What did you study or learn to prepare yourself for these multiple roles?
My parents couldn’t afford our fees as my siblings and we were all at tertiary institutions round about the same time. They encouraged us to find loans/bursaries. I applied for what I thought would be a bursary but turned out to be a scholarship at a university in Malaysia. I studied towards an Information Systems degree at Universiti Teknologi Petronas. From day one we were taught how to work hard, how to focus on the task at hand and as a result I graduated Cum Laude. That work ethic has been one of the driving forces in my career. The programme had a practical approach where we were expected to present solutions and assignments to our lecturers and external evaluators from first year. This taught us the importance of articulating our thoughts and explain technical solutions in simple language that everyone could understand as some of the assessors did not come from technical backgrounds. Failure was not an option as the only way of going home was to ensure that you passed well! I have always thus been motivated and knew that hard work really pays off.
I have also been blessed to meet some incredible mentors, coaches and truly supportive cheerleaders in my career. People who believed in me and saw potential where I sometimes doubted my ability. You need to keep in contact and nurture these relationships!
My parents were both teachers and they always believed in giving back to the community. They instilled in me the notion that “You will be lifted when you lift others” so the inclination to contribute to the community really comes from them.
What are the challenges have you faced in your activities in the tech industry and how have you overcome them?
Being a mother – as a mom I am constantly in battle with trying to “balance” family and work. However, I have come to realise that this is a struggle that I face every day and I am not sure if you ever truly reach a point where you feel “truly balanced”. I spend as much time as I possibly can with family and there are times where I need to put my foot down and put family first. Now that my son is older I am able to take him to events, which is helping him understand my line of work. I completely depend on the strong family support structure.
Being the only woman in the room – There is no denying that the Tech industry is still very much male dominated and there are times where women in leadership find themselves being the only or one of the very few women in the room. This used to intimidate me in the past but I believe this has motivated to always ensure that I speak up and have a positive contribution in whatever meeting that I attend. There are times where you also feel that you need to prove yourself constantly. That means that as a woman you always need tobe prepared and find your voice, and be confident in your abilities.
Shying away from negotiation – I have in the past been shy about asking for what I want, whether it be negotiating my salary package or negotiating with a difficult customer. The truth is you are the one who pays the price in the end. There are smart ways of negotiating. You need to go into the negotiating table knowing what you want and what you are willing to compromise on!
Asking for help – Early on in my career I viewed asking for help as a sign of weakness – this is far from the truth. Asking for help, means that you are part of a team and that you value other people’s input. People are willing to help, you just need to ask. It shows that you’re engaged and that you are willing to learn!
With your experience in training and mentoring, what is your opinion about the advancement of young women in the technology industry and what would help to get them interested in tech- related activities?
More can definitely be done but there is progress in this space. With programmes such as
Girlhype, Technovation Challenge, Girls Invent, Code4CT and Taungana. All these programmes are aimed at providing girls with the necessary tools required to succeed in the tech industry. Some of these programmes are teaching young girls how to create their own websites and mobile applications. Others are simply exposing them to different careers in STEM. What is evident is that young women need role models they can relate to. They need to know that you can be interested in Tech yet still want to do the girly stuff of getting your hair done and shopping, it’s not one or the other! So we need to make sure that the girls understand that this is truly an exciting and dynamic industry that offers diverse opportunities. There are so many careers in technology, from project management, developer roles, business analysts, user-interface designers – you can be a creative and still be in tech. The critical point is that we need to support each other. This is not a Women- Only movement, there have been so many men that have supported me throughout my career. So when we talk about the advancement of young women in tech we also need to include men!
What has been the most rewarding experience in your career so far?
There are so many...it’s hard to choose! I was awarded a scholarship to study in Malaysia, selected as part of the Techwomen Programme, having the support of my family including the birth of my son (this motivated me beyond words) and joining a dynamic company such as Britehouse where innovation and diversity are celebrated. Moreover, being part of Siliconcape and Innovate SA, incredible group of amazing people passionately giving back!
What inspired you to be involved in the technology industry?
My brother is two years older than me. We grew up competing against each other. When he was in university he would come back for the holidays raving about the programs that he was developing and this cool qualification that he was studying towards called
Information Technology. I was completely annoyed that he seemed to be smarter with all this new found knowledge. I decided that if he can study towards something that seemed interesting, so should I. With my father being a businessman, I also wanted to study towards a qualification related to business. So I decided to enrol in a course that would give me the technical knowledge that my brother had but yet teach me how to be business savvy like my father, so I enrolled for an Information Systems degree.
Describe your role at Britehouse, Silicon Cape, your role as a SAP mentor and TechWomen. What do they each entail?
I currently work for Britehouse. We’re one of the leading technology solutions provider in the country. We provide digital solutions that help organisations understand the complex world of technology and help them run their businesses better. We specialise in SAP, Microsoft and custom solutions. My role is that of an Account Manager, making sure that our existing customers are satisfied with the services that we provide. I also look for new business, identifying potential opportunities that would lead to new business. My work allows me to interact with customers from diverse industries, whether it’s manufacturing, oil and gas, public sector, etc.
At Britehouse Community development is treated as an important part of what we do. We are currently supporting a school in Diepsloot where we have developed a Digital Hub with the help of a partner Got-Game. The digital hub is a container consisting of tablets that the school uses to teach the pupils about opportunities available in the digital space. It also serves the community where they can make use of the lab after school. The objective of the hub is to truly bridge the digital divide.
I am part of the Siliconcape Executive Committee. I look after the Women Portfolio, ensuring that women’s voices are heard and taken seriously. We support women entrepreneurs and women in tech. It’s truly rewarding to be part of a movement that is driving change and promoting diversity in a space that in the past used to be predominantly male-dominated.
SAP (Systems Applications and Products) mentors speak at conferences, writes blog posts and answers technical questions in forums and assists others in their SAP careers. The initiative is also community driven and it’s truly amazing how the mentors take the time to contribute to the SAP ecosystems. I have spoken at few conferences such as SAPHILA (SAP conference held in South Africa), Mastering Business Intelligence (held in South Africa and I was selected as the best speaker and was given an opportunity to travel to Australia for the same conference). I have also been involved in the African SAP User Group where we have organised events for local customers making use of SAP solutions.
In 2013, I was one of five South African women selected to take part in a prestigious Techwomen Programme. This programme is an initiative of the U.S. State Department. The programme selected 78 Emerging Leaders out of 1800 applicants from Africa and the Middle- East. We spent six weeks in Silicon Valley being mentored by women from Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. The Emerging Leaders were placed at prominent Tech companies such as Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, Autodesk, etc. I am now part of the Techwomen Alumni. The programme assists women to grow professionally while giving back to the community and encouraging young girls to consider technical careers in STEM fields.
What is your advice to young women or girls who are interested in pursuing a career in the technology industry?
Be inquisitive – ask questions, find programmes in your community that you can get involved in. Don’t wait until you’re out of school, do it now! Start a business (even if it’s selling chocolates), you’re not guaranteed to find work after studying. Start a coding club at school, start a speakers club...start something! What you do now will set the tone for how people will view you when you’re looking for work or you’re looking for investors to invest in your business.
Change your mindset – Tech is not only for males, there are so many women doing amazing work in this space
Get a mentor – ask for someone to be a mentor. It doesn’t have to be structured, perhaps someone you can reach out to in your community or even on social media. I have connected with so many people I didn’t know but who have now become allies because of social media.
Believe – Be a believer in yourself and your capabilities. If you’re in doubt surround yourself with cheerleaders, people who will remind you of how awesome you are!