Job Advice

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! 🙂

WHAT IT TAKES: How to Get a Job in Communications & PR

Duma Works interviews Josephine Mwangi, head of Communications and Marketing at the Nailab to help you get your dream job in marketing or PR

Happy Thursday and happy belated Madaraka day!

Welcome to the latest and greatest Duma Works‘ What It Takes post, where we interviewed the lovely Josephine Mwangi, head of communications and marketing at the Nailab.

Josephine has a great background in PR, communications, interactive marketing, social media – you name it. Plus, she has worked in a large corporation, an agency, and a startup of sorts. Therefore, she has a lot to say about the different workplaces and the shifting face of marketing and communications. Josephine now works at the Nailab, which is a startup accelerator that offers a 6 month entrepreneurship program with focus on growing innovative technology driven ideas.

Because of her work at the Nailab, Josephine has experience managing multiple brands at a time – both the Nailab itself, and the startups they incubate. She has to the create a consistent brand message for all these stakeholders – not an easy task!

TL;DR

  • Communications & Marketing is a super dynamic field that changes everyday because of the rapid pace of social media and other interactive marketing
  • People pursuing this field need to be in the business of constantly reinventing themselves and their branding/communications strategies
  • Skills required: Excellent writing skills (to handle writing press releases); Excellent analytic skills (to understand based on data what content users are engaging with and appreciating); Excellent strategy skills (to understand how various media channels work together to promote a solid brand identity

So Josephine, tell me about your career journey so far.

It’s been an interesting course – I kept telling myself in school that there is no way I could have dedicated 4 years of my study life pursuing a degree in communication and not get to practice it. I had fallen in love!

My experience started off with Togo consultants where I did my internship for 3 months – it was a lot about conference management, which I knew very little of, but that is the essence of internship – to learn. It was during this process that I began to realize how the practical is so off from the theory. Communications/Public Relations is a very wide field and the big thing was that I didn’t understand as a whole what communications entailed.

I joined Gina Din Corporate communication as a client service executive knowing I was ill-prepared for the task but I love a good challenge 🙂 It was while here that I was introduced to the strategic part of communications – when you take a 360 perspective and bring together strategic communication, PR, event management and experiential marketing (mostly targeting consumers), not forgetting the segmentation of both the internal and external audiences. This was my “ah-ha” moment.

Once I understood the 360 perspective from a strategic standpoint, I could take a deeper look into how to engage different stakeholders at different levels. The proposition you have for different clients is different – the channel of engagement  you use differs. This is dictated by various factors, primary being relevance.

Then I moved to communications and marketing at Equity Bank, and I was introduced to media buying. This ideally entails identifying the advertising channels with maximum impact and minimum cost. I hadn’t done that before. Media buying meant that I had to talk to people in media houses, radio stations, and other print media channels to secure an advertising slot. Then, I worked on the ad content.  If it was on radio, I had to design a spot ad with the help of the station so that the tone was appealing to their listeners. That was very interesting for me – especially creating media campaigns around themes and translating that into print and electronic messages (60 second messages).

When I came to the Nailab, I began to see the value of all that I had learnt since I had to now look at the 360 from a brand establishment point of view. Nailab is an organization that had little exposure both as a brand and their primary customers, the startups. So I had to create my own strategy. To create the strategy, I had to understand the different brands I would be managing. So my challenge was that I had to figure out how to incorporate brand equity with startups as well as with the Nailab.

My previous experiences came with sufficient budgets. But at Nailab, I was introduced to the zero budget standpoint. I promise at some point I wanted out…..Who markets with no money?? I had to have a heart to heart with myself to convince myself to stay, and from that moment on, I developed my own motto – “Whatever the means, it has to work.” It has been an interesting process.

I have had to be innovative in my approach to marketing communications just like startups. For a very long time, people didn’t understand the essence of the structure of communications versus marketing. To many, they are all one and the same thing. Duma Works shows how to get a job in PR, marketing, communications, branding, design, and more

If you were to define PR how would you define it?

PR is more of a strategic communication process that helps build a trustworthy relationship between organizations and their desired audiences. It ultimately grows the interaction process of your product/service with that audience. PR also goes beyond what you say as an organization and you can actually rely on testimonial by a happy client/customer asserting that the “Experience” that comes with your offering is worth every minute.

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

I wake up, get to work. The first thing I do is to go through social media platforms and what the analytics are behind the posts. I also have to analyze what has been published in the mainstream media from a competitive perspective and also industry related as that helps us understand trends.

I manage Nailab the brand, as well as assist startups in creating their brand equity. One of the major things i have to do is make calls to media networks to tell them what is new and why this is of public interest. That’s media relations.

I also have to look into TechSahara, our online magazine about startups in Nairobi and ICT related business news. We started it as a platform to create a dialogue around startups and what is going on. I share a couple stories written that day on our social media to hike interest and dialogue. I also need to see if the things being published are aligning to our corporate strategy.

I never realized the strength of social media before I came to Nailab – mostly because I can do a campaign with paying almost $0.. Over the course of calling for applications for Nailab, I have only done it over social media. And every time, we get over 100+ applicants, simply from social media. That is why it is so important for me to monitor those social media platforms to make sure I either align messages to our brand (Nailab, or our startups), or speak out about something currently trending.

Editor’s note: the most important thing about social media marketing is tracking what people are clicking on! Read an article about this on our favorite social media blog, Buffer, here. Josephine works at a brand activation in Nairobi - read this interview with Josephine for the Duma Works blog to help you land your dream job.

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

Adaptability – you need to be so adaptable. If there is one thing I have learned over the course of my career, it is that communications is not like an accounting career where everything is set and there are defined structures and methods. I mean 1+1 from a traditional viewpoint can only add up to 2 right? Communications is very dynamic.

So when I started off my career, there was nothing like social digital communications. The only thing we had was traditional channels – clients just wanted to have their stories run in the Standard, Daily Nation, etc. By the time I got to the corporate world at Equity, corporates were now talking digital because of its low barrier to entry and the interaction it offered, so I got started learning about that.

As consumers we have become attached to the brands that we use constantly and that’s why if I’m unhappy with my brand, I feel entitled to a certain degree of good treatment. Thanks to social media, I can let them and the world know I am important. Any person in communication needs to learn how to have this interaction with their virtual audience, because that could make or break the brand in a matter of seconds.

So, be completely adaptable and understand that if consumers say this channel of communication is what works – ITS YOUR JOB TO FIGURE IT OUT – and the greater questions is who is the audience on this channel and how do i speak to them in a language that relates.

Do you think PR is changing quickly over time relative to other careers?

I think PR is actually changing more rapidly than other sectors because everything is dictated by the audience. The practitioner just needs to look at behavior and adapt to that. Before, all I needed to do was get my story or print on TV and people buy – now the audience seek to understand the process so am obligated to do a Youtube video that teaches, engages and at the same time entertains so that we have top of mind recall.

So if you studied PR – structures will get defined and redefined by audience time and time again.

Editor’s note: Check out this awesome article about how to weave in social media strategy to PR strategy.

What are your biggest challenges with your role in PR?

Keeping up is so challenging! I’m one of those people that takes time to get accustomed to new things. It takes time for me to learn but I know I need to learn really fast. Sometimes I feel stuck in what I know because it works, so that’s a been challenge for me.

And with the diversity of channels of communication, figuring out how to do it all whilst keeping the message consistent for all audiences is very challenging. It really gets me thinking and makes me step out of my comfort zone. For example, if I were talking to you on a radio interview, it’s not as much about the brand, but about the experience someone has with my conversation. So I need to figure out how do I get interesting enough, but not too intrusive and also appealing enough to attract my audience.

And then I need to make sure I am tying my message to the overall message. Telling that in the most appealing way is challenging. “But I am where I am because I opted to continue learning. I remind myself everyday of things that I don’t know – so I tell myself to keep learning.”

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

I have refined my writing skills. To be honest, I hate writing. I love to think, and I love to develop strategies, and so I just want someone to take things from my head and write it for me. I’m my biggest critic in my writing. I usually write something in the morning and then publish in the evening because I have taken so much time reading and re-reading.

I have also learnt to be flexible. The amazing thing about being in an innovative space is that people do not do traditional like sit down and have meetings, not in this day and age when we have Skype. Skype used to be so informal, and meeting face to face was formal! I have had to learn how to adapt… I still have a challenge with this but what to do 🙂

What tech tools do you use on this job?

I learned using writing tools as well – like Evernote. I love that it’s cloud-based so I can access things over my phone, laptop, etc. So it makes it super easy for me. Project management tools like Trello, easy to track an issue and also who needs to action and if am a barrier why and how i need to clear. Its magical. But you need to pick what tools work for you – if you use too many, you will just be inefficient  to a great degree. Whatever works, works.

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

I would definitely attribute this to my former operations manager at GDCC Carol Muthaura.

It was my first year in Gina Din and she takes me to this big government meeting where I met the Minister. So we get the list of deliverables and expectations and we are to develop a strategy and a work plan. At that point, I was coming from the mindset where the boss tell you what to do, you don’t jump until you’re told to (a product from my teachers in school). I wasn’t being proactive because I wasn’t sure that was the culture.

A week later, my colleagues ask me about progress and I gave them the magical answer “Boss lady is on it.” I’ll never forget the laughter that followed the statement. That’s when I learnt if your boss invites you to the meeting, it means you are doing everything.

And that’s what I like best about the Nailab – you figure out what to do and then do it. So I’m really grateful I was taught proactivity in the early stage of my career. It also taught me to think on my feet, you don’t cry at every crisis, you fix it. Cry later 🙂

And I think the one thing Sam always says is to just do it – make mistakes, and then learn from them. That way, you wear the face of the company, and you carry the company on your shoulders. Something i learnt early on.

When I presented a strategy from the agency, I didn’t present anything substandard because I knew it reflected on me and then the company, no one wants wants a tainted image so i learnt how to give my very best. To date i remind myself I am building me, just as I am building Nailab. If Nailab is progressing, then I am progressing!

How has this job improved your professional skill set?

I’m not a really big public speaker – but being the head of communications and marketing, I have had to speak on behalf of the brand. At first, I hated it, but then I got used to it. Over time, I have gotten more comfortable because I realize I know what I am talking about.

And networking – this was always such a nightmare. You know when you introduce yourself to someone at an event and after the niceties the cricket sounds are super loud making it even more awkward? Well, being in PR they say networking should be my strength – it never was, still isn’t. But with time, I have understood the value of my networks. So awkward silence and all engage 🙂

Also, fashioning strategic communications planning – When I started out, I used to just Google “communications strategies.” Now, I internalize the situation and create a strategy that will propel the company from point a to point x – stepping back and seeing how the audience perceives the brand – and changing it to how we want audience to see us. This way, I have learnt to immerse myself in the brand and create the character that we need to relate with the audience. Learn about how Josephine thinks about markeitng and PR so you can get the skills to land your dream job

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

Wow, very good question. A lot of people have asked me that – Why haven’t you set up your own PR agency, PR is about the network etc. I had never thought about it. The thing I actually want to do the most is training – training young people to use their PR career to help enhance themselves and the organizations they work with. Also how to be adaptable enough, and how to use your tools to the maximum.

So yea, I think my next step would be from a training perspective. There is still such a low understanding of PR – and the tools we can use. ie. Email marketing, communicating with audience. Media relations is the loudest branch of PR in Kenya, but it’s not all that you get from PR. If people gained a greater understanding of that, they could be better in their career.

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

I think my biggest advice would be figuring out – what are you passionate about? And then asking yourself why.

When you’re younger, you can be driven by sensationalism. But when you grow older, you realize what you love. Like, I got into communications because I realized that I am driven by relating to an audience. I was always doing drama festival, poetry, music festivals. By the time I was choosing my career – my dad sat me down – I told him I wanted to do psychology – he said – you know you need to do medicine for that? Then, he asked me what I have always loved, and I was like – um, communicating with people.

So he said – ‘You don’t try to fix dogs’ legs – you have always tried to communicate through art, poetry – so that’s what you’re passionate about.’ And I thought to myself – man, this man does know me. And that’s how I got into what I loved.

Whatever career you want to get into – make sure you do an assessment to see what you are passionate about it and that you are not just listening to external influences.


Thank you so much, Josephine, for your time and insights!

For me, this interview was very helpful to understand the role of someone in communications. The thing I learned that I didn’t know before was that communication is PR, marketing, social media, and strategy all in one – at least from a managerial perspective.

If you are going to be working in a bigger company, and coming in from an entry level, chances are that you will plug into one of these functionalities – either you will be writing press releases, designing print media, managing social media accounts, etc. When you want to progress to management, you should be able to understand and/or execute on all these different functions.

Great! So here is what you should do now:

1- Subscribe to this blog if you are interested in getting alerts when we publish these awesome interviews and other helpful articles, like how to improve your soft skills

2- Sign up for Duma Works if you are looking for a job or trying to advance your career

3- Send me an email (arielle@dumaworks.com) if you are interested in sharing your professional journey with the world!

4- Leave a comment below if you have any questions or comments on this article. We want to hear what you’re thinking and help you apply this article to your career

…Until next week!

What it takes: How to get a job in UX Design

Mark tells Duma Works about how to get a job as a UX Designer in Kenya This week for Duma Works’ What It Takes series, we interviewed Mark Kamau, the Design Lead at the UX Lab (UX = User Experience). The UX Lab is the first agency dedicated to user experience design in Kenya, and Mark is the cofounder, so he had a lot of great stories about his journey and tips about how to break into the field. This interview is a bit longer than usual but definitely worth a read. For those who are reading on the fly, here is the TL;DR (“too long, didn’t read), but I would highly encourage coming back and having a look at the whole interview. *Especially* guys looking to score UX Design jobs and startup founders (not even just tech startups!).

TL;DR

  • UX Design is less about designing at your computer from the comfort of your home, and more about working with potential users in the field to step into their shoes
  • UX Design is a dynamic field of work, and you need to be driven by curiosity and observations about the to keep up
  • It is your attitude and ability to learn, not skills, that can determine your success

So Mark, tell me about your career path.

It’s been long, man. I have been doing this for 15 years, I’m no spring chicken.

I started out learning multi-media designs in a training program that focused on different design disciplines. It was a broad program – you learn design and choose what works for you. I studied quite a lot of front end design and development. Then I worked with design for print, and also a little bit of animations. That’s basically where I started with my studies.

Then, going into my career, I had to respond to design demand by seeing gaps in the design space, seeing the requirements, and seeing gaps that the client has. From there, I began working as hard as possible to deliver. That meant learning new things, always applying myself, getting out of my comfort zone to learn another aspect of design or the product development cycle that I didn’t know before, and just make sure I delivered.

I actually remember the first website we got the contract for. I was a shabby young man and I went to the Dutch embassy to pitch to do the design for their website. It was a big deal – a government institution portal of communication. I was pitching against companies with mile-long track records. They say you don’t get it if you don’t try… In the end, they picked us, and we worked with them day and night to make sure we didn’t let them down. That was my first foray into professional design work, and that was in 1999.

From there, I started working with more clients from here (Kenya) and abroad – places like Amsterdam and Berlin. I was always trying to learn and adapt to the market. I think that’s the name of the game – being as adaptable as possible and responsive to the environment. So it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing things – you just need to have humility to put yourself in constant improvement mode. You are as good as your last project.

Do you think your ability to travel outside Kenya helped?

Sure – I was able to see people in Berlin and Amsterdam using new techniques and design technologies to attract users….while people here were just focused on building a lot of applications. But In Kenya, they are not focused on design enough to get traction and people.

I feel like people build a product out of technical curiosity, and learning about problems and trying to make a solution that fits. The biggest challenge to their products is that their design process is basically non-existent. So I decided to do something about it – One day at Artcaffé, I talked to Erik Hersman. I want to set up a user experience/design place and I need a mentor – someone to give me advice. I showed Erik the concept. Erik said “Yea – come do it at the iHub” and he gave me the support I needed to start up.

It’s been a long long road with a lot of success and failure. Falling down, screaming out, getting up, feeling let down, the whole thing.

What made you first start getting excited about doing this kind of design work ?

Actually, that’s an interesting story. When I was younger, I wanted to be a professional footballer – I was on the Kenya national team and I was doing quite well. I actually thought football would be the way to sustain myself. But then there was a lot of corruption and I got frustrated. I was playing football one day and there were these Dutch girls looking for recruits to train in design skills.

The first time I interacted with design was in Nairobi through Nairobits. I was the first batch of Nairobits students along with 19 other colleagues. That’s where the design journey started. I went in, and that was the first time I had ever use a computer. That really fascinated me – that was in 1998. I took to design and then started building onto the training I got with them through courses here and there.

My self-improvement in design work has always been curiosity-led – seeing what I wanted to learn and then where I could learn it. And that’s what it’s been like from then. Then, I did some work, went to Amsterdam for a short few weeks, came back, and did it all over again. I actually went up and down to Amsterdam for a period of 6 years. I wound up in Berlin for assignments working for Digital Spirits – that’s a company that works with really high-end clients eg. Hugo Boss for compliance platform. That was my first exposure to real German-style work mentality.

Oh yea, what did you learn from working in Germany?

That is a funny story. The office was in the same building as the Kenya embassy – so the first place I went to work at in Germany actually had a Kenyan flag 🙂

I decided that these people have a bad image of Africans – that we’re incompetent, and we don’t keep time. So I decided to represent all Africans. I decided my shit was gonna be tight. So I get there and we start at 8 – I get in, sit down, turn on my computer. The first thing they ask me is if it’s genuine software. I said to them, what do you mean? Haha. They got a technical guy, told him to go out, uninstall everything on my computer, and then bought me all the software I needed.

The second day, I was at the door at 8 am. The boss calls me in and asks me why I am always late. I was like what do you mean? I’m here at 8am every day. Then boss told me – yea, you come in, make coffee, get ready, etc. and you only actually start at 8:15. So that was trial by fire. Germans work really hard.

I realized that there is a big “excuse culture” in Africa. When the power goes, you tell the client that power went. But that wasn’t acceptable in Germany – you just need to find a way and get it done. That is the one thing I learned that I feel we lack here. We are so easily driven into an excuse culture, and that hurts our ability to compete with the rest of the world. We should benchmark ourselves against the best. The difference is to have the mentality that no matter what, I need to get it done. It’s not an ethos here people embrace. It doesn’t matter if client is paying $2M or $2. You just need to get it done.

Can you give me an example?

A good example is yesterday a developer was coming for an interview. We were all in the room, we had all made time, and the guy tells us 5 minutes before that he can’t make it. This guy has mad skills but his work ethic is poor and that will affect the team and his reputation.

A lot of startups at the iHub also fall into this same trap. Actually, iHub consulting started up because there are a lot of companies who take people’s money and don’t deliver. That’s horrible – and it happens because we are ok to give excuses. So, getting exposed to the outside world has taught me that it’s not about money, it’s about mutual respect, and relationships. I mean, we also have an education system that is exam-based, but I don’t know if that’s the only factor…getting out of this mentality is an uphill climb for a lot of people.

And it’s not just about skills. I’m sure you’ve experienced this with DUMA – 80% of the challenge is just getting people to show up for the interview.

We definitely have that challenge! Tons of people we match to jobs just don’t show up. I never understand that..

Absolutely. I actually went to Tanzania at some point in 2008. I have had quite a bit of passion to change this mindset in people, and so I started doing a lot of training in Nairobi and Tanzania – mostly teaching young people what I was learning out there about work ethic. I spent 2 years trying to work with some people to set up the Kilimanjaro Film Institute. Initially, there were mostly foreigners teaching there, but like I said, I had a multimedia background, and these guys saw me and thought I could teach this work culture from an African perspective.

So now you run the UX Lab out of Bishop Magua. What would you say your major day to day activities are?

Like today, I just finished a UX design iteration a project with the MIT Media Lab. There was a documentary about the 1 male rhino left in the world, and the huge problems we have with poaching. So, one of the things we are designing together with iHub Consulting for World Life Works in Tsavo National Park is a digital system to help fight poaching amongst rhinos. See, in the park, there are fences, but the ranger has to walk a long distance before finding poachers or other illegal activities. So we are building an app that makes sensors ping when there is motion in the bush (by poachers). Right now, we are figuring out the communication system and how we can innovate on that.

For me, this project means that I go to bush and live with rangers for a week – I immerse myself into their lives to really understand their day to day and what their needs are for this app.

What people don’t realize is that there is actually a lot of UX work that doesn’t involve a computer. That is the misconception between UX (user experience) and UI (user interface). UX involves a lot of putting yourself in peoples shoes, going to their contexts and gaining empathy after which you use principles of UX and design together to solve these problems.

Another example – I am going to Kiambu (rural central Kenya) from Tuesday to Friday for a healthcare project with local community health providers. I will spend time in the clinics and local population to hear about their frustrations, talk to workers and patients, see what their problem is, and figure out how we can design solutions for that. Sometimes the solutions are not digital. The aim is not to build technology, but to solve problems in a way that is most contextually relevant.

We make paper-based solutions for farmers for example. On one project we were trying to find a solutions for small scale farming system to help local small scale farmers comply with standards from Europe – it’s a lot of regulation and lot of filing that needs to be done on a deadline. The most relevant solution to keep track was a custom paper calendar for the farmers in which they could keep track, schedule activities and such. The calendars were crop cycle specific. This it turned out, worked better for them than a digital solution. Further along, maybe it will make sense to move to tech, but at the moment, this is the best contextually relevant solution.

UX is about finding out what works for people in their context and then building for that. It’s really a process of inquiry and action. I think for a lot of designer think the process is basically – a client comes to the office, says they want this, and then you do something on the computer. That’s not the case at all. The client is not the user, and therein is my beef with this traditional design approach.

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

I think for a UX person, it makes a lot of sense to be able to deal with people, be flexible, and be able to exist in different contexts. You need to be able to go out and mingle with people of different socio-economics backgrounds.

I was in Kisumu the other day for a human rights program, working with 100 gay prostitutes. They were hitting on me and I had to figure out what to do. I needed to connect with them, and make them feel that I respect them, so that I could have real conversations with them and really learn from them.

You also need to be passionate about a problem, and passionate about your work. I see a lot of designers come to the UX lab, and after one trip, they say it’s not for them. Why? Because it takes too much work, and the alternative of simply designing from assumptions is easier. Then, they decide to be UI designers so they can focus on computer based UI design. There is nothing wrong with that. UX, just like UI, is not for everyone. The only problem I have is when they call themselves UX designers without understanding or practicing UX.

For people interested in UX design work, check out www.uxafrica.co.ke which has some examples of the work I do. Hopefully they find it useful. (Editorial note – I checked out the site, and it’s really cool – you can read about some more UX case studies that Mark has worked on).

What are your biggest challenges with your role? 

Finding competence – competent people. The UX discipline is pretty new and nascent here. To illustrate this, The UX lab we have is the first of its kind in Sub-Saharan Africa. We do a lot of in-house training to grow the community. We could do much more if we had the capacity.

Also, there is a challenge making a lot of local organizations understand and invest in the UX process. They are often resource constrained, and the traditional approach seems cheaper and easier (in the end, this is not true). We need to convince them that spending time with users is important and that companies should be designing, not just building for them.

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

Oh yea, it was a big big learning curve – basically understanding this market and even the UX skills that are more applicable to Africa. Some techniques that work in Europe don’t work here.  There is a lot of adoption and understanding that I’ve had to make for this market. Learning all of these things have been a big learning curve for me. Especially since when I started the UX lab, I wasn’t an expert and there was a lot I had to learn myself. UX Design is a discipline that changes, and UX Design in Africa is different from other places. 

What tech tools do you use on this job?

I use a lot of pen and paper, but also Sketch, omnigrafle, Balsamic, Axure, Podoco, sketch as well as the design suite from Adobe – The most common tool though is my pencil and paper.

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

I think the number one thing a lot of companies look for is that people have the right attitude. Leave the skills alone – anyone can learn a skill. To have the right attitude is incredibly important – you need to be a go-getter, willing to learn, open minded and work well with people. That’s what I find, especially having worked with a lot of really skilled people, but really hard to work with. You’d rather have a semi-skilled person with a good attitude than a really skilled person with a bad attitude – A person that even if they are not ready – they still say “I’m going to deliver 100%’’. That is a mindset, not a skill, and one that one decided to embrace despite their skill level.


Thank you so much, Mark! I know you spend a lot of time in the field, we so we really appreciate you hopping on the phone and telling us your story. I know I learned a lot. Actually, the biggest learning I had was that anthropologists could make great UX Designers! 🙂 There’s a thought…

Anyway, thank you, reader, for taking time out of your day to read this article. I hope you learned some new things, and have gotten inspired by how important design is when developing any kind of new product/service. There is definitely a dearth of UX Designers in Kenya, so if you think this might be your passion, I would highly encourage to to pursue the field and achieve success by using the tools you learned from this discussion with Mark.

Here are a few things I think you should do now:

1- Sign up for Duma Works, (if you haven’t already), and you are looking to get connected to jobs.

2- Check out our post about how to pitch yourself in 1 minute. If you are looking to impress an employer, this is key 🙂

3- Leave a comment below! We can’t make this blog better without your feedback – What do you love about these interviews and where can we do better?

Thanks again, and we’ll have another What It Takes post ready for you next week. Get excited!

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!

Introducing our “What It Takes” Series

Find a job with Duma Works

What’s in a Name?

What do you wish you knew when you were applying for a job?

If your answer is: “What does this job title really mean?” then our latest “What It Takes” series is right for you.

The Problem

What do you typically do when applying for a job?

Usually you would first look to see what the skills requirements are on the job description, and learn about the company. The problem is that many job descriptions are not very original or descriptive. You see a lot of “team player” and “3 years experience in…” Job descriptions don’t always give insight into what your day to day tasks would be, or what things you will learn in this position.

Still in school?

This series is still for you.

We have also talked to tons of students (secondary school and college/university!) who wished they knew more about jobs so they could make a better decision when choosing a career path. As you can imagine, if you don’t know anything about what you would do in a certain position at a company, it is very hard to decide if that role is right for you in the future.

USIU students signing up for the DUMA Job network

Where Duma Works comes in

At Duma Works, we have spent the last 2 years working with young professionals around Kenya to help improve their chances connecting to the right job.

We have also spent incredible amounts of time talking to employers and really digging deep into job descriptions they have for open roles so we can make the best match.

Team on balcony copy

We have learned a lot in the last 2 years and want to share this knowledge with you.

What to expect

For this series, every week we will be interviewing professionals and getting to know the “behind the scenes” of their role. We will talk to people of all professional backgrounds – from customer care representatives, to Django developers, to operations managers.

Every company is different, and has a unique need for each job they hire for. However, hopefully these posts will give you some overall insight about specific roles that you are considering or pursuing or switching into for your career.

Help us help you!

1. Subscribe to our blog to stay updated about new posts we write – Knowledge is power!

2. Please let us know in the comment section below if there is a specific job position that you are interested in learning more about. We will try to cover all the requests we get!

3. Make sure to share these posts with your friends – life is better when both you and your friends are happily employed 🙂

4. Get excited about our post on being a Community Manager coming this week!

10 Things Not To Do; When You Get To Work after the #MatatuStrike

Its a huge productivity drain when you have to get to work late after being stuck in traffic for a long time or when you have had to walk to work after the Matatu strike. Here however is a list of 10 things that YOU SHOULD NOT do at work after such an unfavourable morning.

  1. Don’t complain about the #matatustrike endlessly to everyone including your boss/interviewer. While everyone may be understanding and sympathetic at first, everyone has been through it too and there is nothing unique about your experience therefore ranting over and over is unacceptable.Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 5.25.12 PM
  2. Don’t forget to wipe your dusty shoes. It is not a badge of honour to walk into offices in dirty shoes.Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 5.25.04 PM
  3. Don’t stamp your dusty shoes endlessly like a rabid elephant. Its rude.images (1)
  4. If you work at city council, don’t tell people you were late to work because of traffic…it was your sick grandma. This is about loyalty.images
  5. Don’t ask for a raise because you spent all your cash on a piki piki (bike) to get to work.1-R-rwVR048NVFow0HAKhyyg
  6. Don’t yawn with your arms stretched out, especially if anyone is in smelling distance of your armpits. The sweat patches are unsightly enough, do not make it worse.Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 6.16.39 PM
  7. If you are cursing Kidero on Twitter, make sure he is not your boss, especially if you voted for him. Also, dont tweet about how bad your boss is or how you hope they are also in traffic.6bf45ee8ea95b1be529930399707af83231176690435478a59488e74836afec9
  8. Don’t use the office sink as your shower or hand drying as your blow-dryer. Its weird and disturbing.Valentine in the Bathroom Sink
  9. Don’t forget to check in the mirror to ensure your make up is still intact. Yes women! You dont want to go into meetings looking like the joker.The-Joker-the-joker-30677826-1533-805
  10. Don’t tell the interviewer/client that it is sweat stains on your CV/brown envelope…If anyone asks, it’s coffee. Yes, the struggle is real.Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 5.25.32 PM

Calling Students! – Kenyatta University Career Day

Duma Works: Students in Kenya Find Jobs

Last week, Duma Works had the opportunity to visit Kenyatta University for an Annual Career Day.

At our booth, we worked with our awesome student ambassadors, Nelly Olang’ and Job Otieno, to help students learn how to grow their career through Duma Works.

The day was a great success and we were able to meet over 2,000 students. Not only that, but we had some great conversations with HR departments of companies like I&M, KRA, and the IRA to learn what they value in their employees.

Duma Works has some exciting projects we are working on to help jobseekers build their careers in the Duma Works community. If you follow our blog, look forward to reading articles about what qualities employers are looking for in their staff and how you can grow your capabilities to match their needs.

If you are interested in bringing Duma Works to your school, please send an email to david@dumaworks.com

To learn more about how Duma Works can help you find the next step of your career, sign up on our website, www.dumaworks.com and begin to explore what we have to offer.

Duma Works: Students in Kenya Find Jobs

Career Day at Kenyatta University

Career Day at Kenyatta University