Shelmina was born in Mwanza, Tanzania. Her parents, who had very little money, always instilled in her the importance of an education. Determined to make them happy, she focused diligently on her studies from a young age.
At 15 years old Shelmina completed 10th grade and had to leave home in order to obtain a higher education. She initially moved to Dar-es-Salaam to finish high school, and then to Pune in India for a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics. She brought back and sold clothes from India to help pay for her tuition and her airfare to see her parents during summer. Being far away from home was difficult, especially because her family who did not own a phone, but nothing would get in the way of her education. Shelmina was the first person in her family to obtain a college degree. With a degree in hand, she had no idea what she wanted to do until she came upon a magazine article on computer science.
Shelmina started a new chapter in her journey when she moved to the cold climate of Wisconsin to attend the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Her parents gave her most of their life savings to pursue a degree in Computer Science. Motivated not to waste their money, she worked in the Computer Science department making as little as $3.35 an hour. Shelmina put her earnings towards her tuition and took any shift she could get working 30 to 40 hours a week. She could not have been more proud of herself when she received a .20 cent pay increase to $3.55 an hour.
Her degree completed, Shelmina was offered a position at ETA Systems as a computer programmer. Four and a half years later, ETA Systems closed their doors. Fortunately, this turned out to be a huge blessing, as she soon accepted a computer programmer position at IBM in 1989. Shelmina spent most of her career at IBM in various roles. When she left IBM in June 2014, she was the Vice President of the global Microsoft alliance.
Shelmina became a single mother when her kids were 2 and 4. That trying period not only motivated her to be a better mother, but also to be successful in her career, as she now wanted to provide for the well-being and college education of her children. She balanced a successful career as one of the highest-ranking women of color at IBM with raising two amazing children. Sophia, age 24, graduated Yale University and works as an environmental analyst. Samir, age 22, graduated from University of Washington and works as a software developer at Microsoft.
Overcoming obstacles has been a recurring theme in Shelmina’s life. Today, she is grateful for her struggles. Due to her great success, her Alma Mater asked her to come back and share her journey at the Women Moving Ahead conference. This opportunity fueled Shelmina’s passion for sharing her story and empowering women. Using her life lessons as her foundation, Shelmina is dedicated to paying it forward and inspiring other women to succeed. She believes in empowering women to take control of their lives, teaching them to be intentional and focus their energy in a positive direction in an effort not just to survive, but also to thrive through conscious living and making excellent choices. Shelmina currently sits on the board of Young Women Empowered, an organization dedicated to empowering young women leaders through intergenerational mentorship.
Shelmina lives in Bellevue, Washington and Washington, DC, with her loving and supportive husband Minaz. She loves spending time with her family, friends, working out, reading and traveling the world… She also calls herself a “spa junkie.” She feels forever indebted to the Universe, her family, and many others for inspiring her along this journey. She states her deepest gratitude as such:
“I cannot even count the number of times I have cried in gratitude or pinched myself to ensure I was not dreaming.”