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Monday, November 29, 2021

More Female STEM Teachers Will Encourage Girls To Do Engineering

SAMANTHA Namugema is head of software developing department and programmer at ClinicMaster, an integrated new generation healthcare information management and medical billing software. The award winning app has been applauded for effectively reducing paper clutter in the healthcare system. 

ClinicMaster CEO and founder Wilson Kutegeka describes her as the engine, heart and soul of the company. Namugema reveals that growing up, she knew nothing much about software engineering or really the IT sector. She however, took on a combination that had maths and physics. 

“Now having that combination, you are expected to go for engineering, which of course has the electrical engineering which of course I applied for. When I saw something called software engineering, I decided to apply for it too although I had no idea what it was. When I joined, however, I realised it was more advanced than the other types of engineering I was conversant with. Although it was not the initial dream, I just made peace with it,” she said.

Male dominance
Soon Namugema discovered she had chosen a male dominated course and she was among the minority 30 per cent women that made up her class. This, however, is not a problem limited to Uganda.  Despite representing half of the world’s population, women and girls remain deeply underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. According to recent data from UNESCO , less than 30 per cent of researchers employed in research and development globally are women.

Studies have also found that women in STEM fields publish less, are paid less for their research and do not progress as far as men in their careers. Moreover, women and girls’ enrolment in university STEM courses is much lower than their male counterparts’. 

The lack of women scientists means there is a lack of the diverse perspectives essential to addressing issues of gender and the fact that the burdens of climate disasters often disproportionately affect women. 

Furthermore, with few women occupying decision-making positions in academic and research institutions, their role in prioritising research agendas is severely constrained. Namugema witnessed firsthand the prejudice she and other girls were subjected to. 

“The girls were always advised into the direction of design sections and other easy sections while men were focused on coding, analysis and other sections they felt needed more brain power. Some girls just chose to believe what they were being told that they are not capable of doing some jobs,” Namugema shares.  

The problem is compounded by the dearth of empowering female teachers who can, in turn, empower girls to take up STEM courses and by promoting role models and mentorship programmes that foster a sense of belonging among women in STEM.

She, however, having been brought up to believe that girls could do the same thing as boys determined to pursue whatever her heart desired.  And her heart wanted coding.  Although she consistently positioned herself to take opportunities, she knew she had to work twice as hard as her male peers to be noticed. 

Starting out
Starting as a programmer, Namugema was promoted to a software developer (the difference is entirely on the scope of what they need to cover. While a programmer writes code, testing, and fixing bugs, a developer does much more in addition to that).  

“After joining ClinicMaster, I came with a mindset that I had to become as good a programmer as everyone else in the room, or better,” she said.

It was a bit intimidating for Namugema, coming into a space where she was the only female programmer. So she focused on being perfect in everything for the fear of confirming the prejudice that women are not good enough for this field. She revealed that even if she did not find any animosity from her colleagues, she always had that feeling that her mistakes would affect more than herself. 

“Fortunately I have come to understand that our CEO has an eye for talent. He chooses people on merit, not gender and he puts them in positions they can perform best. Someone believing in you like that gives you the morale to work even harder,” she said.

As a head of department, Namugema is expected to manage personnel as well develop software; roles she has taken up with gusto.  
“I have always been a fixer, when I see a problem I fix it. So far I have started new and standard processes for better product delivery,” the engineer says. 

Challenges
Namugema says in the beginning, it was quite hard dealing with different people on a whole new perspective. Since she could not force anyone to do the work the way she does, she decided to learn how every person operates. 

This and other skills therefore she had to learn on the job. She took time to study how different people work in order to relate properly with them. She has since learned that communication is key and has found creative ways to work with everyone. 

“There are two different types of people; while one person needs constant reminding in order to do the work, the other may do the work without being reminded. I have created a timetable to help with my vision and future prospects of the team,” she shares.  
Namugema notes that there is pressure for women to prove that they are better than everyone in the room for them to get into management positions. 
“Once you are a woman in a male dominated industry, society expects you to fail.  To avoid this, women find themselves being pushed to continuously study and challenge themselves.

Also expect your confidence to be shaken but do not let it get to you. If you do not have confidence in yourself, no one will have it in you. You have to be aggressive and grab whatever opportunity presents itself because no one is going to spoon-feed you,” she notes.

Some companies are still not comfortable working with women programmers. “When you go to the field some clients show doubt in your ability.  For instance when you are the only woman in a group you will notice people choosing to talk to them instead of you even if you have more skill and seniority,” Namugema says.  

Advice 
Namugema says her profession requires passion for one to succeed at it, especially when you are a woman. This is because you will meet many challenges on the job that will make giving up seem like a sensible option. 

“If you already do not like what you are doing, it is easy to give up at any slight challenge and pressure,” she notes.
The engineer has intentionally surrounded herself with the kind of people that can add something to her life. “In addition to having a support system, courage helps one on their way of fulfilling their dreams,” she says.

She realises that not everyone is lucky to have inspiring role models in their circles, she advises young girls to look around for successful women and make connections.  
“You have to put yourself in a position where you can learn a skill, find motivation from people who can encourage you by getting to know how they got to where they are,” she advises.

Quick notes

Samantha Namugema attended Nkokonjeru Primary School, Mbale, Mt St Mary’s College Namagunga for both O and A-Level and Makerere University, for a degree in Software Engineering.

She says Trevor Noah is her role model.  
“I followed him for a while even when he was still doing stand-up in South Africa. He is very hardworking, he is very aware of himself, he is very knowledgeable and he is courageous. He took a chance on his dream and passion and now he is the host of the Daily Show. I like him because he is not afraid of being wrong, and he critically listens to others before he responds.”

  • Daily Monitor
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