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An Interview with Yamkela Mehlomakulu

An Interview with Yamkela Mehlomakulu: Currently working for Ernst and Young as a manager and adviser for high level clients in Johannesburg

1. What prompted your interest in engaging in the IS sector? We were unfortunately never exposed to computers in Butterworth where I grew up, and in High School it was not our priority to learn about computers nor Information Technology for that matter. Few people possessed computer discs which made them look stupid because why keep discs when you don't own a computer? Little did we know it was the beginning of digitalization and the start of our careers. When I got to Rhodes it was fascinating to see so many computers and we were told we could use them as we please for whole day if we wished,it was a pity that I couldn't use the mouse nor type to save my life. It was embarrassing as so many of my friends who came from prestigious high schools could type and type fast. We made them lots of money hiring them to help us type and complete our assignments, that experience prompted me to begin a career in IS because not only did it seem like the coolest career to just spend the whole day in the computer labs, but even major sponsors and bursaries were allocated to IS students. Cool companies like Eskom, Liberty and MTN as well as Standard Bank wanted to offer IS students job.s I knew I wouldn't be taking a risk changing my Psychology Degree to IS so I did so immediately and I don't regret that decision. 2. Before you started your academic journey did you know IS would be a part of your university major? Not at all. We didn't even realise how much impact IS would have in our society and everyday lives until we were in our final year of study and major corporations were prioritising us for opportunities and actually head hunted us for SAP projects to learn SAP and specialise. It was a big deal! I was chosen amongst top 30 Western Cape scholars who completed IS as a major from all Western Cape Universities - and so my career begun at City of Cape Town Municipality as a Trainee Business Analyst at their SAP ERP Solution Centre. 3. Do you feel you had adequate information about IS before you started your degree? There was never any information in High School about IS nor Computer Science nor what computers are and what one can do to make a career out of. This is still a challenge in High Schools. Career Guidance needs to be aggressive and target all career paths and in order to do that, industry experts need to visit High Schools as an ongoing partnership to assist SMMEs to fund scholars, groom them and offer them internships from an informed base.

4. When you undertook your degree did you notice there was a severe lack of female peers represented the classroom space? Certainly, IS was not a major for girls and all and the boys were not really helpful. We were regarded as foolish for even considering the major, but our lecturers who were male lecturers never saw gender in us instead they assisted us, even lending us the ever expensive textbooks when we couldn't afford to buy them. Even today at corporate very few women are on top with IS or computer science as a major and those who make it to the top are discriminated against and discouraged on decision making processes. It's such a shame!

5. When you started applying for jobs after your degree, did it cross your mind that it was a male dominated field and that securing employment would be a challenge because of this? It is still very difficult to get a job if you are a female in the field. No doubt it is still a very male dominated field. As much as we try so hard to push boundaries the truth is we are always blocked by our male counter parts in the industry. 6. Could you explain how you felt during your first year at work and share some of the significant moments? My first year at work was a horrible disaster! I was put under supervision and was to report to a lady as she was part of Barak Consulting.It was quickly very clear that she didn't fully agree into mentoring an intern and so she never gave me work to do nor showed me how things are done. My role quickly changed to be her tea girl and maybe if I'm lucky would assume a role of her secretary by typing minutes of meetings she attended during the day. The experience was painful, a woman who has made it in IT and even had her own company to prove it was unwilling to help another woman! Luckily others saw this and quickly rescued me to SITA. At SITA I was entrusted with major projects from the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and Western Cape. I drove MIS implementation so it was major to me and I delivered. I stayed with SITA for 2 years until I was headhunted by Western Cape Education.

7. We are an education based NPO, so we wanted to know how important computer literacy is in the future according to what you’ve seen and experienced ? It is really essential to have even primary schools embark on computer literacy. I believe it should be part of the curriculum from Grade 0 and a number of Private Schools already are making it compulsory at this level. Parents, schools, industries, are recognizing the importance of Computer Science education for kids. The message is clear that kids need to learn what enables their digital world and how to be a part of it.

8. How do you think South Africa can better prepare for the “ Fourth Industrial Revolution”? Students’ lives are divided among three worlds: family, school and digital. In each of these worlds, we define rules, regulations so that they can evolve safely and become innovators. As they grow older, the digital world takes a larger place in their life. Safety along with computer literacy (how to become an intelligent consumer) is crucial. We also need to teach them how they can contribute to the digital world and be part of its growth. Computer Science provides them with the ability and skills to do so.As the 4IR begins to take hold, South Africa cannot find itself on the wrong side of the revolution due to a stalled economy, low productivity and unpreparedness. It’s now more critical than ever for government and its leaders as they plan for the future.Yes, flexibility. Or adaptability. It’s now more critical than ever for government and its leaders as they plan for the future. This is what I think they should do

* Given the need for faster and more agile responses to never-before-seen changes in work, and the interlinked and dynamic nature of 4IR technologies, those leading government must realise that policy development can no longer be the domain of government alone. A multi- stakeholder approach that includes companies and innovators and disruptors must be adopted. Policymakers must work with the private sector and get to know about the technologies that are being developed, and what impact they will have on the labour market.

* Government must collaborate with employers in sectors that have high automation potential and come up with policy that will proactively mitigate the negative impact that automation can be expected to have on thousands of workers – including how to reskill, and where to reassign displaced workers.

* An education system that makes the biggest contribution is one that is agile, fosters innovation, evolves as work changes, and can transition in line with the advances of technology. Current attempts at fixing the education system are archaic and indicate how unprepared we are for the future, and this needs to be addressed urgently.

* A highly skilled labour force will always be the driver that determines how fast an economy adopts accelerating technologies. It is a precondition for lift-off: the better and more highly skilled the worker, the more likely it is that they will be able to adapt and work side by side with machines. If business doesn’t put its cards on the table and work with government, everyone will be affected.

There is opportunity – and even poetic beauty – about the Fourth Industrial Revolution. For a country like South Africa, it necessitates that business demonstrate that it is part of the solution and not just an observe.

9. What advice would you give to a young girl who would like to follow in your academic and career footsteps one day? Girls should never be intimidated by gender at all. All challenges we face should be an affirmation that we can and we will!

10. Who is your hero in the IT industry and why? Always, Mark Zuckerberg because he came from no base and created a new world with Facebook, there is so much you can do these days through Facebook.

We would like to thank her for taking time to let us interview her and we hope to use this insight to improve our services.

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