Pearls And Heels: Suzanne Buku

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Njeri Buku

Our Pearls And Heels series today features Suzanne Buku. She is the M-PESA Product Developer Manager at Safaricom Financial Services division and the mother of a 13 year old boy. She has a technical background and for the most part of her career, that spans about 14 years, she has worked with financial systems and particularly implementation and support of electronic banking products. This was initially as Head of E-Banking products at Neptune Software Ltd which sells banking software and where they implemented ATM, mobile and internet banking for banks such as NIC Bank, and later as Manager, Channels at KCB where she implemented and supported their card systems, their mobile and internet banking systems, as well as their agency banking channel.

1. Describe your typical day?

Working at a corporate organisation and having a desk job ensures that my day is pretty much routine, so it hardly varies. I wake up at 5:30 am to get my son ready and drop him off at school, then head back home to do my morning devotion and get ready for work. I get to work shortly after 8 am, catch up with email and then my day at the office begins.

I leave the office at 6 pm to pick my son from school and back home to attend to homework and other matters of the home. On Monday evenings we attend Bible Study Fellowship(BSF).

After he goes to sleep at around 9:30 pm I read or watch motivational material or a movie, or just catch up with Whatsapp and sometimes social media. Most nights I sleep at 11 if I’m not on duty for a deployment.

2. What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to be when I was a child. I may have admired air hostesses at some point. I seriously thought of what I wanted to do when I did a short stint at a desktop publishing firm soon after completing high school. I had dreams of owning my own desktop publishing firm and having a home office (that overlooked a garden) where I could work as well as take care of my husband and kids. Yes, I wanted about 3 or 4 of them. 🙂 As it turns out I went and did IT at school, joined the corporate world and that changed the dream.

3. If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?

Actually, I don’t think I’d change much. As it happens, I discovered that I love IT. I probably would only have been more deliberate about pursuing courses that would have given me in-depth knowledge of the industry I was working in and read up more on global trends early on in my career. I would probably have done more networking. It is still something I’m trying to do now on a continuous basis.

4. What would you say are the top three skills needed to succeed at your job?

  • Persistence: Keeping at it until it gets done. This goes along with patience.
  • Attention to detail: Ensuring that you provide quality work, be it a report or a customer product
  • Being Reliable: Doing what needs to be done no matter what and being consistent.
  • Soft skills: The ability to communicate effectively and negotiate with people/teams

5. As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?

I worked at a technology firm that allowed me to travel and work in a couple of African countries and Nairobi is by far one of the best cities to work in (save for the traffic and water issues). Kenyans are progressive and much as we may often complain of lack of professional etiquette, we are still quite ahead of several African countries.

I love that there are so many people who have embraced technology and are even going ahead to develop mobile based solutions that are impacting the lives of Kenyans. So yes, it is very open to what I do.

My greatest challenge has been being able to balance my work and my family. Initially because while at Neptune Software I travelled quite a bit to other countries to do implementations and would be away from home sometimes for up to 3 months. Later, when I changed jobs the challenge was balancing the late nights that technical jobs often demand and being at home. I have had a great support system, especially support from my family to ensure that my son was taken care of and that made it easier for me to enjoy my job. I loved the travel but at some point made the decision to deliberately look for a job that ensured I stayed in Nairobi to be able to be with my son.

My greatest opportunities have been being able to do implementations in different countries and meeting various people from international organizations in especially the card industry. I learned a lot. Another opportunity that I am thankful for is working for the largest and most progressive organisation, Safaricom, where I have worked on all sorts of projects, and learnt a great deal about the end to end deployment of products, the various aspects and importance of business readiness when deploying a technical solution, as well as appreciating the impact a product has on the uptake of a product and on the customer support teams.

6. What motivates you?

Being able to provide an effective solution for those around me. This could be either by doing products or fixes for customers at my place of work or by helping friends and relatives get solutions through my knowledge and/or personal networks. My son and I not sleeping hungry is another strong motivator.

7. How do you define success?

Knowing yourself and having the ability to manage/control yourself. Doing a job/career that motivates and fulfills you. Having fulfilling relationships with the important people in your lives. Being able to successfully live within your means financially and thus being able to save and invest, no matter how small. Making a tangible difference in others’ lives. Having a strong spiritual connection with God and living out His will for you. Being content and happy even when things aren’t prefect. These are all things we strive to achieve continuously. Sometimes you win in one area and lose in another, the next time you try to win in the one you lost but drop the ball in a different one, but you keep trying. It’s a journey.

8. Who has been your greatest inspiration?

My Aunt Mercy has always been my inspiration. From her professional zeal to her investment progression to how she pursues justice in regards to her life and for those around her. She’s a great mother and loves her family to a fault. She’s always there for people supporting them either financially, physically or emotionally.

9. What is your favorite aspect of your job?

  • Seeing a product I helped develop being used by customers and it making a difference in their lives.
  • Cracking a technical issue was also my favorite when I used to do technical support.

10. What would you say are the key elements to being successful?

Prayer. In addition to that; hard work, self-discipline, self assessment and the willingness to change, listening, being prudent in the decisions you make, creating boundaries and particularly regarding your lifestyle and the people you spend your time with. Spending less time on Social Media/time wasting activities and taking care of your body, mind, and spirit.

11. What advice would you give somebody just starting out in your line of work?

Work hard and give it your all. Ensure that your hard work produces tangible and desired results. Go out of your way to do what others won’t do. Take responsibility that is given to you, even if it’s above your pay grade. All this will eventually pay off.

Maintain integrity at all times and always leave organisations on good terms. Your paths with those you work with will inevitably cross again, especially in the technology space.

For the ladies, where possible (and of course with the right partner), settle down and have your children early. Get the necessary support system especially when you have to work odd hours.

12. What has been your most satisfying moment in terms of career?

Bringing M-PESA home is the most recent satisfying moment, where we sat/stood on the steps at Safaricom House on the morning of the switchover and the system was up as well as the subsequent days which showed that the hard work we did had paid off.

13. What makes you happy?

Music makes me happy. Seeing my son grow into the young witty handsome man he’s become makes me happy, and spending time with him is a joy. Spending time and/or chatting with my friends and family who are quite witty (and sometimes I think a little crazy) makes me happy.

14. What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?

I enjoy travelling, especially by road. I enjoy watching plays, movies and going for concerts. I love dancing. I also write (once in 5 years 🙂 ).

In my free time I do the above, but in addition to that, I spend a lot of time with my family. I also usher at my church and have recently begun to mentor young girls with a few friends of mine.

15. Where do you see yourself in around 10 years?

I’ll probably be heading a unit that does product development or technical projects, or I’ll be a consultant for an organisation whose business focus is digital payments.

You can find Susan on twitter at @SueBuku. You can also find her on LinkedIn.

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