Earlier this month, I got the chance to talk to Girls in Technology co-founder Rojina Bajracharya, who was visiting New York as the winner of Toptal’s Scholarship for Female Developpers along with Anna Chiara Belini from Toptal. We got to talk about her work in Nepal over the last year, how she stays motivated despite rough patches, and her future plans.
Charline Jao (TMS): So tell me a bit about Girls in Technology in Nepal and what you do there.
Rojina Bajracharya: It’s a community of girls which provides the common platform for all students or graduates studying technology in Nepal, or computer engineering. Not only that, it covers information management, computer engineering information technology, and BIM–we are covering not only technology for girls, but also the management field because BIM, information management, tech also needs that part. So, encouragement approach, bringing all the girls together and awareness programs, doing the workshops for the girls and also the training sessions for the girls so that they can come to us and learn together. In the colleges we normally see there are only boys in Nepal, in the context of Nepal there are so few girls in technology.
TMS: Why is that demographic the way it is?
Rojina: I think that is psychological. I think girl are, even though they are studying computer engineering they think that it’s a boy’s thing. Like they know a lot of things, but still, they aren’t confident about it, like “I can’t do it.”
TMS: You were largely self taught in programming, so what do you think is different in being self-taught versus having a community like the one that you’re building?
Rojina: In the context of Nepal, when I’m in class I’d be among two girls in the class so when I’m confused with programming I don’t want to share it with the boys, like, “I don’t know this.” They may be simple things and confusions, but it’s a bit awkward. Thinking that I’m asking this, it feels like, “ok I won’t ask it, forget it” and it becomes a trend and we study, but it’s not being practical.
TMS: So congrats on the Toptal scholarship, that’s really exciting.
Rojina: Thank you!
TMS: So tell me about your plans, what are yo going to do with the Toptal?
Rojina: I’m visiting New York! [laughs] We’re going to different events.
Anna Chiara Belini: We organized a week of events for her, so we’re taking her to a few meet-ups, some workshops, and so tonight we have a Women Who Code event. It’s a meetup tonight, tomorrow, a tech breakfast at Microsoft and we have a two-day workshop at Google, so it’s a bit of—we wanted to give Rojina the opportunity to meet fellow programmers and people she could get inspiration from and women in technology who are strong so we have a few meetings with entrepreneurs. A bit of excitement.
TMS: So you mentioned this earlier about community, but what do you think is the importance of female mentorship in tech?
Rojina: It becomes easier to communicate.
TMS: Do you have any inspirations for women in tech specifically?
Rojina: I had my difficulty in my life learning programming so it feels like, “we should start doing something for our country as well, for the girls like us.” My friends, they study computer science but still…practical knowledge isn’t implemented as well. Like when we start college and join some company for a job, it’s totally different from what we studied in college.
TMS: So how do we deal with those challenges that we might not see in classroom settings? How do you deal with those obstacles that don’t just involve technical skills in the workspace?
Rojina: I think the most important part is communication, we need to communicate better. If we don’t know something, or we should be comfortable asking questions about something we’re confused about to anyone–female senior programmer or otherwise. I think communication is the main part of getting knowledge, you should ask if you don’t know, you can say “I don’t know please teach me.” If they don’t know they aren’t asking questions. It’s the main problem.
TMS: So taking more initiative, knowing when to ask for help?
TMS: So for girls striving to enter tech, what’s your best advice?
Rojina: I think to start, do some inspirational models who are already in the industry: find women in the tech industry like Anna. Read blogs, search on the internet to read blogs about personalities in tech, there are a lot of leaders.
TMS: Is there anything in tech you’re really excited about right now?
TMS: Tell me about the girls who participate in the program, who go to your workshops.
Rojina: We have them fill out a form and anyone can come. Whether they’re a graduate, whether they’re in high school, bachelors, or any level who’s interested in coding….it’s been one year and I’ve been talking like this, I don’t talk much, I learned communicating in Git.
TMS: How does it feel to be seen as “leader in tech” now?
Rojina: It’s not like being a “leader,” cause everyone’s a leader there. Whoever comes is a leader.
TMS: I guess a better way to phrase it would be, how have you come into this role as a mentor? Was that something you had to grow into to get comfortable with?
Rojina: It’s like, you have to find the problem, so what’s the problem in tech? There’s so many less girls in the field…I’ve been through the experience of not communicating well in college. Experience of oneself: so I can understand the girl’s psychology. So many girls like me, who have the same problem right now–so why not give them a platform to do everything a bit earlier?
TMS: What are your plans as Girls in Technology continues, how do you see it growing?
Rojina: It’s growing right now, in the meet-up we had so many girls! I was on the flight and I was really excited and when I saw the Facebook I was so excited because there were so many girls! It’s already growing.
TMS: How do you stay motivated?
Rojina: I think motivation is the feeling of “if not now, when?”
Anna: It’s mind-blowing for me, I had goosebumps. When I read her application I was like “oh my” and when I called her she has this energy, this drive, and I knew we could help her. I think it’s what makes her project successful is that she has this personality…you really feel she believes in what she’s doing and we’re really happy to support her. Cause we understand she’s doing something important and it’s exactly the spirit we need to support
Rojina: I was never de-motivated, my friends were. I wasn’t because I’ve been telling them this before–if even after a year we don’t get anything, we should keep on because someday it will be–it’s very important in our country, in our work. There’s an imbalance in the tech industry.
Anna: And I think it’s especially great that you’re doing this in your country. There are a lot of people who just say “ok I’ll study and I’ll go somewhere” and in Italian we call it “fleeing away.” You have all the clever people leaving and working somewhere else and the fact that you’re doing this–and whenever she learns something big or small, she starts creating videos. She sees there’s not a lot of material available in Nepalese, so she works on that. She gives back to her country, her community, I find this mind-blowing!
Rojina: Because people, they say it’s good. We are growing and we have videos, a documentary, so it’s great.
TMS: I definitely see that when you see these gaps, you see them as an opportunity, as encouragement. Anna, I was hoping to hear more about you seeing her application.
Anna: So, the scholarship is a program that we thought of a year ago. It took us a while to kick it off because we wanted to decide who we are targeting and how we are going to—we didn’t want it to be a one-off thing, like, today we find one person, we give them a scholarship and kind of forget about it. We wanted it to be a bit of a—something that’d really have an impact. We decided to have 12 scholarships, one person per month for one year. And it’s an economic award so its $5000 and it’s a mentorship. We’ve been working a lot to find the right formula for the most impact and it’s doing well. The Rojina effect is great, we share her story. We got a lot of applicants, and some were just looking at the money and we received some great applications and after posting a blog about her–we got a lot more interesting ones because girls started seeing what we’re about. We announced her as the first winner in December.
Initially I had been looking at the applications, but many great applications from girls. I say girls, but it’s actually young women in science tech, math, whatever–it’s not just girl developers. We’ve probably going to change the name cause it’s not just for computer science. We have all kinds of amazing girls from everywhere: Argentina, Russia, Ukraine, the U.S., but we also have women my age and older who want to make a change.
I’m really proud of this program because it lets me give back. I have a different story, I was born in a different era and a different country. Well, that sounds bad–a different technology era. I’m so lucky to see where it is now and I really want to—there are so many talented people. When I saw her application I just copy-pasted it in the chat and I was like “guys we have the first winner.” It’s mind-blowing what she was able to do with just her drive. For us, skill, drive, and integrity, are the three things we want to look at. We decided to get free online courses, 10 licenses for them for their meet-ups to get more education. We can also have people talk remotely for their meet-ups.
Rojina:We’re going to have an international conference for Girls in Technology in Nepal.
Anna: And bring her to New York, it’s a change, it’s seeing–even for me two years ago going to a conference in San Francisco was mind-blowing and I think going to places with technology and people who have the same interests as you…what happens to me after is I go home and for 2-3 months I have an energy charge.
Rojina: This scholarship lots of my friends, they want to learn about it, they want to do what I’m doing and saying they want to make videos, blogs, and open source contributions
Anna: That’s exactly the goal. If we can, we want to support people who will give back because you will have a wider effect. You are asking what girls can do to get into tech, and I think one of the things people can do is just start something easy. The open source communities can be daunting or aggressing and they can be quite smug with women, but there are great resources. You can reach out to people, women who are influential. You have to look in the right directions.
TMS: It sounds like there’s a strong cultural exchange element since it’s so international.
Anna: We’re a very international company, the team is multicultural which is a challenge and very enriching for all of us. It’s not one of our criteria, but if it happens we are happy.
Rojina: And people keep on writing, they want to know about it. After winning the scholarship, Girls in Technology, it’s a different thing but it’s something show. It will give a story and people will know about it and come to us, so it’s great. I think stories are really important.
TMS: What do you think people should take away from your story?
Rojina: I think girls should start, either easier or difficult they should start right now, they shouldn’t say “I’m not confident.”
Anna: I think that, I read something interesting a year ago. When you read about women in tech, like Marissa Mayer the Yahoo CEO, that’s so far from you. And that looks so far away–well, women should be allowed to be normal and not exceptional. There are a lot of normal developers. You shouldn’t have to be exceptional to be a woman in technology.
TMS: You can succeed without being a CEO, you can work at any level and be successful.
Anna: Exactly. You can be a young woman from Nepal and make change. She’s a better inspiration for younger girls because the CEO of Yahoo is so far away from you, she went to this college, she’s from this family, it’s much closer to a lot of other people and many more girls can identify with you.
Rojina: In Nepal, there are programmers who are women, senior who have 10+ years of experiences, so we’ll call them and they’ll tell us about their experience, their story, and it will help for the girls to get to know women who’ve done it. It’s very important, I think.
TMS: Just sharing their story has a really strong effect.
Rojina: And we can also call them to teach us, people come to us and teach us. It will teach a network, beginners experience, mid-level–not just the girls, but boys. It’s not about empowerment, it’s not like that. It’s about influencing and connecting people. In April, it will be the first anniversary of Girls in Technology.
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