Vivian Omandi wearing a graduation cap and sash

Vivian Omondi (she/her)

Information Management and Systems, Product Management ('22)

With graduation upon us Mastercard Foundation Scholars are making their way across the stage to accept their degree. Graduating caps will fly in celebration of the hard work that led them there and the new possibilities to come.

Vivian Omondi, a Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program recipient, part of the graduating class of 2022 shares her story that got her to the stage today.

It was a stumble and a Google search that led Vivian Omondi to take an interest in computer science. Growing up in Kenya in a remote town, Kitale, she had almost no knowledge of computer science, or other tech industry career paths. When she was deciding what to major in at the University of Nairobi, her brother suggested computer science, her first reaction was to Google it. She thought it sounded interesting. Omondi remembers her first exchange with a computer was in a computer science class when she was at the University of Nairobi. 

There is an exciting tone in Omondi as she shares her discovery and new educational pursuit. Then her tone changes to share her disappointment to discover that the ratio of women to men in her class was disproportionate. Quickly she took notice that some of the few women in the program were dropping classes or losing interest. 

“…they [the female students] didn’t have a lot of people to look up to,” said Omondi.

Omondi could clearly see that her fellow female classmates needed support and should be encouraged into this space rather than reluctantly dropping out. She was eager to make changes in the space and so she started a club to encourage and support women studying computer science and technology. Over time she developed a mentoring program that reached out to local universities and eventually high schools to connect with young girls and develop a pipeline of support and community to make sure they felt like they belonged. Omondi admits she made a change to increase the number of women in the field but says that she still sees a lot of diversity issues in the industry but especially in her home county. 

“…by the end of it, we had built a community around that which was really thriving,” said Omondi.

After completing her undergraduate degree at University of Nairobi and engaging in activities relating to women and girls in STEM led to her to being awarded the prestigious Google Anita Borg Scholarship for outstanding women in technology. It later got her into Google as a Developer Relations Community Manager in 2017 where she would work on a larger scale to support tech developers across Africa through various Google programs for developers. Omondi became passionate about developer ecosystems in Sub-Saharan Africa during her time at Google. During her time with Google she met with women across Africa and encouraged each other to learn new technologies. This space once again showed her the disparity of women in the workplace. Over time her efforts resulted in a 30% increase in women representation in the developer programs she managed by the time she was leaving Google. Her passion sees the change but knows there is work yet to be done. 

“My African people – do not disqualify yourself before applying. Especially when you don’t see people who look like you. It’s very difficult for you to see if you can be in that space, so you tend to disqualify yourself. I’m just telling them that, you know, they have what it takes. They should just go for it because you never know until you actually do it. So just put yourself out there.” 

Vivian OmondiMastercard Foundation Scholar

Omondi began work at Crediation, a fintech startup operating in Kenya, as a software engineer two months after leaving Google. The free time and transition allowed her to think about her future.  She decided to pursue a master’s degree but wasn’t sure what program or university she should apply to. Omondi wanted something different to the theoretical computer science degree she obtained during her undergrad. She shared her decision with the CEO Ryosuke Yamawaki  of  Crediation. Yamawaki, a Berkeley Haas Alumni, told her about Berkeley and introduced her to other Cal alums who encouraged her to apply to the UC Berkeley School of Information. 

Her acceptance notification arrived while she was at work. A beam of joy flushes Omondi’s face as she remembers the moment. The news made its way to Yamawaki and all the UC Berkeley alums that helped her along the way. Omondi remembers how surprised she was in that moment to realize she had been accepted. It dawned on her that the cost of education would probably prevent her from actually enrolling. International student fees are steep, cost of living would be so much higher, and then there are the traveling expenses. The numbers were adding up and with it making it harder to say yes to Berkeley.

“I was very determined to get into the program. So I talked to a lot of people and the department [at the School of Information] suggested the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program,” said Omondi.

An invitation to apply for the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program was sent to Omondi from the team with the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program, housed within the Center for African Studies. The life changing decision to pursue a new academic path would be determined by this one application. Without it the cost alone would crush her dreams.

A Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program was awarded to Omondi making her dream and rigorous pursuit of a masters degree from the School of Information so much more real. According to the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program website this meant the scholarship would cover the cost of Omondi’s master’s degree which also included travel, student fees, visa and SEVIS, housing, food, and living expenses. A cohort signature program would also be available with a focus on leadership and entrepreneurship.

Omondi shared the good news with Yammawaki and she learned from him places to visit and what to check out when she arrived in the Bay Area. All the new and exciting places would have to wait because soon COVID-19 would begin to shift the world. She postponed all the tips and recommendations from Yammawaki since the pandemic shifted her education to an online platform. 

Omondi would work during the day and  then attend class sometimes until 3:00 a.m. She pushed through a whole semester like this and in January 2021 packed her bags to finally move to the Bay Area and continue her online classes. She says the change was great because at least being in the Bay while still in the midst of the pandemic, she didn’t have to worry about spotty wifi or power issues. 

While navigating her academic path she found an important community with Black Graduate Student Association. It was hard at first because everything started online but over time she found herself taking trips and attending leadership forums with inspiring people. In one instance she remembers attending the National Society of Black Engineers and realizing how many Black people there are in the industry. Being in Berkeley she noticed the representation lacks but at that one event there were over 7,000 people – all black engineers doing amazing things in the industry, she was blown away. 

“I feel like I just started the other day [and now] I’m graduating,” said Omondi.

Her family will not be present in the Bay Area due to visa restrictions but they will be in celebration from afar via a virtual party. Through each step of her life from the moment she moved out to chase her dreams her family has supported decisions. Omondi says her family knows she is a free bird.

As she reflects over her term at UC Berkeley, Omondi realized this time period allowed her to learn she really wants to pursue being a product manager. So after graduation she will stay in the Bay Area and join WePay, which is a JPMorgan Chase company, as a product manager where she will be able to build products, especially in the financial tech space. This role will place her at a collaborative intersection of engineers and designers.

During the closure of the interview Omondi shares some parting words to future students:

“My African people – do not disqualify yourself before applying. Especially when you don’t see people who look like you. It’s very difficult for you to see if you can be in that space, so you tend to disqualify yourself. I’m just telling them that, you know, they have what it takes. They should just go for it because you never know until you actually do it. So just put yourself out there.”