Today we resume our Pearls And Heels segment. Our first Pearls And Heels lady is Leah Kanda. Leah Kanda is a graduate Quantity Surveyor practising with a QS Consultancy firm based in Nairobi. She is also a Writer and Photographer who is passionate about travelling, capturing landscapes and sharing Kenya’s beauty and culture in all its numerous shades and shapes. Out of her love for experimenting with new cuisines, she founded “Foodies Kenya“, a blog that talks about the food scene in Kenya with a bias for Nairobi. Leah serves as one of the Photography editors for “Enkare Review“, a quarterly magazine based in Nairobi that aims to discover new voices in the literary scene and to offer a platform for the showcasing of this talent. She also writes on matters pertaining to Sustainable Construction and Green Architecture for “The Quantity Surveyor”, a quarterly journal published by the Institute of Quantity Surveyors of Kenya.
Describe your typical day.
I’ve always been a morning person so 4:30 AM finds me pretty much awake. I (try to) write a bit before leaving the house at around 6 Am. On the days I don’t have early morning engagements, 6:40 AM finds me seated at my desk. That’s when I get to do all my other stuff (editing, uploading posts, bits of reading, etc) before starting on my tasks for the day. When I am not attending a site meeting or holding briefs with clients, I’m mostly in the office juggling between Excel, ArchiCad and AutoCad or reading up on contracts.
My after-5 PM time is for editing photos or catching up on my current reads.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
For some weird reason, my plan was to write for the newspapers, become an author and perhaps end up lecturing in literature. In primary school, English really did fascinate me.
My journey with Quantity Surveying began with a career talk one evening as we were about to clear our KCSE exams back in 2010. The tradition at my alma mater was for candidates to select their university degree choices and fill up the forms before clearing exams. One of the PTA representatives at the time whom I looked up to, QS Bramwell Kimokoti and a bunch of other professionals came to enlighten us about Quantity Surveying and what it was all about. It sounded really interesting at the time and I ended up selecting it. It’s been a journey trying to grasp all the concepts but one I don’t regret taking. The hardest part is trying to explain to people what I do for a living. Most people just assume that you’re a “Surveyor” or “Engineer” which is not really the case.
If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
Well, I just started my career recently (it’s been around 8 months) so I can’t judge as yet. But I think I’d exercise a lot more patience with my work and with people.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to succeed at your job?
Precision, time management, and great communication skills. You’ll be dealing with numbers and contract documents so you cannot afford even the slightest inaccuracy. Structuring specifications, description of building works as well as construction contracts require you to be extremely keen on details to the last letter.
As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
Working in Nairobi exposes you to diverse clients and projects with numerous challenges. This of course translates to growth. The fact that Nairobi has got so many other professionals competing for the same slice of the market as you are forced to constantly stay on your toes and to improve on your skills. You cannot afford to slack off.
The biggest challenge I have seen is the fact that developers enjoy cutting corners and do not really see the need to pay construction professionals “all that money” for consultancy services. As such, you’ll find most buildings having defects that would have been avoided had consultants been engaged. The other critical issue is rampant corruption, especially when getting approvals and building permits from regulatory bodies. This is one area that is not only extremely costly but life-endangering to future occupants of the buildings in the event that there is structural failure.
Documentation and immortalization of architectural processes and techniques through photography and literature is also a bit of a challenge. Other than the hard facts about building storey heights and how much it cost, I’d love to see the tiny nooks and crannies of some of the iconic buildings around Nairobi for instance as well as get to learn what inspired them and how they came to exist. I think this is one area that building designers and photographers can work hand in hand to ensure that these things are documented well for purposes of research as well as for the benefit of future generations.
What motivates you?
The desire to make a positive difference in an industry that is mostly male-dominated. Most women shun away from construction-related courses because they are deemed “manly”. I strive to be an influence and to motivate the girls behind me so that they can excel in this field as well.
Trying to prove to myself and the world that one can actually be good at doing many things is also one of my biggest motivators. The mere fact that one is engaged in a professional career does not mean one should shelf their Creative/Artistic aspects. Being good at one does not exclude the other.
Oh, and of course, how can we forget the money? I would be lying if I said money does not motivate me.
How do you define success?
Success to me means being able to accomplish that which you had set out to do with your life for the hour, for the day, for the year and so on. So if you wake up and your goal was just to eat 10 apples before the end of the day and you do so, then by all means you have succeeded. Very simplistic approach, but then again, the idea of success is a very personal thing.
Who has been your greatest inspiration?
A lot of people have inspired me in my career but I’ll have to narrow it down to two phenomenal and high-achieving women in the Kenyan construction industry; Dr./QS. Isabella Njeri Wachira and QS. Jeniffer Musyimi. Through research, academia and numerous years of service in both the public and private sectors, Dr Njeri has greatly influenced change in the industry and has been at the forefront of mentoring younger professionals. QS Jeniffer Musyimi, the director of Anka Consultants, inspires me through her initiatives to empower women professionals in the industry. She has often emphasized the fact that you do not have to be “boring” just because you’re in a very serious field of work. Her sass and attitude towards work and life are ones whose well I’d love to drink from.
What is your favourite aspect of your job?
Getting to travel a lot and the immense satisfaction derived from seeing a building you worked on get completed. It’s like watching an infant grow into a promising adult.
What would you say are the key elements to being successful?
Diligence, discipline, and consistency. I’d say consistency is very critical; the whole aspect of doing things perfectly in one instance and shoddily the next is very off-putting. Your clients (people) need to be ascertained that they can rely on and trust you with their business or work. As such you cannot afford the whole “hot one minute, cold the next” mode of operation. Consistency requires a great deal of discipline and diligence hence these go hand in hand.
What advice would you give somebody just starting out in your line of work?
When you’re looking for your first job, don’t be swayed by the glamour that is often associated with big firms and corporates. The key is to find a firm that is keen on ensuring you get proper training, quality experience and mentorship. Those are invaluable.
What has been your most satisfying moment in terms of career?
I think it’s a bit too early to point this out at the moment. Does graduating and getting my first job count?
What makes you happy?
Travelling, staring at the sunrise or set, good food, music, cartoons and African literature. You know, just the ordinary little things.
What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?
I am a hobby photographer so travelling pretty much occupies my free time (when the pocket allows it of course). I love writing about the things I love, that’s why I started Foodies Kenya, a blog that focuses on Nairobi’s food scene, back in November 2015. This is in addition to creating content for other online publications.
Where do you see yourself in around 10 years?
Whoa! I rarely plan for stuff beyond a month so 10 years is a long shot. But I hope to still be alive (obviously) and to be at height of my career. I also want to have seen as much of the world as I can.
If you would like to interact with Leah you can find her on Twitter at @canduh_. You can also find her on Instagram at @FoodiesKe and @Canduh_. Find her on Facebook as well – Leah Kanda.
Potentash Founder. A creative writer. The Managing Editor at Potentash. Passionate about telling African stories and stories about the inclusion of minorities. Find me at email@example.com.
“We're all stories, in the end.” ― Steven Moffat