From A Farm In Zimbabwe To A Cummins Technical Lead And Founder
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A Technical Lead at Cummins, Munashe Mugonda’s interest in tech began in Zimbabwe. As a child, she grew up on a farm and always wondered if there was a better way to automate the repetitive tasks that her father did every single day.
From a Farm in Zimbabwe to a College Scholar in The US
“I’d ask my dad,” Munashe recalls, “Is there no machine that we can instruct to do these things that we are doing over and over again?’ I was always trying to look for a convenient way of doing things.”
Munashe’s interests paid off. Despite being the only girl to take programming classes in her high school, Munashe ended up becoming one of Zimbabwe’s top students. She got accepted into a program for gifted students from low socioeconomic backgrounds to study Applied Mathematics and Computer Science at Franklin College in the United States.
“I saw this program as an easy way for me to explore the world,” Munashe says, “and to find a good place to use my skills and pursue my passion for driving change in the workplace and in my home country.”
Juggling Studies And Internships
During her first two years in the United States, Munashe had a solid support system that helped her navigate through the difficulties of being an international student. She was so excited about the whole experience that she only encountered a form of culture shock after the third year.
While in college, she took some internships to supplement her learnings with practical experience. This included doing part-time work for Multiply Technology, where she did web development. But Munashe’s passion was in statistical analysis and machine learning.
Upon learning this, her boss connected her with someone at Cummins that he used to work with. “In my second year of college, I did an internship under Cummins’ chemistry department,” Munashe says. “I was in a program where I was working between 15 to 19 hours for Cummins every week and going to school at the same time.”
When she got an offer to work full-time for Cummins, she graduated earlier than the others and was ready to start her career.
Today, Munashe is working on an MBA sponsored by Cummins. She says, “I really appreciate that Cummins does respect and honor the fact that they are working with somebody who is or who is trying to juggle things.”
Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone
Munashe always had a more challenging time finding mentors than most people in tech. In college, she applied to a mentoring program but couldn’t find anyone that suited her interests.
As Munashe admits, women of color will need to step out of their comfort zone in order to find a mentor for their needs. She urges women to be on the lookout for people who believe in their potential, no matter how discouraging the process may be.
Munashe also mentions, “In tech, networking is one of the best things anyone can do.” As a Black woman and an immigrant, she had to learn many of the things people from the US would take for granted. By putting herself out there, she’s managed to learn how the tech industry works and how to navigate through a system that was so culturally different from that in Zimbabwe.
At Cummins, she had two different mentors, a woman in statistical analysis and a man in machine learning. The company has made sure to nurture her abilities and that she feels well-supported. Munashe says, “Cummins has really given me a base to pursue the means that I have had as a person and as a very curious woman who just wants to explore how things can be done better.”
Founding A Community Bank For Zimbabweans
Outside Cummins, Munashe also cofounded Ruzhowa — a Zimbabwean community bank that uses fintech to allow those in the diaspora to be able to invest back in their native country and help create job opportunities.
The idea for the community came about from groups on WhatsApp for Zimbabweans that she was part of. In 2017, there was a discussion about investing and how to invest in Zimbabwe. “What we realized was that no Zimbabwean could really buy into investments [in Zimbabwe],” Munashe confesses. “You’d need $50 million or so.”
After all, they’ve realized that only large foreign companies or financial institutions have been able to invest in Zimbabwe.
As Munashe elaborates, “When Zimbabweans invest in Zimbabwe, there is a multiplicative effect in which the money goes back into the economy and it continues to grow.”
As the pandemic continues, the team at Ruzhowa continues to interact through WhatsApp and communicate with the Zimbabwean community through social media. With her experience in product development, Munashe is building Ruzhowa’s fintech infrastructure entirely online.
Missing Her Family
The last and only time Munashe visited Zimbabwe was in December 2019, when she was able to finance her trip thanks to her full-time work.
Munashe still feels a very strong tie to Zimbabwe, and in a way working on Ruzhowa allows her to connect with her community and to be able to contribute towards the change that she and other Zimbabweans want to see back home.
But as she confesses, “I do miss home, and I do hope that I get the opportunity to maybe visit in December. I do need my family. I still need that connection and to experience their support in person. So that’s something I’m really looking forward to.”
Meanwhile, Cummins has become a nurturing environment where Munashe feels welcome and integrated. The company’s culture has helped her develop her interests through effective support and guidance.
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