Women in IT profile: Shahana Jooma
Shahana Jooma, Channel Manager at Altron Bytes Managed Solutions (Altron BMS)
Shahana Jooma, who currently heads up the Channel Management and Program Office at Altron BMS, recently embarked on an initiative to lead the Women.IT@BytesMS forum – an invitation to the women of Altron BMS to put their best proposals forward on how to inject some out-of-the-box tech solutions into the current retail environment in South Africa.
“Retail is a strategic focus of our business. It made sense to match women and retail because of our interaction and association to retail in general,” says Jooma, who’s always been quite content in the male-dominated industry of technology and, like the rest of us, dislikes queues and poor shopping experiences and believes there are many ways that retailers can help enhance the customer experience through innovation.
Here she tells us more about her life and career…
You say you’ve always been content working in a male-dominated environment. Why is that?
It has simply never been difficult for me, and the companies I’ve worked at have never made it an issue either. During my time at Altron BMS, the culture and ethos of the organisation, as well as my team(s) – who, might I add, have always primarily been guys – have always respected me and never made me feel like I’m the lesser of. Women are also at the forefront at Altron, with some strategic leadership roles within the organisation being fulfilled by women, which I believe will inspire and motivate many women working in this organisation and industry.
In your opinion, what’s the ‘feminine edge’ that women bring to the IT space?
I think the industry, in general, is all about getting it done; about presenting the solution. Strategies can often become overly analytical, focusing primarily on the tech and not much beyond that, such as the ultimate customer value or experience of what’s been created. Enter the modern woman to provide the ‘extra edge’, the human touch, the practicality aspect and offer interesting insight, especially in relation to retail (hence the creation of the forum). I mean, let’s be honest, women are predominantly the ones doing the shopping and are exposed to the actual customer journey, which means we have a greater encounter with the solution; we experience it first-hand and understand the impact from a more emotive viewpoint.
What inspired your career choice?
Well, I never actually planned or aspired to be in IT. From ‘farm girl’ to ‘city slicker’, I grew up in a small town, in Machadodorp (now eNtokozweni) in Mpumalanga. I found out very early in my life that being a team player breaks all barriers, whether it be racial, gender or religious. I grew up playing hockey after ’94, when our country was undergoing its initial transformation. I played at provincial level with young women from all walks of life, and after matric I was offered an IT bursary from Eskom, which I accepted, knowing that IT was the next big thing. I qualified with a BCom degree in information systems. Since then my career has progressed from contracts administration to channel management. During my tenure at Altron BMS, I have fulfilled roles in operations, service management, business development and, 12 years later, I believe there has never been a better time to be at this organisation, with its forward thinking and all-inclusive culture.
Describe your typical work day
My day is filled with partner engagement, contract negotiations and attending demos with the Presales team in search of new solutions. I am also responsible for the Program Management Office, with a team of four project managers and three co-ordinators whose objective is to execute on projects across retail, digital transformation, EUS and finance. Our ultimate objective is to execute the CTO strategy and make sure we achieve our operational and financial objectives.
What does your downtime look like?
This is IT. There is no downtime (laughs). I have four kids between the ages of two and 10 and my husband travels frequently for business, so you could say I’m somewhat limited in that department. I do try to find time for reading before bed and, more recently, getting to the gym.
On the reading list?
I really enjoy ‘life experience’ stories, about people who have found themselves in difficult circumstances and how they’ve come through it. I think this kind of material reminds us of how much we have and allows us to be grateful for it.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
I think I’ve always been inspired by the average person who has managed to achieve better for themselves. This inspires one to want to achieve more and also allows one to relate to people who were in similar circumstances to yourself. I recently attended the Lioness of Africa in association with Absa and it was absolutely inspiring to see how so many young SA women who had a vision, took the risk to turn that idea into a fully fledged business. All you need is a vision, and with vision comes optimism and creativity. Just looking at the new face of Altron, there are a number of people in senior positions that are very dynamic; some of them pretty young, as well quite a few women, so that motivates me to want to achieve more because I know it’s possible and I know I have the potential.
What advice do you have for women aspiring to a career in tech?
You never need to feel like there isn’t a space for you. You also never need to force it. You just need to be. Yes, some women have different experiences, but most will make it. I really believe that. There’s a strategic objective in our country to put women forward. So if you just do your job with integrity, professionalism and do it well, and you become visionary, you’ll definitely make it. Oh and ladies, be a team player.