Chizoba and I connected on LinkedIn. I was inspired by a STEM post that mentioned her name and ended up on my timeline through mutual connections. Here is our interview about her STEM experience:
Hi Chizoba, it is an honour to have you join us today!
Hi Winnie, thank you for inviting me!
Kindly tell us a bit about yourself
I am Chizoba Rita Enechukwu, a Data Analyst in Microsoft Leap Apprenticeship Program, in partnership with Wragby Business Solutions & Technologies Limited.
Thank you for joining us once again!
How did you end up as a Data Analyst?
I picked interest in Mathematics at a very early age – in primary school. It was during my Primary 1 – I can never forget that! The school I was attending at that time had these amazing stickers on our books, like, “bravo”, “you are great”, “excellent”. I would always want to have those stickers in my Mathematics notebook. Those small incentives pushed me to perform well in Mathematics so that I could have many of them. I think it is generally important to start encouraging children into Mathematics at a very early age. In primary 3, I took part in an essay writing competition for Bournvita Children’s Magic Flight to Nairobi. After series of essays and every activity that was involved, I emerged among the winners from Nigeria that travelled to Nairobi – all expenses paid by Cadbury.
By the time I joined junior high school, I already knew I was going to be in the science class. As young as I was, my passion was already directed. Later in 2009, I participated in the Junior Mathematical Olympiad – a mathematics competition that got me a bronze medal and certificate because of my love for mathematics. In senior high school I decided to take Further Mathematics as a course. My only reason for doing this was to find out what it was that people were running away from. I am naturally drawn towards challenges, haha.. I finally got out of senior high school among the top graduating students. My school rewarded me with a gift and certificate for my good performance. I was very proud of myself for obtaining A’s in both Mathematics and Further Mathematics.
Heading to university, I knew my interest was in Engineering. However, in my parents’ minds, it wasn’t adding up to have a girl do engineering. They preferred having me do either medicine or pharmacy because they believed I would thrive better in that. Upon receiving admission from the University of Nigeria, I was accepted into the Food Science and Technology program instead. I was excited because then I would do some engineering courses – food engineering – like I wanted before. That’s how I started my career in Food Science and Technology. Throughout my 5-years, I did very well in all courses that involved Physics, Mathematics and Computing, unlike the ones that had a lot of reading and words! My involvement in different organisations, like Nigerian Association of Food Science and Technology Students (NAFSTS) helped improve my knowledge of Food Science and Technology. I still graduated from the university among the best students in my department. I didn’t have a first class but hit a second upper with a 4.07.
During my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) days, I volunteered by teaching farmers in my community (Odogbolu, Ogun State) better ways of processing their farm produce. I got 2 hectares of land with my friend to do some cassava planting. This positioned me to give better advice to farmers about cassava quality because they saw me as one of them. I also passed onto them my industrial training knowledge about what percentage and type of cassava flour can be added in wheat for bread making. This was done to enhance profitability since wheat flour was quite expensive. I did all of these because of my love for volunteering. I naturally enjoy making impact wherever I go, however small it might be.
On completion of my NYSC, I got an opportunity to work as a Quality Assurance Personnel in a biscuit manufacturing company. Amidst all this, I kept volunteering for different calls in the Food Security field, both online and offline. The shocking part is that, even during my time as a Quality Assurance Personnel, I knew there was this untapped potential in me that I needed to develop. I felt like I shouldn’t focus on Food Science alone, I could divert and do something else, but I wasn’t sure what direction I should take at the time. Then there was the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown that came with its challenges, but also presented ideas, direction and opportunities to me. Here’s how it happened; my company needed to provide palliatives and work around logistics for the company workers. Even though it was not in my KPI, I was immediately tasked with assisting the Human Resource team in computing, managing and reporting on data from distribution of periodic palliatives to enable the workers continue working during the period. I had to use Microsoft Excel in the computation, and this spurred my interest in Data Analytics. I started researching for means of delivering on this task efficiently. I learned so much from the internet that took my knowledge in the use of MS Excel from novice to intermediate. The best part is that I had fun learning and delivering this task. That was my turning point into Data Analytics.
Also, during the pandemic, the company had to down-size because of the financial burden the pandemic caused. I wasn’t let go but that raised something in me. I knew I needed to scale up my Data Analysis skills and become job secured. That’s how I started taking courses, attending bootcamps, and doing everything I could to learn data analysis.
I am grateful for social media; especially Twitter and LinkedIn. I contacted people on these platforms to ask about having a career in data analysis for someone who didn’t know anything in IT. The responses were not only guiding, but very positive. My first virtual bootcamp was AI Saturday (Lagos), which I graduated from in February 2021 with my certificate in Data Science. In January 2021, I realised the truth in the saying “when preparation meets opportunity, nothing can stop you”. I came across an advert for my current role and I applied. I had the basic skills for the job, wrote the necessary essays, and was accepted for the position. I should say now that it’s important to be in a community of what you want to be because when I started my journey, I stayed in a community of people in data science on almost all social media platforms. It was on International Women’s Day 2021 that I got my congratulatory email. I am not planning to stop here, my dream is to learn everything I can about data science to help me fully solve problems in my society. The world needs me!
Tell us about some challenges you have faced.
I wouldn’t say life has been rosy, no! There was a time during my undergraduate final year that my family was financially down, yet I had to finish my project. I found ways of financing myself to enable me graduate in time. I started selling A4 paper for people to use while writing their reports. It was a good source of income at that time. I also picked up some work as a project data analyst for my fellow students. I used my SPSS skills for ANOVA and ANCOVA to make some money. All I know is that when challenges come, they make you think outside the box in order to overcome. Like I mentioned earlier, the pandemic was a driving force for me to become a data analyst.
What is your biggest source of inspiration?
My biggest inspiration is my mother. The thought of taking care of my mother and giving her the best life makes me work hard each day. I believe she deserves every good thing for all the effort she put in while raising me.
Also the great women in STEM who keep telling us that we can do it. Those people inspire me to push forward in my career. That’s why I like this idea of writing about people like me, to help inspire younger girls.
What are some of your prestigious moments?
Getting into this Microsoft program is my biggest achievement so far. I say this any time, any day because there were 415 applicants, from whom only 9 ladies were selected. Other than that, my other awards have been mentioned under my history, lol!
What do you enjoy doing outside work?
I love travelling, I love life! Since childhood – you should have seen my excitement while heading to Nairobi in my Primary 3, haha… – I have loved adventure as far as I can remember.
I also love volunteering. There’s this program we do for elders in my community. So, because I am a Food Scientist, I give them tips on better ways to feed themselves, process their food, and eat healthy. We check their blood pressure, blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels, and life history, then use that information to recommend right food habits for them and possible medication. I also volunteer for Lagos Food Bank Initiative and Pad Bank Nigeria. All this is mainly about empowering women and girls, plus other vulnerable people. I am just realising that I volunteer A LOT! I hope one day I can start an NGO of my own.
Do you have a favourite quote?
“You can do anything you set your mind to” ~ Benjamin Franklin. Even in the midst of obstacles, as long as my mind is set, I will do what I want to do.
What are your last words to young girls who are aspiring to join STEM?
I like telling people that their dreams are valid. Keep dreaming and stay determined. Make up your mind and you will achieve exactly that. Keep going; whether you are crawling, walking, or running, at every step, just keep going, don’t stop!
Thank you Chizzy for taking time to chat with me. I really enjoyed myself.