I was born in a small township called Boitekong in Rustenburg, where no one I knew owned a computer. There were very few sources of entertainment for us growing up. One of my favourite hobbies was picking up any paper with text on it and reading it out loud, regardless of what the topic was I would just read. One day I stumbled on the digital section in my grade 9 technology textbook. I had to read the first paragraph a couple of times because all the words were unfamiliar to me. I couldn’t comprehend the idea of digitization, as the concept felt too abstract. I kept on reading, and with the help of the oxford dictionary I managed to wrap my head around what the passage was about. I read about digital systems, Boolean logic and numbers, and I also learnt some basic programming. I could understand how numbers are printed to a screen but it all still felt very abstract to me. It felt like there was a whole world out there that I had only caught a glimpse of.
In 2010, at the end of my grade 9 year I was fortunate to be a recipient of the King’s scholarship to finish my high school in Lebone II College. Pressured against time and lack of information I unknowingly chose IT as one of my subjects. I only realised halfway through the first lesson that I would be doing computer programming when the teacher asked what software was and I, the girl who had never used a computer in her life, raised my hand and said, “A set of instructions that make a computer work”. I guess it was just love at first sight. In 2012, when I was in Grade 11 I was so immersed in programming that I wanted to share it with everyone around me. I tried explaining it to my family and friends back home but it was hard for them to understand because technology was scarce at the time.
In grade 11 I was selected to attend an intensive leadership camp in Denver, Colorado with BoldLearders. I had never been out of South Africa before let alone the continent but it was the most eye opening experience of my life. The most important lesson I recall from the training is that we have everything we need to achieve our goals, we under use our inner resources and look for change else where. Truth is we are the change we have been waiting for, this was when I decided to start Lipstick@code. A programming initiative aimed at encouraging more girls from less privileged backgrounds to get into programming.
In my matric year, with the support of my high school headmaster, I managed to get nearly 15 girls from a local school to learn Scratch. Scratch is a visual programming language developed by MIT to help young people think creatively and solve problems systematically, it can be used to make stories, animations and games without any written code. I ran the program until my prelims prep began. I was later informed that the school would no longer be offering IT as a subject and thus the IT lecturer would no longer be with the school. I tried to find someone at the school who could carry on with the project but without an IT teacher or another student willing to continue with the programme, my school thought it was best to discontinue the project.
I started first year at the University of Cape Town in 2014 with the hope that I would be able to continue with the project. However, first year computer science proved to be more challenging than I expected. I found it difficult to manage both my school work and starting an initiative. During my school holidays, I began going to high schools to talk to the Matric learners about applying for tertiary schools and life after Matric. I then realised that I could spend some of that time talking to the students about computer science. I used videos from learncode.org to motivate learners to consider careers in computer science and I told them stories of the most remarkable tech inventions and how they came about. I also showed them some code and allowed them to play around with some of the games I had made.
My mentor Robyn Farah suggested that I join Women in Tech Cape Town(WITCPT) as it would give me the opportunity to work with women who have the same experience and passion for women in tech. In early 2017 became a member of the committee and I was happy to work alongside people who were dedicated to bringing diversity into the male dominated industry. A few months ago, Robyn asked me to move to the Modern Alchemist committee because there were no women who had joined. Modern Alchemist is a Cape Town community dedicated to bringing fun to electronics. I wanted to help bring more women into electronics but being afraid of electronics myself I wasn’t sure how I could encourage others to join. I took the challenge and it has been rewarding. I love seeing the increase in the number of people who come to our events, especially women.
My second Mentor Regina Katle is the founder of 67 Games, a non-profit organisation that builds educational arcade games for children in townships. I work closely with her to organise gaming events, and this year she asked me to speak at Women in gaming about my experiences as a computer games graduate. I am currently working with her to conduct a research project with The City of Cape Town to study the behaviour of Cape Town gamers. By the end of this project we are hoping to have enough data to be able to make games that are more appealing to a Cape Town audience. Her goal for 67 games is to have her arcade games installed all over the country so that children can get the best out of their play time.
My plans for next year are not set in stone, I got accepted to Code Dojo. Code Dojo is a full stack web development boot camp in Seattle, and it runs over 4 months. I have started a go fund me to help me raise funds to attend the boot camp and I am very happy to say that having so much outreach in the tech community has been helpful but I still have a long way to go to raise all the money to attend the boot camp. Find my fundraising page on: https://igg.me/at/LIk3CY3oco0
Over the past 2 years I have been working with three other girls in my computer science class to start an all women tech start-up. We have been making slow progress but we are confident that over time, as we acquire more skills we will be able to run a successful company. When I return from the boot camp I will be able to make an invaluable contribution to the start-up and 67 Games. I want to start a similar boot camp for people who cannot to go to university and are interested in careers in tech.
I firmly believe that Computer Science is more about people than it is about writing code. I want to be a great programmer but even more so I want to change the way people interact with technology. If a girl from Rustenburg can teach herself how to code and end up in Seattle with some of the best developers in the world then it is quite evident that everyone can code.