Wambui Njogu’s path to a career in cybersecurity
On a journey that’s taken her from Kenya to Rwanda to Pittsburgh, MSIT student Wambui Njogu looks back on the experiences that instilled her passion for cybersecurity and how she developed her skills at CMU-Africa.
Wambui Njogu knew she had more to explore after completing her undergraduate studies. Once she received her bachelor’s degree in business information technology at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, located in her native Kenya, Wambui contemplated her next steps. She took a job at an international audit firm with the goal of saving for a master’s program.
Although she wanted to enroll in graduate school sooner, the three years Wambui spent working after college really solidified her interest in cybersecurity. During a conversation with a friend, Wambui heard about CMU-Africa for the first time.
“My boxes are being checked,” Wambui remembers thinking as she learned more about the opportunities that the university offered, including an Information Technology graduate program. The prospect of attending class in Kigali City, Rwanda, was also a pull factor—she’d always wanted to visit.
Wambui applied and hoped for the best. Although she was thrilled when she received an acceptance letter two months later, funding was still up in the air.
“I had decided that if I didn’t get any aid, that would’ve been it,” she said. “I’d be like, great, this means I’m good enough, but I can’t go there unless I get financial aid.”
One of the most important resources that CMU-Africa has to offer is the Mastercard Foundation Scholarship, which provides tuition costs and living expenses for recipients and also emphasizes the importance of leveraging STEM for the common good. Wambui remembers filling out the scholarship form and speaking honestly about her situation, that if she didn’t receive any funding, she wouldn’t be able to participate in the graduate program despite her enthusiasm.
A few weeks later, during a rough day at the office, Wambui got some good news: she’d received the Mastercard Foundation Scholarship and would therefore be able to enroll at CMU-Africa. As a student, she dove into all things cybersecurity, crediting courses like Cyber Defense, Network Security, and Introduction to Information Security with expanding her skillset, and the teaching styles of CMU-Africa faculty Jema Ndibwile and Edwin Kairu with helping her make the most of those learning experiences.
During a summer internship at CyLab-Africa, Wambui researched ways to improve the security of open-source digital public goods (DPGs), which are seen as crucial tools for improving financial inclusivity and interoperability across Africa, particularly in marginalized communities. Wambui worked with a program called Mojaloop—financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—to investigate the security vulnerabilities that occurred when the program was installed and put to use.
“We’ve looked at Kenya, we’ve looked at Ghana. Now we’re looking at the Eastern region of Africa,” Wambui says of how the project’s scope has grown. She is studying in Pittsburgh for her last semester before graduation, and is currently working on a continuation of the same research at Carnegie Mellon University’s CyLab Security and Privacy Institute with Giulia Fanti, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.
How can I be there for other people? There’s always something you can do to give back.Wambui Njogu, MSIT student, CMU-Africa Information Technology
“I’ve learned to be really grateful and just not take it for granted,” Wambui says of her experience at CMU-Africa, especially as a Mastercard Foundation Scholar. She reflected further on the community service values that form the program’s platform. “How can I be there for other people? I may not be there in terms of money at this moment, but there’s always something you can do to give back.”
Give-back projects and other Mastercard Foundation activities helped Wambui to become a well-rounded professional, trained in IT research and well-versed in how to advocate for people in need. She has also cultivated an academic network through her role as communications minister for the Student Guild, for which she developed her public speaking skills to produce monthly round-up videos that summarize the Guild’s agenda.
Empowered with additional qualifications and experience, Wambui finds herself in a similar mindset as she nears the end of her master’s studies. She wants to either enroll as a Ph.D. student at CMU or go back to work.
“I had to relocate from Kenya, and that was crazy,” Wambui says of the past couple of years. “But once I settled, I saw the beauty in it, and being in Pittsburgh is a cocktail of experiences.”