From the way we live, work, and innovate – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) drive the economy and create our future. Yet, according to WomenInTech, in South Africa, women hold a mere 23% of all tech jobs in the country.
Luckily several initiatives are working towards closing the gap, and among them are educational institutions such as HyperionDev that actively encourage women to learn the magic of code so that they, too, can enter the lucrative and exciting world of technology.
To inspire more women to enter the world of IT, we profile three of South Africa’s most successful women in tech today, how they are using their skills to change our world, and their top life lessons.
Dr Mmaki Jantjies
Capetonian Dr Mmaki Jantjies is on a mission to disrupt the South African educational system. A computer scientist with a passion for how technological innovations can improve society, she has a CV the length of the Hubble space telescope’s code – and the experience to execute it!
After completing her Honours in informatics at the University of Pretoria, she moved to the UK where she studied for her Master’s degree in computing at Oxford Brookes University, followed by her PhD in computer science at the University of Warwick. She is a research member at the United Nations University that merges ICT with global sustainable development goals.
How she’s making a difference
Dr Jantjies holds the prestigious Group Executive of Innovation and Transformation role at TELKOM and is an Associate Professor in Information Systems at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). Here her research focuses on developing mobile learning software systems in STEM subjects that will be accessible in all South African languages.
Concerned with how few women have access to careers in tech in SA, she encourages her students to join the Mozilla and UN Women technology clubs for young girls. In these tech clubs, young girls from Cape Town township high schools can learn ICT skills and are encouraged to take the leap into a career in tech.
Casting her net wider to help women across Africa, she co-founded Peo ya Phetogo (PYP), a non-profit dedicated to digital skills development among our youth, schools, teachers and communities.
“Being able to impact society through education and research on technology is the most fulfilling experience as you always see the impact of the change you bring in your greater society.” (Interview for STEM mentor article at UWC)
Gauteng native Lindiwe Matlali is a multiple tech industry and business leader award-winner who holds a number of board memberships and has been – and still is – involved in both grass-roots and government-level initiatives that aim to inspire Africa’s next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs.
She started out by studying BCom economics and statistics at UCT. After a decade of working, she completed a course in executive education and data analysis with Harvard Business School. She is currently studying towards her Masters in Technology Management from Columbia University in New York, as well as a Graduate Certificate in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Stanford University.
She has won multiple awards, among them Excellence in STEM from the Charlotte Maxeke Institute, Social Innovator of the Year by the Schwab Foundation, and was named one of the Mail & Guardian 50 Powerful Women in SA in 2021.
How she’s making a difference
Her exposure to some of the world’s leading educational institutions has led to an exciting position with the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), which aims to help the government seize opportunities presented by the digital industrial revolution.
The venture we’re most impressed with is her role as founder and CEO of Africa Teen Geeks, an NGO that teaches kids how to code. Teen Geeks is the largest computer science non-profit organisation in Africa and has one clear goal: to educate, inspire and equip young people with skills, resources and experience to pursue STEM careers and close the opportunity gap through quality education.
“An integral part of empowering women is showing them that tasks traditionally labelled as ‘women’s work’ are complex and important and hold many of the same technical challenges as anything men do.” (Knitting Is Coding Ted Talk for TEDxBeaconStreet)
Thembiso Magajana is a self-confessed technophile from Gauteng who spent a decade in the financial sector before she found her true calling in code. It was a conversation with her then six-year-old niece who wanted to be the world’s next Steve Jobs – and being dismayed at how few black women there were in tech – that inspired her to leave the world of finance. Within months she was fully immersed in creating pathways for South African township youth to be part of the 4th Industrial Revolution.
Unlike our other tech heroines, Thembiso has no formal education in technology. However, when she decided she wanted a future in IT, she spent her free time reading Computer Programming For Dummies, watching Youtube tutorials, and studying various online coding and IT courses. Soon she was teaching her niece and friends basic coding in her sister’s garage, with limited wifi and only one laptop between them. That inspired her to launch Social Coding. Her background and training in finance has stood her in good stead, helping her secure funds and creating multiple revenue streams for her nonprofit.
How she’s making a difference
Thembiso’s passion and drive have catapulted her into one of South Africa’s most recognised female tech movers and shakers. She has been recognised as a World Economic Forum Global Shaper and is an accomplished TEDx Speaker. In 2019 she was named one of the 50 most inspiring women in tech by @InspiringFifty SA, a non-profit that aims to increase diversity in tech by making female role models more visible.
Her nonprofit, Social Coding, is where she has made a huge difference to thousands of disadvantaged girls and women. The technical workshops cover software development and design thinking and teach girls to be initiators, conceptualists, shapers, and drivers of innovative and strategic problem-solving.
“Teach one girl to code and she’ll teach 22 more because women are by nature change agents, and by doing so, we’ll solidify the economy of our nation for years to come.” (In conversation with GirlCode)
Could you be next?
Looking at these amazing women, two qualities stand out: they are all dreamers and doers. They did not take ‘no’ for an answer, nor were they constrained by gender stereotypes when it comes to working in a field that ignites their imagination and passion.
If their journeys have inspired you and you dream of a tech industry career, you have come to the right place. Apply for a bootcamp, and who knows, we may be featuring you in our next series of top inspiring SA women in tech!