Passion, Persistence and Perseverance: How Four Women in STEM Overcame Obstacles to Find Their Way

Wogrammer joined forces with TechWomen to bring you the stories of 4 unique female innovators in STEM from across the globe, whose paths are marked by unexpected re-routes, personal adversity and inspiring triumphs.

Saltanat Alieva ● Founder & CEO ● BaiNec

Saltanat Alieva ● Founder & CEO ● BaiNec

Saltanat always finds a way. Her successful IT career, albeit studded with accolades and awards, is only a piece of what makes her story so unique. As a veteran teacher and innovator in the eLearning space at The Kyyrgyz State Technical University, Saltnant had achieved so much already in her career, earning the “Best Teacher” award for her curriculum innovation in computer science. Then in 2016, after attending a TechWomen event in Silicon Valley, she began exploring how her combined love for math and computer science could better the world. Saltanant saw a need in her home country of Kyrgyzstan: lack of access to affordable prosthetics for the physically disabled. She spent 6 months researching the necessary components for successfully constructing the cheapest 3D printer available, at which point she received two grants to implement the innovation in Kyrgyzstan and founded her company, BaiNec. While trying to solve for an electrical issue with her printer, she found herself face-to-face with gender bias in some online advice forums for electronics.

“These forums are mainly used by men. I received negative comments or jokes, and some advised me not to do this because it doesn’t help my cooking in the kitchen.”

She didn’t allow this to curtail her enthusiasm, and instead simply created an account under a male name and continued asking questions until she got the answers she needed. Saltanat would go on to use this account for 2 years before she decided to own her place as a woman with a female username.

Now, she’s the one giving advice and answering questions about robotics and electronics, both online and as a leader in her STEM community, actively organizing local workshops, meetups and the first-ever Java Script Conference in Bishkek. Saltnant reminds others to fight for what they want, paying no mind to the bullies along the way.

“Determination, observation, and curiosity are the most important tools to ignite the talent and passion of the next generation of innovators.”

Sabine El Kahi ● Founder & Managing Director ● The Makers Hub/Kids Genius

Sabine El Kahi ● Founder & Managing Director ● The Makers Hub/Kids Genius

Sabine was destined for engineering greatness.

“Since my childhood, I always wanted to feel capable of developing or creating the tools and products I need. I always questioned myself about how free we are when we are limited to products that we find in the market.”

This childhood sentiment inspired Sabine to create Kids Genius, a makerspace where kids 7–18 years old bring their own creative ideas to life using technology. Sabine saw the value of instilling confidence in a child’s ability to design and produce their own ideas, using manual and digital fabrication, from CNC’s and woodworking to 3D printing and laser cutting. In Sabine’s eyes, it was less about the final product than the learning process itself, teaching kids about the importance of being willing to try, fail, iterate and persist in the face of design or manufacturing challenges. Since its inception in 2014, Kids Genius has trained over 2,000 kids. Her mission has also reached the classroom, bringing Kids Genius makerspaces and its hands-on curriculum into schools. Most recently, Sabine collaborated with international organizations supporting childhood development to open a new makerspace in the Beirut Digital District called The Makers Hub. In 2018, her work earned her finalist spot at the MIT Enterprise Forum-Pan Arab Competition for the social entrepreneurship track.

Sabine’s mindset is one of persistence and confidence.

“There are times where I feel I am stuck, but then I remind myself that I started this because I saw a need or a problem to solve in the tech field or community and if it was easy, it would have been solved before. So someone has to start tackling this issue and why not me?”

She advises young women in STEM to let their impressive work leave its mark and serve as a ‘voice’ in the field. “There is room for every single human being to innovate in STEM and to have her input.”

Horore Bebga ● Founder & Director ● LIKALO Learning Center

Horore Bebga ● Founder & Director ● LIKALO Learning Center

When a frustrating experience with the gender pay inequality pushed her into entrepreneurship, Horore didn’t yet know how challenging and gratifying the road ahead would be. Working as a female engineer in IT in Cameroon back in 2014, Horore felt the backlash of a male-dominated culture.

“The idea that certain jobs are reserved for men is still very widespread in Africa and, particularly for jobs that require physical strength, a lot of energy and long hours. This situation had me determined to affirm my value beyond my status as a woman.”

As such, Horore took the leap to open her first solo venture: an e-commerce site specializing in men’s apparel & accessories. Despite her confidence in herself, business challenges forced Horore to close shop in 2015. However, this event was a pivotal learning experience, empowering her to close her own skill gap and enroll in business management training to better equip herself for the next venture. Armed with more knowledge than ever before, two years later, Horore launched LIKALO Learning Center, a center providing early education in STEM for primary and secondary students in Cameroon. In true entrepreneurial fashion, Horore spent a week, day and night, building the LIKALO website. Since its launch, she has become a champion for early STEM education, organizing tech-focused camps and extracurricular programs, developing training modules in web design and coding for children, and installing programming software in over 10 primary schools in Cameroon. Her incredible accomplishments have earned her the title of CEO GLOBAL’s Most influential Women in Business and Government in ICT sector for Central Africa in 2018 and laureate of The Tony Elumelu Foundation Award.

Horore in-part credits entrepreneurship for helping her find her voice in STEM, “I realize that I have more capacity to impact and especially to promote STEM to women and girls in Cameroon.” It is her personal belief that knowledge is power, deeming business management training a necessary ‘pillar’ in women’s professional development. No stranger to failure and persistence herself, Horore offers uplifting words of advice to emerging entrepreneurs in STEM.

“Hope exists, and it is up to the woman to believe in her, to take charge and especially to dare. Opportunities for training or funding for women in STEM are growing on the continent, and women must grasp them with both hands’’.

Shodiyabegim Bakhtiyorzoda ● On-site Representative / Module Leader ● Lufthansa Technik/ Westminster International University in Tashkent

Shodiyabegim Bakhtiyorzoda ● On-site Representative / Module Leader ● Lufthansa Technik/ Westminster International University in Tashkent

Shodiya’s original career path in finance was quickly curtailed by her growing fascination with the internet.

“I often spent time in internet cafes (not having access at home) by chatting and surfing, and was very curious about the web and how it works with HTML and flash web sites at that time.”

Much to her parent’s dismay at the time, this curiosity led to a career re-route, landing her in a business computing program at Westminster International University in Tashkent, where she explored programming, databases, and networking. Still unsure of her final career destination, she followed her innate interests in systems analysis and corporate information systems, landing her first role at Uzbek Airlines as a System Analyst. Later she took a role at GM’s Powertrain Plant where she led enterprise resource system efforts. Her deep curiosity and knack for learning served her well, and before long she became an expert in the process of building an engine. Despite having no background in mechanical engineering, she was promoted to resident engineer after 3 years, due to her newfound expertise in the product. This is a point of pride for Shodiya, crediting her own ingenuity and persistence for her success in a role that typically requires a degree in a different area of engineering. It’s this type of persistence that Shodiya believes can change the way women are perceived in STEM.

“This is fighting stereotypes, putting more efforts than male counterparts to succeed, and staying up to date in a very fast-changing and dynamic environment.”

Her path came full circle with a position in aviation at Lufthansa Technik, where she employs her unique combination of knowledge spanning from engineering to supply chain and ERP systems.

As a life-long learner herself, it’s no surprise that her path also eventually led her to the education and mentorship arena. In 2016, Shodiya co-founded Do.IT.Women, a non-profit organization promoting professional development and computer literacy, on a mission to provide more opportunities for remote work to women in Uzbekistan. Shodiya is also currently serving as a supervisor & lecturer in Business Information Systems and ERP systems, expressing pride in the growth of her students and in the increasing prevalence of female students pursuing BIS at her alma mater. In terms of advice, Shodiya emphasizes the importance of following the direction your curiosities lead you,

“It is important to remember that commitment, passion and lifelong learning will inevitably lead to success.”