Georgina Wilson shares the truly amazing work being done at Fly Zipline Ghana to save lives, ahead of her talk at Women in Tech Africa this March 18-19, 2020 at the CCCC, Cape Town.
Flying drones is often associated as a recreational hobby - but for Georgina Wilson, it's a rewarding profession. She's a Flight Operations Lead at Fly Zipline Ghana, a company that at the time of writing, has made 27,054 life-saving deliveries by drone - and it's increasing all the time. The company's mission is to "provide every human on Earth with instant access to vital medical supplies".
Discover the exciting activity being undertaken at Zipline and look forward to hearing more about the developments in drone usage at Women in Tech Africa!
What will attendees learn from listening to your talk?
I will be speaking about "Saving Lives through the Belly of an Autonomous Drone". Attendees will:
- Understand what it takes to build a drone delivery system
- Technology breaks as you scale - learn how to build this notion into your future tech plans to ride the waves with grace
- Realising the role of drones in showing what technology can do for socio-economic development
- Learn how to stay proactive in your tech career as rapid change is the new norm
- Understand how scaling requires leaders to learn and execute along the way
What’s your background and what led you to your job at Zipline?
I grew up in a society that only knew women in STEM as likely to be medical professionals or teachers. There was definitely an uncertainty when I chose to study a BSC. in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from the University of Energy and Natural Resources in Ghana. This was because of the misconception that engineering was difficult, was for men, needed strength and it just was not the right fit for a woman.
After the Bachelor’s degree, I served a year as a Design Engineer under Ghana’s power distribution service known as The Electricity Company of Ghana. I continued my career path as a Projects Engineer for the building, installation and distribution of power for stand alone photovoltaic systems in rural areas.
The new wave of technology with an absolute cause hit Ghana - which was Zipline - and I instantly knew that was the right place for me to be.
What does a typical day as a Flight Lead entail?
- My primary role each day is to set and communicate ambitious daily goals and priorities for the flight operations team - in alignment with Zipline and an organisation / country's goals. Some of these goals are local and others directly connect to global metrics used to measure our effectiveness in serving customers.
- Conduct as many pre-flight inspections on aircraft, work with Flight Controllers to launch aircraft, and prepare ground equipment for inbound aircraft with the team.
- Drone & Technical Maintenance: Perform field maintenance and repair any aircraft that may require non-routine maintenance with the team.
- Troubleshooting: Collaborate with locally-based and USA-based engineering team to troubleshoot & optimise possible issues.
- I call out when the flight operations team needs help especially when there are gaps in resources (people, tools, skills) that will prevent my team from reaching certain goals.
- It is my role to make sure work is distributed across the team in a way that allows for collective and individual success.
- Ensure that the flight operations team’s work is coordinated with the other teams around them.
- Ensure there is always the right amount of staff, with the proper certifications, on a daily basis to exceed customer expectations.
The Zipline team is reported to be predominantly female. Why do you think this is?
Zipline is a balanced mix of females and males despite all the news about our female engineers. Zipline believes that in order to succeed we need to represent the world that we serve and so we make sure to stay diligent about keeping our teams diverse and balanced.
What excites you most about drone technology and how do you think it could impact peoples’ lives in the future?
On December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright made four brief flights at Kitty Hawk with their first powered aircraft. This was known to be a very successful feat then. Now, there have been several phases of airplanes that are currently in use. Looking at the evolution of larger aircrafts, I can almost envision what drones are likely to be in future, and the answer is simple: “Endless Possibilities”. This is what excites me the most.
A few years ago, one challenge would have been, how do we collect aerial data or survey vast lands of forest without endangering lives? There is no question about that now. With a push of a button, or a command, a drone can easily provide not only accurate, but fast data collection time. What could have taken months to accomplish can now be achieved in days using drone technology.
A personal favourite is the use of drone technology for logistics. In Ghana and Rwanda as examples, Zipline's drones are already being used to deliver essential medical and blood products. The medical worker can place an order by text message, a phone call or by Whatsapp and within minutes the drone is on its way. Flying at about 100 kilometers per hour, it goes straight to its destination and delivers the essential supplies. The package has a small parachute which is deployed when the package is released to soften its impact on the ground. In 1990, this would have been a SciFi movie.
Drone technology is just getting started, yet it is already impacting lives in more ways than one. We definitely have an exciting future ahead.
Who is your female tech inspiration and why?
Reshma Saujani is my female tech inspiration. Reshma Saujani is the Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, an international nonprofit organisation working to close the gender gap in technology and change the image of what a computer programmer looks like and does.
Her organisation is one of the initiatives seeking to inspire, educate, and equip young women with the necessary computing skills which is of value in this technological era. To reach over 185,000 girls across all 50 states, Canada, and the United Kingdom, it shows she has a driving force to accomplish tasks, not limiting to herself, but the whole female community.
Her TEDtalk “Teach girls bravery, not perfection”, although listened to rather recently, has opened a third eye for me. I may not have experienced that as a child, but I would do all that I can to ensure this lesson lives on, starting from every interaction I have with the younger ones.
What advice would you give to women who want to pursue a career in tech?
Women around the world, follow your PASSION! Be it to build, brand or explore in the space of technology, just do it. The world is moving into a rather technological space and we all should be a part of it.
The real limit is the mind, and to break that limit you need a VISION. The passionate vision is what will drive you to pursue any career path you choose. Focus on the bigger picture, and the right amount of courage will lead you there.
What are you waiting for? Follow your passion and build a visionary career in technology by attending Women in Tech Africa this March 18-19, 2020 at the CCCC Cape Town. There's only around two months to go - so secure your place and book your pass now!