LADIES IN STEM | How They Started

An interview with Mpara Faith Muwar, Co-Founder, New Generation Technologies.

“I registered to study Computer Engineering at a time, when I could not switch on a Desktop Computer; in fact the first laptop I ever saw in my life was during my first class at the University.”

This was the story of Mpara Faith Muwar, former Women Techmakers Lead for Buea and current Manager of the Software consultancy she co-founded called New Generation Technologies. She is one of the leading ladies in the fast growing Silicon Mountain tech ecosystem in Buea, Cameroon today but it wasn’t always peaches and cream. In fact, she bluntly told me that, “I grew up in a typical village scenario where some people consider the education of the girl child to be an absolute waste of time and resources.” Nonetheless, in spite of the hurdles she faced, she was determined never to give up on her dreams so that she could pave the way for other ladies who might be contemplating a career path in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) and not know how to go about it. I caught up with her for a Q and A session during the recently concluded Next Einstein Forum African Science Week in Cameroon for this new segment of the MentUp Report called Ladies in STEM and How They Started. Let’s take a deep dive into the interview.

Mpara Faith (the lady in blue) with other Tech Leaders in Cameroon

Tell us a little bit about yourself

My name is Mpara Faith Muwar. I hold a B.Eng in Computer Engineering from the University of Buea. I however have a passion for business and have been into this for two years now. The very first business I manage and co-founded is New Generation Technologies. We formally started this business in September 2015. I really love adventure too :-). For instance, I registered to study Computer Engineering at a time, when I could not switch on a Desktop Computer; in fact the first laptop I ever saw in my life was during my first class at the University. But somehow, I pulled through the course and graduated with good grades. Starting a business has been the most exciting of the adventures. I have had to learn business, management and leadership on-the-go. And most importantly I have learned to sell ideas, skills, services and products. I keep seeing one trend in each of these ventures, there’s really no limitation to how far we can go unless we create, actively promote and accept one.

When did you discover that you had an interest in STEM?

I discovered that I was interested in STEM when I began to see how practical the science subjects were to a layman; at this time, I was in Form 1. An instance that is still clear to me is this concept from Chemistry; “Oxygen supports combustion”. I found it interesting when I tested and saw this to be true. So I will tell my mum “the firewood is too packed in there, Oxygen also needs space to get in there else we will still have this much smoke in the kitchen.” This made me feel that science could simplify some things which we consider complex or difficult to deal with. At this point, I began to nurse an interest for science.

What are some of the obstacles you have faced so far along this journey and how have you been able to overcome them?

I will want to address this from for three different stages; as a lady in Education, Engineering and Business, I grew up in a typical village scenario where some people consider the education of the girl child to be a waste of time and resources. So, occasionally, I will get advise to consider getting married first because education will not benefit me much. There was the regular saying of “If you like, go to the school and finish, you will still carry the certificates and so-called education to a man’s house and straight to the kitchen where you ought to have been all this while.” The conviction and support of my parents and my own determination at the time were very helpful.

The next big hurdle came up at University. Here I was with no background in basic computing, but I was admitted to study Computer Engineering. For most of the classes in the first year and a significant part of second year, I found it difficult to move at the pace of the class. I was often left behind. This forced me to double up on my study hours, work on strict time schedules and eliminate most activities that could not clearly help me succeed. I also had the company of very hardworking friends. This really helped me and I was able to graduate best female student for the Software Engineering class after all.

The third and possibly the most daunting of all experiences (or shall I say adventures) has been that of owning and running a business. The challenges have been great and demands have been overwhelming. At some points one has to wear different hats at the same time. From sales representative, to lead software developer, customer relationship manager, and even human resource manager. And it is not unusual to spend above 12 hours at work daily to meet up with these demands. It has not been easy to brace this challenges for the past two years. I however enjoy the opportunity to grow, the constant push to learn something new and most fulfilling of all the smile of a satisfied customer.

Through all this, the determination, hard work, patience, and passion cannot be undermined. The greatest of all my strengths has been my God.

What are you currently doing to get other ladies like you involved in STEM?

The most remarkable effort to me has been that of teaching in the secondary schools. While in the University, I took on STEM subjects in junior secondary schools back in the village. This helped to build an interest in the students and at the moment at least four of them are currently enrolled in Computer Science and Engineering classes in the University of Buea. Part of what I do at the moment is mentorship and talks. New Generation Technologies (NGT) offers school management software, so I get access to students in schools that subscribe for our services. For these cases I mostly do talks. I also take on mentorship for students who show a special interest on such occasions.

In the past one year, we have engaged students in some key company implementation projects as well. This helps to build their confidence and to demystify the role of a STEM specialist in Industry.

You recently participated as a speaker at the recently concluded African Science Week. What was your assessment of it and what should be the next steps in your opinion?

I think the event was very good. The attendance was great and the presentations were very rich. I will recommend strategies and activities be put in place to keep the idea of the NEF alive in the community. I think this will help keep the idea alive. I also think that for subsequent Africa Science Week events, whole institutions as well as individuals should be invited formally and through the use of social media. I’m not sure if this was done, but some institutions that share the same ideas were absent, and I think it’s because they were not aware of the event.

Any advice to some ladies who will be reading this?

You don’t have to change to do any great thing. Engage actively and start and if the change is really that important, it will happen. Undermining one’s experience or ability to handle any circumstance based on mere thoughts is not very wise.

This interview was conducted by Arreytambe Tabot (Next Einstein Forum Ambassador for Cameroon and Curator of #Mentor2Impact) for the Ladies in STEM and How They Started series on the MentUp Report. Follow his work on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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