Philisiah Mwaluma speaks on starting out early in tech, empowering other women with Codeln

Onyinye Okonkwo

Philisiah Mwaluma has always been a tech sis, not only because she studied to be one at the Kenyatta University, Nairobi Kenya, or only ever really worked in tech.  Even before that, her dad who was in academia (and had some knowledge about coding and all things tech) made books available to her and encouraged her interest in pursuing a career in tech as a software engineer. 

This week on women in tech, we bring excerpts from our candid conversation with Philisiah Mwaluma, a Kenyan tech sis, software engineer and co-founder of Codeln. She talks to me about the journey to becoming a tech sis, a  co-founder, the motivation behind founding CodeLN and much more. 

Getting started 

Studying software engineering at Kenyatta University, Nairobi Kenya was only one step in getting Philisiah Mwaluma closer to her goal of being a techie.

In the beginning, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to go the software engineering route or the networking route. So, she also bagged Cisco certification as a networking associate, a course which allowed her the opportunity to build an impressive network, helping her land her first job in tech in a major tech company in Kenya. 

Philisiah describes the experience as amazing. This fueled her hunger to learn more about the tech space, stating: “ Working in that company helped me realize that there was a lot more to learn about the tech space, so I began to think about what more I could do so o got into software development. I began to learn to code while I worked there, I would go to work Monday to Friday but Saturdays and Sundays I would be at the library learning how to code. After that, I got into a Bootcamp which was a more formal process of learning facilitated by Andela which was just starting out at that time.”

The Journey to being a co-founder also didn’t begin with CodeLN for Mwaluma as she tells me of her first foray into tech entrepreneurship as an undergraduate.

Although that didn’t pan out as she and her co-founders hoped it would, Mwaluma says that it was an experience that exposed her to the rigours of entrepreneurship. in turn prepared her for her present role as one of the co-founders of CodeLN. 

“ While on one of the breaks from the university, I had the opportunity to volunteer for three months at a particular hub that was stationed in one of the coastal towns in Kenya, where I was born and raised, what the hub does, is to train and equip high school girls with coding and other digital skills and even how to run a business to enable them to create value for themselves. While I was there, I met a couple of pof guys who were also into software development and we were learning together.”

“Eventually, we decided to come together and start a company that would help smallholder farmers automate their farming processes on a daily basis. We started building temperature control systems for middle-scale farmers, we had automated irrigation control systems for them and others. This was my introduction to tech entrepreneurship experience and it was a very hands-on experience because a lot of the challenges that went with tech entrepreneurship I experienced it there. It was something I knew I wanted to do again”.  

Philisiah Mwaluma and the CodeLN team…

While the initiative was a great one and mwaluma had hopes that they would raise funding and continue with the good work, her plans didn’t exactly tally with that of the others in the group as everyone had a different objective which eventually led to the disintegration of the group.

Despite this, the hunger for tech entrepreneurship had been lit in Mwaluma and she would eventually see that hunger satiated with the founding of CodeLN. 

Founding Codeln

After the disintegration of her first tech company, Mwaluma returned to the university to finish up her degree. It was in that process that she heard about Mest Africa, a software development and entrepreneurship program for software engineers taking place in Accra, Ghana.

She applied, was accepted and proceeded to go to Accra for the program where, as providence will have it, she met Dennis and Dexter who are also software developers themselves and in 2018, they got the idea and founded CodeLN which officially began operations in 2019. 

CodeLN is a technical equipment platform for African developers, Codeln is an online platform that helps match companies to developers and developers to companies through a seamless, automated, fair and transparent hiring process.

All three founders are software engineers themselves and knowing how hard it can be to find employment in this field they decided to do something about it which Mwaluma tells me is what gave birth to the idea of codeln. 

In her words, “ The one thing we had in common was knowing that accessing well-paying jobs for African developers tends to be a bit difficult, as you are not tested or treated in the same way regardless of the fact that your skills are the same.”

Philisiah Mwaluma
Philisiah Mwaluma

“E.g a senior engineer in Africa can do the same job as one in Europe or America but there is always that discrimination towards African developers with companies wanting to pay us not as much as developers from other parts of the world even though our skillset and capabilities are the same. This was a very personal problem for us as software engineers because we realized if we didn’t tackle it now,  it was something we would face in future as we grow in our career.“

Mwaluma tells me that Codeln for them was a way that they could provide a fair platform that recruiters can use to vet African engineers, a platform where software engineers could be assessed in a fair open way.

The goal, she tells me, is to create an equal entry platform for software engineers in Africa, ensuring they can get jobs with a pay parity, same as what their counterparts in Europe, America and Asia are paid so long as they are doing the same quality and volume of work. 

The journey so far 

While the goal is to provide a platform where recruiters can vet and employ African software developers, Codeln is still a business.

Speaking of a business and profit model, Mwaluma tells me Codeln makes a profit by charging the recruiters a fee for access to the software developers they have registered on their platform. 

“ We use a percentage to charge companies who use our platform to get software engineers, typically we charge the companies 12% of the annual gross salary of the engineer. But we realize that we do not only proviso these services to established companies, we also cater to some new companies, this means that in the event that they cannot pay us that amount we can come to some kind of agreement of what they can do based on their capacity”, She explained. 

Codeln so far has over 17,000 programmers signed up to the platform already, 40% of which are female with over 1500 African software developers who have been able to secure jobs through Codeln.

They partnered with several teaching platforms (e.g Microsoft Kenya) to enable developers on their platform to get certified. The company already services companies in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and Ivory Coast, but also heading towards European and US markets.

Memorable moments

Mwaluma says that being a tech entrepreneur has been quite memorable, with the many challenges and the wins that come with the terrain.

However one of her most memorable moments is going for her is being able to build something g and have it achieve the kind of reach our platform:

“One of the best parts is building something and watching it have a wide reach, that is something anyone that loves building will be excited about and no matter the challenges that come with it, it really doesn’t feel like challenges” she said.

Philisiah Mwaluma and the CodeLN team...
Philisiah Mwaluma and the CodeLN team…

Also, part of her memorable moments, she tells me, is getting into the Mest Africa program, getting into the African tech vision mentorship program which she tells me “ was quite instrumental in helping companies think through strategies.

“Also, the program has a huge network and the class of people the program gave us access to through the program was really huge from different industries and it was something I really appreciated. The program also works not just on the company but on the founder as an individual, so it empowered me as an individual and that really struck me. I definitely consider it a memorable moment in this journey.” Philisiah recalls. 

Challenges as a woman in tech

She believes that there are good parts and also challenges in equal parts. One of the good parts she tells me is having the team she has to build Codeln with. Speaking of the challenges, she tells me that,

“Building a business while fun can take a lot out of you cos there is a whole lot to do. Like building a team, it’s bringing different kinds of people together and you have to find ways to get along and bring your personalities together to be able to work as a unit. which is very important as you need a solid unit that can work together to build a successful business especially here in Africa. 

Another challenge she reveals is  ‘raising funds which we are currently doing at the seed stage, while it is a lot, raising funds as a female-led business is tough because, despite the many pitching and the rigorous process, we see that the number of women getting funding is still very little.” 

Concerning regulations as a challenge, Philisiah tells me that the changing legislation in the market like the digital protect act has been a welcome development and has not yet become a challenge for them.

Advice for women in tech

Philisiah Mwaluma has a piece of advice that she thinks might be cliche but according to her is the best advice she likes to give, it is,

“ Just do it! It sounds cliche but the truth is you only have two options. It is either you see it through or you learn from it, at the end of the day, it still teaches you something. There is no point in holding back or doubting yourself and even in the doubt, go ahead and do it, it is still a worthwhile experience at the end of the day” as he says. 

Looking forward

Philisiah Mwaluma has bigger dreams.

“I am looking forward to the kind of impact my software career would have, I am hoping that through Codeln we can provide opportunities for women and the younger software engineers coming behind us. I hope that we would have been able to make a substantial shift in the way African engineers are perceived and the access that African engineers can have globally. having a greater impact and being able to facilitate these kinds of growth and impact, is what I am looking forward to.” 

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