Last week, Aspire Solutions contributed to the global Girls in ICT initiative by hosting a Girls in ICT South Africa webinar for ICT students from Victoria Park High School in Port Elizabeth in Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth).

The panel of successful business women was hosted by Aspire’s own Business Director, Mushfiqoh Samodien, and included:

  • Janet Sawari (Head of Artificial Intelligence at The AI Review)
  • Lungi Ntuli-Bobo (Co-Founder of Audio Visual Connect)
  • Mantsie Hlakudi (Chief Engineer for Transformers and Reactors at Eskom)

To kick off, each woman told their story of their journey to success in their ICT career.

Mantsie Hlakudi said she grew up in an area with no electricity, and when power did arrive it sparked a life-long interest in electrical engineering. She had a hard road to qualification, via the SANDF, a paramedics course and nursing, to final get funding to study at UCT. She spoke of how she wants to help make the journey easier for girls today.

Janet Sawari always knew she would end up in a career that was unusual as she was a fearless, outspoken child with a vivid imagination. She studied in Russia, Ukraine, Germany and China before settling in Africa to focus on artificial intelligence. It is her desire to solve real-world problems.

Lungi Ntuli-Bobo spoke of never giving up. Despite failing Grade 1 and later a Grade 3 entrance exam, she started to shine by Grade 7. When she was refused entrance to pure Maths in high school, her father fought for her, and she eventually managed a good pass for Maths in matric. Her message was to be bold and keep fighting, and not to let hurdles and failures define who you are.

Mushfiqoh Samodien summed up their stories as follows: decide where you want to go, try hard and persevere, but expect some detours along the way. She reminded the learners that failure is a part of success and transformation.

The panel then took a few questions from the floor.

What challenges do you face in your job?
Janet Sawari replied that in her case, the AI industry is not well-known and is not a mature industry. She spoke of how the AI is rapidly evolving tech, which means learning in this arena is continuous – but said that for her, that is the fun part. “You need be agile and adjust quickly. It can be a scary space, so you have to be brave.”

What tasks do you do in AI?
Janet Sawari explained that she advises companies how to use artificial intelligence, how to build an AI team, or an AI app. She spends a lot of time teaching C-suite executives about AI.

How hard is it to be a woman in this industry?
Mantsie Hlakudi said being a woman in the ICT industry can be problematic. Male employers often still bring up maternity leave, feel women are not physically strong enough, or that they will not be able to fit in. She recommends that young women ask for the opportunity to prove themselves, and then be confident without resorting to acting like a man. She found that her employer’s perspective soon changed.

What concepts of AI are underrated? And why is government scared to use AI?
Adaptive Education is underrated with very little implementation so far, said Janet Sawari. Course material and speed should adapt to fit the learner. But AI is tangled up with data, which is politically sensitive and requires a lot of regulation. There are concerns about ethics, democratisation, fairness, transparency and security, plus the tech infrastructure in Africa is not yet ready for AI.

As we study, subjects get harder. What advice do you have on fear of failure?
Lungi Ntuli-Bobo observed that life requires a different version of you at different stages. “The person you are in school is not the one you will be at varsity or at work.” A book that helped her was Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends”. It helped her work with people around her and ask for help when she needed it. She recommends using your support systems, asking others for help (even if it means stepping out of your clique and comfort zone), and most of all, “don’t keep quiet when you feel like you are sinking”.

Wrapping up, host Mushfiqoh Samodien reminded the audience that the panelists were available on social media if anyone wanted to ask more questions.

Final advice from the panelists included taking time to think of the most “radical thing” you could conceive of in your chosen career… then go out and do it. Mantsi urged the learners to think of their digital wellness, and left us with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt: “Believe you can and you are half way there”.

Watch the webinar here: