I am a tech professional who has worked in a few industries over the past 15 years. After completing my Honours degree in Computer Science from UCT I worked in a beverage manufacturing industry within the Control and Automation field. In my entire 15 years in the corporate, I have always been a minority; either as the only woman or as the only African, if not both. Even as a leader, I have either been the ‘rose among the thorns’ or the sparkle of color in the boardroom. Although many people view this as a privilege, I have seen it as a glaring indication of our consistent failure to bring more black, more females and more youth into the tech industry. It has been an unending challenge for me to find a way to change this status quo.
When I struggled to find suitably qualified black/young/female candidates for vacancies in my department, I tried to understand why this was the case. From interactions with some of the potential candidates, I realized that there were several factors that were resulting in this market starvation.
Youth were not choosing tech-related careers for different reasons. Some were unfamiliar with computers and thought the concept of pursuing such careers were far-fetched. Some unfortunately became victims of ill advice with respect to career guidance, mainly due to lack of knowledge about tech from their teachers/mentors/family members. Others who were ambitious enough started their careers but decided to change direction when they came across challenges with this new concept that they had never learned at school. In my view, it all boils down to the exposure to information and the support systems that exist within our family and community structures.
Well, I believe that if we want to change that landscape, we need to understand why it has not changed yet. We need to understand it from all possible angles, including the employers, the potential employees, the environment in which talent is nurtured and many other dynamic factors that seem to keep us a country treading on the same spot, and some companies even playing a numbers game to achieve acceptable equity and BBBEE scores.
That is the reason behind my NPO, Ososayensi Education Advancement, which encourages young learners to pursue careers in Science Technology and Innovation, through various exposure programs.
The mission to encourage tech entrepreneurship cannot be a short term one, due to the historic and current digital divide, economic divide, gender divide and even age divide that exist; a lot still has to be consistently done to enrich the foundation of our country with respect to tech-entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship in general. Tech entrepreneurs are required to contribute their real-life experiences that may have shaped their journey.
Technology has quickly become a part of every person’s life in our country and globally. Many countries that are on the leading edge of the tech industry are surviving the current global pandemic since many of their businesses are able to continue through the use of technology. As a country, we continue to be the consumers of their services, without many local options to consider. There is a huge local and global market for quality and relevant tech solutions.
There are many business opportunities in the tech industry that require tech entrepreneurs. Our country needs tech solutions for the network infrastructure gaps it has, the educational and socio-economic challenges it faces, and services that need to be efficient, convenient, and relevant. We need solutions in fin-tech, bio-tech, edu-tech, health-tech, services, tourism; you name it. As a country in the global community, we are unfortunately on the tail end of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Most of the technologies we have are characteristic of the Third IR. We have however never been better positioned to leapfrog this revolution than we are currently. A disruption always breeds innovation and we need to take advantage of our current situation.
In the 4IR, tech has infiltrated many current jobs, and it will not necessarily replace all jobs, but every job needs to have a smart element. When I say smart, I refer to tech smart. We need to have smart doctors who solve medical problems in the most efficient ways. We need smart educators, who integrate technology into the process of teaching and learning and who encourage curiosity among learners, as this is one of the fundamental traits of effective tech-entrepreneurs, in my view. Many of our youth still lack basic computer skills and this is one of the reasons for this lack of entrepreneurship. Tech entrepreneurship requires a lot of collaboration because, on the internet of things, all-things-tech are connected and must communicate with each other. Therefore, a tech solution is as good as its interoperability.
Tech –entrepreneurs in South Africa are pioneers, treading on a turf that was and still is occupied by the foreign giant companies, with the strong backing of their governments, trust from their customers, and in some cases a monopoly and red-tape that is tough to cut through. In this regard, then, with many programs being initiated to encourage and incubate tech-entrepreneurs, it is important to take the opportunities and make the best of them. Tech-entrepreneurship can only be sustained if these programs have short-term, medium-term, and long team objectives.
I also strongly believe that tech entrepreneurs should be nurtured from as young an age as possible. We need to make technology, along with digital citizenship, a basic part of every child’s life. This makes them comfortable with the concept at their developmental stages, hence it becomes an integral part of their lives. As a result, they will become youth who naturally consider tech as part of a solution to everyday problems. They will then become creative with technology, innovative with tech, and they with thrive through developing tech solutions. Furthermore, they will start a virtuous circle of inspiring tech entrepreneurship within their communities.
She holds a BSc in Computer Science (having specialized in Computer Engineering), as well as an Honours degree in Computer Science from UCT. She has worked in the Food and Beverage industry for 14 years as a Graduate Trainee, Control and Automation Engineer, Process Control Manager, and subsequently Manufacturing Systems Manager. Through professional development, she completed a Management Development Program at SABMiller and led a successful Business Improvement Program to reduce losses and improve efficiencies within the business. She believes in unassuming and compassionate leadership as a tool to bring out the best in people we interact with.
Senele has completed a certificate in Strategic Implementation of ICT Integration in education and has followed this passion into the entrepreneurial space. She also founded an organization called Ososayensi Education Advancement, which is aimed at exposing young learners to STEM and the beneficial use of Science, Technology, and Innovation in order to increase their chances of successfully pursuing technology-related careers and therefore have relevant skills into the future, thereby reducing poverty and unemployment. She is a member of the Institute of IT Professionals South Africa (IITPSA) and serves as a deputy chairperson of the KZN Chapter Committee within the institute. You can follow Senele on LinkedIn