Maureen Wanjiku Mwaniki is an electronic engineer and the vice director of digital operations in delivery and service department at Huawei.
The 33-year-old is also the director for women In technology Huawei initiative that empowers young girls to participate in STEM-related courses and introduce young engineers to relevant current digital skills.
Wanjiku holds a Bachelor of Science in Electrical and Electronic Engineering degree from the University of Nairobi (UoN). The mother of two shares her career path with the Sunday Nation.
Tell us about your childhood and educational background.
I’m the last born child in a family of four children – I have two sisters and one brother. We grew up in Magiwa estate in Ngumo area, next to Kenyatta market (known for good nyama choma). I attended Consolata Primary School and later Loreto Convent Valley Road for my secondary education.
In my primary school days, I loved playing soccer and always ended up being the only girl playing with boys. However, in high school, the playing field changed a little. Loreto Convent being an all-girls school, I had the privilege of meeting like-minded and bodied teammates, which made things much more comfortable for me.
Academically, I was an average student who only took interest in mathematics, physics and chemistry. This is where my love for STEM began by the way. I believed the other subjects were meant to help attain higher grades, although they eventually proved to be the most difficult for me.
My mother always celebrated the small strides I made in languages, as she was a first-hand witness of how real the struggle was for me. My love for STEM led me to the University of Nairobi, where I studied Electrical and Electronic Engineering. I consider this to be the beginning of my career.
Share with us your career journey.
It all began when I joined Huawei Technologies Limited, a leading multinational telecommunication company, as a wireless engineer. Thereafter, I was appointed a quality control engineer in a major fiber deployment project that was carried out in Nairobi, Nakuru and Eldoret. I held that position until 2016 when I was promoted to quality and environmental health and safety manager. In my new role, I was responsible for quality assurance, environmental health and safety for all Kenya representative office projects. I also handled major projects, including the National Optic Fiber Backbone Infrastructure.
In 2020, I rose to the position of vice-director – delivery (digital) operations center, which I currently hold. My focus is to drive digital transformation through the use of enhanced digital tools, improve on the deliverables in all the delivery and service projects, and to further enhance our customer network coverage through projects such as fiber optic deployment, wireless expansion such as 4G and 5G, as well as site power upgrades.
I’m also the Director for the Women In Technology Huawei initiative that empowers young girls to participate in STEM-related courses and introduce young engineers to relevant current digital skills. I’m involved in the development of training programmes that support women-owned businesses to improve on the digital capabilities in the market.
The Women In Tech Huawei (WITH) programme has partnered with several companies with similar programmes to reach out to young girls and women who are committed to being in the STEM space. I am committed to improving the number of young engineers and leaders in the country through mentorship and training programmes, including women-owned business, where we support them in training that Huawei offers in the market in fields such as Cloud Computing, Artificial Intelligence and 5G.
What are your fondest memories of your career journey?
There is one memorable story that I tell all my mentees during my introduction. It once happened that I was assigned to do some technical works at one of the sites inside one of the country’s biggest parks. At that time, Google maps was our tour guide in the National Park. Unfortunately, on that day we used the wrong route and there were minimal tour guides to refer to. All we had around the driver and I was the open savannah and wildlife. No sign of human life whatsoever.
After driving around frantically for almost 15 hours, we spotted a tour guide, we flagged him down and but he ended up giving us the wrong directions. Luckily, we spotted a small aircraft which we followed as we knew it had to land somewhere in the park.
Upon arrival at the airstrip, we were relieved at the sighting of more human beings who had a better chance of directing us to our site. One of the lessons that I took with me from that experience is that “you have to keep on moving to find a solution. Don’t look back.”
What are some of the key drivers of your growth? Lessons learnt along the way, success and failures?
One has to have the zeal to keep on going and making things happen. For every problem, there is a solution. This is why it is important to keep a close network of people who can guide you in some failures you face and be a resource for solutions.
I also believe that you have to keep learning and keep yourself upbeat with your current surroundings. Otherwise, you’ll be left behind with the ever-changing digital world we are in.
It’s also important to have values/principles – I call them pillars – that drive your life, such as humility, respect, integrity and self-growth. When situations are shaky you can still hold on to them.
Oh my failures are countless! However, as I mentioned, they have been the stepping stones in my growth. I have struggled with imposter syndrome, poor leadership shadowing, especially for women, and work-life balance.
I truly celebrate when I see how I have uplifted someone into the next step or motivated someone to hang in there, especially young girls. In addition to that, I love inspiring children through programmes that are STEM-related and they can see the small successes they have done by building mega structures using lego blocks.
Anyone who was useful in your career growth? How did they influence your trajectory?
First and foremost, I have to mention my mother, who I consider to be my greatest cheerleader. She always pushes and supports me, especially when things get tough and I want to just stay down. She is my greatest support system.
Secondly, my two mentors, who are in the C Suite in multinational companies. They continue to advise me on how to improve by the day. They hold me accountable and guide me in every step of career journey.
What accomplishment are you most proud of in life?
Being named as the one of the most influential women in Kenya in 2020. Also being a woman engineer, vice director, a mother and a wife at 33 is not something you come across quite often. These are my biggest accomplishments and what keep me going.
Key decisions you might have taken along your career journey?
Three things for me:
You must always stay “hungry” so that you can keep learning. Learning one thing every day makes you stop being ordinary but be extraordinary.
You must always be prepared for what life throws at you. Make lemonade out of the lemons life throws at you.
It is okay to fail. The only difference is what you do with your failures. Do you stay down or get up and continue learning from them? For me, I don’t call them failures but opportunities to learn. Change your mindset to always being optimistic.
What would you advise the youth in Kenya today?
Take your time to grow. Let every step be a stepping stone to your next achievement. Unfortunately, the youth are looking for all ways in getting quick success without having to grow into it. This is why many youths have fallen into depression and taking their own lives.
You must get to appreciate every step in life and believe in a High Being (God/Allah) to guide you through this journey. Focus on Progress Not Perfection.
Future plans in your career and in life?
I plan to continue to grow in my career and work my way into a C Suite very soon. I intend to work closely with institutions to see how we can support each other to bring up young girls in STEM into the leadership roles and handhold young girls through our WITH programme and have more girls and women getting the digital skillset that can help advance their careers and entrepreurial skills especially in marginalized areas.
I believe they don’t have to come to the urban areas to get jobs or do business but can do it in the comfort of their communities and this can build the society as a whole. I also intend to support women-owned businesses to get the global exposure through our enhanced trainings that can help them advance their businesses based on what Huawei is providing in the market.
Unfortunately, we focus so much on ourselves and forget to give back to the community as we grow. There are so many talented young woman out there. I also hope I could retire early to get a chance to travel the world and explore the great opportunities out there.
What do you do for fun?
I love doing engineering programmes for and with children. Young Engineers, an organisation that is near and dear to my heart, teaches children how to build multiple structures using lego blocks.
I also love mentoring young girls. Over the weekends, I conduct online mentoring sessions and teach young girls values of life. Previously, I used to do them in person but as we all know when Covid struck, we didn’t stop. We just went digital!
I love to travel and try out new and exciting experiences in life. I recently did a rock climbing hike in South Africa which included abseiling. It was one thing that in my past I would never have thought of doing since I fear heights. However, sometimes you need to bring some thrill into your life and besides, we only live once.
I also recently picked up a gardening project. I decided to turn my concrete jungle backyard into my little piece of paradise. Who knew gardening could be so fulfilling and rewarding? On weekends, I enjoy a cup of coffee while chatting with my plant babies. They each have their own name and care regimen, and I am happy to report they are all doing well. I am officially a proud plant mom.
If there was one thing you could change about your past, what would that be?
Honestly, nothing. All the challenges endured, experiences faced, good and bad times, have led me to where I am today. I believe that, in life, you have to keep using those challenges as a stepping stone to your next success. As my mother always says, you fall down but the important thing is to not stay down, but to get up, dust yourself and keep running.