.

Did you plan to be an academic or did your current position just spring up on you?

No. Neither did I know that I wanted to be a Computer Scientist. I discovered my interest in Computer Science at university.

The decision to continue to postgraduate studies was almost natural because I felt I wanted an additional challenge that would hone my skills in the subject.

Being in academia allows me the freedom to experiment, the satisfaction to continually learn, and the best part is sharing one’s skills and knowledge with others.

Has there been a challenge that made you doubt your ability?

The very first university I applied to for consideration for a master’s degree rejected me because my degree was not good enough.

I was crushed, but over time, I have learnt that rejection is part and parcel of growth. It has been a constant journey of reminding myself that even when X rejects me, Y did not, so there must be something I am doing right. Even though it pinches to get a rejection, I no longer feel crushed about it because my experience has taught me that the next big thing is usually right around the corner.

It is said that people who are into sciences are not interested in fiction. Do you agree?

I completely disagree! I am a big reader of fiction, and an even bigger enthusiast of film and TV shows, most of which are fiction.

This misconception probably emanates from the fact that science mostly deals with facts. It could also be due to the fact that people assume that most scientists are not fun-loving, which is yet another myth.

What do you think can be done, especially at the high school level, to interest more girls in STEM courses?

Increase visibility of female role models and icons in STEM. Train and support girls to design innovations that contribute to better socioeconomic status for their societies.

Tackle various challenges facing women in school and the workplace such as discrimination and sexual harassment, which would reduce the risk of girls and women dropping out of school or getting discouraged due to these issues, and show that they can balance STEM careers and family life if the women and girls aspire to have a family in future.