18 years old Sophie Obomighie is a student of human anatomy and a budding software developer, Her story went viral on Facebook few weeks back when one of her mentors shed more light on her achievement. She is also the Brand partnership Development Manager for Girl Lead ; an enterprise involved in training girls with the aim of encouraging more girls to venture into tech and entrepreneurship. Sophie also values volunteerism and female education.
In April 2017, her team came second at NASA space apps challenge in Benin, a feat that also brought her into limelight. In her words “I am still growing and still a student so I believe my story is still being written. I believe that at the time of my graduation, I would be invaluable to the biomedical engineering/technology sector. The young tech enthusiast shares her story with me in this exclusive interview.
My childhood prepared me in many ways for what I do now. I am blessed with parents that are innovative, broad-minded and hardworking all of which reflected on the decisions they took on behalf of my sisters and I as regards choice of school and other activities. I grew up with my Mum actively volunteering for the society of Saint Vincent the Paul among other commitments. She is presently the international twinning coordinator for Africa. I’d say I learnt how to volunteer from her. My dad was and still is very involved with my sisters and me. He tries to be as available as possible which has contributed to my increasing self-esteem, self-worth and self-knowledge. The elementary school I attended, Trinity Foundation School and Dominican nursery and primary school, encouraged extra-curricular alongside academic excellence. I was involved in ballet, African Dance, swimming classes etc and still topped my class. My secondary school; Regina Mundi Girls’ Secondary School also contributed in that we were trained in our spiritual, intellectual and social aspects, hence, coming out ready to take the world. I am presently studying human anatomy in the University of Benin and that story is still being written. I also had an early exposure to computers. My dad once got me a laptop in primary 2 as a gift for topping the class. That was my first major exposure to computers outside computer classes in school. My sisters and I always assisted my mum in typing and creating excel sheets on her laptop. It was an exciting experience for us. My mum also enrolled us for computer trainings during the holidays. These and the friends I had and have contributed and are still contributing to what I do now.
The “GirlLead “ Initiative
The Girl LEAD project is a Social enterprise founded by Dr. Enodiana Augustine on November 2016. We are a group of like minded and innovative individuals who are causing groundbreaking change in our environment and the world at large by our actions and words. Our mission is to empower girls of college age (15-24) with entrepreneurial and technological skills to develop their potentials and enable them in their unique capacity to change the world positively. We believe women are nurturers by nature. The major reason why women in our immediate environment do not contribute substantially to technology and solving world problems is because they don’t have the required skills to do that and even when presented with the opportunity to do so, they do not still do much usually because of societal stereotypes they have come to accept especially in places like Edo State my immediate environment where girls travel overseas in search of greener pastures and I’m sure you know the story that follows. We have broken that status quo and are raising university girls to be changemakers by equipping them with the needed skills. We have had 2 sets of bootcamps now and aim to continue training more girls. I am presently the Brand and partnership manager for the GirlLEAD. I am in charge of sourcing for sponsorships and partnerships.
Gathering momentum at 18
I’ll like to say that one of my intention is to make beyond the classroom activities a norm for teenagers and youths in Nigeria. That being said, I am usually driven by different things. I get very excited when I fix bugs while programming. I also enjoy volunteering because I know I learn a lot of things through it, I get to network with people and it makes me very happy. I also treasure self development as I am aware that I can’t give what I don’t have. Long term, volunteering and self development benefits both myself and the people I come across. I am also innovative and usually have a lot of ideas and I am satisfied when I am able to bring those ideas to life. The fact that my actions will inspire others is also a great push. Lastly, stories of people that have done things I want to do also push me to do more.
What and who inspire you?
Different people for different areas of my life. My parents inspire me by their actions and words, my sisters even though still young, inspire me to do more. Many of my friends inspire me too by their actions and words. I have very awesome people as friends. I also inspire myself too. My team coming second at NASA space app challenge in April 2017.
The NASA Space Apps challenge Benin regionals was a wonderful experience for me. . My team which consisted of Chudi Nwanna, Stephen Alexander Gabriel, Caleb Ikhuohon-Eboreime, Philip Obosi and I with Stephen as team lead coincidentally all students had to really work for the few days we had to complete our project. We built a repository of space terms that would enable a layman contribute substantially to space tech advancement. There is a lesson here. At that time, I did not have as much technical skills as I do now but I didn’t give that as an excuse to not participate. Eventually, I contributed more than I thought I could. Most of the excuses we have in our head don’t hold much water. Sometimes, it’s just us being lazy. We eventually qualified for globals but didn’t go so far due to insufficient votes. My family and friends and those of my team mates did a splendid job in contributing votes. I am grateful for that. The regional organisers also did a great job of bringing it to Benin because many of such events are not usually extended to Benin. Recently, there have been more of such events and startups even having headquarters in Benin. One of such is Mobicure the makers of Omomi maternal care app whom I interned with some time ago. Since I am a biomedical student, I realized the best way to balance the two was integrating it, the reason why I interned with Mobicure. It was another wonderful experience I had.
I was also a student ambassador for a Canadian based Medical tech company called Figure 1. It’s basically an instagram for medical students. A wonderful implementation of technology to the medical field. I was recently on the panel of judges for Aiesec Benin chapter’s slush with mac hackathon.
Recently, the GirlLEAD project won an award on Kampus tv. That was an indication to me that we were being noticed and were contributing substantially to our environment. I also recently got access to some very strong networks mainly because my mentor pushed me out to the world. I am happy to be making her and others proud.
Epileptic power supply and the terrible internet access is a major problem I have. As a programmer, I usually need these for my work . At the end I still can’t give myself that excuse so I make do with what I have.
For GirlLEAD, we had a problem of convincing girls to participate, a problem I experienced first hand. Many of the girls I approached could not See themselves succeeding in tech careers hence, were uninterested in participating. The girls we have trained so far have served as tech evangelists both by words and actions to other girls.
Projection in five years
In the next 5 years, I see myself surrounded by more females in technology having influenced many of them to pursue tech careers. I also see myself contributing substantially to the software development sector as related to my course of study/area of interest . I have a global mindset and local perspective hence, in 5 years, I would have contributed substantially to my immediate environment making myself world class, hence my country. I would also at that time have concluded my undergraduate studies and started my research work in biomedical engineering which is part of my long term goals.
Do you think women in Tech have been given enough room to soar?
Yes they have. Being a woman in tech ( Using freelancing as a case study), you have more advantage to succeed reason being that you’re a minority, everybody wants you especially when you know your onions. You become invaluable. But there is a problem. Society is wired to prevent us from going far in the tech industry and any other male dominated field. We have to spend time learning how to cook, tidy the house, take care of the home etc. That is normal, it is our duty but the problem comes when girls are told to learn how to bake and boys are told to play video games hence exposing them to technology. It’s stereotypical. Why can’t they both learn the 2 or either of them but not assigning which is for who. You can be a great mum or caterer or fashion designer as a female and still find a way of implementing technology to it. We should understand also that technology is not limited to programming alone. We have graphic deisgners, technical writers, mechanical engineers, etc.
So I’ll say yes Women in Tech have been given enough room to soar because you are the only one who can give yourself permission to succeed amidst all the challenges you face. You owe that to yourself. Your actions should make so much noise that would inspire others to venture into such fields.
Other projects and activities
I am a fellow at WAAW foundation ( Working to advance STEM in African women), Uniben Chapter. It’s one of my volunteering activities. We go to secondary schools to train girls with hands-on engineering skills in energy, robotics, programming etc. I attended a 4 weeks bootcamp organized by WAAW foundation called shehacks Africa. Due to the fact that I facilitate sessions at girllead, I believe it’s important I develop myself as I can’t give what I don’t have. I was also a participant at a summer bootcamp last year called Impact labs. It was organized by students and graduates of MIT and Harvard. We were taught a lot from innovation to design process, arduino programming, rloop ( Elon Musk’s transport system) etc. I personally gained some skills as the group scribe for my team like teamwork, patience, documenting building process, hardwork etc. I am also a member of the Federation of Catholic Medical and Dental students Uniben Chapter and we usually organize annual rural outreaches. Bottom line, the ability to multi task and survive under pressure have helped me succeed.
I have also worked on a few side projects.
Many times. It’s very rare for ladies in fact youths generally with my kind of background to do things I do hence sometimes, I get negative responses from a few people but I have come to the realization that I am the only one that can give myself the permission to succeed. Managing all I do with my studies has also not been a bed of roses but the higher I go, the more clarity I acquire which eventually helps me in succeeding in my medical science career, programming career and volunteering activities. Having mentors and role models has also been of great help.
I am Awesome, I am a Woman of Rubies
I am a WOR because I am aware of how awesome I am and embrace that awesomeness. I use my influence to bring about positive change in the lives of others. I help others embrace their awesomeness too by means of mentorship and inspiration by my actions and words. I am a WORrior because I handle setbacks with elegance and amplify my strength.
Final word for young women who want to go into Tech
Never be deterred ladies. You have too many opportunitites to facilitate your success hence, you have no excuse. The world is waiting for you to build that app, learn that programming language or work on that website and trust me the world is not very patient. If you don’t do it, someone else will so why not fail and stand up again. You might say you’ve attended trainings and unsure if where to start from. I’d say you should find a problem in your immediate environment and solve it using technology. Do enough research on the best language or skill you need and get to work. You’ll eventually find your footing thereafter. As a programmer, you usually have to start from the top then down meaning you eventually take time to learn the basics or principles of a language having being exposed to it or having worked with it. You don’t necessarily need to be a programmer. You can be a data analyst, graphic designer, technical writing or even be in charge of project management. Go out there and break the ceiling!!!!!.