You’re about to read one of the most insightful of my interviews. I am excited to share this with you.
One thing is clear from our interactions online: she’s a brilliant and hardworking young woman who will bring a great change in the lives of the many girls she’s mentoring. And she has begun already.
Zulaiha Dobia Abdullah is our active learner of the week. She wants a lot of girls in the Northern Region of Ghana to take up STEM careers and own STEM firms. And she’s achieving that by teaching coding through her organization Divaloper.
In this interview, she tells you about her educational background. She also expands on how she develops herself and zooms in on how she blends work with running Divaloper.
Relax, read and learn.
Her Education and love for I.T
Tell us some interesting facts about yourself.
I am a book geek. I love to talk that’s why I love to teach so much. I love to swim and dance.
Please tell us about your educational background.
Before my secondary education after B.E.C.E, I enrolled in NIIT to be a PC technician. I then studied Business at Asamankese Senior High School in the Eastern Region. My exposure to leadership begun during my secondary school days. I was my class perfect from first to final year. I became an SRC Organiser, moved to become the Deputy Chief Editor for our campus magazine and then Vice President for our department’s business club.
I acquired a BSc degree in Computing with Accounting from the University For Development Studies. Attending UDS was tough actually. Being so young, I made a lot of mistakes and learned from them. I completed UDS in 2017 with a lot of leadership positions also.
What informed your choice of computer science?
My dad was a computer person: he repaired computers and ran an internet café. So every day after school I went to the internet cafe to play with computers. I sometimes helped him repair the broken ones.
After B.E.C.E in 2013, I spent the 3-month break we had attending a hardware training at NIIT. That’s where I told my parents I had a passion for IT and wanted to pursue it at the university.
Did you face any opposition from your parents?
No, I didn’t. My dad loved that I was taking his career path so I didn’t have any challenge at all.
Making good grades and honing your CS skills, where was your focus?
Back in school, it was all about getting good grades for me. I was focused on coming out with a good class so I wasn’t putting much effort into gaining skills. I just wanted to pass. Now I wish I had practiced more and gotten the practical knowledge rather than concentrating on the theory.
What activities did you partake in outside the classroom that sets you apart from your peers?
I took up a lot of leadership positions. I also attended a lot of seminars and capacity building events. In my final year, I had about 3 major positions including the SRC Treasurer. These events and leadership positions have impacted me. Mostly when I am with my peers, I am automatically made a leader or head.
What were some of the things you were known for in a school?
Funny enough back in school I used to be known as the “too-know” girl, as people put it. It’s difficult to pinpoint why it was so but a lot of people saw me to be that way.
How did your friends describe you in Computer Science?
I was more of the pass the exams type so I wasn’t that popular in that regard.
What was challenging about university education, and how did you overcome it?
I went to University at age 16. As a young lady of that age, being left to travel from Accra to Navrongo was tough for me. I had to adjust to everything: how I made friends, how I studied and how I branded myself. I failed a lot through the journey. I think I started to overcome it when I was entering my final year. I started reflecting on my future: what I wanted to do after school, how I was going to build myself and be opportunity ready.
It was during this self-reflection I spoke to one guy I admired from afar – Mubarak Sumaila. I recall that day I went up to him and I was like, “I want to build myself and I want to read more”. His question was “Are you sure?” I affirmed and he began sending me books to read and helping me develop myself.
So how did I overcome it? I told myself I needed to grow, looked around for someone Ii felt was in a position to help and I put in work.
On Divaloper – her startup.
What’s the story behind Divaloper?
Well, Divaloper started because I relocated to Tamale for my National Service. It was the first time I was staying there, not just visiting. Whenever I attended entrepreneurship and tech-related events I noticed the low participation of females. This was around 2017. I told my mentor about my plan and he helped me come up with the name and stuff like that.
But what pushed me to just start was that last year I attended a week-long hackathon organized by Vodafone Foundation. Out of 50 participants, only 5 of us were females and not all of us were from Tamale. I noticed the problem was huge, so I began planning to start immediately and trying to get a team. While scrolling through twitter, I saw Nasiba on the UWAT page trying to promote education in the North. I reached out and we were all game to partner and started with just a one-week training in HTML and CSS.
What is the big goal of Divaloper?
Have the ladies in the north to pick up STEM careers, own STEM jobs and start STEM firms.
How has the reception of Divaloper been?
It’s been awesome: the ladies are pumped to learn and we are pumped to help get more women interested in STEM.
Any achievements that encourage you to continue?
I get a lot of my friends and colleagues coming to me saying “Hey Zuu(that’s what my friends call me..haha) can you mentor my sibling?” I get people reaching out to ask me what course they can offer so they can work in the Tech space. It has been overwhelming and encouraging.
Is it challenging?
It has been challenging but it has been worth it.
How do you develop yourself as a person?
I read a lot. I try to read 2 books every month.
I also take courses online, Udemy, YouTube, etc.
I watch a lot of self-help videos and podcasts online too.
How do you balance running Divaloper and working as a Developer?
It has been a bit tough, but I have a great team. So delegating and working with great minds has been awesome.
Tell us about the non-CS skills you have had to learn to run Divaloper effectively.
Teamwork (it has been tough because I wasn’t used to delegating tasks).
Being focused and realistically optimistic
Understanding and listening.
Zulaiha on her Personal development.
What are some books that inspire you as a person?
The Secret – Rhonda Byrne
Seven 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen Covey
The 5 a.m Club – Robin Sharma
The Man Who Sold His Ferrari – Robin Sharma
What aspects of your life have improved since starting Divaloper?
I think I have evolved all round. I am in the position to always continue learning and building capacity to be in a position to impact. Learning time management has come in handy. I have also learned to work in a team. In the past, I have had difficulties delegating and having people do work I am supposed to do.
Any weaknesses you are battling amidst your achievements?
Giving myself credit and not belittling my achievements. I know there is so much to be done that I don’t stop to pat myself on the back and celebrate my small wins.
Was unemployment a worry for you while in school?
Sincerely, no it wasn’t. I didn’t believe in waiting for the perfect job. During my service days, I saved some money to start a business. After National Service, I started an online business with my kid sister shortly after I started volunteering for 2 different companies. Later, I relocated to Tamale and had a teaching job. But after 4 months I left and started Divaloper. After running Divaloper for a month, I got my current job to work in the technical unit of my organization.
Reader, know that young ladies and gentlemen like Zulaiha are all around you. They have seen problems in your society, and they are leading change. Most importantly, they are actively learning.
I dream that stories like these inspire you to take action in your community. Identify a problem, think of a solution, and starting leading a change!
We desperately need you.
Don’t forget to tell me about it. I will always be around to share your stories to inspire more people.