This August we celebrate remarkable women in tech. We caught up with five forerunners who are making a real difference in their respective fields and are paving the way for future generations to embrace technology and use it for good. 

First up is Zulé Vuuren, founder and “captain of the rocketship” that is LocumBase. This independent online SaaS platform connects freelance medical professionals and medical practices in a real-time booking environment, ensuring that care is available when it’s needed most. 

“The medical space is always in need of optimisation and a guiding principle at LocumBase is to empower people because it is people that optimise care and the business of care. Tech is simply a tool,” Zulé explains. “I’m passionate about South Africa and a little obsessed with finding ways to improve the lives of fellow South Africans, and those beyond, at scale.”

Zulé was angel funded by Michael Jordaan, she won the Tech Newcomer of the year award in 2018 from 88 Business collective and was recently selected by Founders Factory Africa as a start-up cohort. Her advice to young women (in any industry) is to take the time to figure out what you’re good at and what you’re passionate about, and find a way to bring it together to create fulfilling work. “Remember that no woman is an island – find those who are good at the things you are not, find people you can learn from, team up, find problems in your community and get working on solutions.

Our second tech hero is Sandiso Sibisi, founder and director of Cooi Studios, an Open Innovation Studio, that helps corporates to move rapidly from a problem to a tested solution developed by a startup. Sandiso is passionate about supporting organisations to solve problems using emerging technologies. 

She admits that the challenges brought about by Covid-19 are real, but feels positive about growing her own business and about the transformation and resilience of the industry in general. She encourages South Africans to see this global pandemic as an accelerator and an opportunity to change the lives of many. “We have a lot of historical fixes to make in our sector where biases are a reality. Despite the challenges, there are so many opportunities to grab.” 

She’s excited to see that more women are leading the pack. “There have always been women in tech, I just don’t think they were in the forefront, so I am glad this is changing. However, there’s still lots of work to be done around including women.”

Her advice to young people and women, in particular, is that it’s important to study tech. “The fundamentals such as database, code, user interface haven’t changed much. Perhaps the how has evolved, so I think it’s important to get the basics right, before embarking on the field you want to specialize in.

If you’re looking for inspiration, look no further than Cara Turner. She is CEO of Project codeX, a tertiary institute that equips new entrants with the skills they need to build a career in software. “We aim to have 50% women in our program and this year we reached 44%, which is very exciting,” Cara explains. 

She is passionate about making software education accessible to all demographics of South Africans. “There are amazing opportunities presented by the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ (4IR), but there’s a huge gap to fill for South Africa to take advantage of them, due to poor education and socio-economic circumstances, and it’s seen as an unbridgeable gap. Our team saw the potential presented by new ‘agile’ software thinking, and created a practice-based training methodology that really does make software development accessible.”

She also feels strongly about inclusive leadership; “being deliberate in leading diverse organisations and building inclusive practices into our workplaces. There’s a saying that ‘if you’re not actively including, you will be accidentally excluding’ – we have to learn inclusive collaboration practices to create change in all industries, and software organizations in particular.”

Cara has the following advice to young women who are considering a career in the tech industry: “The software industry is always changing, and it’s also very creative. It’s a great home for people who love learning. Because it’s always changing, you can follow your passion and change directions over time – there is huge scope for growth. And there are still places where you may be one of only a handful of women, so I strongly recommend finding a community outside your workplace, where you can share different perspectives and ideas. This is also a great way to build relationships and keep a pulse on how the industry is changing.”

Catherine Lückhoff is an entrepreneur, speaker, start-up mentor and co-founder and CEO of 20fifty, a cloud innovation and AI company that specialises in modern application development and serverless cloud computing. As Catherine explains “in non-geek-speak: we ideate, scope, build, test and deploy new concepts and solutions for clients who want to innovate. We do this by combining human ingenuity and intelligent technology to solve hard-to-crack problems, automate processes and abstract away operational overhead.” 

In terms of women in tech, Catherine sees “an expanding collective consciousness that women are equal if not better than their male counterparts at launching, leading and making a success of technology-driven businesses. In other words, we no longer have to fight as hard for our seat at the table or justify our ideas.”

For words of advice, she quotes Alex Garland who said: “Trust me, it’s paradise. This is where the hungry come to feed. For mine is a generation that circles the globe and searches for something we haven’t tried before. So never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite and never outstay the welcome. Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience. And if it hurts, you know what? It’s probably worth it.”

Our fifth and final tech star, Annette Muller, is an entrepreneur on a mission to bring flexibility and automation to the workplace through Flexyforce, SA’s very first female virtual administrator. “She is,” as Annette proudly describes the company she founded, “a beautiful piece of software that helps companies organise, contract and pay their suppliers, consultants, contractors and freelancers – all in one place. She is future fit, flexible and starts working for free and scales up with your team.”

Women who are building software solutions, AI or other smart applications that solve real business or societal problems is what excites Annette most. “Especially those who are incorporating female wisdom, intuition and organizational skills into their solution.”

Her advice to anyone considering a career in the tech industry is to “make sure you are actually passionate about technology, and you’re not just following a fad. You will like with all things in life, need the passion to drive your perseverance.” 

Some more women we admire

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