Alumni Profile: Marie Claire Murekatete - Class of 2014-Carnegie Mellon University Africa - Carnegie Mellon University

Alumni Profile: Marie Claire Murekatete - Class of 2014

Alumni Profile: MarieClaire Murekatete (2014)  - Testing Limits in CMU and Beyond

From Best Performer in Undergrad to World Class Masters

Upon graduating with her Bachelors degree in Computer Engineering and IT from Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) in 2010, Marie Claire was already clear on her future path. Her aim was to gain professional experience in software development before finding a world-renowned university for her Masters studies.

Having successfully completed her final year project with Tigo, she secured a temporary position with them after graduation.  As part of the Tigo Monitoring and Evaluation team she was tasked to analyze Tigo user data with SPSS to determine potential customers.

After completing that assignment, she was approached by KIST for a post as a teaching assistant in IT department. KIST sought her out for the role based on her exemplary academic performance as an undergrad. Only four months later, a new opportunity arose when Marie Claire was chosen as part of a select group of 12 programmers to be trained in java for e-health systems, in a program offered jointly by Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and Partners in Health (PIH). RDB is the main government body tasked with national development and PIH is an international NGO active in the health sector.

This nine month intensive paid training program was conducted by consultants from Ireland and used an increasingly popular e-Health technology (OpenMRS). Marie Claire built a cardiology reporting system, which is now used by Partners in Health.

She was then taken on by RDB as a software developer, coding in C#, Java and PHP, and was promoted to senior software developer after only one year. With the promotion, her role took on more software architecture as well as train-the-trainer responsibilities towards RDB internal trainers. She has also overseen her group increase from 9 to 18 people, and her team works developing applications which cut across all government agencies, particularly in e-presence and document tracking.

After 3 years in this role, her thoughts turned to obtaining Masters degree from a world-class institution, which would give her a basis in business and technology. CMUR was not her first thought as she perceived studies in US institutions as very expensive. In fact she was actively considering Masters studies in Europe when she was targeted by CMUR and invited to apply on the basis of attaining the award for Best Performer in her graduating class at KIST (now NUR college of Science and Technology)

“I thought, ‘its expensive but let me try.’ I put a lot of effort into the entrance requirements. “

An exercise in hard-work and testing her limits

Only once she secured admissions did she know there was funding available. The last piece fell into place when she was allowed to take study leave from RDB. However there was a condition – she would not have full time leave, she would need to work part time while studying. While this may be a reasonable proposal in many programs, CMUR Masters program workload makes keeping a job at the same time quite challenging.

“It was very hard but there were others in this position too [working part time]. I had a supportive supervisor at RDB. I am a married woman and CMU required more than 80 hours per week, it wasn’t easy for me. I lost weight and at one time my people were discouraging me, telling me to leave school, because they thought I had placed my family aside. It really challenging for me.  But my husband was instead very supportive and was among few that encouraged me to go on… I decided to continue.

Prof Bruce was my advisor, he was VERY supportive of me; we had monthly meetings to decide on strategies for the program. I really appreciated his advice. I learned on how to plan ahead and prioritize.

In CMU sometimes you forget of your civil status, your friends and, everything because you can very easily sleep in the classroom finishing and submitting homework. And along the way I figured out how to manage work, studies and family.

One small blessing is that at least she did not have to go far to switch between work and study, as RDB and CMUR are co-located in Telecom House in Kigali. Naturally her internship was completed in RDB but the pace did not relent, as there was pressure to implement her product in the 3-month timeframe – a document tracking system for districts.

Her practicum allowed her a window to business beyond Rwanda and was spent developing an e-learning tool for Next Thought in the USA.

“CMU gave me a unique experience, broad technical skills and soft skills. Before joining CMU, I enjoyed writing code and felt it ok. During the term I learned about wireless systems, security, startup businesses and strategy.

It depends on what you decide you want to be – there are a lot of courses. I didn’t speak in public before CMU, IT people are used to talking to computers. We did presentation in class and communications strategy and my communications have improved. “

Having graduated from CMUR in 2014, she now sees her time here as vital to her continued success

“My thinking has changed and I don’t have fear to do anything – I can go into any business and any sector and complete the tasks given to me”

After CMU: A world of opportunities and networking

Prof Bezy linked her to the Tech Woman program to match 78 women from Middle East and Africa with women in Silicon Valley. She was selected by the Department of State and was allowed study leave to spend 2 months at Calix in Silicon Valley after graduation.

 “Jill von Berg (currently a Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Calix) was my mentor. She was very a supportive woman and we are still in touch. She helped me get the exposure to different opportunities that will help me to have international experience. I really appreciated her and will ever be inspired by her will for fighting for other people’s growth.

MarieClaire with her mentor Jill
At Calix, I  used the latest technology used for project management and business intelligence. As a first timer in the US, I really like the place and learned a lot, interacting with women working in tech companies like FB, Twitter etc on visits, building up my network.

“In Calix, they have a lot of meetings and I had a lot of insight in the next plan.  During my work I spend as much as I would to learn a lot of technologies. I also learn the power of brainstorming and find quick solutions to problems.

Later she was selected as the only Rwandan to be part of a GTZ Gamification workshop in Ethiopia. She was also the only woman in her group of two Nigerians, one Kenyan, Namibian and Malagasy. 

“It wasn’t easy, the backgrounds and culture are different…it was a matter of feeling comfortable with each other. To agree on what we are going to do was the hardest….we discussed and discussed…We came up with a new idea, developed a game for social learning on teaching budgeting and saving in 3 days.”

Teammates from across africa in gamification
She was awarded by the Tony Elumelu foundation for young entrepreneurs in Africa on the basis of an idea being implemented by the company started by Murekatete in 2011, Atlas computer systems that employs 3 people in Rwanda.
She was also selected by UNESCO in partnership with Department of State to deliver a training to the 100 students, a blend of both African and American citizens, called YouthMobile, to be held in Rwanda this summer 2015.   

Seemingly, running a company, holding a senior position in RDB and her multiple awards and training programs cannot fully quench Marie Claire’s thirst for activity. She is also active in mentoring the next generation of tech women, via GirlsInICT programs and the Technovation challenge which aims to teach girls from high schools how to program. Indeed Marie Claire with her partner developed an idea that will empower refugee girls in technology and was one of 48 selected by U.S Department of State from 1,000 applicants to the challenge.

“After CMU, I had 6 opportunities, I created local and international connections and I have experience all over. If I want to go to Nairobi I have a network there, if I want to go to US, I have friends there. All awards I got come from skills I learned at CMU“

Related Links

MSIT Program in Rwanda

Tech Women Program

Youth Mobile

Technovation Challenge