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How Community Leader Michael Kimathi creatively empowers his communities for impact

We're honored to feature Community Leader @Michael Kimathi _AC Nairobi_ Kenya_, host of our Nairobi ACE and recipient of our 2022 Community Leader Setting the Standard award.

You may remember him from a previous Community showcase—today he's here to share more about how the horizon of tech in Africa has evolved as a result of his passion and the communities he's built. We're excited for you to hear more of his story!

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"In a nutshell, I love people, and my purpose revolves around empowering these very people to succeed and realize their true purpose in life." -Michael Kimathi

Hi, Michael! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself + your role today?

I am an Entrepreneur, developer community expert, and a Pro DJ.

In detail: I have been building communities for the past 10 years mostly dedicated to building a developer ecosystem in my lovely country Kenya. I was the pioneer founder of GDG communities in Kenya, BlackBerry Developer Community Lead, and Nairuby (Ruby Developers) Developer Community Co-Lead to date, before starting the Atlassian Community in Nairobi back in 2016. This has not only contributed to the birth of other developer communities such as Rails Girls, Python Nairobi, JavaScript Nairobi, and IoT, among others, but also created opportunities and provided consistent growth in talent and growth of the developer ecosystem.

As a result, Andela, Microsoft, and recently, Google, Visa, and AWS opened product development centers in Nairobi. I am currently a Developer Relations Community Lead at Africa's Talking, a position I accepted in 2021 to learn and understand how Corporate works. I am still a consulting entrepreneur with ImpactMastersCo where we focus on helping companies create the next frontier in tech.

My background is in Computer Science. I am also a Professional DJ at MK Entertainment mixing music globally. In a nutshell, I love people, and my purpose revolves around empowering these very people to succeed and realize their true purpose in life.

How did you hear about Atlassian products, and how do you use them?

My story with Atlassian products starts around 2010-2011 when I discovered Bitbucket, which could enable us to build software in collaboration and maintain private repos with client visibility of our progress. I used BitBucket coupled with Asana, and Trello (Back then Trello was not yet acquired by Atlassian).

Fast forward to 2015, I was consulting for C4DLab at the University of Nairobi (my alma mater), and I was helping startups that we had incubated figure out sustainability, product, and scalability strategy. One of those companies raised $42M this year.

This was happening while I was co-running Nairuby, which focuses on open source, entrepreneurship, and agile. In the effort of getting more open source contributors and maintainers, we decided to host our first Ruby Conference where we could invite all Open Source, contributors, and maintainers, to come and share their knowledge. I was tasked to raise funds and get partners. I wrote blind emails to all or most of the tech companies around the world, and Atlassian happened to be one of the companies I wrote to. Though they turned down my request at the time, they challenged me to start an Atlassian Community chapter in Nairobi, where I said I would think about it.

It was super fascinating when I researched Atlassian, which unlike Google or BlackBerry is not a product by itself—I realized it was a company that built tools like Jira, Confluence, and Bitbucket, which I was already using among others.

Why did you decide to become an Atlassian Community Leader?

So after my research, I felt stars were aligning with my purpose to empower people in realizing their purpose; maximize their potential, build scalable solutions and succeed. The tools would help the startups scale as well as build. 

I have to note that there was so much hype in the Kenyan tech ecosystem with minimal implementation and investment in capacity building. Also, from 2010 to 2020 Kenya has been a startup economy, which needed a lot of nurturing and exposure to the global standards of practices.

I choose to play a key role in providing the missing piece in addressing what was required to scale the businesses to medium enterprises and corporations. 

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Michael Kimathi, "Setting the Standard" Community Leader award, TEAM '22

What does it mean to you to be a Community Leader?

What I was trying to achieve could not be done in isolation, so I had to partner with key stakeholders. I approached iHub which was a key partner in my previous community engagements and capacity building, and they were more than glad to provide the space.

As a leader, you need to nurture all members. To me, each member has the potential of growing and impacting the community and ultimately, the human race on various fronts. It is worth noting that most tech communities in the country and other African countries associate their inspiration with Atlassian Community Nairobi and other communities I co-organize.

To just demonstrate how much impact we have on our members, we have shipped talent across the world, including Germany, Amsterdam, Sydney, Silicon Valley, and Japan, just to mention a few. There is no single company, private or public I can walk to without meeting a member of the community, that is true leadership; empowering your members to maximize their potential.

Tell us about one of your favorite ACE events. What was memorable about it?

Atlassian Community Nairobi’s 5th Anniversary! I did not know how impactful the community we had built for half a decade was until I received videos from our members across the world.

The energy at that party was amazing. We also made one of the biggest cakes I have ever seen in my life which reflected Atlassian branding (Thanks to the Atlassian Communiteam for helping get most of it right, shout out to ).

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Tell us more about your nickname, The DJ MK! How have you been able to combine entrepreneurship, entertainment, and building community?

I have two main focuses (entertainment and tech). I also used to be involved with urban farming, but that is a story for another day. If you think about people whom I love to see succeed, they revolve around those three aspects.

Growing up, I admired how a DJ could make a crowd happy and communicate through music. Music also offers an avenue to vent while providing a serene environment to connect. I was wow'ed by Atlassian Summit back in 2017 when I first attended and experienced for the first time how Atlassian envisioned work-life balance and in anything they did, they did it completely well while still providing great balance, which resonated with how I work.

Also growing up, I wanted to be an engineer thanks to how much Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and Twitter were impacting my life. It was fascinating that you could build a solution far away from your users and still impact everyone globally.

So, when I started running communities, I would play mixtapes as an intro to our events. Eventually, members started requesting if I could live DJ for them, so I gave it a shot and everyone in attendance loved it. I have received requests from my old acquaintances to DJ at their tech conferences and events.

I have realized over time since most of my members are software engineers, rarely do they go out to party, and even when they do, they may not connect with club revelers or the music played at the clubs necessarily, thus they find it welcoming to get the same experience at our events. I always receive requests from members before every mid-year and end-of-year party.

In a nutshell, entrepreneurship enables me to get my bread and butter by building/providing solutions to my customers, and entertainment outside the community gets me some earnings through Deejaying Academy locally. Do not underestimate music in changing people's mindsets.

It sounds like you’re passionate about growth in tech through knowledge sharing and mindset change. What’s something you look forward to helping build in the future?

Absolutely. This is more of a purpose to me than it is a passion. When you live in Kenya and interact with smart and skilled colleagues who are your age or younger, but see their success is throttled by systems put in place to deny or delay their success and potential, then combined with a little traveling and exposure, you realize the biggest problem is the mindset.

So over time, I have come to terms that the biggest blocker for Kenya and Africa at large is the mindset. I am set out to partner with aligned organizations, companies, and even individuals to change their mindset. This can happen through knowledge sharing and exposure with the sole purpose of empowering.  Case in point: if you can work remotely for any company while in Kenya, you have access to resources and a global standard of skill. This alone is a game-changer.

We love that ACE Nairobi is an award-winning community! What do you think contributes to the success and engagement you’ve had?

ACE Nairobi embraces the power for all and the control of none; this is where we build on each event and community engagement. Each member of ACE Nairobi brings unique skills and knowledge. If you listen, maximize and amplify, the result can only provide the best experience for each and every member. We are driven by two Atlassian values:

  1. "Open community no bullshit", and  

  2. "Be the change you seek."

What’s one tip you’d give a fellow leader or an Atlassian user to encourage them in their Atlassian journey?

Start small, be consistent, and listen to your members closely.

Anything else you'd like to share with Atlassian Community readers?

This quest is for all and by all. Any time you have a chance to help someone, either by sharing the knowledge you are privy to ensure they succeed, then you will have changed the world.

The world we are living in needs leaders without titles to improve life, offer better customer experience, build communities, address climate change, contribute to more open democracy, avert unnecessary war, eradicate diseases, and avert pandemics. All this requires us to be selfless and provide solutions while accepting there are smarter people than we are. All they need is an empathetic platform to carry on the butterfly effect which will result in a better world.

 


Thanks, Michael! Learn more about our Atlassian Community Leader program, or visit the nearest Atlassian Community event hosted by a Leader. Loved this showcase? Read other customer showcases on the Atlassian Community.

11 comments

I love this! And I love how @Michael Kimathi _AC Nairobi_ Kenya_ highlights their role as a leader as one who nurtures their members--a leader as someone who listens and responds to members. It's refreshing to hear Michael champion member engagement as the way to growth, as opposed to example, leading by being the star of everything. Great message :)

Like # people like this
Andy Gladstone Community Leader Jun 22, 2022

@Michael Kimathi _AC Nairobi_ Kenya_ & @Sharon Tan I love this article! Amazing to get to know the legend even deeper. The quote "power for all and the control of none" really resonates with me and is going on my whiteboard and into the hearts and minds of the people I work with now. Keep up the amazing work.

Like # people like this
Summer.Hogan Community Leader Jun 27, 2022

I totally love this! @Michael Kimathi _AC Nairobi_ Kenya_ you are an inspiration to me and others! @Andy Gladstone I love that quote too! I'll be sharing that one for sure! 

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Mayur Jadhav Community Leader Jul 02, 2022

@Michael Kimathi _AC Nairobi_ Kenya_ you are an inspiration for all. 

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This is awesome @Michael Kimathi _AC Nairobi_ Kenya_  you've set the pace and bar high for us

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Great work @Michael Kimathi _AC Nairobi_ Kenya_  . I’m glad to be part of this community and it’s growth over time. Always learning 

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Like # people like this

This is owesome @Michael Kimathi ..

Very owesome.. always attend his event at ihub and Nairobi..and the passion inside him for community is unquestionable.. 

Brilliant.setting the pace and building en nurturing us always.. congratulations 🎉

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It's great to know your story. I am where I am because of the effort you put into the community. Big up

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Of all the best men I've known and acknowledged is You. You are such an inspiration and I thank God for helping me discover You. Keep doing it @Michael Kimathi 

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Indeed I can't miss out on any event of Atlassian community Nairobi in I hub and other counties.I am always a leader but Michael Kimathi is a selfless leader he lets and gives room for everyone I can't wait for Atlassian meet up to attend.I hope that I will also be a selfless leader top.

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