Nothing is so warm and inviting, yet so challenging and poignant, as a powerful story, told well. They say everyone has a story to tell, and that each story gives a generous life lesson to everyone who cares to listen, or read. Well, this is the story of a man, who once a young boy in his teens, back in his hometown of Kianjai, Meru County, thought the future would forever be bleak and that he would never make it past primary school due to lack of school fees. Asked how he made it this far, his simple response; ‘I owe it all to God’. This is the story of our alumnus of the week, the JKUAT ICT Director, Mwirigi Kiula.
The JKUAT ICT Directorate, which Mwirigi Kiula currently heads, is among the principal organs of the University that is on the forefront of ensuring the University lives true to its identity of being a trendsetter in higher education, research and innovation. Kiula graduated with his undergraduate degree in Computer Science and also holds a Masters of Science in ICT Policy and Regulation. He is currently working on his doctorate dissertation in Leadership and Governance. That he’s the director is a common knowledge. But what few may know is that Mwirigi Kiula never initially intended to study Computer Science or ICT. He had never even intended to join JKUAT. I engaged him on his career journey and milestones at the ICT Directorate, as well as the current ICT job market outlook.
What drove you to pursue ICT as a career path?
Initially I wanted to do Medicine, then changed to Mechanical Engineering, which I had chosen to pursue at the University of Nairobi. It was the chairman of my local church and another gentleman who challenged me to consider Computer Science, a new discipline at that time. I remember rushing to beat the deadline for change of course back in October 1999. That’s when I changed to Computer Science. Just minutes later after making the change, I rushed back to the office again and further changed my University choice to JKUAT. I have never regretted that to date.
What activities were you engaged in at JKUAT as a student?
When I joined University in 2000, I was elected assistant class representative, but after two months the class decided I was most suitable to become the class rep. so I can say there was a soft coup. Before finishing first year I was elected Departmental Representative, then in second year I was elected Academic Affairs Secretary. I would have become the chairman later but I got sick and left the hospital on the last day of nomination. But I was also the Chairman of JKUAT AIDS Awareness Campaign where I actively worked as a community mobiliser. I also pioneered a research that led to the establishment of the Counselling Department in the University.
Is there something specifically memorable during your days as a student?
I remember in May 2002, the then President Daniel Arap Moi visited the University and I was tasked with presenting a Kiswahili poem. To my surprise when I finished there was a standing ovation, and later I would be made the Kiswahili ambassador of the University. This further led to my participation in composing the University anthem in 2006-2007 and a tighter relationship with the University.
How can you briefly describe your career journey up to this moment?
First of all this far, I can say it’s been grace after grace of the Lord Almighty. On October 10th, 2003 there was a massive lecturers’ strike in the country. It was also the last day I was doing my research leading to the counselling department, with final exams commencing on November 19th, 2003. With normal activities becoming impossible, I went to my room, 447A in hall six, took my belongings and left the University. The next step was to get a place to stay, and at least something to do to generate income. This was no easy task because I had no means then. I finally got a room to rent in Ruiru, but after paying the rent and the deposit I realized I was penniless. So against my uncle’s advice who had told me not to go back to the countryside, I travelled home, frustrated.
When I arrived and finally managed to switch on my phone, I got a message from a friend we had worked with in the AIDS awareness campaign. The message was an invitation to an interview with the Kenya AIDS Vaccine Initiative, but I was receiving it 24 hours later because my phone had been off. I had to travel back to Nairobi, and lucky for me, the initiative hired me, mainly because of the work we had done in the University. I was asked to write an acceptance letter for the position of a Content Developer. I worked here for three months before going back to finish my final exams.
Later in April 2004 I would be hired by KENET to translate their website content to Kiswahili then by Octagon Data Systems where I worked as a Systems Analyst up to 28th February 2005. I then got recruited by JKUAT on March 1st, 2005 as a Systems Administrator in the Academic Division where I was dealing with the student management systems.
What can you say has been some of your major milestones working as the ICT Director?
What I can cite as the greatest achievement is the successful championing for the local assembling of laptops for learning in tandem with the Jubilee Government’s laptop for schools initiative. That has been a dream come true. Also as regards the Directorate I must mention that through God’s will I was part of the able team that conceptualized and made the ICT Directorate a reality, ranging back when the ICT Department came to be in September 2006. In the last one year the Directorate has three major roles; to unlock improved customer experience in the University, to unlock value generation from ICT and to unlock business continuity and sustainability. To this end I must say the team I have been privileged to work with have worked towards achieving the same. But we can only do better.
In your opinion, what makes JKUAT the ultimate destination for higher learning?
That has to be the University’s propensity for research and innovation, and the fact that it gives students the platforms to achieve self-realization since they are given space to think and innovate. We have for instance the JKUAT Tech Expo and the Nairobi Industrial and Technology Park among many other platforms. The University also has a very good relationship with industries, which ensures the syllabus content is demand-driven and that our students have the required exposure to the corporate world.
How can you describe the current ICT industry in terms of availability of jobs and the potential it holds?
The ICT industry basically is a function of both ability, skill and knowledge as well as experience and passion for practice. There are numerous opportunities in this sector, both for employment or even self-employment. You also realize that currently most innovations are geared towards ICT, which has seen the rise of very many entrepreneurs in the sector as well.
In your daily undertakings and execution of your duties, what keeps you going and what is your life’s philosophy?
The Lord God Almighty keeps me going. Wacha nikuambie, if not for God, right now ningekua nachunga tu ng’ombe kwetu jangwa za Meru na Isiolo for lack of resources to advance my education, but thanks to Him I’m here, and I believe I’m making impact in the society. My life’s philosophy? That comes from the book of Mathew 6:33… “But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” That is the truth I live by, that once you prioritize God in your undertakings, everything else effortlessly falls into place.
If you were to become an undergraduate student again, what would you do differently?
First I would acknowledge God more. Secondly I would pray for the authority of the University and not to assume that the University administration works against the interests of the students, but to understand that we all work together to make the institution better.