Working in Kigali

I’ve been getting a lot of requests to write a blog post about my work and here it finally is!

We’re back from our break in the US feeling (hopefully) a little recharged and working again! We both now officially have full-year visas meaning we’re actually allowed to stay. I know we’ve probably said something about visas every blog post since we got to Rwanda, but this might actually be the last mention until they expire next year! (Update: Just kidding! We now have to go back to immigration and apply for resident cards so we can travel to Uganda for free.)

So a couple weeks before we moved, I was accepted to a position as a Salesforce consultant at a women’s college in Kigali, called The Akilah Institute. Not exactly my dream position, but I accepted it as the school seemed really amazing, the people I interviewed with were great, and there was the potential for the role to turn into a product manager position. I also really wanted to try pursuing something different from web development and this at least seemed like a step in a new direction.

During the first few months on the job, my work mainly focused on training and managing their new Salesforce admin hire, named Moses. I was very happy to be more on the education side of things than on the admin / data entry and training people here on technology has been a very interesting and eye-opening experience, albeit sometimes a little frustrating. Growing up around computers and technology, we learn from a very young age how to interact with computers and how to get them to do what we want. That might sound obvious or like not that big of a deal, but teaching people who grew up in a culture where no one owns a computer (many of the computer classes in public high schools use printouts of keyboards to teach typing) has taught me how much of an impact that exposure has had. One of the biggest things I’ve been working on at Akilah is cleaning up their data. Wohoo, exhilarating right? Not at all. It’s the worst. But luckily Moses seems to actually love doing it so I’ve been able to focus on creating best practices and leading trainings so that he can take over the admin work. The biggest hurtle to all of this has been helping people understand why it’s actually important.

Example: The recruitment office has prospective students fill out forms and write down what major they’re interested in. Before I started reviewing the process, these forms would come back with every possible variation of a major’s name (Information Systems, IS, Info Sys, INFORMATION SYSTEMS, Computer Science, Computers, Comp, etc.). If you aren’t having to enter this information into a computer, then there’s nothing really wrong with this approach since everyone at Akilah knows what you mean. However, what we’ve learned growing up in a tech-centered culture is that computers are generally pretty bad at interpreting so you have to be specific and you have to use the same words/wording every time. If Akilah wants to be able to generate a report of all prospective students who are interested in the Information Systems major, then we can’t have some prospective students listed with IS and others listed with Comp. But that isn’t easy to understand if you haven’t grown up around computers, so telling someone that they have to enter “Information Services”, with no abbreviations or variations, every time can be a little confusing and requires some convincing.

The best approach to getting people to understand the importance of this constancy has been to show them what the data looks like after it has been entered into the database and show them the reports. Things are definitely improving, but I’ve also come away with a much greater appreciation for my early exposure to computers and a better understanding of where people who didn’t have this exposure are coming from.

In the past month, I’ve transitioned from Salesforce consultant to a product manager role for an Akilah product called MindSky. The app, started a couple years ago, tries to help connect recent college graduates of Akilah to businesses looking to hire recent graduates. It’s my first time in a managerial role and I still can’t decide if I like managing. Coming from a position as a producer, management sometimes feels like twice the responsibility and no ability to actually do the work you need done. However, when things do get completed and people complement the work, you’re the one that gets the credit 😉

I also got to attend the Akilah Institute graduation this year and it was pretty awesome with tons of music and dancing. Here are some pictures and videos!

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Sue Wyss
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Sue Wyss

thanks for the explanation of your job. I have abetter picture of what you do now. Also, the drumming is so cool.