Tatenda and I are part of the AIMS Alumni family, but I personally got to know her through LinkedIn. Here is our interview about her STEM journey:
Hi Tatenda, good morning
Good morning Winnie. It is a little cold here, haha, but it’s fine.
Ohh…..sorry about that. You should keep warm please.
I welcome you to this session of Words That Count – a STEM initiative that aims to present young girls with examples of women who have excelled in the STEM field and are still going. Thank you for joining us, Tatenda.
Thank you for inviting me.
Please introduce yourself
My name is Tatenda Emma Matika. I am a business analytics graduate trainee. I work at a human resources consultancy firm, in the department of business analytics. I have been here for 6 months now, since I graduated from the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) in South Africa.
How has this life journey been like for you so far?
I started liking challenges from a very young age. When I was in high school, I had to pick a practical subject within the first 2 years of high school. But we were then doing Computing as a compulsory subject. Starting from the third year of high school, you could either continue with computing as a practical subject, or the practical subject you had chosen earlier. The problem with computing was it always had bad results, for example, some people would have B’s and most would just fail. That alone was a challenge that I was happy to take on. That’s how I got introduced to computing. My group did well in the subject – only one person in the group failed. I wanted an A but got a B, which was also okay.
For my A Level, I had to choose 3 subjects. I couldn’t pick Computing because it wasn’t part of the strict science subjects that I was choosing. I wanted to do Physics and the basic combination would be Physics, Mathematics, and Chemistry. But because I was interested in Computing from my O’level, I chose to do 4 subjects. I still wanted to get an A for computing but I again got a B. Surprisingly, I got an A in Mathematics. It was surprising to me because I had invested more in Computing than Mathematics.
I wanted to do Computer Science for my undergraduate degree. So, I applied to 2 universities; the University of Zimbabwe, and the National University of Science and Technology in Zimbabwe. For some reason, I missed the option of Computer Science when applying to the National University of Science and Technology. But to my surprise, when I got my acceptance letter, it had Computer Science, haha… Such a blessing for me! That’s how I ended up studying Computer Science at university.
For most degrees in Zimbabwe, you have 1 year for internship; that’s for the year before your final year. For my 3rd year, I did my internship in a company and gained some good practical experience about Computer Science. During my final year, one of my uncles who is a lecturer in South Africa introduced me to AIMS, through a colleague of his who had attended the program. I applied to AIMS and got the scholarship.
I always thought I wanted to be a software developer, but when I went to AIMS – through the data sciences and statistics courses – I realised that I didn’t really want the complexity of developing software. There is actually A LOT that goes into consideration when developing software – genuine software. It’s not something bad, and I could do it, but I realised that I wouldn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. I was more interested in using my programming skills to analyse data. Anything in the areas of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Data Analytics,…..all that gives me more fire than software development.
After my AIMS program, I applied for the Industry Immersion Program between AIMS and ESMT Berlin. Due of the pandemic, it was unfortunately hard for my batch to get internships. But because we were taught the importance of LinkedIn, I decided to use that platform to grow my professional network. That’s how I contacted one of the people at the company I work with now. My initial purpose for contacting him was to help me get a job since they also do recruitment. He instead suggested that I work with them as a starting point. I went through the interview process and was given the position.
My work here involves a little bit of Statistics for HR and data science. I do some modelling and automation too. There is a lot to explain about the role, but basically that’s it.
What has been most challenging in your STEM journey?
I can’t say there have been challenges per say because I always choose to look at the brighter side of things.
When I started my first year in high school, I had an uncle who had just finished his O’level with 9 A’s! All through my O’level, I just wanted to do better than he did, haha. We were doing 10 subjects but I added 3 more just for the sake of challenging myself. I fortunately got 10 A’s and 3 B’s, haha. Ever since then, my mother believes in me so much. If I ever tell her something, she simply says, “just put in the required amount of effort and dedication”. As a young girl, that was always a challenge haha. I remember one time she told me “I know you can do it, but sometimes you can be lazy.”
My other challenge was when I joined AIMS. I didn’t know we were going to do that much Mathematics until I was there. My mind was not very ready for that. I thought since it was Mathematical Science, I was going to just concentrate on my Computer Science. That wasn’t the case though, haha… Good enough I had amazing people around me; the tutors, lecturers and my fellow students. They understood that because I didn’t do a predominantly Mathematics program, I would have some challenges.
What are some of your prestigious moments?
The very first time I felt like I had done something great was in my Form 2, second year in High school. We had this letter writing competition for an AIDS related topic for the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe. I got 1st place in my province, and 3rd place at national level. That was the first time I thought I did something that made my family proud. I remember the ceremony was done in my town and one time, when I was walking at home, someone recognized me from that event. The feeling of having someone identify me from that competition was very prestigious.
And then, when my O’level results were released, I had done very well. My family was so proud of me that one of my elder brothers always introduced me to anyone as his very intelligent little sister, haha. Unfortunately, he passed away this year.
My family was also very pleased when I got the AIMS scholarship. Anything I do that makes my mother happy makes me really proud!
Who is Tatenda outside work?
I love site-seeing. Some times when I have money, I just go to places close by and have a beautiful time with nature.
I also like going to restaurants. Okay, growing up, I used to see people do wonderful things on TV; things like going to fancy restaurants, and felt like I could also do that. So, any opportunity I get, I give myself a treat. It doesn’t have to be an expensive experience; sometimes I just drink something simple. But having that moment of sitting somewhere as nice as a restaurant makes me feel good.
I am really passionate about enabling the youth to connect with industry leaders in Zimbabwe. You find that there are many opportunities out there but because the people around us don’t know them, we end up missing out. I have started a program called the B.I.G Mentorship Program that seeks to bridge the information gap between industry leaders and ordinary Zimbabwean youth. I have received 7 mentors so far who are willing to volunteer to help improve the livelihoods of Zimbabwean youth.
Do you have a favourite quote?
“You have to think anyway, so why not think big?” ~ Donald J. Trump. It’s true the human brain will always be thinking. So if you are to use your brain at all, why waste time on small things? For me it’s like every time I tell someone about something I am going to do, their initial reaction is how unrealistic my idea is! I know the economy in Zimbabwe is not so favourable for huge thoughts but that shouldn’t stop me from thinking.
What is your last word for a young person struggling to fit into the STEM field?
It’s not only in STEM where people struggle to fit in; this is common across almost all spheres of life. So my best advice to a young person out there is to know why you are where you are and to keep believing in yourself. Honestly, no one knows everything about anything. So, even when you feel like you aren’t worthy of anything, just believe in yourself and know that you are there for a reason. You can make a contribution to the existing knowledge in that space. Like I mentioned, my first days at AIMS were hectic – I could go to the bathroom and cry my eyes out, wondering what I was doing there. But with time, I realised that even the brightest students were lacking knowledge in some aspects which I was surprisingly good in. Be comfortable in who you are and believe that your 2-cents counts, no matter what it is.
This is for girls; I have realised that even if you go to school with guys and talk about your dreams like they are something normal that anyone can achieve, it’s not always easy for them to fully internalise what you mean. I remember when I was finishing my undergraduate degree, some guy from class said, “girls don’t really have time to practice what they learn because they pay too much attention about how they look. So they have more time to go to the salon than grow their careers”. To me this was extremely disrespectful! Some men also have this feeling that if you don’t do something perfectly it’s okay, since you are a woman. So sometimes, as a girl, you are always going to have to put in that extra effort to be recognised by your male colleagues at work. I have been blessed to work with people who appreciate my work. But I still point out that there is absolutely nothing wrong with you looking good and going about your work. We are naturally multi-taskers; we can do all the looking good and still pull it off at work!
Thank you very much Tatenda, it’s been a wonderful session. I wish you all the very best with the B.I.G program. It is something we really need in Africa.