Co-Founder of LovetoCode to Empower Girls in Tech for Global Change

Meet Dina Mukasheva, who made all way through from being a fresh graduate to working in big companies, creating startup company with friends and working in the organizing board of "Technovation" challenge to be a constant contributor to SDG #4 Quality Education.

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Looking back to my life, I could say that most of the things happened in my life are spontaneous. I love to learn new things in new areas, and everything I learn in one certain area I try to implement in another. Combining them brings me joy. I say “yes” to most of the things, but that happened not from the very beginning. At the start of my journey, I had a completely different mindset with its stereotypes and thoughts. And now I will try to tell you my story. The story how one thing become another or how one ‘yes’ become the possibility for other ‘yes’es.

I had a ‘top student’ syndrome with all its worries and fears. I’m a graduate of electrical university ‘Power systems’. That was just a beginning of technological rise and there was not much information available to the public. The atmosphere at the university and the influence of parents raised in the Soviet Union nurtured understanding in us that you must choose one profession, one direction to follow. And I also thought that I would graduate university with a high GPA and find a good prestigious job. At that time we had our own rising trends in telecommunication, so I’ve been thinking that I would try to get employed there and dedicate my time and efforts to develop my career there. The stability was the main thing, so I planned to work there till retirement.

On the last year of my university studies, I got involved in the internship in the Sekatel company which provides cable TV and internet. I was the right hand of System Administrator, helping colleagues to set up the systems, programs, solve the issues. My first handful problem-solving experience. In the beginning, people didn’t take me seriously, just because I was the girl with a screwdriver. That was just weird for them. For the first time, I have to prove myself to people who surrounded me that I can fix problems. After university, I had a structure in my mind, so it wasn’t hard for me. And then they liked me. So the thing is that they perceived me first of all as the girl.

Later on, I have been working on help desk with clients of cable TV at the same company. It wasn’t challenging enough for me and I realized that it’s not the thing I would like to do for the rest of my life. I started my application to study in the UK on ‘Management in IT’ at the University of Nottingham. I got accepted.  That just blew my mind. I saw the like-minded people from different. I saw actual problems and how to find a solution to them. Project-based learning is the method where you can easily learn. Just sitting for a couple of weeks you can acquire high-level language, like HTML for example. So the thing is that they just gave us quality tasks. I entered the world of opportunities, the social life was so diverse. Knowledge share was so intense and powerful, that I started to change.

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In 2011, when I came back I started to work in international companies such as METRO Cash & Carry and Avon, where I got to know a new position called Business analyst. At that time I guess even HRs don’t clearly know what position it is and how to find them. As I’m more communicative person and have many hobbies (music, playing musical instruments, do photography) I felt that I needed some mix of responsibilities. And business analysis position was strategic oriented and IT, all together. Plus, you also generate your own ideas, share your opinion. That was a great experience for me as I think big companies/corporations teach you the structure. You get to understand how the system works, business processes. How all the departments are connected with each other. That experience I would never exchange to any. You get to see different professional of the areas and corporate culture and environment.  American companies have this focus on the development of the corporate environment. The company itself is interested in employees’ development and motivation.

Once my friend, Yeldos Balgabekov,  told me that before getting a degree in finance, he actually dreamed to be an IT specialist. At that time he thought he wasn’t capable to be one, even though he really like IT sphere. Working with me in the same company, he wanted, instead, inspire children to code. He introduced me a program called Scratch, developed by popular leading IT university, MIT, which teaches kids from 7 years old to make game animations through block systems. There you can get a basic programming course. So that was how was it: 5 people founded company “LovetoCode” school-programming for children.

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At that time the market wasn’t ready yet, so we got through not easy way. We had to educate people that we are not programming their kids, but instead of teaching them to acquire these skills to create and get ready for the future. Cause the programming skills are the basic skills of XXI century. It was 2014 year, so we were one of the first programming schools for kids in Kazakhstan. It was a young startup, we had a lot of things to do, so after 6 months we resigned from our jobs to concentrate on the school to be involved in all the processes. Entrepreneurship is something which broadens your perspectives and every day getting you out of the comfort zone. It’s like your own child. You want it to be alive and grow. You have to do everything for that. I was a content producer, a teacher, and photographer, making brochures, announces, responsible for social media, was like a local designer you know. We were communicating with clients, testing, changing. Trying everything.

That kind of project teaches you working in the team. Understand and hear each other. At that time I got to understand that the IT industry is developing and its so cool to share new knowledge with kids and see their excitement. It’s like the best award ever. Later on, we started to participate in volunteer projects. We made a partnership with Code.org and made a first #HourOfCode in Kazakstan. It’s ready to program with different interactive problems and once a year in December children have an opportunity to participate. Having a chance to see the programming in real life children get to see that it’s not difficult and fun to do. With a support of Ministry of Education, that time there were more than 70 children participated. This year with the support of the Ministry of Education and First President’s fund there were 100 000 participants. And as our country is striving to digitalization, education in IT sphere is on demand now.

Openness to new things helps to create new projects not limiting oneself. There were a few more interesting projects. With the help of the US Embassy, we got to visit different regions. 20 days, 6 cities, 3 days in each. Master-classes, workshops and just sharing information to small children, middle school children, and teachers. It was a non-stop interesting experience. At that moment I understood that regions have a lack of information, role models, and additional knowledge. It’s better to show them real examples to make them inspire and do. To show that there are plenty of opportunities out there, more than they think.

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With another project in collaboration with Central Asia fund, I went to Kuryk, near Aktau, in West Kazakhstan. A small village with 8 000 habitats. For 5 days, I’ve been teaching Scratch to 3 teachers. We had our own findings, as in further places, they have their own schemes and plans to follow for limited hours. Basically, in most cases, they learn parts of the computer, algorithms. After the sessions, they were so inspired when they saw the reactions of children to the programming. When I left, I got to know that they participated in the contest for IT and two of them got two first places. I was super proud that I brought the real impact. That made me think of the region’s reality: its problems, pains, and gains.

In 2016, I become a mentor of Technovation. How did it start?! In 2015 Diana Tsoy, techwomen, who with the support of US government participated in 5 weeks intensive internship in the US, Silicon Valley. On one of the sessions, when they’ve been informing about Technovation challenge, there were no Kazakhstan on the map. In 2015, she called her network to organize an event in Almaty. Among her friends, she assigned mentors to female school students-participants to realize the project. And we got started. As meanwhile, I was attending marketing course classes, I’ve been directly applying my knowledge.

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My team was great. We had a bond, we respected each other and try to keep in touch. The fact is that for those 4 months there were big changes. They become more mature, more open to opportunities, started to understand the banner in the street. We got through the regional contest, in which there were 11 teams from Almaty. The next round is a semi-final, where random international independent jury chooses 6 projects. We were surprised to know that we were chosen to be one of them, which meant that we will be sponsored to go to San Francisco, Silicon Valley. There we got to feel huge support and motivation from everybody. A genuine feeling of help and sharing the knowledge to give their maximum to the girls. We didn’t win, but we got a lot of insights. There was a different level of motivation.

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So right after I came back, I texted Diana to become one of the coordinators of Technovation in Kazakhstan. She was really happy to give a hand cause the load of work to be done is huge. Being on the organizing board means you work for the sake of the IT industry. Later on, Gulshnar Salpykova joined in Astana and we, three regional ambassadors, were ready for new challenges. That year 80 teams were registered, 10-12 cities, where 45 teams were chosen to regional contest. That was a huge movement. We had different inspiring stories. One girl organized a conference for her peers, another started her own business on Instagram. Girls got more chances to get involved with Flex, one girl changed her mind applying to the university from “International Relations” to Informational Systems. I’m so proud to see all these changes, to see the girl’s eyes full of passion, ready to face the world.

In 2017, in Astana and Almaty, with the financial support of Nur Aliev’s fund ‘Zhanartu’, we got to spread the news about the opportunity and have more teams. This time two teams from Kazakhstan got through semi-finals. Everybody was shocked. The team named “Qamcare” won the contest. It was the best news ever. Now they got the financial support to further develop the project. Currently, we are working on the next round, having 100 registered teams. The message is that we just Love what we are doing. It seems like you are just a simple volunteer, but it feels like you have a huge power to change things, share the knowledge. Can’t explain this amazing feeling! There’s no any career ambitions, it just pure volunteering feeling, just try and do it!

My mom always has been asking me “Dina, what are you doing? Don’t you have a shortage of time?” Well, volunteering at Technovation is indeed time taking and there were some really hard times in terms of finance. Plus there is not much money in startup. But I understood that once you are sincerely doing something, putting your heart and time, it comes back to you anyway. As a result, I got news that the US state department proposed my candidature to participate in IVLP in Women in STEM. I got selected by Washington and in November I went to the US with 48 other women from different countries. We’ve been in 5 cities and states to see what kind of communities they have and how they are developing IT at schools. We had discussion panels, sharing times. It was an amazing 3 weeks experience. I got to see so many inspiring personalities, who just do things and change everything around. Everyone is a role model and agent of positive change.

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I learn different languages of programming because I have this feeling to create something new and share it with everybody. To broaden our perspectives, we just recently got together with friends to create a workshop on Visual Storytelling. It’s more of interactive, we just guide them through. We get to meet so many unique people, so creative and passionate. I hope they also feel this wonderful feeling of exchanging the energy and ideas.

What I like is to challenge myself, to share the knowledge. To take some complicated concept, divide it into parts and make it simple, useful and easy to understand. Last years I get more and more chances to be a mentor and when you are an entrepreneur and teacher, you face many challenges. Something succeeds, something not and you get an experience. I always tell to my girls, that we just need to try and see how it works. Learn from your own mistakes and you have to understand as more you are free, more you can give.

– Dina Mukasheva, Kazakhstan.

 

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