Themba Nyirenda is a Senior Technical Project Analyst (STPA) on the Delivery team of Dimagi’s Solutions Division. He is based in Malawi and supports Dimagi’s projects in that region. Themba comes from a software development background. Read on to learn more about Themba’s decision to move into the area of software solutions and what he enjoys about his role at Dimagi.
Please tell us a little bit about your background and journey to Dimagi?
I started my journey in tech at a private company as an ICT consultant and then expanded into software development and data analytics as I progressed in my career. It was a good experience, but I felt like I needed more. After a few years of working in similar companies, I saw an ad for a Senior Technical Project Analyst (STPA) at Dimagi. The company’s work and mission really spoke to me. I felt that at the end of the day, the long hours, hard work, and troubleshooting bugs would positively impact the communities we would be working with. When I got here, what I thought was exactly what I found which is very fulfilling.
Describe a typical day in your role.
My day as a Senior Technical Project Analyst starts with coffee. Yeah, you cannot survive without a good cup of coffee. Then I jump into planning my day. At Dimagi, you don’t work on one specific project. You are assigned to three, maybe five, projects at a time. So planning my day is essential. I use my Asana board to see the outstanding tasks associated with the different projects and then prioritize the tasks. There are always competing priorities, so you need to learn how to organize everything so that tasks for all the projects are moving forward and you are not falling behind on anything. Then I jump into the tasks, whether app building, scoping, scheduling meetings with stakeholders, etc. And at the end of the day, probably another cup of coffee and a walk to unwind.
What are the skills necessary to succeed in your role?
Prioritizing tasks to ensure that everything is moving forward is one of the skills necessary for an STPA at Dimagi.
You also need to have excellent analytical skills and attention to detail. Each project is unique in terms of requirements and what needs to be done. So it’s important to be meticulous when building apps or documenting to keep track of where you are in the process. We use various tools such as Asana and Jira to organize our work, but I feel you also need to have a personal system. I like to use sticky notes to visualize what’s lagging or what I need to prioritize.
Other essential skills for this role are the ability to problem solve and good communication skills. I have found that structuring your conversation with clients in the form of a story helps get everyone on the same page. In agile software development, we call it user stories. Most of the time, you meet with clients who have a need or pain point but don’t know how to describe it. Translating that into a story format helps you get the information you need to achieve a good outcome, helps the clients understand their role, and lessens the frustration.
What’s the most rewarding part of your role?
Getting to see firsthand a solution I have created being used by someone. It’s the positive impact that comes from the work we do despite all the challenges. We get to build relationships with the Ministry of Health and the end users, understand their needs, and translate that into something they can use.
What challenges do you encounter?
One of the challenges is that there is no time to get to know the project managers and other teammates you are working with. Since at Dimagi, you are staffed on different projects simultaneously, when working on one to three-year projects, you have to jump right in. Getting to know someone as a person is important since you cannot separate the person from the role. And sometimes, this can lead to misunderstandings that stem just from not knowing someone’s communication style. That, to me, is a major challenge since we have such diverse teams from different backgrounds and with different working styles.
What interested you in the STPA role at Dimagi?
I come from a software development background. In previous jobs, I worked in the background without interacting with the end user. It was all coding, coding, coding. But when I joined Dimagi, I was told I would have to train the end user, and that changed my perspective altogether. I realized that writing code and someone using the system are two different things. What works great from a technical perspective might not be the best solution. That is a mindset change. I am moving away from just coding to building a solution. It’s looking at things more holistically. What is the issue, and what do we need to do to address the issue? So it’s an entire journey. It is a growth path that has exposed me to a new range of skills. So when I heard that part of the STPA role was going into the field, scoping, meeting people, and understanding their needs, I knew this was where I wanted to be. So while I miss coding sometimes, stepping into the end user’s shoes is very fulfilling for me.
What advice would you give someone looking to pursue a career on the Solutions Delivery team at Dimagi?
Dimagi is unique in requiring an STPA to work on multiple projects, so nothing can prepare you for this unless you come from a similar organization. Coming from a tech background, I was used to working on one project at a time. I also tend to focus on one thing and only stop once I finish it. But that is not a skill needed at Dimagi. You have to understand that as much as you have this pressing work, you also have other projects that require your attention. So balancing priorities is an essential skill you need to have or be willing to develop at Dimagi.
The other is thinking outside the box. Take a step back and understand the industry, the terminology, the program, and the main issue. Identify the pain points and then suggest a solution after considering all the factors. You should also be willing to wear different hats depending on the occasion and project you are staffed on. It could be building an app for one project, scoping for another, or training the end users. The industry and type of project might also differ. In one, you are building a mining app. In another, you are developing an electronic community health information system. So the ability to adapt is crucial as sometimes you might even be asked to jump into something that is not part of your day-to-day.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to watch movies, travel and discover new places. I live on the outskirts of the city, so there are many places to discover when on a walk. I am trying to get into the reading culture. But one of my favorite things is Braai (Afrikaans for Barbeque).
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