The local tech scene has piqued the interest of major investors, and the best part is that there are many free avenues to acquire the skills they are looking for, or to creator your own enterprise.
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From SweepSouth, Yoco to Pineapple, the South African tech scene is going through an exciting time. In the past three years, we have seen a growing number of compelling tech companies that have garnered the attention and funding of some of the biggest venture capitalists in the world. It is clear, there has never been a better time to get into the tech scene in South Africa.
As an industry still in its infancy, we are yet to create an environment similar to the Silicon Valley ecosystem; and breaking into the industry can be difficult. Careers Magazine spoke to Okyere-Dede, a medical doctor who traded in the stethoscope to build a number of tech companies, including Memo Health and Dekode, an app on how to make it in tech.
“When I got into tech, it was out of frustration. For most people who get into tech, it is out of frustration. I had an idea and wanted to create something, and I did not have the skill, so I ended up on YouTube learning how to build what I want.”
What started as an interest into how to build a website has grown into a web development business which creates websites and apps for a range of organisations.
By spending long hours on YouTube learning and testing, he was able to kickstart a career that is far removed from doctors’ rooms and ERs, which he had initially intended on frequenting.
“I am a big believer in YouTube,” Okyere-Dede says as he has acquired most of his coding knowledge from the video platform.
While a platform like YouTube was not created for educational purposes, it remains one of the most impactful, free user- generated online, edu-tech platforms in the world. On the platform, you can learn various coding languages and development skills such as UX design, as well as artificial intelligence, among others.
Other than YouTube, the owner of the platform Google has formalised the learning experience by creating developers’ certificates. Their training ranges from mobile web specialist, associate android developer, to data engineers. The courses are internationally recognised, and if you get great results, you might even land yourself a job at one of the biggest tech companies in the world.
Online training programmes like Google Developers Certificate and popular online platform Code Academy, are a direct response to the demands of a rapidly changing industry and the need to swiftly develop people in a space which is in dire need of new and fresh talent. As a result, tech education bends the rules set by formal education with courses that last a few months instead of three to four years.
Locally, we have seen a boom in organisations that offer free training, such as Geekulcha and WeThinkCode, that teach coding, web development and several other tech related skills.
The industry offers an array of other opportunities that could enhance more than just technical skills, says Vuyo Dubese who is an Associate for Impact Acceleration at investment and advisory firm Impact Amplifier.
“There are also softer skills that are needed to make it in the industry. Something that I also appreciate about these programmes is the opportunity to network and travel through some of their partnerships and challenges like hackathons. These open up a whole new world for technology and innovation enthusiasts,” Dubese says. Unlike other industries that have a hardline rule on degrees and qualifications to get a job, tech has been very lax about formal qualifications or certificates. After all, the most successful social media platform, with over 1 billion users, is run by a college dropout.
Tech prioritises skills such as critical thinking and problem solving, instead of formal degrees. This simple approach has the potential to completely transform South Africa and play an impactful role in driving job creation and developing tech talent quickly.
Dubese is of the view that more can be done about representation in the industry. “The industry is not diverse, and the word shouldn’t be misconstrued with inclusion. It’s not just about having more black people, youth and women involved, but also [including] the LGBTQIA+ and disabled communities; to mention a few. The decision makers who are responsible and in charge of policies, funds and venture capital, are to be engaged and held accountable for these spaces and opportunities created.”
Even though coding has been punted as the must-have-skill of the past decade, there are other ways to break into the industry. Creative and business roles, from UX designer to sales person, are all essential roles in a tech ecosystem. “As a designer [who designs the look and feel of the website or app], you can have more influence in a tech company than a coder. As the person who designs platform, you get to dictate how the app or website looks”, Okyere-Dede says.
Each year, more and more job roles and position are being created with every new development in the industry. “In 2020, we will see a lot of global tech trends filter down into the country, so there will be a big focus in artificial intelligence and blockchain,” he adds. With that, it means that there is a new demand for these skills in the market.
Despite the focus on international trends, Okyere-Dede believes that there are many gaps in the industry that are yet to be fulfilled, particularly in the health and edu-tech space. At the heart of tech is the need to fix a problem or find more efficient methods to run systems, and health and education seem ready for innovation.
“The approach that many local tech companies have taken is to replicate international platforms. I think what we will see more of in the coming years is more SA relevant platforms which solve South African issues,” he adds.
He predicts that over the next year, we will see a tonne of health tech platforms, including a virtual doctors’ room, a fintech platform to finance gap cover or microloans for healthcare. In education, he hopes to see a micro- learning platform which focuses on teaching skills which can be commercialised.
Dubese foresees some much-needed reprieve for the consumer’s pocket this year. “The uptake of digital banks, and introduction of newer players like Bank Zero and Discovery Bank – 2020 will be the year of customer centricity when it comes to financial services. “With the rollout of digital spectrum in 2020, we could see an introduction of lower data costs, and the uptake of 5G, as introduced by Rain.”
Perhaps, data may fall after all.
Where to learn a tech skill
The focus for Geekulcha is to empower young geeks through ICT skills development and training while giving them a taste of what awaits them in the big world through industry exposure.
To learn more visit: geekulcha.com/about
WeThinkCode is a non-profit organisation, that seeks to unlock youth potential by closing the digital skills gap in Africa. They work within an eco-system of public and private partners to source and train world-class African digital talent.
To learn more visit: wethinkcode.co.za
Explore Data Science Academy
Explore Data Science Academy is a paid-for next- generation learning institution. They offer short to long term courses in Machine Learning, Data Science, Data Analytics and Data Engineering.
To learn more visit: explore-datascience.net