ICT insiders share tips on breaking into tech field

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 01 Mar 2023
Nyari Samushonga, IT Personality 2022 and WeThinkCode CEO.
Nyari Samushonga, IT Personality 2022 and WeThinkCode CEO.

Panellist participating in a webinar this week agreed digital literacy and problem-solving skills are essential attributes to future-proof a career in IT, with an IT degree no longer being as important as it was in the past.

ICT industry pundits shared their insights during an Institute of IT Professionals South Africa (IITPSA) webinar on careers in IT.

They aimed to present the IT career options available, and the skills and qualifications required for careers in IT.

The webinar − moderated by IITPSA CEO Tony Parry − formed part of the IITPSA's ongoing skills development initiatives, which extend from professional development programmes, to early school level.

It targeted an audience of young South Africans and future job-seekers.

Panellists were IITPSA 2022 IT Personality and WeThinkCode CEO Nyari Samushonga; IT Personality 2019 and Geekulcha COO Tiyani Nghonyama; and IT Personality 2013 and co-author of the JCSE-IITPSA ICT Skills Survey professor Barry Dwolatzky, who is also emeritus professor and director of innovation strategy at Wits University.

They highlighted the multitude of opportunities available in SA’s ICT sector, even as the skills dearth continues to put a ceiling on the sector and its potential to drive economic growth.

According to Dwolatzky, SA is “crying out” for IT skills, and for young people considering careers in the sector, noting there are many paths they can take to ‘get into IT’.

Unpacking the key findings of the latest ICT Skills Survey, Dwolatzky emphasised the huge demand for deep skills in coding, development, project management, and business analytics and data science.

He recommended that those who are able to do so, should start with a foundation of a broad computer science, engineering and information systems degree, and continually upskill to adapt to continual change in the sector.

“Follow your passion and don’t worry too much about a career path – your career will take many interesting turns.

“I’m sad to say that before long, artificial intelligence systems will soon be writing code better than humans can, but we will still need humans to innovate and transform business processes. People should prepare themselves for where they can contribute to innovation,” he noted.

Geekulcha’s Nghonyama pointed to skills demand in areas such as software engineering and development, enterprise architecture, enterprise solutions and mobile app development.

“Networks and communications are also important, and the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope is a big opportunity for professionals in these fields.

“Cyber security is crucial, and it’s not necessarily an IT field. It’s very broad and you can get into it without an IT background; for example, in the field of research,” he said.

Evolving IT attributes

The panellists pointed out that while maths and a formal IT degree provide a good foundation for working in IT, these are no longer crucial prerequisites, and not the only factors shaping a future IT professional.

Nghonyama added: “You need digital literacy and problem-solving skills. I believe maths is important because it develops problem-solving skills. But I also appreciate subjects like life orientation, which give you soft skills to complement your maths and IT skills.”

Dwolatzky pointed out that lifelong learning is important. “First prize is to get a degree in some discipline. The deep learning you gain is a powerful thing to have in your repertoire of tools.

“But there are many barriers to entry at university – financial constraints, matric marks or other factors. A lot of people who don’t study computer science still make it in the world of IT.

“The attributes you also need are communication, team work, learning to learn and learning how to sell, and you can acquire those skills in many ways.”

WeThinkCode’s Samushonga, who started her career as an accountant, advised it’s no longer about ‘why a career in IT’, but rather ‘why not a career in IT?’

“Where once, people picked a career coming out of school and stuck with it, now they stay in a job for only four to five years and move on. There are opportunities to re-invent yourself, and add value and diversity to IT teams by bringing your experience of another sector.”

According to Samushonga, IT toolkits made careers in IT accessible to more people, who didn’t necessarily need to know how to build solutions.

“What you need is analysis, problem-solving skills and logic, and the underlying attributes to acquire learning in IT. Maths isn’t the only subject you need. Look for opportunities like WeThinkCode or Geekulcha, to learn coding and development.”

The IITPSA is inviting schools to register to participate in the 2023 Talent Search set to start at schools across SA next month. The Talent Search exposes around 20 000 learners to computing and problem-solving concepts.