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How girl from Kiambu conquered Silicon Valley

Evelyn Makena @evemake_g

Grand futuristic buildings, self-driving cars, tech geniuses and colourful workspaces characterise Silicon Valley.

This is where most of the innovations that dominate the world today are crafted. Uber, Microsoft, WhatsApp, Facebook, LinkedIn, Apple are among tech giants based in Silicon Valley.

In the valley where only 18 per cent employees are women and less than one per cent, Africans, 29-year-old, Thogori Karago, LinkedIn Head of Research and Development, Africa has shattered barriers to become one of the African women outliers.

Two months after rising to the position, Thogori talks about the unique opportunities and her journey. She is based at the company’s offices in Silicon Valley, San Francisco Bay Area, US .

What does your role as Head of Research and Development, Africa entail?

I lead a team of professionals that span across data management, software engineering, product management, data science and research.

The vision for the team is to connect every member of the African work force to economic opportunities by acting as the link between talent and employers. I am a software engineer, but now I have made a transition to product management, which is a related field.

Take us through your journey to Silicon Valley?

I was born and raised in Ruiru, Kiambu and later joined Kianda School for primary and secondary education. Subsequently, I went to Malaysia to pursue a bachelor’s degree in software engineering.

After completing my degree, I came back to Kenya and started a technology start-up between 2010 and 2012. Two and half years later, I joined Carnegie Mellon University, USA for my Master’s degree in Computer Science.

In between the two years of study, I worked at the Wall Street. I thought it would be interesting to work at the intersection of finance and technology before joining LinkedIn in 2014 as an associate product manager.

Were you always passionate about working in a technology-related field?

Growing up I always had an interest in science. I was particularly interested in pursuing a career in medicine until I completed Form Four and that changed. During an internship at Kenyatta National Hospital, I realised that I did not have the thick skin needed to attend to people in pain.

I would often break down and cry. My father, an engineer, suggested that I study software engineering for my undergraduate in Malaysia and I ended up liking it.

What has been your experience at LinkedIn?

It has been a wonderful journey. I have been promoted pretty fast through the organisation from the entry position to now heading a department within a span of five years.

This achievement is testament of Africans’ spirit of resilience and hard work. As Africans, when we are given a job, we are taught to work hard. I have tried to take that with me to the valley.

What’s your vision for the future in regard to representation of women and girls in technology?

I would like to see more African women and girls join the tech space. Mentorship is the tool I am using to achieve this change. During my masters I wrote a dissertation on how to scale up the numbers of women and girls and technology.

It’s been 10 years since I started giving talks to schools around the world to mentor girls and encourage them to pursue science technology, engineering and mathematics careers. I will be starting a YouTube channel on women and technology later in the year.

What are your other interests?

Deejaying, singing and partying are among things I do in my free time. Generally, I love people and life. Apart from my day job, I also run two startups. I do abstract painting for fun, reading and travelling—I have been to over 20 countries so far.

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