My Experience Commandeering DSC JKUAT

DSC email

When I got the email congratulating me on becoming a DSC lead, I was filled with a lot of joy, surprise, and most of all fear. Fear because other than congratulatory emails coming through, texts on whether I will be able to fill the shoes of my predecessor started coming up.

DSC’s (Developer Student Clubs)are university-based communities which are sponsored by Google ran by students for students. They are diverse communities which accommodate everyone from different courses and programs. The only requirement is to be interested to learn and grow as a technologist.

Flashback to the application process, I remember a certain Tom actually recommended that I was neither suited nor should I apply for it and while that was happening, another Harry and Penny was pushing me to apply for it. I did not think I would actually get the role. I always say its better to try and fail, than not to try at all and struggle with a what-if for the rest of my life.

DSC members attending an event in Sankara Hotel

Jomo Kenyatta University(JKUAT) is known for having really intelligent minds when it comes to technology and I knew the competition would be stiff. Thankfully, I had attended KamiLimu that year, where I had done two mock interviews at the time. As a result, I knew how to articulately tell the interviewer about myself, goals, and plans that would come to life if I became the leader. The most nerve-racking part of the application was on the video part. I was so nervous that it spiked some sort of creativity which led to the creation of an animation. I figured if things go sideways I would always have that video as a reminder of my courage.

DSC leads on a picture break before the summit began.

Our inauguration ceremony was through a summit held in Accra, Ghana. I got on a flight for the first time and had the best time of my life with fellow DSC leads from Sub Saharan Africa. We had workshops and round table talks on how to better grow our communities. From that day onwards, we become bonded through our responsibilities, which evolved to the formation of friendships and we become like a family.

DSC leads in SSA.

Being a Developer Student Club lead is something that I count as a blessing in my life. Heck, I never liked being a group leader in our class projects because God knows, you end up doing all the work on your own. Additionally, I am a perfectionist, hence everything has to meticulously come together exactly as I view it in my head. As a consequence, I am worried half the time when something does not match up to my version of faultlessness.

From the back Samuel Ouma DSC lead Kibabi University, Auwal MS Program Manager at Google and Velda

During the process of my transition, I had three friends who were vital to my progress, other than Jillo, I had two more, Joe Ngatia and Dennis Kariuki, part of Neverest founders, who have all had a hand in my term as a leader. I knew if I had to be successful I had to have people who have been part of the community before or in a similar position. People I could talk to and would be willing to help me as much as possible.

From the left Jillo Pioneer DSC JKUAT and Velda.

We had several meetings with Dennis and Joe because as much as I had several ideas, I had to consider the ones that could be achievable hence, categorizing in a matter of importance. We eliminated some whose impact would be less compared to others. The metrics we used were on impact, necessity and importance. We also made a mock-up calendar of how the events would be if everything was ideal. The best part of this was that we had discussions on things we would have wanted to learn better earlier on, like data structures and how we could help others be better than we were.

From the Left Velda, Mwaniki, Velda and Dennis.

To be able to run my community I had to build my core team. Being able to pick a group of people to work with is difficult. After the first few meetings, I began to filter my core team to a group of 17 people I could rely on.

Normally on Campus, we had three tracks: a track that would actually be involved in Data Science and Machine Learning, Android development, and Web development. I had got in touch with a few members who wanted to lead the Internet of Things and Cyber Security tracks should they be introduced.

From the left Victor DSC lead MMU, Tabitha Kavyu DSC lead UoN, Velda DSC lead JKUAT, Aniedi Udo-Obong Program Manager at Google.

In my mind all these made sense. I would have a community that is all-round. People could build software, secure it, ensure it would interact with the hardware, and it could be used by the users through an android application or a website. To add a cherry on top, Machine Learning could be used to discover patterns on how users interact with the software we would build. Although this looked good to me, my opinion was not the issue. The community needs took precedence. I used Monkey Survey to get data from the members. I needed to know that my opinion matched with the community preferences and that’s how we started running five tracks concurrently.

During the first few weeks of running the five tracks, I got a lot of negative criticism. Some were baseless others were quite helpful. I expected it, though expecting and the actuality of getting it, are two different things. Believe me when I say the latter leaves a graze. I had to remind my self that feedback is a gift all I had to do was adapt, learn, and implement what I could.

My Failures

The tracks flourished separately, you could view the results through some of the small projects and challenges they worked on. However, I believed they would flourish more if they worked together as a whole. I tried to encourage and push the various leads and members to work on a solution but nothing worked.

Additionally, our planned hackathon was postponed indefinitely after hours of planning and approaching potential companies to sponsor us.

DSC members from the left Samuel Wanjohi, Lawrence Nderitu, Keith Kinyua, Ngatia Mwaniki, Grivine Ochieng’ and Wilson Kinyua.

One of my goals was to be able to have non-technical sessions, for instance, CV writing, for at least once a month. These skills are not only important but vital because eventually, the members would be required to present this for their interviews in various companies. Unfortunately, our schedule was tight and, we only managed to have a few.

Every DSC track had prepared to submit a solution for the annual DSC Solutions Challenge but after the pandemic, it became hard for all the students to be in touch, to know and understand their roles. For this reason, we submitted only one solution from the Web track which David Wanjohi and I had been working on.

From the left, Helinna Ayalew from Liquid Telcom, Ida Nganga from RCD, Velda, Timame Njeri from Liquid Telecom and Jillo pioneer DSC JKUAT

My successes

Despite having our normal technical weekly sessions we had two soft skills sessions which were: on Imposter Syndrome which was led by Allan Wasega and other guests were Juma Allan, Wayne Gakuo, Meshack Ngige, and Dennis Kariuki. The second one was on 21st Century skills by Helinna Ayalew, Ida Nga’nga’, Douglas Ogeto and Timame Njeri.

Attendees of the 21st Century skills session.

We had the pleasure of participating in the Tech Expo 10.0 by having a booth and some of our members submitted a solution that won the prize money, they are called Qualis.

We participated in hash code and became number 4 in Kenya. Something different we did was practise before the competition to acquaint first time participants.

From the left DSC members tackling Hashcode challenges and the right our team score

To add to this, we partnered with deeplearning.ai ambassador, Kennedy Wangari and his team to hold an event for Data Science practitioners. It was one of the biggest events we could ever have, comprising of 310 attendees from diverse backgrounds.

Deeplearning.ai meetup in partnership with DSC JKUAT

We embraced diversity and managed to run five tracks successfully without hesitation. The number of attendance increased by 45.7% after introducing five tracks. We had a few hiccups but we worked through them as a team and we survived.

My Upswings

When you carry a whole community on your shoulder blades, you know that no one can ever give it as much dedication, and effort like you can, because it's personal to you. This means that most of the time when your team starts slacking off, you can’t really understand that. Through situations like this, I learned how to have difficult conversations. Difficult conversations, in this case, was in situations where my hand was forced to relieve some of my core team members of their duties.

from the left Wayne Gakuo Ex-lead DSC Ashesi, Victor DSC lead MMU, Aniedi Udo-Obong Program manager at Google , Tobey DSC lead Daystar University, Benson Kinoti Developer Relations Training Project Manager at Google, Annie Mburu DSC lead Kisii University and Paul Onteri DSC lead Catholic University.

Teamwork was also something that I had to work on as well. I used to spread myself thin when I wanted to know every little thing concerning the tasks that I had divided, which was overwhelming. Eventually, I had to learn to trust my core team members. Trust that they will live up to the roles they each chose. Sometimes one or two would slip up, nonetheless, no one is perfect.

What I Know For Sure

I embraced this community as it was and made it better to the best of my ability. Every decision, every action, every choice, I carved it carefully with my own hand. Sometimes it worked spectacularly, other times it spiralled downhill. In spite of all this, I enjoyed every bit of it, and I would not change a thing.

Success isn’t about how your life looks to others. It’s about how it feels to you -Michelle Obama

To My Successor

I hope that you get to enjoy this as much as I did. Embrace all the diversity and learn to adapt to situations fast. I want you to know that I have been in your shoes and I have gone through what you most likely will. I have tried to make things a little bit easier for you, so you don’t have to jump through so many hoops to get to achieve simple tasks like booking a venue. I have forged partnerships that I hope you will get to enjoy the benefits.

Do not expect it to be easy because it never is, but you will get the hang of it in due time. Murphy’s law still applies, whenever possible have contingencies.

DSC leads attending Open Source Africa Festival

Leadership is different, the way I ran the community and the way my predecessor did was different, yours too will be different, and that’s okay. Serve in a way that feels true to you. However, have a plan with goals that you would like to achieve. Treat everyone with kindness and grace that you would like to be treated with as well.

Believe in yourself, be confident and it's okay if you do not have all the answers, no one ever does. I hope you get to achieve all that you set out to and be the best at what you set your mind to. If you ever need help, I am just a call away.

Vote of thanks

I would like to thank Kamilimu for equipping me with the skills I needed from writing award-winning essays to how to tackle interviews.

Jillo Mercy and Wayne Gakuo, thank you for the guidance and advice, for teaching me the ropes of how to manage a DSC community.

My best friends Maryann Makena for advice, for reading my application before submission and Resiato Torome for helping me achieve some community tasks.

Image from Job Monkey

I am grateful for the support I received from Denise Allela and Aniedi Udo-Obong during my leadership tenure.

Thank you Auwal MS(Muhammad Samu) for being the best Program manager and a friend I could come to for any advice whether personal or DSC related.

I could not have achieved any of the activities without my team. Thank you to Rodney Osodo, Wilson Kinyua, Lawrence Nderitu, Nick Msau, Grivine Ochieng’, Sophie Karima, Esther Mueni, Mugo Mwaura, Norah Areba, Manyasa Oliver, Brenda Kanana and David Odari.

Special thanks to Dennis Kariuki, Joe Mwaniki, David Mwangi, Grishon Nganga, Kennedy Wangari and Keith Kinyua for going above and beyond their job description, as my core team members but in also ensuring DSC activities went on despite my absence.

To my parents, Mercy and Joseph Kiara, thank you for believing in me and encouraging me to apply for this regardless of the odds.

To me, thank you for showing up despite having rough days and striving to be better each and every day.

Image by Peter Kimathi

Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.-Maya Angelou

On to the next challenge😎🍸 !!!

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