Women In Tech: Meet Kala Fleming  

By Masha Tseveen.


Who: Kala Fleming
Role at IBM: Water Research Scientist
Field of Work: Smarter Planet Research Scientist/Water Research
Location: Nairobi, Kenya
Hometown: Antigua

Kala FlemingTell us a story about how you got your job at IBM. Why did you choose IBM?

At the time, I was living in Washington DC, USA, and ready to head to West Africa to spend a year doing research. After a busy few years of consulting with local and federal government entities, I wanted to spend more time on the ground in a location where so many interesting questions had popped up during my consulting adventures. I joined IBM because I wanted to be in Africa pursuing the Lab’s mission to evolve commercially viable innovations that impact lives.

What surprised you most about IBM when you first started working?

Our Lab operates like the start-up of arm of the huge corporate entity. It means the opportunities to shape what we focus on are tremendous. The willingness to get hands dirty to push forward on whatever needs to get done helped quite a bit.

How has IBM helped you grow as a technologist?

I get to work with colleagues in the lab and around the world who are steeped in architecture and software design. I came from a Civil and Environmental Engineering background. The synergies between my new role and existing network in water industry have been tremendous and inspiring.

You came up with the idea for the Digital Aquifer. Can you describe a little about the innovation and how it came to life? What role did you play?

The Digital Aquifer is a platform for delivering Water Information as a Service to users across a common aquifer basin.  How much water do we have? What are water levels? Is the water salty? The innovation simplifies how everyone from a county governor to a homeowner can query and receive an answer to this question.

Aquifer basin by aquifer basin, we collect information on thousands of water points, the surrounding hydrogeology, population and any other relevant context information. In some cases, the water points are monitored continuously using a network of low cost and high end sensors. Time series water and weather data along with geospatial contextual information is brought together and analyzed to develop a comprehensive picture of water levels, recharge and water withdrawals.

I conceived of the idea after realizing just how many boreholes and shallow wells there were in Kenya. Because there are so many, keeping track of their status is difficult. For example, Kenya’s Water Management Resource Agency does not know how many boreholes there are and how much groundwater is being withdrawn each day. Individual borehole owners also have no idea of when new boreholes have been drilled and when their own boreholes might be at risk.

What is the best advice you ever received?

Asking questions that go beyond the obvious makes life interesting and gets us closer to understanding the root cause of many puzzling societal problems.

Apply for a job like Kala’s here

So to inspire more women to join the tech ranks, we’re showcasing 26 innovations by 26 innovative women. Check it out

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