When we first meet Thogori Karago, her demeanor tells nothing of the heavy hitter that she is. Her warm smile instantly calms you and she settles in like a long lost friend. Her humility is remarkable.
“How far back should we start?” the Forbes Top 30 under 30, 2018 awardee jokes as we begin the interview.
Thogori’s childhood is what many would consider relatable, to say the least. “I was raised in Ruiru, where we lived with my parents and our extended family. It was a pretty homespun life, which has influenced a big part of who I am today,” she fondly recalls.
Growing up, Thogori aspired to be a doctor, but a summer internship at Kenyatta National Hospital changed her mind, and fast.
“I worked in the casualty ward for a few days and I was so traumatised. I think medicine is one of the godliest careers and for 16 years that was my dream, but that experience made me realise it was the last thing I wanted to do,” she explains.
Thogori studied at Kianda School for both her primary and secondary education. Having foregone the medicine dream, she needed to redefine her path and her parents came in handy.
“My dad seemed to think I had an interest in computers, yet my only association to it was games. I never made any sense of it, let alone think of pursuing it as a career,” she says.
In 2006, right after high school, she attended a career fair at Sarit Centre in Westlands and this marked the beginning of Thogori’s computer venture. She got a scholarship to study computer science at Limkokwing University in Malaysia – an opportunity she did not let slide. Throughout her schooling, Thogori was the only girl in her computer science class and she enjoyed the course so much so that after completing college, she got a job to fix computers in a shop at a mall in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia.
After six months, she had a burning desire to come back home and she did so in 2010. Upon her return, Thogori worked as an intern at XRX Technology – an IT company, where she helped start an associate company in the same year. After two years and with notable success, she needed a new challenge.
“They say if you know everything in a room, you are in the wrong room,” she offers.
Evidently on a mission to strike gold, Thogori set out to pursue her Master’s degree. “I challenged myself to join one of the top computer science universities globally and Carnegie Melon in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania fit this description,” she notes. She received scholarships for her Master’s from many organisations, a turn of events Thogori considers divine.
Her experience at Carnegie Melon was nothing short of intimidating. “There were students from all over the world – top computer science students and here I was, an 8-4-4 graduate,” she
While at school, and having interned at Credit Swiss Bank on Wall Street and Google, Thogori’s interest in innovation was deepened and she knew she could not fit in a regulated environment. As such, she began to seek out opportunities in the Silicon Valley – the global technology hub.
Her first choices were Google and LinkedIn, and upon submission of her application, she was called for an interview. “Imagine being the only African among Chinese and white people. We were being interviewed together so you could see your competition. It was very intimidating,” she narrates.
“The LinkedIn Vice President called me two days later and said, ‘everybody liked you so I guess you’re in’,” she continues.
This was in 2013, and despite getting both offers, Thogori chose LinkedIn. Her first job was to manage one of LinkedIn’s subscription job seeking business, which helps connect job seekers and recruiters. The business is now one of the largest at LinkedIn worth about 300 million dollars. With that, Thogori earned her first promotion in barely a year.
“That moment was very defining for me. It made me realise that regardless of your background, once you study and set your mind to something, it is possible,” she says.
She then started a start-up called Pro-finder, which helps connect freelancers with opportunities. It became one of the fastest growing start-ups in the Valley.
With all the success she was experiencing, Thogori felt that something was missing. “Everybody thought that Pro-finder was an incredible idea and a great success but to me, the ultimate success was to connect it to my home. I always wanted to do something that focusses on where I’m from,” she says.
In line with giving back, Thogori is especially passionate about girls in technology. She did a Master’s dissertation on how to make features for girls-in-tech programs, which she shared with schools around the world. She also personally speaks in high schools to motivate young people interested in technology.
“Tech is perceived to be a guy’s thing, and many times when I interact with girls in schools, they admit that I am not the image of an engineer they had in mind. It changes their perception,” she says.
“To me, computer science is a great equaliser. It is about your brain and not gender or appearance,” Thogori adds.
The young techie is currently working with a friend on publishing a book and is looking to start a YouTube channel for girls in tech, where she will interview visionaries around the world. A few months ago, LinkedIn promoted her to head research and development in Africa.
“It was a big promotion and a testament that the company believes in my abilities,” she offers. As it stands, Thogori has been one of the fastest promoted people at LinkedIn.
Thogori’s life seems to be a progressive climb on the success ladder, but her attitude has kept her grounded. “I have learnt to stay true to where I come from and to believe in my abilities no matter what anyone thinks. I have had people discourage me, but I did it anyway,” she shares, adding that hard work, grit, resilience, prayer, sacrifice, and the support of family and friends has pushed her up that ladder.
Aside from her fulltime job, Thogori is a lady of many talents. She admits that with all the work, you have to have a creative outlet. “I am a DJ, I sing on the side and I have an online radio show on Instagram. Those are my other passions,” she shares.
Thogori is also an entrepreneur; she runs two startups in the Silicon Valley aside. One is a media platform that focusses on telling African success stories on YouTube and other platforms. She has also written over 20 articles on international publications about entrepreneurship.
She is the first born in a family of three and her love for her family is tangible. “My parents have been my greatest support; they are interested and involved in everything I do,” Thogori says.
“At the center of my ventures, I desire to make my family and country proud by giving back to the community through my work,” she adds in conclusion.