Choices is a platform where guests share their journey in their chosen (STEM) field, with emphasis on the 'sacrifices' and choices they made, who and what inspired them, and what they are using or used their knowledge in their chosen field for.
We spoke with Martha Teye, who shared her journey in the tech space with us.
Martha Teye is a post-graduate student at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. She is also a software developer at Zlitch Technologies Limited, a tech startup specializing in the delivery of IT products and services. Martha loves to explore new fields in computing and enjoys teaching others programming. She is the Country Director for African Women in Technology and Business, Ghana chapter, and the co-founder of Tech Flair which seeks to introduce senior high school students to programming. Martha also has research interests in Machine Learning and is looking forward to future prospects in the field.
What inspired your tech journey? Why choose tech?
This question dates back to 2014. I choose tech without knowing I was doing so. While in senior high school, I had wanted to become a surgeon (I don’t remember what inspired me then, but I believe it was because I felt that was a very cool profession one would brag with). Even up to final year in senior high school, it was still my dream.
However, after writing WASSCE, while waiting for the results, I had the chance to use my dad's vehicle diagnosing machine to detect some faults in cars and the way it worked fascinated me. I got interested in the way it simulated the vehicle and managed to identify faults. That was when I got interested in the whole engineering thing.
Thanks to the University of Energy and Natural Resources, I had an on spot admission to pursue Electrical Engineering since the registrar recommended that it was one of the best engineering courses I could pursue knowing I loved mathematics. And that was my first step into technology.
Unfortunately for me, it was quite a difficult decision to make since I had offers from other institutions. But my dad made it quite easy in convincing my mom for me to pursue Electrical Engineering since he is also into engineering.
What were some of the offers from the other universities, and how did you end up making the ultimate choice to choose engineering?
So I had biochemistry from University of Ghana and later an uncle worked out medicine from UDS. And one thing that influenced my decision was because I loved mathematics better than biology and chemistry.
What helped you to make the difficult decision to go the engineering way was it only your dad's influence or was it a personal decision?
So I heard from other people that engineers made lots of money. And I had seen most people in the field who actually had the money. Also, of all subjects I have ever studied, math stood out for me.
What were some of the challenges you faced in your journey and how did you tackle them?
My journey in programming began when we first offered computer programming in level 200. For some reason, the whole concept seemed abstract so instead of studying to understand, I had to do "chew and pour" of codes in order not to fail exams. Truth is I didn't even understand the concept of printing hello world.
I managed a grade C in Computer programming which got me angry because for mathematics and software related courses, I always made sure I got an A to balance out the typical circuit based courses.
The major challenge here was internet and combining the assignments and projects with my coursework. For internet, luckily for me I had a key to one of the labs on campus so I went there in the evenings to have access to fast internet. I successfully completed that nanodegree in 6 months.
After that, I went on to study matlab and did a few projects with it. I created my own photogrid app on my laptop and worked on fingerprint image recognition. Most of this was done in the later part of 2016 and 2017.
When did you first encounter Python and how do you compare it with other programming languages?
My first encounter with python was in May 2017. I was made to study python during my internship at the High Performance Computing lab in Sunyani. This was because I was supposed to do some data manipulations and work on Artificial Intelligence related projects.
From there, I did not do a lot in python until Django girls came to sunyani. I volunteered to be a coach so I had to revise my skills and I have been actively engaged in python since then thanks to the Pyladies community.
In general, I would say python is easy to learn as compared to others like C. Python has a lot of in-built libraries that could be imported into projects. For those who have used C or C++ before, you'd realize there are so many rules governing them as compared to python. For instance, the use of semi-colons to end a line, declaring a variable before using it etc. In python you don't have to bother about all these. Not to say python is better than other languages, but I think python is more beginner-friendly.
How you apply Python in your profession as a software engineer?
So currently I work with Zlitch Technologies Limited, a tech startup specialized in delivering IT products and services. At zlitch, we all change the titles of our work at any point in time depending on the need.
At some instances, I lead the AI team. Some of the areas we have used python and mainly one's that I've worked on are Data Analytics to provide insights to our clients. We have a student management system we provide to schools. So we use python to manipulate the data and create dashboards for the schools to track the performances of students. We also provide recommendations based on the performance patterns. Other implementations are chatbots integration, image processing for some clients work etc.
What are some of your most successful moments (so far)?
I have a number of successful moments because I love to celebrate my success. If I don't celebrate them what thing do I gain?
In my journey in tech a few of them are:
Completing the Hungarian algorithm (Assignment Operator Algorithm) in one month as a newbie in programming (I did that in C++). My tutor told me none of his students at that time had been able to figure out the code.
Having an honorary mention from our Vice Chancellor in 2016 for being the first lady in UENR to be a Grace Hopper Conference Scholar.
Being part of the first 10 women out 100 women to successfully complete the Nano degree program. Google awarded us with a fully-funded invite to the Google I/O Conference in 2018.
Building an e-learning application from scratch after lots of bug fixing and unproductive moments.
How do you deal with failures in your journey?
Failure is a part of life. We can't avoid them. I can break down for hours, days and probably months. Formerly, I didn't like talking about my failures because it made me look like a looser and people might use it against me. But I realized not talking about it makes it difficult to handle the situation.
I have particular friends (about 3) I speak to about my failures. We sometimes laugh about it, they advise me, we have fun to ease the burden, they remind me of my successes and then everything seems cool.
Also when a fail at something, I try doing it again if there is a chance. And most often it works. A friend once told me, failure is not actually failure. It just means you made a mistake so you just have to figure it out and fix it. Thinking along that line motivates me to keep trying.
How do you impact society in your role as a woman in tech, a pythonista or a software engineer?
Most of my work to the society has been through volunteering activities with communities such as PyLadies Ghana, Developers in Vogue, and African Women in Technology and Business.
I love teaching a lot. I teach so that I can learn from it. I also mentor females as well.
What are some of the current fields in STEM aside software engineering?
Most popular fields I know in STEM are: Engineering (biomedical, electrical, computer, petroleum, and aerospace Engineering). Also we have Actuarial Sciences, Pure and applied mathematics, computer science and data science.
In fact they are countless. You do not necessarily have to take those courses in school. I think anywhere your strength lies, there would definitely be a field for you to fit in STEM.
Those that are gaining ground are the fields of Machine Learning, Data Science, Computer Science, and engineering. And these fields are applicable to all professions.
All professions even health?
Yes, please. In sickness diagnosis, treatment, etc doctors’ indirectly use their brains as "ML models" to predict illness based on symptoms and information gathered from the patient. This is basically what the AI does but in a faster way. So if health professionals add technology to their skills, they are good to go.
As a woman in tech, what do you think is the main challenge or setbacks with regards to women in tech?
I see two challenges,
Fear of failure and what society might say. Unconscious bias from all aspects. Workplace, school, society, etc. People might raise arguments about the second because there are countless opportunities for women in tech. But I think, especially in our part of the world where society and families still do not make things easy. This gender gap would still take a long time to close.
Even AI's that are being developed, are biased toward black females. I watched a debate on AI (Doha debates) in which one woman explained her experiences with such. The final speaker raised some important points which actually exist in our society.
Tell us about Tech Flair and your activities.
I created Tech Flair in order to get more students (both male and female) to be interested in technology before they leave senior high school. We encourage the females in the schools to join but we do not prevent the males’ because we want to create an avenue for competition between both genders.
I noticed that most people enter the university without any knowledge about the prospects in Technology. So I started with two schools here in Accra. I have volunteers that help me train them in python programming and give them internship opportunities with our partner tech companies. During the vacation we provide online lessons for them on our E-learning platform. Currently a few students are using it to study. The vision is to have this in other schools as well.
If you have any school you would like to recommend to take part, just let us know.
What advice do you have for women in tech & women who would like to take the risk and explore tech/STEM?
First I would say taking a step in exploring tech would not end up as risk once you are determined. Continuous learning is very important. Do not underestimate yourself. Partake in hackathons, and build relevant projects. As you learn also, give back to the community. You might not be directly rewarded by that, but you would be paving way for greater days ahead.
Opportunities are readily available. Network with people; tell them about your progress and through that, you might find your next job or promotion.
How do we reach you?
You can reach me via email, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
Questions from the Audience
What's your take on women in tech competing amongst them instead of lifting each other up?
The saying that women are their own enemies, I do not believe that. Competition is good and normal. It should make you do your best.
However, for genuine instances, I don't think they are many. If you believe someone is trying to bring you down, you just have to give space and probably roll out with a different person.
Personally, I love to move out with guys more. However, the few women I've met actually help me instead of bringing me down.
What is your social life like?
I work most of the time so here's my small social life. I play games with friends (chess and toy blast). I go to church and watch movies with friends.
We hope you enjoyed our interview with Martha Teye as much as we did.
What questions do you wish we’d asked? Post a comment below.
This session was faciliated by Pamela Klu.