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  • Writer's pictureThiago Assuncao de Faria

Alice Wanjohi - from Mechatronics to AWS Mastery

Navigating the intricate world of Mechatronics Engineering, Alice Wanjohi's trajectory is a compelling tale of curiosity turned career. From her early days as the family's trusted tech troubleshooter to her transformative role as a Startup Solutions Architect at AWS, Alice's journey is rich with challenges, growth, and innovation.

Alice from the back on top of a rocky mountain in Qobustan, Azerbaijan.
Alice at Qobustan, Azerbaijan. She got blatant stares as a black person on those sides is a rarity. People even asked for photos: "So awkward but glad I went"

In her candid conversation for the Lovelace Series, Alice recounts her initial aspirations of aeronautics, the unexpected allure of cloud computing, and the invaluable mentorship that shaped her path. Beyond her professional achievements, Alice's commitment to community shines through, particularly with her impactful volunteer work with Engineers Without Borders - Kenya.

Her story is not just about navigating the tech landscape but also about breaking barriers, championing diversity, and harnessing the power of continuous learning. As she reflects on her experiences, from designing sustainable solutions for Kenyan communities to advocating for well-being in tech, Alice offers a fresh perspective on what it means to be a woman in today's tech world.

Explore her multifaceted journey, a blend of technical prowess, community spirit, and a relentless drive for excellence.

Q) Can you share a bit about your background and your current role?

My background is in Mechatronics Engineering. After school, I worked as a service engineer specializing in data center infrastructure for nearly two years before pursuing my interest in cloud computing.

I got my first cloud-related job in 2020, testing app compatibility with Azure. Now, I work as a solutions architect and help startups build on AWS. Beyond this, I volunteer with Engineers Without Borders - Kenya.

Q) How did you first become interested in technology, and what led you to your current role?

From a young age, I was captivated by fixing electronics. I got my first computer at 9 and knew my way around it. My family inspired me to go into tech because they considered me their primary gadget troubleshooter and trusted my judgment on the best phone and computer specs.

Initially, I wanted to be a pilot, but my parents nudged me towards designing the underlying infrastructure. That guidance led me to mechatronics so that I could major in aeronautics later.

Transitioning into the industry as a mechatronics graduate was challenging. My expectations were far from reality because employers often sought clear-cut mechanical or electrical engineers. Ultimately, I secured a position as a service engineer responsible for setting up data center infrastructure.

That part of my career was frustrating because I was confined to administrative duties and constantly had to look for more engineering-focused responsibilities. I redirected my focus towards honing my coding skills and working on projects to develop a portfolio tailored for freelancing.

This led to networking opportunities with tech professionals, and in 2019, I delved into Azure thanks to the Andela Learning Community.

By 2020, I was testing Azure app migrations at Microsoft's testing center in Nairobi, deepening my curiosity about the cloud. After two years of intensive learning, my encounter with AWS through their 2022 re/start program was transformative and paved the way for my current role as a Solutions Architect.

Q) What main challenges have you faced in your career, and how have you overcome them?

One main challenge was being underestimated, which made me seek perfection in everything I did and fear making mistakes. I have learned to look at mistakes as growth opportunities to overcome them.

Having a mentor to provide guidance and offer me perspective has also helped.

And by sharing our experiences, we offer encouragement to others in similar situations, reminding them they're not alone and motivating them to stay on their path.

Q) Who or what has been the most significant influence or support in your tech journey?

Without a doubt, my family. As the youngest, their belief in my potential had a significant impact. The fact that they trusted me as their go-to mechanical, electrical, and computer technician from my early years made me confident that I would make a great engineer someday.

They created a safe space to explore, experiment, and even make mistakes.

They come from entirely different backgrounds with limited career knowledge of the tech field, yet they have wholeheartedly supported my ambitions.

Q) How have you seen diversity and inclusion evolve in the tech industry throughout your career?

In my home country, Kenya, initiatives promoting women in tech are rising. This trend is reflected in the rising number of women in leadership positions and girls' impressive achievements in science subjects during national school exams. The progress is genuinely uplifting, and things are continuously improving.

But globally, there's a noticeable gap between verbal commitments to diversity and tangible actions.

While many voice support for inclusion, they often lack a deep understanding of the fundamental challenges faced by underrepresented groups, and it shows in how they respond when you approach them with the real issues you are facing.

This lack of awareness, sometimes even verging on skepticism, makes genuine conversations difficult, especially when the other party cannot relate due to differences in gender, race, or other factors. There's progress, but the journey towards true inclusivity is far from over.

Alice Wanjohi sitting composed waiting to go into the world's longest zipline.
Alice (not stressed at all...) getting ready for Ras Alkhaimah, the world's longest zipline!

Q) How do you manage the work-life balance in the tech industry?

I have worked on managing my time better. I schedule and pre-plan my activities, ensuring I set clear boundaries.

I've also grown more assertive in prioritizing my well-being by saying 'no' when necessary.

I make it a strict rule to keep my weekends as laptop-free as possible. Most are spent swimming, watching many sports, and traveling with my friends.

Q) What skills are most important in today's tech world?

The tech landscape is changing rapidly, so consistent learning, practice, and adaptability are essential.

I believe that tech solutions should be designed to help people, so skills like inclusivity, listening, and empathy are key.

Also, collaboration really helps. For those learning new technical skills, hands-on, project-based learning is invaluable, and don't hesitate to ask for help.

Q) Can you share a project or accomplishment you consider the most significant in your career?

I am most proud of my volunteer work with Engineers Without Borders - Kenya. I am part of a team of engineers who volunteer to design and implement water and sanitation projects for rural communities in Kenya.

I have used my electrical engineering skills to design two solar-powered boreholes that provide water to communities in western Kenya.

There is still much to do, so I continue to volunteer.

Q) What are your future goals, and where do you see the tech industry heading in the next few years?

While I still see myself as relatively fresh in cloud and software engineering, I will continue reinventing myself and becoming an expert in cloud architecture. I'm exploring AI/ML also because I believe it will continue to redefine our future.

Also, as remote work dynamics intensify, technologies supporting it will mature.

And emphasized climate change, I think there will be a surge in green tech, energy-efficient data centers, and sustainable hardware innovations.

Q) What advice would you give other women considering a tech career?

Tech can be overwhelming with its vastness, but it's not dull. Sometimes, it feels like a lot of information, but many communities are out here to guide you.

Always prioritize your well-being, and don’t hesitate to ask for help.

Q) Let's continue the flow... who would you like to read on the Lovelace Series?

The brilliant Monika Nowakowska.

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