Career Build

WHAT IT TAKES: How To Get A Job in Software Consulting

Brian Onyango tells Duma Works what it takes to get your dream job in software consulting. If you want to know how to get a job in Kenya, read this

This week for the Duma Works What It Takes series we have interviewed Brian Onyango to give us insights into his career as a software consultant.

Brian Onyango is a Senior HCM (Human Capital Management) Solution Consultant with Oracle. He is based in Nairobi and has a ton of experience in Solution Consulting – so he helps Oracle sell it’s HCM solutions to potential client companies operating in different industries.

The most interesting note from this conversation was the emphasis that Brian put on not just being a “Software expert.” What came up over and over again was his dedication to building relationships with his clients and making sure he tones down the “tech” for everyday English everyone can understand 🙂

TL;DR

  • Being a solution consultant means you need to be able to map your proposed solutions to clients’ needs based on the outcome of discovery sessions
  • Having business skills is as important if not more important than having IT skills
  • Be curious about a specific space in technology or business – be it Human Capital Management solutions, Supplies & Procurement solutions, Financial solutions, etc.

So, Brian, tell me more about yourself & your career path.

I’ll give you a brief overview of my academic background and walk through some of the internships and job roles I had before moving into Oracle.

I studied Business & IT at Strathmore University. This was helpful because when dealing with business applications, you can’t just focus on tech, you need to work on you business skills as well.

The go-to-market strategy for technology companies has been on-premise software for a long time. Now, there has been a change of approach to a more cloud-based model. Before, companies needed on-premise solutions to be installed and maintained in their data centers. This approach comes with a large capital expense and dedicated IT team in-house to maintain their investment. But not anymore.

I worked with the likes of Safaricom and KenGen in their internal IT departments to configure and customize enterprise software solutions.

Then, I decided that I was really interested in the Human Capital Management space. I started by getting certified as an SAP HCM Application Consultant – that covers recruiting, performance management, personnel administration, organizational management, training and events, payroll, etc. So I had to learn more about these modules in order to be able to work with internal clients at KenGen and deliver according to their requirements.

Once I had gained implementation experience with HCM software, Oracle got in touch and offered me a role as a Solution Consultant. I currently work as a member of the ECEMEA SaaS Competency Centre that operates across East, Central Europe, Middle East and Africa.

It is really important to fully understand the requirements a person within the HR department at a company would have. It maybe even be a good idea to work on the client-side first, before moving to a vendor environment. Meaning – first work at a company that would be having the HR software sold to it, before working for the guys selling the software. Working at the company that will use the software helps you understand requirements of big organizations eg. Safaricom or KenGen as well as those operating as SMEs.

What are your major day to day activities?

I get engaged in discovery sessions with prospective clients. I sit with their functional heads and technical teams to understand their current working environment – are they using manual systems and software or just manual systems? etc. This way I get an understanding of the best solution to position. There are times when customers may request a Proof of Concept – to verify that some concept or theory has the potential of being used.

I do assist with the completion of Requests for Proposals (RFPs). This is where companies have requested for software vendors to respond to their requirements with solutions that will best support their business processes and decision making. This is usually followed up with a solution demonstration to the prospect.

I also work with Marketing and Sales on demand generation activities and events.

What is a skill you can’t live without?

You definitely need to be a team player. This is because when you are talking about working at any organization, there are different functional teams that need to work together.

Furthermore, our solutions will interact across various departments in our clients’ organizations, and also with our clients’ customers. You need to be able to work together with all these guys to find relevant solutions that provide value.

You need analytical skills because when pitching to a prospective client, you need to show how to map their business processes onto our solutions.

I would also say that if you can build on your technical skills, that will help you. Because, in some situations you need to be familiar with the technological aspect as well. So essentially, you are working in tech, but having business in mind.

What are your biggest challenges with Solutions Consulting?

It is a field that keeps on changing. Especially with the shift from on-premise software to cloud-based solutions.

You definitely need to be someone who can quickly adapt and pick up on things fairly quickly. Especially in terms of innovation. You need to continuously research on your own, outside of the regular training you would get from the company. You need to always read up on trends in the tech industry and in the business area you are interested in. Eg. I am always reading up on HR best practices, and new solutions coming to market. This way, I am able to operate as a trusted advisor, instead of just knowing a lot about “tech.”

Were there any skills you had to learn on the job?

Before, I was not really in the HR space – I didn’t have a background in HR. That was one area I really had to read on and pick up. I was familiar with IT-related stuff, but not particularly in the HR space. I have had to skill up on understanding HR technologies and Industry Offerings.

What tech tools do you use on the job?

I participate in a lot of webcast sessions as most of the members of our team are based in Europe and across Africa.

Oh and lots of emails, haha..

Let’s see – I also use Visio to map out processes and flows, and Powerpoint presentations. For example, when we kick off a session or a meeting with a prospective client, I will always use Powerpoint to bring out findings of the discovery session before delving into Oracle’s solutions.

Reflector and AirPlay are also cool ways of projecting your presentations and demonstrations from mobile devices.

What experience best prepared you for this role?

Well, my course was technical but had business units, you need to be able to speak business language instead of just technical language. If you go too much into “tech” there is a high chance that you could end up losing your audience along the conversation. So my Business-IT course helped me learn how to balance that as well as working closely with my customers, both internal and external.

How has this job improved your professional skills set?

My current job takes a different approach from previous roles that I held. I would deliver solutions to internal stakeholders, mainly the HR department at KenGen. Now it is more client-facing, you need to be confident in front of people – they need to view you as a trusted advisor and that what you are proposing will help them execute their organizational strategy. They should know if they have challenges, they should come to you.

What is your next logical career step?

At Oracle there is a lot of room with regard to career development. You need to have passion in whatever it is you are doing. For the next two to three years I want to progress along the independent contributor track and then see what next.

What advice do you have for job seekers?

Be very open minded and willing to learn. Get out of your comfort zone and innovate on new ways of solving business challenges, also learn about a specific industry and the trends within it.

Technology needs to find its value within the business, so do lots of reading on your own, join forums, go to conferences dealing with the subject matter of your interest.

Through this research and engagement, you get a perspective of what to expect in this type of role. Because once you’re in the role, you are expected to deliver.

Oh, and have a curiosity to know what what is going on – current affairs! You always need to be on top of your game.


Thank you so much, Brian! What an insightful interview.

I particularly liked the part where Brian talked about mapping software solutions onto current client needs or challenges. Oracle is definitely not a startup, but I think a lot of people working in the startup scene can learn a thing or two from that principle.

For all those thinking about jobs at the likes of Oracle, SAP, or IBM, this article is a great place to start learning about what people will expect from you when you get to work.

What should you do now?

  1. Tell me about your professional skills on dumaworks.com so if there is a job opening in your field, I can let you know!
  2. Give your feedback on this interview through the comments section below.
  3. Share this interview with your friends! Knowledge is power, and sharing this will make you look smart 😉
  4. Let me know in the comments section if there is a particular job sector you would like to learn more about so I plan an interview about that topic.

Have a great week! 🙂

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WHAT IT TAKES: How to get a job as a Country Manager

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This week, we talked to Asha Mweru, the Kenya Country Manager of Sinapis about how to get a job as a country manager. For all the job seekers who say to themselves – “Ah, I can’t get a job as a country manager until I have 10+ years experience”…you need to read this story!

About the company: Sinapis is a Nairobi-based organization that empowers aspiring entrepreneurs in the developing world with innovative, scalable business ideas by providing them with a rigorous Christ-centered business education, world-class consulting, mentoring services, and access to seed capital.

TL;DR

  • You don’t need the experience to get the job as a country manager – you just need to show passion and zeal to learn on the job
  • Major skills you need to get the job as a country manager are project/program management, business development & partnership building and good collaborative skills
  • In order to get a job as a manager, it is important you can structure things – not just to execute, but to create a structure that will allow the project to continue and be monitored sustainably

So Asha, tell us about your career.

I was first an entrepreneur and I tried building a company for a year. Unfortunately, we worked on the wrong model – low margins, high volume, and it took too long to break even. But I did learn a lot about what it takes to build a company and is probably what made me into who I am.

Then I transitioned into a PR job at  Sinapis for 3 months. I hadn’t studied PR though I had some experience from my entrepreneur life and I was well connected with the entrepreneurship ecosystem. I then got the Sinapis partnerships lead role because I found that I’m naturally good at selling. I did a good job so a few months later I moved into role  to scale partnerships and validate the scaling model. I loved scaling using the partnership model. 8 months later country manager job came up at Sinapis and I was offered the opportunity which I jumped right on it but of course with a lot of doubt in myself but worked my way to enjoying the role.

Why do you think you got the job as Country Manager if you didn’t have experience in that field?

I think sometimes its just – are you willing to learn, can you figure out deliverables quickly and are you just going to do it.  I’m smart, I learn quickly, and I am  passionate about entrepreneurs. So even though I didn’t have the specific skill for the job, I had the determination to do it and the mentality – It’s gonna happen, it just has to happen. So I said, “Ok I don’t have an MBA, but let’s give it a try” …and here I am.

What would you say your major day to day activities are?

My job is divided into a couple of main aspects – there is a lot of partnership building and business development. It is also my job responsibility to identify trainers for our entrepreneurs and  a lot of program management as well. I make sure classes actually run smoothly,  are allocated a trainer, and that the entrepreneurs are learning.

As a manager you also can’t escape administrative work. Are people doing what they need to be doing, when do I file this report…So that’s my main day to day activities as a country manager: Program management, business development and a little bit of admin. I definitely enjoy the execution part of any strategy we come up with though.

What is the skill you need for this job that you can’t live without?

Honestly, I think I could not live on this job without being a good planner. We have to plan for classes way ahead of time and say “this might happen, and we need a plan B.”

The second thing to do a good job as country manager would just be being a great salesperson: Being able to present an idea very well, present the value, and follow up to make sure we close the deal and lastly you need to be good at collaboration with teams

Do you think this comes naturally to you or do you think it’s training?

First and foremost, I have a great boss. It’s easy to emulate her because she does things to a high standard that I know I need to meet. Also, if I don’t know what to do, she guides me. The way I think about it is if my boss can do it, I can too.

I did have to learn a lot of things on the job. When I came in, I had no idea how to do project management. I just assumed I’m smart enough to do it and I just need to figure out how to learn. So I learned, adjusted my views on what it takes to project manager, and began executing.

What are your biggest challenges with your job?

First, I needed to learn how to say no, and realize it does not make me a bad boss.

I had to learn to delegate and understand that training other people is important (even if I could do the task myself in 5 minutes).

The third thing would probably be something I noticed about myself – I realized that it takes me a while to make a decision, especially with hiring people for a job. I’m not sure if that is a challenge or not, but it is something I think about but gets better with time.

What skills did you have to learn when you took this job?

Half of the skills I gained came from learning on the job.

The first was learning how to pitch. I really needed to learn in a short time how to sell an idea, and show its value. I pitched a few times as an entrepreneur, but the corporate world is a bit different.

Also, my job is all about making sure our entrepreneurs get trained in business skills. I actually wound up being their trainer for many courses that I had never studied myself – HR, marketing, operations etc. But because of this, now I am able to train any class on pretty much any subject, and I understand these subjects pretty deeply both academically and practically. I can even build a curriculum. It has significantly built my business skills.

What tech tools do you use on this job?

For project management, I use Wrike.com. I love Excel for building out a schedule. Occasionally, I do use Trello to build out tasks and so I know I have specific projects. I am pretty old school though I couldn’t live without my pen and paper. I plan out my work in my Moleskine.

What experience (professional or academic) best prepared you for this job? Did it tie in at all?

I’m not sure – I studied IT and business. I certainly use the IT and business. But did I think I would end up here? No. I thought I would get a job in a tech company or build my own thing. So I don’t think my education translated to exact knowledge for my job – I use my training sometimes kind of broadly, but not on a regular basis.

How has this job improved your professional skill set?

The country manager job has taught me how to work with structures and how to create them. Now, I love structures and being able to say – OH, is this how we are going to be doing things? Great. Whenever I have chaos, I step back and say – Let’s decide how we are going to do this, build the structure and execute. I also think about how  I get feedback, update people on progress, & aggregate things sent to me. I structure that and then, I can move on.

What would be the next logical career step for you based on your experience in this job?

There are a few logical steps. One idea is doing the same job on a much bigger scale. At Sinapis, we’ve moved from 7 entrepreneurs to 300. So I know what it takes to scale a program and still retain try and retain quality. I am also interested in doing something internationally, working with different cultures, demographics, and business levels or challenges.

The other step could be advising policy and development around entrepreneurship. Because from this job, I understand the impact entrepreneurs can have and what type of ecosystem they need in order to thrive.

What advice do you have for job seekers about how to apply for a role in your field?

If you are in an early stage in your job hunt or career – you need to be able to learn and learn quickly. Also be forgiving to yourself. You will make so many mistakes and you just need to learn from them and say – “I’ve made this mistake, I will probably never do that again. I’ve learnt, now I can move on.”

If you are at the  later stage of your career, I would think about what can I give to the company and what can they give to me. You should also be open minded and able to say – “This may be a different way of doing things but I can learn and perhaps even get it better”

In general, to job seekers – I just get so upset when I have this person who just rushes through applying for something and the application is unprofessional. Or, not taking the time to research the company or do an application assignment.

If you want a tip to impress HR – do your research thoroughly. If you are writing a cover letter, show me your values. Don’t make me think – “Do I want to hire you?” Show me why you are a perfect fit even above the skills I am looking for.

Also remember that first impressions do matter, so be as professional as possible at all times.

Lastly, whenever I am looking to hire, I always look at potential in the person to grow with our organization. I think about where they move from here. I wouldn’t want someone where this is just another job to them. So I always ask myself, “Why does this person want to be here, is it a good fit, will the person stay and grow?”


Thanks, Asha, for the amazing interview!

Sinapis is actually hiring for another country manager right now. If you would like to apply, please send your CV + cover letter to apply@dumaworks.com with subject line “Country Manager 1734” (And don’t forget to research Sinapis beforehand for the cover letter!)

As always, if you are interested in receiving relevant job alerts on your phone, please visit our website and tell us a bit more about your professional qualifications.

If you would like to read more about how to approach writing a CV, I would recommend checking out our article “10 CV Fixes to Get Noticed by HR

That’s all for now, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts and feedback in the comment section below!

What It Takes to Be a Senior Business Advisor

Samuel speaking at a conference

Samuel speaking at a conference

This week, we interviewed Samuel Mwangi, from a large NGO in Nairobi. Sammy is a Senior Business Advisor and helps the enterprises this NGO supports to get their businesses “together.” In all honesty, I learned a lot from this interview because I, too, didn’t completely understand what it meant to be a Senior Business Advisor in an NGO capacity.

TL;DR

  • Having a science background actually helps you to become a better business person (scientific method, anyone?)
  • Being able to conduct cash flow analysis is very important, especially at first glance
  • The market is shifting to think less about what papers you have and more about what skills you bring to the table

So Sammy, tell me a little about your career background.

My whole career is based on a few things: As a scientist, I’m trained to think and find solutions to problems. As a development person, I am trained to identify gaps in society that need to be filled. As a business person, I’m trained to close gaps. So that’s how I see myself and my career. I was initially trained in botany and zoology, and then moved into getting trained in cross cultural communication and international development. I did consulting in the private sector in business development and supporting small entrepreneurs. In the end, I wound up in development. Also, I have been running my own businesses since I was 13 years old. Now being 32, I have 18 years of experience in business, and that has been my biggest gift.

What caused you to shift from science into development?

In my career, I started as a volunteer for one year in a Christian organization. Then, I did a course abroad in international development with that same Christian organization – an exchange program. That caused a shift because initially, I wanted to study Bioinformatics and system biology. But, through this experience, I became curious about using business as a tool for development – how can we use business as a tool to help bring people out of poverty. So that’s what I’ve been doing for my career life. Well, that and running a business on the side – that’s what you call side hustle.

What would you say your major day to day activities are?

Like it says in my title, I advise businesses – big and small. In order to do that, I deal with things like project management, business development with new companies, looking at the books to help them put together their records in better ways, linking companies to market, building business strategies, segmenting business ideas, giving people actionable points to focus on and achieve, and helping companies do financial analysis.

Sammy

What is the skill you need for this job that you can’t live without?

Whenever I look at a business, I can look at the cash flow and know exactly what is going on. And because of my experience, I know what works and doesn’t work for the business.

What are your biggest challenges with your role?

I think my biggest challenge is that I am a perfectionist. Sometimes, I push myself too hard, and push other people around me very hard, and have very high standards for how fast people should do things. My role depends on a lot of other people – interacting with them and getting feedback. So sometimes waiting for that all to come together is frustrating for me.

What skills did you have to learn when you took this job?

Oh I have learned how to manage people – how to give and receive feedback, how to give support to my leaders and team members and to act as a guide rather than an authority about where a project can go. I have also learned how to be humble and be patient both with myself and others. What else…I have learned how to look at cash flows, balance sheets, and conduct financial analysis more critically. That was a big one. I had to take time to read books and grow myself in that area as well since I had dropped out of an MBA course. I actually might go back to complete an MBA course at some point  to perfect my abilities.

What tech tools do you use on this job?

Microsoft Outlook is my best friend for planning of meetings. Of course Word and Excel. I use Excel for literally everything. Creating budgets, even note-taking sometimes. And hardware! My diary. That is one of my best friends. I like booking things into it and writing notes in it.

What experience (professional or academic) best prepared you for this role?

Science taught me how to think and be critical, and detailed. I love chaos and complexity because science trained me how to make sense of all of it – to create things out of messes, and I enjoy that. It also gives me a cutting edge because most people I interact with are trained in business. And so, my way of thinking is initially very different from theirs. They have knowledge that I don’t have, but I can be more critical and bring a unique perspective to things. Also, running small and large businesses myself helps me to also be critical and be very focused when I am analyzing a business, especially looking at the bottom line. I start from the bottom line and work upwards. 268 (1)

How has this job improved your professional skill set?

This job has really helped me for my next big thing. The types of people I interact with are very different and has helped me gain insight into food processing that I wouldn’t have gotten before. Through my job, I was able to get trained in the US in the food industry and meet a bunch of businesses over there. Seeing the structures they have in the US opened my eyes to possibilities we have here and increased my competitive edge.

What would be the next logical career step for you based on your experience in this position?

I think for me the next big thing would working at one corporation. That’s what I think would give me a lot of satisfaction in the sense that I can do focused business development for one corporation, and not many clients.

What advice do you have for job seekers about how to apply for a role in your field?

What I think is that the market is slowly shifting from looking at what papers people have to what people can be able to do. The trick will be seeing what people can do and then what gap the company needs filled. If you look at business people all around the world, they didn’t train in business. Most HR managers have degrees in psychology or sociology – degrees that are basically about interacting with people – but not only about HR. If you look at most CEOs of big corporations, you realize they have degrees in mathematics, physics, something not conventional. But they have been in the trade a long time and have become good business people. I think that value is the important part – people who can challenge themselves to apply whatever skills they have to find solutions. Not just people with papers in the industry. It doesn’t matter what you study, the point is that you can be whatever you want to be, just do it well.


Thanks so much, Sammy! I think this interview will be really helpful for people who are studying the sciences to think more broadly about their careers. I also think it will be interesting for people in the NGO sphere who have this thirst for growing companies, and have a business background.

Please comment with your experience in this role or with any questions in the comments section below, and subscribe to the blog to stay updated when we publish another interview. And as always, if you are looking for a job or are looking to hire in the NGO sector, please make sure to visit and complete your profile on www.dumaworks.com.

That’s all for now, folks! Stay tuned in for next week’s What It Take episode, where we will explore What It Takes to be a User Experience Designer (aka “UX Designer”).

What it Takes to Become a Community Manager

Mugethi at her workplace, in the iHub. Photo credit: Abu Okari

Mugethi at her workplace, in the iHub. Photo credit: Abu Okari

Mugethi Gitau is the Community Manager of the iHub. I had a chat with Mugethi this week to get a better picture of what it means to be a Community Manager. Hopefully this will help you decide if it’s the right job for you, and if you would be a good fit. If this article perfectly describes you, maybe you should be applying to Community Manager job openings…

Mugethi admitted to me at the beginning that even she didn’t know what that role meant when she applied. It just goes to show that everyone starts from square one.

This blog post is part of a series on the Duma Works blog called “What It Takes,” where we are talking to experts in different fields about themselves & their day-to-day activities to help job seekers understand what employers are really looking for when they post a job description. 

IN SUMMARY

I. The most important skill set:

  1. You get energy by being around people
  2. You are a good communicator with all types of people
  3. Really experienced with social media and blogging
  4. Good at event planning & logistics

II. The next potential career move:

  1. Manage a bigger community
  2. Online community manager

III. What employers are looking for:

  1. People who have done their own independent projects ie. Planning events and starting a blog
  2. Clear, well expressed email communication
  3. Great people skills and strong social media presence

So Mugethi, to get started, maybe you can tell me a little bit about your career and how you got to become the Community Manager at the iHub.

It was a long journey. When I started University, computers and the internet was just coming up so I specialized in IT (with only 5 other women. The rest were men, imagine!)

I lectured in colleges a year. Then taught ICT and business for 4 years. After 4 years I couldn’t grade another paper (I found it fun at first)

In between lecturing, I also had some other businesses where I would design business cards, and design people’s websites. I’ve continued this ever since.

Later, I got into some non-profit work, supporting orphans and other vulnerable populations with business coaching, mentorship, and access to microfinance.

My debut into social media was during the elections – I would engage people online through community debates about politics. I’d been on social media for a while but this is when I first started to use it on a serious level to brand individuals and push public agenda.

I even ran a nightclub at one point!

What would you say your day to day activities are as Community Manager of the iHub?

Meeting people all the time! I help tech tourists understand who we are and what we do at the iHub. It’s all different types of people coming in – investors, NGOs, researchers, entrepreneurs…

I talk to members of the community in our community space about what they are doing and I make connections for people all the time since I’m always meeting so many people.

I handle event requests and make sure they are valuable to our community. And, I update our social media and blog!

What is the skill you need for this job that you can’t live without?

An outgoing personality to be able to communicate well with all types of people.

And passion – I have a passion to work with entrepreneurs.

How has this job improved your professional skill set?

It made me better at communicating with different people, like “geeks.” The job has helped me learn how to bring people together and express myself on the online in-line with the iHub brand through Facebook, Twitter, and blogging.

Mugethi presenting at a community event

Mugethi presenting at a community event

What tech tools do you use on this job?

Google Calendar, Google docs, Evernote, (Evernote business card camera), Twitter for Mac, Basecamp, Slack, and Skype.

What would be the next logical career step for you based on your experience in this position?

Ideal next position would be managing a larger online community eg. Developer community on Facebook. So I would scale up from managing 100 resident members to 100,000+ globally.

What advice do you have for job seekers about how to apply for a role in your field?

If I were hiring, I would look for someone who is a good communicator, can write blog posts, can engage in social media, and someone who can compose emails and express themselves well.

Tech knowledge is very important – to be familiar with Google Docs etc. And it’s important that someone has done projects in their free time to show they can plan logistics.

I don’t always look at CVs, but if someone sends me an email like they are sending an SMS – with no punctuation and sheng, that is a huge red flag.

To end on a funny note, I asked Mugethi what she wanted to be when she grew up – her answer?

I was so sure I wanted to be a pilot! SO sure. I even had a boyfriend in an aviation high school and we were planning our lives around how to be pilots. But then he became a lawyer and I went into tech…But I’m so sure our dreams are still valid! 🙂


We hope this was helpful to understand what it means to be a Community Manager.

Remember, if you have the experience and skills to become a community manager (and can put them to the test!) make sure to update your Duma Works profile here with the skill “Community Manager.” 

If you are looking for any other career advice, make sure to check out some other posts on the Duma Works blog, like this one about how to pitch yourself to an employer in under 1 minute.

Be sure to let me know in the comment section below what other types of jobs you are interested in learning about!

– Arielle