Expats Cathy and Angie tell us about organizing the Switch conference in Mauritius!

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Published 2 weeks ago

They are students from all over the African continent. They all live in Mauritius. And they have come together behind the cause of women in the tech industry. This group of students are organizing the Switch conference which aims at bringing together women in tech, students, policy makers and the corporate sector. This is their story through the eyes of Cathy and Angie, two members of the team.

First things first, why did you move to Mauritius?

Cathy: For my studies. I had this incredible opportunity to move to Mauritius to study at the campus of the African Leadership University here. I did not have the opportunity to study electrical engineering back home, in Kenya, so when I was offered a scholarship- I knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Angie: Same ! For my studies. I had started my Software Engineering degree in Cameroon, where I’m from, but it was pretty much just theory and I did not enjoy it. I needed something more hands-on and I started looking abroad. I liked what the ALU offered, I loved the africanness of it. I was offered a full scholarship. I did have to convince my parents, though. I did not know much about Mauritius- and neither did they- and I had to research it thoroughly in order to convince them. It was not until I went home during the holidays and they saw I was alive and well that they were totally relieved! (laughs)

How long have you been here then?

Cathy and Angie: It has been three years.

Are you enjoying it?

Cathy: Well, they do say Mauritius was created first and then Heaven was copied after it !

Angie: It is very… chill. (laughs)

So, the Switch conference… is it a novel concept?

Cathy: It is the first time that we are organising the Switch conference. And we are doing it here in Mauritius. It is also novel because conferences tend to focus on getting women in tech but not in how women progress within the tech industry. The aim of the Switch conference is to address the skills gap within the industry.

Angie: Yes, we want women to feel empowered and to progress within the industry and achieve more. We, also, want to bring everyone together, policy makers, high school students, women in the tech industry, the corporate sector… it must be a collaborative effort.

What pushed this initiative?

Cathy: It is our classmate, Olfa, who came up with the idea. She shared with us how unhappy she was about not having engaged with enough girls at the other conferences she has been to. She had also noticed that there was a skills gap between the women she was able to engage with and the men in the industry. She wanted to organize this conference to address this issue.

Personally, I bought into the idea straight away because I’ve had the same experience. I remember at the beginning of my engineering degree, I was looking at the boys in my class wondering how they were coming up with these cool projects. Today, I realize that men are not more gifted or more prone to tech than women are. They are just instilled with more confidence from a very young age. They are told that they can do it. And women too should be told so. This is what the conference aims to do- to tell women that they should just do it, because they can too.

Angie: Same. I bought into it because society frames getting into tech as a super difficult thing. Something that the fragile, sensitive girls are not capable of. But men and women are the same. If our girls are as confident as our boys, there is nothing they would not be able to do. From my personal experience studying Computer science, I have always been in classrooms which are heavily male dominated and where the girls usually feel intimidated and less confident. I believe Switch is an opportunity to inspire young girls to believe that they can excel in tech so they don’t have to face some of the challenges we faced while pursuing this field.

How will this conference concretely help women in the tech sector?

Cathy: Two things. First, a robust programme involving workshops where women who want to get into tech or students will get to interact with other women who have already applied tech to problem solving. The workshop would be able to give a roadmap to girls. Where they are, where they want to be and how to get there. Secondly, one to one interactions between young girls, students and people from the corporate sector, the policy makers.

Angie: Yes. It is important that the corporate sector and the policy makers are also listening to what girls need to be able to get into tech. They need to cater to their programmes and their policies to be more inclusive. They need to understand too, that if they only have men working on developing programs and projects, then these programs and projects are not “women-friendly”. The more diversity in their teams, the more accessible their products will be.

You are not from Mauritius. How does this issue here in Mauritius compare to both your home countries?

Cathy: The tech industry is already more robust in Kenya than it is it Mauritius. And the condition of girls within the industry is getting much better back home, and that’s probably because it is the government and institutions are investing profusely into the tech industry right now. This means women within the industry have a much larger skillset in Kenya than women in tech would have in Mauritius.

Angie: I’m from Cameroon and I have worked in the tech industry there and I have also worked in South Africa for a bit. Cameroon is very similar to here, I was also involved in the tech society at home, organising and participating in conferences and there were very few women. In my software development classes at home, there were five girls in a class of 32. And South Africa was very similar, in my team of 8 people, I was the only girl. And in events and conferences, you could see the difference.

Was it easy for you to organize the event here in Mauritius, even though it is not your home country?

Cathy: We have to say the support has been overwhelming. I think the need for more women in tech speaks across borders. We have supportive partners in both private and public sector
Angie: I would say it hasn’t been an easy proceed given that a lot of planning and resources are needed for such a conference but with the much appreciated support from our sponsors like ALU, Expat.com and many others, we are able to overcome most of our challenges.