Out of the Office

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Sharing with Sierra Leone

This month I’ve had the good fortune to be a professional mentor in the TechWomen program. This program is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and run by the Institute for International Education’s Center for Women’s Leadership. The program send 78 women in STEM from 16 Middle Eastern and African nations to the bay area.

At Citrix, we’ve been enjoying hosting two amazing women from Sierra Leone.

  • Marina is an IT professional who wants to build the country’s first digital library to support students.
  •  Josette is a mechanical engineer who wants to bring a petroleum engineering program to her country (which has recently discovered offshore oil).

We exposed them to our training in design thinking, to the business model canvas and to a lot of great UX thinkers (including Leah Buley who just published UX Team of One).

While I’m sure they learned some new things, I learned a lot too. Here’s just a few….

  1. We’re lucky at how quickly we can network and find opportunities and people willing to help. I sent an email on the Valero website to their community relations team. It went to San Antonio, TX and then back to Benicia, CA. An amazing group of women in Benicia agreed to host Josette on a visit to their refinery. (back in Sierra Leone, theirs stands idle having been shot up during their long war) Turns out, petroleum engineering is one of the highest paid majors.
  2. We’re lucky to have an abundance of technology. As Marina has been working on a plan for her digital library, she realized that she was going to need to get computers in the schools. One day she said “I know a digital library is very common here. But in Sierra Leone, this would be the first one.” [We are heading up to the SF Public library this week to meet their head of technology. See #1 above. Networking + Nice Helpful People.]
  3. As women in technology, we share a lot of experiences. We’ve all been one of very few in science and engineering classes, one of very few in technical jobs and one of very few in leadership roles. We all share a desire to encourage girls in the STEM fields and to make the careers attractive to women.
  4. There is an African grocery store in San Jose. Need to check that out!

It’s been a great four weeks sharing our world with them…stepping back to see our world through new eyes and learn about theirs.


Marina Samba, Julie Baher, Josette Tehan-Cole, Catherine Courage on our last day together at Citrix