Betelhem Dessie humbly describes herself on her website as “A developer, mainly focusing on web and mobile technologies.” No hint that she is a 19-year-old coding genius from Ethiopia working at the country’s first AI lab. She is possibly the youngest pioneer in Ethiopia’s tech scene, which is known as “Sheba Valley.”
Currently, Dessie is working on a number of projects at the robotics lab iCog, based in Addis Ababa. It’s the same lab that was involved in developing the world-famous Sophia the robot. Icog-labs is actually the first Ethiopian research and development laboratory specializing in AI, according to LinkedIn.
Dessie first got into tech at the young age of 9. She told CNN: “On my 9th birthday I wanted to celebrate so I asked my father for money.” Her father didn’t have money to give her that day, so started tinkering around with gadgets her dad had (he sold electronics) to make money doing video editing and sending music to her new clients’ cell phones. “I got about 90 dollars — then I celebrated my birthday,” she recalled.
Now, she’s making a name for herself not just of the Ethiopian tech scene–but the African tech scene. “She has four software programs copyrighted solely to her name — including an app developed for the Ethiopian government to map rivers used for irrigation,” CNN reported.
She is also working to expose other young people to tech. “Among the programs that Betelhem leads are ‘Solve IT,’ which works with young people to find technological solutions to community based problems; and ‘Anyone Can Code,’ which teaches young Africans the basics of artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchain and other emerging technologies,” Konbini reported.
And, Dessie is seeking funding for a project called “The Sophia School Bus.”
“The bus will go around Ethiopia equipped with laptops and other electronic materials such as 3D printers to create more awareness on these technologies –using Sophia as a brand to attract,” she told CNN.
Dessie hope to encourage other young women to get into tech. There is a major need. “In 2013, women accounted for a quarter of students enrolled in science and technology studies at university; while only eight percent of science researchers are women,” Tech Moran reported.
Written by Ann Brown