The Sunday Mail
ONE of Zimbabwe’s first female data scientists Henrica Makulu, continues to scale dizzy heights.
She was recently nominated as one of the finalists of this year’s Women in Tech Global Awards. Organised by the WomenTech Network, the virtual ceremony and summit feature some of the most accomplished women in the global tech industry.
It also offers networking opportunities with technology gurus to empower women in technology through leadership development, professional growth and mentorship programmes.
Aged 34, Makulu was named in the WomenTech Mentor of the Year and WomenTech Community Award categories.
She made it with another Zimbabwean tech giant Loveness Nleya, who is vying for the Rising Star of the Year gong.
As a finalist, who is contending for a prize at a grand platform that is bringing together 1 247 contestants from 142 countries, this is no easy feat for Makulu.
“This is super-significant because Loveness and I are the first Zimbabweans to get this far in these global awards. Also, I have always wanted to benchmark myself against global tech professionals, so this nomination means I am able to compete against top women in technology from across the world,” she said.
The nomination is also in recognition of Makulu’s community work, through which she mentors young Africans, including Zimbabweans, who want to pursue careers in technology.
She does this in her capacity as founder and mentor of HM Digital, a consulting practice offering training, mentorship and advisory services in digital literacy and data analytics.
Makulu is also a senior specialist for Medscheme Holdings, South Africa’s largest health risk management services provider.
With her portfolio, she has impacted over 3 000 people through technical training and mentorship, both locally and internationally.
Her efforts further cascade to the grassroots, where she mentors young girls and boys to prove to them that if someone like her, who faced numerous hardships, could scale dizzy heights, they can also prevail.
“I am extremely humbled that an average Harare girl like me can make it this far. And I am excited to share my story and inspire the next generation of tech professionals from Zimbabwe because we have so much talent,” she said.
Born and raised in Harare, she attended secondary school in Masvingo. Back then, she did not have an aptitude for technology.
She actually performed better in Arts subjects in high school, but she opted to join the science class just to prove she could do it.
“Looking back, I think it was an unguided decision because I was honestly not strong in those subjects. While I didn’t do too well in my final exams, my highest-scored subject was Mathematics,” she said.
She then enrolled at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) in Bulawayo for her tertiary education. Though she had applied for Sports Science, she was allocated Applied Mathematics.
During that period, numerous challenges confronted her, which included failing all her Mechanics courses. She ended up repeating a year in university as she struggled to get a handle of her degree studies.
She also faced financial constraints.
Every time she told people that she was studying Applied Mathematics, their reaction left her convinced she was pursuing something of value.
However, reality struck after graduation, as she could not find a job that matched her qualifications.
This led her to do administrative work in the agriculture sector for five years.
She taught herself technological matters, something that changed the outlook of her CV. From there, she got a job at Econet, and the journey in technology began.
As a data scientist, she used information to help corporates make better decisions.
She would create dashboards that helped them understand their customers better.
With such experience, her interest in TechWomen, a platform for leading tech professionals, grew.
She applied to be a member.
In her application, apart from mentioning the Mathematics degree, Makulu could only highlight a few activities she had been involved in at high school. After being rejected three times, she was ready to give up. Her friends encouraged her to try one more time, which finally resulted in her selection.
This saw her visiting Silicon Valley in the United States, the home of high technology and innovation, in February this year, where she attended a professional and cultural exchange programme.
There, she worked for a Silicon Valley tech company for five weeks as a machine learning intern. In the process, she visited Google, Meta and Apple, among other leading corporates in technology.
Makulu is now a recognised thought leader in the African data science industry and was recently acknowledged as one of Africa’s leading women in data analytics.
◆ Twitter: @BullaFatima