How Pac-Man Inspired A Coding Career That Is Helping 3,500 Ghanaian Girls Become ‘Zuckerbergs’
Does anyone remember the game Pac-Man? Actually, I’d prefer answers from those who were born north of the mid-1990s. For those who were not around until the turn of the millennium, names like Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, and Contra should do it.
Well, I can recall I was a sucker for Pac-Man while growing up. Being only a child, it was as close to an adrenaline fix as I could afford at the time. You know, hurtling through mazes and gobbling up stuff while trying to stay ahead of the ‘bad guys’ who were always hot on heels – it was every child’s dream.
The thrill was palpable. Scaling through a particularly tricky level and moving on to the next – and maybe boasting about it to friends – brought with it a feeling of triumph that was literally everything.
At least, it was the best feeling at that moment until age racked up a few more numbers and made everyone realize there’s more to life than clearing food crumbs on a screen while trying to elude 2D-monsters who seem to never run out of gas.
For me and perhaps, many other kids my age, Pac-Man was no more than a game we loved to play. But for people like Regina Honu, it may have been more.
The Ghanaian was only 12-years-old when she too caught the bug. Her father had just brought home a computer – those gigantic desktop computers of yesteryears that come with monstrous monitors – and as would be expected, she didn’t care for any other icon on the desktop but the one she’d made out as the game.
She’d play the game for hours daily and where myself and probably many other kids were only curios about what the next level would look like, this one may have been on a whole different level of thinking at the time. We all just wanted to play the game. Regina, on the other hand, was starting to think of what it’d take to build one like it.
And before long, she started asking questions. Then, she
When she decided she wanted to write code for a living, nobody took her seriously. Then as now, software development was a path that was rarely trodden by females but Regina didn’t care about the statistic. Afterall, statisitics, like mini-skirts, don’t exactly reveal everything.
Determined to the defy the stereotype, Regina went to pursue a college degree in Computer Science after high school. When she was through with her studies at Ashesi University, she made a move for the corporate world where she made history by becoming the first and only IT specialist in a top financial institution in Accra, Ghana.
She put in six solid years on the job and against the wishes of family and friends who thought she was way out of her depth, she left her job at the bank to start her own company, Soronko Solutions, in 2012.
Named after the word for ‘unique’ in the local Twi dialect, the company is a software development company that has effectively made her one of her country’s top female tech entrepreneurs.
She started off with her own savings, a single computer, and a desk at the home of her folks but today, the story has changed. What started out one woman’s fuzzy dream has since morphed into a registered business with a plush office, dozens of clients, and several employees on the books.
Having hauled her business by the bootstraps to what seems like an oasis in the desert, one would think the Ghanaian entrepreneur has more than proved her doubters wrong, but Regina is not one to rest on her laurels – it appears she’s got more in the offing.
Her foray into the IT field was fueled by the many ‘nays’ she had to deal with when she opted to pursue a career in coding – stereotypical barriers holding back females from venturing into tech. And she remembers this, having had to get around it herself.
She’s also all too aware of the importance of helping young girls imbibe technology and leadership skills. And that’s why she’s now out to provide opportunities to promising young girls who are interested in pursuing a career in tech.
“I believe that technology can be a tool for developing countries to grow economies and help solve societal problems. I wanted to use technology to create social impact and bridge the gender divide,” she says.
Tech Needs Girls is the name of Regina’s new initiative whose mission is to mentor girls to lead and innovate through learning to code. This new project has witnessed quite the reception since its launch and currently, over 3500 girls are enrolled in the programme, with some 200 computer scientists/engineers serving as mentors.
Apart from teaching the girls to code, the mentors also act as role models; nurturing the girls and encouraging them to brave the tech scene as capable indivduals who are just as talented.
Currently, Tech Needs Girls is gathering steam in eight regions across Ghana and Burkina Faso, and Regina and her team have taken things up a notch by setting up what she calls the first coding and human-centered design school in West Africa. Soronko Academy, as it is called, has set out to increase impact and support the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills in the African youth.
“Before I launched the company I had no idea what a social enterprise was,” Regina explains. “But I did know that in as much as I wanted to drive social change I did not want to depend on donors. I wanted to generate an income and use the profits to run the not-for-profit.”
And it does look like she’s pulling it off. Soronko Solutions’ mission statement is “to use technology to drive human potential,” and Regina appears to be on track.
There’s been ups and downs along the journey – the biggest being changing the mindsets of clients and beneficiaries in a country where the technology scene is still a nascent one – but Regina remains optimistic. To her, even though there’s still some way to go, the atttude towards female entrepreneurs in Ghana is a lot better now.
For her efforts, the 34-year-old has been the recipient of numerous of awards. She was awarded Young Entrepreneur of the Year at the GPA (Global Professional Achievers) Awards from Africa 2.0.
She’s also been the subject of numerous features on CNN, while also getting named by the news network as one of 12 Inspirational Women Who Rock STEM (science, tech, engineering and math). Her trophy cabinet holds several other local and international awards.
Despite all that has been accomplished, you get the feeling that the Ghanaian tech entrepreneur is far from done. And you’d be right too. Regina is most proud of her work in helping young girls learn to code and these days, she’s about putting in more work in that regard.
Featured Image Courtesy: daughtersofafrica.org