Posted October 3, 2017 from Kenya

From the time I was small, I knew that I had a big mind. I had a Mind that could imagine anything, create anything and Because I was also a very determined Child, I made sure that no one could dissuade me from the stuff I wanted to do, or how I wanted to do it. My parents used to see that side of me as being a problematic child, I was too stubborn for their liking. And in their effort to get to break the stubborn edge in me, I somehow ended up in a boarding school at the age of 10. It was one of the worst experiences for me as a child growing up, because at that very stage is when I needed my parents the most. But I couldn't have them, so I had to learn how to take care of myself. How to stand up for myself, and how to get things done myself! looking back, I never thought that this traumatic experience of being taken away from my parents would someday end up being a blessing in disguise.

It was while I was in boarding school that I got to understand that an olive has got three stages before the oil can flow. It has to go through the shaking, the beating and the pressing. For me, this traumatic experience was the shaking, the beating and the pressing altogether. Because while in Boarding school at that tender age, I realized that I actually loved Science and Mathematics. I had nothing else to live for, so I lived for the Love of Science. The science symposiums and mathematics contests became a consolation and an escape for me. It was the one way that I used to forget that I was miles away from my mom and dad and the rest of my siblings. Every award that I got from the Symposiums to me was a token of acceptance, because at the time I felt my parents must have really not loved me at all for them to have packed me off to boarding school. So I studied Hard to get my A's in the Sciences and the Math. Then I had to work even harder to maintain the A's and keep my position as the leading student in the Class. And before Long, I Loved to lead. Without meaning to, I became competitive. Someone would ask, is competitiveness a good thing? My answer is Yes, to a certain degree, leadership is sustained by determination and the desire to thrive in certain things.

This love for Science is something that I took with me everywhere I went. In High school I was the highest scorer in Chemistry and Physics. What the other students couldn’t solve, I would easily solve. From titration to physical mechanics, nothing was too hard for me. The Changing point for me though came in my second term of my first year in high school, the school introduced a new subject ‘Computer Studies’. And from the moment I was introduced to my computer, I fell in love. I became so intrigued with the machine that when the teacher told us not to touch anything, I just couldn’t keep my hands off! I kept on pressing the buttons, and I remember at that time, everything was to be done using command prompt. So my day one in the computer lab, I ended up crashing the computer. Which also meant that I was kicked out of the lab for a whole 2 lab sessions. I didn’t like it, but I had to bear it.

My obsession with computer became so intense that there was no day that I didn’t dream of it. I even volunteered to be one of the cleaners of the school computer lab, because I wanted to just study the computer. It was during one of the many lab Classes that followed that I knew, that the work I wanted to do, had to be in line with computers. However, what really intrigued me with computers was; how do they work? SO we began having labs where we would write small codes and get to understand the software part of the Computer. That is when I decided I wanted to be a Software Engineer.

In my last year of high school, as we were filling in the forms for college and university, my first choice of a course was Information Technology. But my dad felt that that field was not cut out for girls. So he instead changed my choice to Journalism and Biotechnology, with my last choice being IT.

So I graduated High school with straight A’s in all my Sciences and having been forced to drop the Computing Course, I accepted my fate that I would never do Information Technology. So a year passed and my letter for university to take a course in biotechnology comes. I must say that I was either bad luck or fate, but when I went to report for my slot in the university, I found that my spot had been sold to someone else (A case of corrupt systems at the time), so I ended up without a place. It was back home for me, as my parents tried to resolve the issue with the missing appointment letter. And that is when a friend of my dad approached my dad and advise him that as they were waiting, he should get me enrolled in one of the colleges to be doing a short course. The college that he had suggested was no other than a branch of Cambridge university college! Of course I was thrilled to see that they offered a short course In Computing, and quickly enrolled. My love for Software grew and before long, I became a very good short script writer. Unfortunately, I tended to apply my knowledge for mischief; I wrote WORM programs (Write Once Read Many Times), I scripted some Viruses and deployed them on my friend’s computers, I would get illegal access to people’s machines and deny them services. In 9 months, I was fully sure that I not only wanted to be a software designer, but I wanted to be a hacker.

Having graduated from my short diploma course, I was sure beyond reasonable doubt that Information Technology was the World for me. So even when my parents objected to the course, I got myself enrolled to a private University USIU (United States International University) to do my undergraduate degree in Information Systems and Technology. I was not surprised that in the entire class of Information Systems and Technology, there was a total of only 15 girls to 72 boys. As we advanced and began to take the Concentrations, I ended up as 1 out of 3 girls in the software engineering Class. My concentration was on Systems Security. Having learned over the years how easy it is to hack into some information Systems, I knew I wanted to be self-employed and I also knew I wanted to do Computer Forensics. Still remain a hacker, but hack systems to test how secure they are.

It has been 7 years since I graduated from university, and I must say that it has not been easy making a name for myself as a woman ethical hacker/Forensic expert but it has been a worthwhile journey. I setup my own firm in 2014, the First of its kind in my country offering Pentesting (Penetration testing) as a solution. The firm successfully setup its first complete forensics lab 2 months ago, which I count as a great milestone for not only me, but for women in the field of Software Engineering. I have had encounters where I have been challenged by men who completely have no clue what my field is all about. I have been looked down upon as being a woman Whitehat/ Ethical hacker, some have written me off as being too young to be in this field but I thank God, that my years of boarding school training taught me determination and competitiveness, otherwise I wouldn’t survive the opposition. And after all that is said and done, I must just say this, STEM IS FOR EVERYONE, all you need to have is know what you want to make out of your experience and your love for it. Do not be intimidated because of your gender, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math is not limited to a certain gender; EVEN WOMEN CAN ROCK IT. And I know, I have experience both in the STEM and in Entrepreneurship. I do it because it is my Passion.

This story was submitted in response to STEM Is for Everyone.

Comments 2

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Jill Langhus
Oct 04, 2017
Oct 04, 2017

Hi Abigael. Thanks for sharing your inspiring story of determination. I love to hear these kind of stories, to defy all obstacles and to ultimately follow your passion and listen to your intuition. It's awesome. And you have and will inspire so many other girls and women to follow their true calling as well. Bravo:)

Beth Lacey
Oct 07, 2017
Oct 07, 2017

Abigail, thank you for sharing your story.  It is a inspiring model for all girls who want careers in STEM. Beth