Once You Become Fearless, Life Becomes Limitless - Lorna Timbah

Lorna Timbah

Community Organiser @ Google Developer Group Kota Kinabalu. Lead @ Women Techmakers Kota Kinabalu. Curator @ Startup Digest Kota Kinabalu. Entrepreneur. Freelancer. Hustler. Mom. And other cool stuff.

TE : Tell me a bit about your background? LT : I'm a Sabahan. I can't really relate with where I'm from. I was born in Keningau, raised in Sandakan. Lived a few years in Tawau. And now I'm in Tuaran, because that's where my parents are from. I've been in this industry since I graduated, not because it's my line of work, but because I love doing IT. My interest first sparked when my late dad bought me a computer in 1988, and I loved it. I explored a lot, I played a lot with that computer. So when I got the chance to take computer science as a minor in university, I gladly took it. I learnt about technology because it allows me to solve my own problems. Whatever I coded is towards creating software that will solve my problems like registration, trying to look for information, learning and so on. Whatever it is that I do, I see technology as a leverage to learn more and be better in what I do.

TE : How does this affect your lifestyle? LT : I graduated in 1997, and I came back to Sabah in 1998. When I started working in a local IT company, there were already a few females in the industry. In the particular web development team I was working with, I was one of the first. I didn't know much about the IT industry in Sabah at the time, and to say that I was one of the first is not something I'm sure of. But I'm really passionate to learn web development by myself. So anything that has to do with web development and design, I would read online and learn. I learnt about web technology when I was in college in the United States and I didn't know much about it before studying there, because the Internet was not as widely used in Sabah back in 1996. While there, I learnt about websites and I loved how visual it was while being accessible as well. A multimedia environment is where I can really learn about things, listen to music, see images. The World Wide Web is amazing. I like the Web because it's so far reaching. Even now, if you look at your mobile phone, you have access to the Web. You go for the desktop, you can still access the Web. Even if you don't have an expensive computer, you can still access the Web whenever you wish, it's everywhere.

TE : Being the founder of Google Developer Group (GDG) and CoderDojo, how did you get your inspiration? LT : It all started because I was very frustrated with the local community. I know that we have a lot of talented developers in Sabah. But we are so out of touch with each other. You know a couple of people, and that's it. We never really get together with like-minded people. So I thought it was about time that we had a platform where we can gather people, connect with each other, share, and grow together. Because one of the things that I learnt as an entrepreneur while doing software development, is that it can be a very lonely road. When you're an entrepreneur, you connect with people but it stops there. It's just a business transaction. Once we finish working with that person, the connection ends as well. So I thought, how do I find a place, a platform where we can continuously learn and continuously share and actually help each other grow? I also found out that when you come together, even as a 2 or 3 person group, the learning process accelerates really fast, instead of just learning by yourself. There's a time where you become an expert and then you hit this plateau, and you can't learn fast enough. But once you mix around with different people or like-minded people, they know other things that I don't and when you combine these things together, the knowledge grows. I love that about community. I call that a community platform.

There's no such thing as a balanced life, only priorities.

And during that time, I was approached by some people from the Google Business Group, and I saw that one of them was wearing a Google Developers t-shirt, and it made me wonder, what is that "Google Developer" thing? They pushed me to start a Google Business Group for women, but I kept on insisting on finding out about " that developer thing" because that's what I love to do, coding. So I kept on questioning them, and at the end, they finally relented and they introduced me to the Google Developer Relations team from the Philippines. That's where things really started off. We gathered with 6 people for the first Google Developer Group (GDG) Kota Kinabalu gathering in 2013, which was enough. I didn't know a lot of developers as well, so I didn't mind the numbers. There was myself and three of my friends plus two of their friends so there were six of us altogether. Then after awhile, I came up with an idea to start an event under GDG and we managed to get more than 100 people to attend the event. The Sabah State Government saw what we were doing and saw that we did all those projects without any funds because we loved doing it. So the Government proposed to give me a 6 digit grant to see what else can I do. Everything else rolled out from there. I started an NGO so that I could create Sabah's first makerspace in 2015. A makerspace is a place where people can create things, print things, play around and create robots. It is located in Kota Kinabalu, and now is a part of the Sabah Ministry of Resource Development and IT. The makerspace is like a resource centre or a library, but for hardware. So we have computers there, we have a 3D printer and people can use it for free. But more importantly, that space is the place for any groups like GDG to gather. Because GDG itself is not a formal or registered organisation, but it's just a group of people coming together, sharing ideas and being inspired. Every open group like CoderDojo, is just an open group led by volunteers. So we don't pay people to teach and we don't ask people to pay. Everything comes free because we already have that platform. Really, this is all that's there to it when it comes to community bulding. After awhile, I was left thinking, I was doing all of these community work, why don't I just continue on from GDG? So I reached out to all of the students and women in my life because I knew that there are a lot of talented youths and women that don't get the visibility, and we don't get highlighted that much. So I started Women Techmakers Kota Kinabalu, which is a Google initiative as well. It brought together all of the women, the speakers, and 98% of those present were women. Some of these women had low self-confidence about their tech abilities when they attended our programme. By the end of the day, they were able to make their own app, wired their own smartphone casings, and learnt about 3D modeling.

So they kind of surprised themselves by their own abilities. I use Google a lot because I intend to bring all the latest and innovative technology, which is what Google is known for. So being in GDG gives me the leverage to use new Google tech and tools first before it's released publicly, and we in GDG get to test it for free too. We even have people from Google itself that we can connect with. This allows us to have experts to come over to help sometimes or we end up doing video conference with them.

TE : Being an entrepeneur is such a heavy task. How do you balance your time? LT : There's no such thing as a balanced life, only priorities. I'm the kind of person who can't do just one thing at a time. I like to multi-task, I like to learn a lot, and I think I can do more. So I don't want to limit myself. It's a matter of prioritising. I focus on certain tasks depending on what's important at one particular moment. That's how I get to do a lot of things, such as running my businesses, class training, community building, taking care of my health, and others. Even focusing on my family, I have a lot of quality time with my kids. I hope I can set a good example for my kids. TE : Lastly, do have any advice for fresh graduates that want to venture into this industry? LT : Don't limit yourself. If you have the opportunity to learn about something, something that your heart says you want to try even though you don't know how to do it, just do it. Do it and learn as you go. I always questioned everything and I still do so now. So the best advice would be, do it first, give it a try, if your heart is into it and you think you can benefit from it, do it. What will continue to drive you will be how you feel and how passionate you are into that one thing. If you keep telling yourself you can't do it, then you can't. You must believe, only then can you achieve. Even if you don't know how everything works, it's okay because that's how you going to learn it. FB : Google Developer Group Kota Kinabalu

IG : @webgrrrl

photos by Chan Yu Chung, StartupMalaysia.org, Techstars

Read more on TE Issue #9.

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