What are the challenges that women face in the technology field and how have you overcome them?
Integrating work and family life: Circumstances change as you progress in life and this becomes very apparent when you have kids. I've overcome these challenges by basically just rolling with the punches and making the best of the situation and accepting that demands do change and constantly learning to integrate family and work facets of life so that I can be the best that I can at both.
Working on negotiation skills: Society and tradition has taught women to be thankful for what we get but throughout my career I found that my male peers especially were often on higher salary brackets than me. When I investigated the reasons behind this, it wasn't because they were better than me, but merely because they never accepted their initial offers. It took me a long time to get over the fear of asking for more money but as I gained confidence in my capabilities to do the job, my negotiation skills improved considerably.
Fighting the fear of failure syndrome: Women in particular hate failing and this can be a career inhibitor if you are always afraid to take risks. As a business owner I am continually learning how to manage this and to see failure as an opportunity. At the end of the day it is about turning obstacles into opportunities.
What had been the most rewarding experience in your career so far?
Knowing that the work that I've done is being enjoyed by the end users. When I first released the ster-kinekor app and if I happened to strike a conversation with someone about what I did, as soon as I mentioned the SK app, they would immediately pull out their phones and show me the app installed and would complement the user experience. Even though this was purely an entertainment app, it was very rewarding for me to know that my work is being appreciated by actual users rather than line managers who just wanted to tick a KPI box. Also my children are so proud of me, they are only 7 and 9 but they are aware of what I do and if they see me in magazine or online article (they love googling me), they get very excited about it and show all their friends and teachers and say "This is my mommy, she works very hard and creates apps". It is lovely for me to know that they can see hard work and passion to do what you love is something to aspire to (well I hope that is what they are thinking!) :)
What do you think would help to get more young girls interested and involved in tech-related activities?
Young girls need to see that there are women in the tech field fulfilling their passions. I think it gets quite clouded and hazy when all you see are men in suits and it gives a false perception that being a women in tech is almost impossible. I strongly believe that girls need positive female role models to aspire to and these role models need to represent all sectors and ages and cultures. Quite often the media may only highlight a twenty something overworked singleton and to be honest is this right messaging? As mentioned before as one progress in life there are many changes and adaptation is key. Also young girls need to see that passion and hard work throughout your career is key in achieving success. I was recently part of the international girls in ICT event hosted by Normanini and I chatted about my journey in tech to a group of high school students from Khayelitsha and they found it fascinating to hear that I attended a normal government school in Pietermaritzburg, moved to Johannesburg, then to the UK , gained experience in mobile development and produced the top performing apps in SA and now running my own business. It may sound like a cliché but more of these stories sometimes need to be told so that girls are aware that anything is possible if you set your mind and work towards it.
What sparked your interest in technology?
At an early age, I always had an interest in Maths and Science Subjects. My interest started back in the day when I was in primary school and watched Logo on TV (A computer generated turtle that you could train to draw shapes using code). I took computer studies as one of my major subjects at school and found it quite easy and it complimented my passion for Maths and continued with a BSc Computer Science degree at university. My hard work and accomplishments throughout my studies was recognised when Standard Bank selected me as one of their top 20 group of students to complete a national internship programme where I represented the IT sector. My career in technology has been ongoing since then.
Describe your role at Useful & Beautiful, what it entails and why you started the company.
I am the owner and M.D of Useful & Beautiful (U&B) and I am responsible for the day to day operations and business growth. To summarise what I do, I run a mobile specialist company that works very closely with clients/businesses to help them understand how mobile can fit into their current processes. I spend a lot of time understanding my client’s needs, challenges and objectives so that I can empower them with a mobile strategy that not only fits their target market’s needs but also adds value to their business. I also make sure that their mobile strategy fits in with their overall business strategy making sure that mobile is not treated as a silo. Once the strategy is defined, I work with creative and technology teams using my UX/product experience to execute the best in class mobile solutions.
I started the company a year ago, shortly after I was informed that the company I worked at, Prezence Digital was in the process of being shut down by Primedia. At Prezence I was head hunted by the founder Tim Bishop to grow his Apps Department and undertook the roles of Head of Product Strategy and later the Apps Business Director. Prior to Prezence I worked at Naspers to grow their mobile divisions at MIH Internet Africa, a position I was approached to do while I was emigrating back from the UK, this was back in 2010. The mobile sector, especially apps, was at its infancy then and it was an awesome learning experience for me to be at the heart of innovation and cutting edge technology. I always had a fondness for gadgets so this was a dream role to be offered by Naspers and then later on I got to cement my area of expertise in the mobile space at Prezence Digital where I was involved in producing the country’s leading mobile solutions at the time. When Prezence closed, I was given the opportunity to go back to Naspers (WeChat actually approached me) or to start up mobile divisions at other companies but I decided against both options and opted to go on the entrepreneurial journey instead, which I felt would be the next challenging role for me in my career, the timing just felt right.
What did you have to study or learn to prepare you for this role?
I did not study anything formal for my role. As mentioned I have an academic background in technology. My work experience throughout the years certainly has prepared me for the role. I've worked solidly in mobile over the last 6 years and prior to that I was an analyst/programmer in the UK where I worked in a variety of financial and retail sectors so I got to understand how the software process works from pure inception through to actual hands on execution. At times I also undertook project management responsibilities so I got to also understand the roles of the different stakeholders in a project, both at corporate/enterprise multi-tier level and also for smaller scaled projects. I believe that the experience acquired over the last 15 years has empowered me to understand what goes into running a technology company and allows me to manage and lead tech teams. With the advent of apps, there is now the element of creative design and user experience in the blend and the last 5 years of working within agency environments has certainly complimented
my technology skills in that I am able to manage creative teams too and getting them to collaborate with the best technology experts to create world class mobile solutions.
What is your advice to young women interested in pursuing a career in the technology industry?
Work hard and never stop learning. Tech is a wonderful field to be in if you are willing to embrace it. Once you have that mind-set, the world is your oyster.