Women In Tech: Ofentse Rice

After not getting the Computer Science-related job she wanted after her Bachelor's degree, Ofentse decided to explore other career paths in tech and that landed her in the field of Data Analytics. In this interview, she takes us through her journey in tech and her future plans and ambitions.

In your own words, please tell us who Ofentse Rice is?

I am a mother of 2 and I love my kids dearly, a wife, a daughter, sister, friend, and a lover of Christ. That is who I really am aside from all the crazy dreams I have for my career. 

Briefly take us through your journey to a career in tech

Well, I went through a lot to realise where I wanted to be in tech, doing projects, collaborating with other mates, attending different conferences. Development communities locally (GDG Gaborone, PyData BW, WiMLDS Gaborone, and Facebook Developer Circles Gaborone) have also really helped shape my role in tech. I am currently pursuing a Master's degree program with Carnegie Mellon University Africa in Rwanda, with a concentration in Applied Machine Learning. My future in tech is not set in stone,  thus where I am going after this degree is not really set in stone too. I have different plans and I believe God will direct me in the most appropriate part. 

What motivated you to pursue this career path?

From the beginning, it was not a field I joined out of interest but due to some circumstances that I’d rather keep private. But after graduating with a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science and not getting a job I wanted in that area, I started exploring other career paths in Tech, and that landed me into Data Analytics, a field I am really interested in, with an interest in Natural Language Processing(NLP). 

Unfortunately, tech still has a big gender gap problem with a paltry number of women participants in the sector in executive and decision-making positions. What has your experience been as a woman in such a field and how have you dealt with the challenges that come with such a wide gender gap?

Fortunately for me, I have made sure I surround myself with both females and males that support my dreams, passions, and goals as an individual in tech. That being said, one has to develop a thick skull (not in a negative way) in order to be able to work with the male counterparts in this field. Even in a small country as Botswana, in the developer communities we have men who look down on you just because you are a woman, and would not even engage you in important technical conversations, or rather in those moments assign you non-technical roles such as minute taking, event organizing e.t.c.To overcome this, I have learnt to ensure that my voice is heard. I do not let myself be pushed over just because I am female. Another important factor that I believe can help with the gender-gap challenge is ensuring that as women in this field, once you have made it and know for sure that some women are looking up to you, show up for them, be of help in any way possible, motivate, inspire, and do whatever possible to be your fellow women’s keeper. You see in this field, men easily support each other, whether is helping one fellow man, improve their skills or just being there whilst it is a different story among women. Most people who contribute to my growth are male than females because females rarely show up for other females.

On the other hand, what has been the upside of being such a trailblazer in the field?

Having room to share all that I learn with fellow women. I work closely with local women who have the same interests as I in projects meant for upskilling and sharing knowledge.

Please tell us more about your academy, Techy Kidz Center

Techy Kidz Center was founded with the goal of empowering children from as young as 5 with technical skills ranging from simply using a computer to introduction to coding using block coding and robots. However, it was formed just before we were hit by Covid-19, thus it has been a struggle to reach out to as many kids as we had anticipated.

What was the motivation for starting Techy Kidz Center?

After working with Spectrum Analytics on different Robotics and Coding boot camps, I realized I wanted to do this in a different way, hence the Techy Kidz Center.

You are also involved in various social initiatives including being the organizer of “Women In Machine Learning & Data Science” as well as “PyData Botswana”. Please tell us more about that

After attending the first Indaba Deep Learning conference in 2017, a conference whose aim is to strengthen ML in Africa, I heard of Women in Machine Learning and Data Science. Women in Machine Learning and Data Science (WiMLDS) is an international NGO, whose main goal is to empower underrepresented groups, women being part of that group, in the field of ML and Data Science. I was very intrigued by the way the few women I met from the group were so much supportive of one another. WiMLDS has different chapters across the globe thus, Tlamelo Makati, Wame Raseonyana and I decided that it would be a great opportunity to have a local chapter and that’s how WiMLDS-Gaborone was born. We mainly focus on organizing technical and non-technical events to motivate and empower women interested in these fields. I am now just an active member of PyData Botswana, which I was once a co-organizer for but quit to focus on WiMLDS-Gaborone. However, it is important to note that though targeting different audiences and having different missions, the two have a lot more commonalities than differences, hence they do not really exist in silos thus we work together all the time. In fact, I’m excited that all different developer groups locally work hand in hand and are in a process of formalising that as a hub of developer communities, called iCode Hub.

How important do you think initiatives such as WiMDLS are in growing women participation in tech?

This initiative is very important. A lot of opportunities that I had that contributed to my growth are through this initiative. It would be great to have local women from the industry being part of such initiatives to inspire the girl child and other females, but the adoption of such initiatives from women in the industry is very worrying. In other chapters of WiMLDS around the world, it is very easy to work with and empower women as the women in the industry are actively involved in the running of WiMLDS.

From being involved with such initiatives for a couple of years now, how would you gauge their effectiveness and if there is a need to, what can be done to improve their effectiveness?

As mentioned before, having women from the corporate world can help improve the effectiveness of any women empowerment event. We cannot keep bringing people from different countries when we have locals and citizens in the field. You are easily inspired by someone or something you can relate to. It is also important that these initiatives are not fragmented for better impact more especially in a less populated country like ours. Working in unity helps, hence iCode Hub as mentioned before. These initiatives are effective, recently we hosted a meetup event with people who have benefited in their current career path. by just being part of local developer groups 

Botswana has big ambitions of being an active part of the 4IR but adoption of AI & Machine Learning technologies, which are core components of the 4IR, is still very low and slow. As a self-taught ML enthusiast, what do you think can be done to speed up the rate of adoption?

For this question, I would not really go into details about my personal perspectives, but rather I would say Botswana must realize it will never successfully be a par of the 4IR if everyone is working in silos. Even government institutions themselves are working in silos. Government, Universities, Research Centers, and the Innovation Hub, and everyone else should be united to ensure that the ambition is successfully achieved.

Most young girls shy away from tech-related courses because traditionally they have been considered a career path for boys. What advice can you give to them?

You are the only one who can decide what you can and cannot do, do not let anyone dictate your future path, if you love any tech-related field, show up, do the work and gain the skills, and show the female you really are.

Apart from the aforementioned, please tell us anything you are currently involved in now and in the near future either with Techy Kidz, PyData, WiMLS or in your personal professional capacity.

Currently, it is difficult running Techy Kidz Center as I decided to take up an opportunity to advance my skills in ML, by taking up Masters Degree Program at Carnegie Mellon University Africa in Rwanda. However my co-founders and I have big plans for Techy Kidz and despite currently having to stop operations, we are working towards ensuring that by January 2022 we will be fully functional and have a physical centre in Gaborone because currently a lot of our work is virtual. To ensure that Techy Kidz retains some of the students we had pre-covid, I conduct virtual coding lessons with them. I run a social enterprise SHETech BW which is a social enterprise that seeks to empower females technically by providing them with basic computer training for skills that they require in their day to day lives, be it either professionally or personally. Training is either free or affordable. All our training is currently virtual. We do international partnerships for women empowerment programs that align with our goals and our last one was with  Abeyie Innovation Studios titled SheRock where we provided technical training. I have just started a new role with Mechanism Design for Social Good (MD4SG) as a Community Engagement Regional Lead. MD4SG goal is to improve access to opportunities for historically underserved and disadvantaged communities using techniques from algorithms, optimization, and mechanism design, along with insights from other disciplines. 

Lastly, please share with our readers your contact details in case they want to get in touch with you

Reach out to: shetechbw@gmail.com 

NB:Interview has been slightly edited for clarity

Previous Post Next Post