Winnie Karanja

My day job is founder and executive director of Maydm, or “Made by Them,” with the “them” being girls and youth of color.

In many of the tech spaces I was in, I was one of very few women and very few people of color. I looked at the stats nationwide and found that only 3-4% of tech jobs were held by people who were Black or Latino and about 22% of them were held by women.

I wanted to create a program that would make a difference in the lives of girls and students of color. My ideas started to take shape around six years ago when I was talking to a former elementary school principal. She was trying to find resources to teach students how to code and nobody was responding to her outreach.

I knew the tech sector had so much power to be a force for transformation and couldn’t fathom why we couldn’t make it happen here. I started to look at available programs and saw a lot of focus on tech skills. Technical skills are important, but without a holistic approach they weren’t enough for kids who had been traditionally underrepresented in these fields to be successful.

Our programs are an intersection of technical skills, mentorship and exposure to tech environments. Being part of Maydm gives students the chance to explore different opportunities. It equips them and aligns their brilliance with the skill sets they need to be successful in the tech field.

We’ve taken our students to local companies, like CUNA Mutual Group, American Family Insurance and Zendesk. They get to see the work environments and can begin envisioning themselves working and thriving at these companies. 

Our students are in grades 6-12. We have a variety of program options including one-day workshops—what I call “innovation sessions” on specific topic areas—summer sessions and year-round programs. The fees are scalable and include lunch, transportation and all program materials. When possible, we try to host our programs at neighborhood sites to make them more accessible. Because of COVID-19 we hosted a virtual spring break program, which was a great success and we continue to release online coding resources weekly through June 5th.

We’re always looking for companies to partner with, people in the field who are willing to be mentors—usually we have one mentor working with two students—and volunteers for various roles. Get in touch if you’re interested in learning more.

My most memorable caffeine was the coffee one of my “coffee connoisseur” friends made for me. They used the best beans, they measured everything carefully and heated the water to a precise temperature. I’m not a big coffee drinker and I’m not well versed in coffee. But seeing the way they took the care to create the equivalent of a five-course meal—and having the chance to enjoy a cup of coffee that had me asking, “What have I been drinking all these years?!?”—made me re-evaluate.

I’ve made a few small steps to improve my coffee making skills, but I’m still learning. The people who can make coffee of this quality are the people I never make coffee for.

My current caffeine of choice is a caramel latte.

My favorite place for caffeine locally is Grace Coffee or Moka—I now understand why there’s a queue for their coffee. But my favorite place overall is in Nairobi, Kenya where I was born: Java House.

The people I’d love to share a cup of caffeine with are the Honorable Justice Bobbie Cheema-Grubb and Michelle Obama.

Bobbie is a judge of the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court of Justice of England and Wales. She is the first Asian woman to serve a High Court judge in the United Kingdom and is involved in human trafficking-related cases. I met her in 2014 and just wanted to hug her and cry. She has to navigate such a challenging space and be tough and not biased. Bobbie talked about needing to have wisdom and her heart is so gentle. We also share a similar faith, which resonates with me.

As far as Michelle, who doesn’t want to sit down with her?

World problem that could be solved with the right amount of caffeine: Structural inequality.