As a result of failure, Yolande was able to find her purpose and career. Here is a discussion about how she switched from becoming an engineer to technology;
Hi Yolande, we are happy to have you join us today
Thank you, I am also happy to be here.
Please introduce yourself to our audience
Thank you very much. My name is Ebude Yolande from Cameroon. I currently work as an Engineer for a state-owned Oil and Gas company in Norway called Equinor. I also hold a professional doctorate degree in data science from the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands.
You are an engineer in the technology world; how did this path come about?
Growing up as a child, I was always inclined towards technical things. I grew up doing most of the things boys in my family did. One of the things that made me dive more into science was the joy that I got every time I had a task that required me to use my hands.
When I was in secondary school, I became very good at Mathematics and the sciences. But because I come from a medicine-oriented family, I was mostly advised to take the same path. It was hard to convince them that I wanted to follow a different path. In their mind, it was safer for me to do something that was more feminine. There were a lot of back and forth discussions but I was later “allowed” to follow my passion.
This already is a challenge in the early days of your career! Can you say it is the hardest you have faced so far?
It wasn’t the hardest but the first one. Having to explain to my mom that I didn’t want to follow medicine, haha. It was hard!
The nature of the language system in my country was another challenge. I come from the English-speaking side but the best university, in terms of engineering, is on the French-speaking side. Having to write an entrance exam into the university is normally difficult for people from the English side. It’s even harder for ladies from the English-speaking side. Thankfully, I passed the exam and joined the school.
While pursuing my degree, I had to repeat a year. I always say that this was my turning point. It challenged me a lot because, before that year, I had always been an A student. So finding myself repeating an entire year was a shock to me but it shaped me a lot. This experience taught me that failure can be used as a turnaround for something better. I used this experience to focus more on technology than engineering, because of my passion for Mathematics.
It was in this year that I learned about the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) Cameroon and applied the following year. While repeating my year, I also did some research and realized that I wanted to deal with data for a career. So, I did an internship with a research center where we did some data collection and analysis. I learned that I could be intelligent and also fail at some things! It was a humbling experience for me.
That must have been a very challenging time! How were you able to collect yourself and move forward?
Mentorship helped me. Looking back in hindsight, I now realize that being part of a community that believed in me having something to offer as a woman in Mathematics helped me. My biggest courage came from interacting with the strong women I met during workshops and conferences.
Let’s talk about moments when your work and effort have been appreciated
When I hear this question, the first thing that comes to my mind is the first award I ever received when I was young. It’s one of the things that keep me going in this career.
During my secondary school (form 3), I got an award for being the best Mathematics student in the whole school. It was from the company that used to do our Mathematics textbooks. Imagine getting an award from a textbook company, haha. It boosted my confidence. I don’t even think about the recent awards – this one always comes first.
I was part of a team that developed a methodology to estimate solar panel energy consumption in health facilities. We helped these hospitals to estimate how many solar panels they will need and their costs related to the data that was available in the market that year. We also estimated their return on investment in case they invested in the panels. This project was developed for health facilities in developing countries. The institution that was funding this project recognized our work and gave the research group a grant for that.
Also, I had the chance of graduating as the valedictorian of the co-op program in AIMS Cameroon that year. Here as well, we developed a tool to detect theft and fraud for Group One Holding. It was monitoring from a distance. This project was fun because it was the first time telecommunication companies in Cameroon were applying data science for anything at their towers.
I had the opportunity to represent AIMS for UNLEASH, a UN Sustainable Development Goal program that holds every year. This was organized by the UN in Singapore, in 2018. This was a good opportunity for me, coming from an electrical engineering background, I am very passionate about clean energy.
I have attended various conferences, workshops, and gatherings in technology; both in academia and industry, like the Deep Learning Indaba in South Africa, the CIFAR Machine Learning School in Canada, among others.
How do you enjoy spending your leisure time?
I love writing, I used to do that a lot while growing up but I don’t do it seriously anymore. My other hobby is watching documentaries.
For the last question; how do you encourage a young girl who is passionate about STEM?
Take your time to try different things when you are young. Going to school alone is not enough, you need to try out other things like boot camps, seminars. These don’t have to be about STEM, they can be about things like project management. Only after trying out different things will you be certain that STEM is what you want to pursue.
I remember running small businesses alongside attending school during my university. It helped me learn other useful skills in life. Something like this will help you think outside the box and get you ready for non-traditional STEM careers. Outside classroom walls, life will teach you other things through people’s experiences.
That’s all I had from my side, Yolande. Thank you very much for sparing time for me and our audience. May you keep soaring in technology.