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10 women in SA tech you should be following on Twitter [Digital All-Stars]

Digital All-Stars is a series of articles which aims to celebrate the best of South African digital. The articles, which will appear on Memeburn and Ventureburn, recognise and celebrate South Africa’s best digital entrepreneurs, business people, advertisers, and media professionals among others.

Twitter has become one of the best ways to stay up to date with the latest trends. And this is especially apparent than in the fast-moving technology field.

So with that in mind, we take a look at a few women you should be following in the South African tech sector.

Note: You can follow all the below mentioned through this Twitter list.

Emma Sadleir (@EmmaSadleir)

Social media has exploded in the past decade, being right up there with smartphones as one of the biggest tech innovations around. And few people in South Africa better understand the implications of it all than Emma Sadleir.

A social media law expert and author of Don’t Film Yourself Having Sex: And Other Legal Advice For The Age Of Social Media, Sadleir’s Twitter timeline offers musings of both a political and social media nature. The latter, of course, is why you’ll really want to follow her, as she tweets about important social media-related legal matters, retweets her seminar takeaways and more.

Sadleir saw a turning point for the power of social media when she returned to work as a media lawyer at Webber Wentzel, following the completion of her Masters at the London School of Economics. She found that her clients were no longer journalists only, but extended to “everyday people who had gotten into some kind of trouble” for things said or done online.

“The tremendous power of social media is that it gives every single person, regardless of their professional qualification, access to an international, permanent and public platform. I always say that the best thing about social media is that it gives everyone a voice, and the worst thing about social media is that it gives everyone a voice!”

Sadleir also espoused the value of Twitter in the legal landscape.

“In my particular field, Twitter gives me access to a network of legal experts around the world, whom I haven’t met in person, but whom I can access readily. Specifically in the fast moving space of social media law, reading a legal textbook from five years ago, is too late. I need to be able to read what is happening in courts around the world today, and Twitter allows for just that.”

The legal expert adds that Twitter has enabled people to get blow-by-blow accounts of court proceedings as well.

“It is actually far better and often far easier to follow a court case via Twitter than by sitting inside the court on those uncomfortable court benches. I’m particularly grateful for the outstanding court commentary done by some of South Africa’s leading journalists, in particular, Mandy Weiner, Barry Bateman, Alex Eliseev and Rebecca Davis.”

Does Sadleir have any particular advice for women wanting to get into the social media or broader tech sector?

“I think the great thing about social media, is that there are no barriers to entry. I don’t think that any professional biases that may exist in a work environment apply to social media — it’s the great equaliser,” the expert answers.

“So if I had some advice for women (or men) wanting to get into the tech sector it would be: read the news every day. It makes you a smarter and more interesting person. Plus, in the fast paced world of social media, it is the ultimate resource for keeping up to date and relevant at all times.”

Samantha Perry (@samanthaperry)

sam perry

Image supplied

A former ITWeb journalist, Perry has since transitioned into a public relations role, but her influence is still keenly felt in the local tech sector. Perry is one of the founding members behind the Women in Tech group, organising meetups of like-minded women and more.

The tech veteran’s Twitter timeline thus often tackles women in tech, community meetups and general tech news.

Was there any particular moment that made her realise how much she loved tech?

“I’ve had a few, but mostly these have involved people and the amazing things tech lets us do — like Skype our loved ones (human and animal) from anywhere in the world, or when I’m working collaboratively on a document with people on three different continents. Tech has changed everything we know and it’s amazing,” Perry answered.

Perry also elaborated on the biggest achievements by Women in Tech.

“Showcasing the depth and breadth of career options for women in the sector on the website, bringing together women from all levels of seniority and different technology areas at networking events and mostly, I think, giving women who read the profiles of the women we showcase on the website the knowledge that they are not alone, and that they can do whatever they set their minds to.”

She adds that one of the biggest challenges right now is fighting the perception that tech is for men, saying it was a bigger issue at the school level.

“How are we going to attract women to STEM careers when we tell them from the time they are tiny that math and science isn’t for them? We need to start at the bottom – in our homes and our schools – raising men and women we know that there’s no major differences between them, and that an affinity for tech (or lack thereof) is nothing to do with their gender.”

Nafisa Akabor (@nafisa1)

Another prominent entry on the list, Nafisa Akabor is one of the foremost tech journalists in the country, counting stints at prominent tech outlets ITWeb and TechCentral in her decade plus career, while also going the freelance route. What does she consider to be her biggest achievements in the field though?

“My time at TechCentral because I learnt a lot, and I had to learn very fast; and after ten years of doing what I love, to get approached by the Financial Mail to contribute to their title,” Akabor answers, before elaborating on what drew her to technology.

“When I was growing up, I was drawn to the PCs we always had at home (MS DOS days), and when Windows 95 came along, I taught myself everything I could. I would spend hours on the family computer, much to my mom’s irritation. I deleted important files, broke the PC, cost my dad to fix it, but ultimately, ended up being the family tech support because of what I learned by exploring. I used to love assembling our new PCs, and I am forever grateful that my dad got us connected to the internet in 1998.”

‘I deleted important files… but ultimately, ended up being the family tech support’

Akabor’s Twitter account sees her delivering locally relevant tech news and features, among other topics. So what makes a good Twitter account then?

“It all depends on what purpose you use Twitter for. I use it as a ‘broadcaster’ to share interesting info about tech, what’s coming out that could be useful to consumers, tools that are handy, thrown in with the arb food or boardgame tweets,” she explains. “I can’t live without my mute filters on Tweetbot (mostly sport), and I don’t care much about other people’s personal lives but in the same breath, I don’t share a lot about mine.”

Nevertheless, the tech journalist also has some words of advice for young women wanting to break into the industry.

“Focus on your strengths; don’t let anyone make you feel less than you are worth; and stand up to anyone who makes uncalled for comments no matter who they are.”

Mich Atagana (@MichAtagana)

Mich Atagana_05

The former managing editor and Ventureburn editor over here at Burn Media (I know, right?), Atagana helped create Ventureburn before moving on to bigger and better things as head of communications for Google South Africa. So how did that come about?

“Someone at Google asked me if I would like a job, (and a) couple conversations later I was at Google. Lol,” Atagana quips.

“But seriously, Google is a company I have always admired and the work we are currently doing in Africa is so interesting I couldn’t pass that up. While I was running the Burn group, Africa was such a big part of my method, how the work we did at Ventureburn could help entrepreneurs and investors connect and also tell Africa’s unique story. Google just offered another way to do that.”

The Google representative also elaborated on her long relationship with tech, saying she’s always “loved tech in some fashion”.

“I played a lot of video games growing up and I spent a lot of time on Yahoo’s Geocities when I was little. But I think for me it was instant messaging that truly changed everything, when I was 11 I would spend a lot of time on chat groups, meeting people from all over the world. I loved it.”

As for particularly pressing tech obstacles facing women in the field? Atagana says they’re too numerous to mention.

“But perhaps the narrative around women in tech is all wrong. We are still trying to find the outliers, forgetting that boring people doing boring yet valuable work make up the narrative of changing how we think of women in tech and in leadership.”

Robyn Farah (@RobynFarah)

Another notable pick on the list, Farah is no stranger to these types of features, having previously appeared in M&G’s 200 Young South Africans list.

Farah founded KATO, which is devoted to “product development to solve real world problems in order to create a better world”. The company focuses on hardware prototypes and tech consulting, but it also manages some of the most influential tech/tech community events in the country, such as #TechTalkCPT, Women in Tech Cape Town and Arduino Cape Town.

Farah’s own Twitter account keeps track of community tech events, but is also worth following for everything from bioscience and green tech to space tech and more. So was there any particular standout moment when she realised she fell in love with tech?

The KATO founder told Memeburn that tech was always around her, as her father had a tech company, so she “never knew any differently”.

Farah also touched on how KATO came about.

“I was often emailed (via the electronics group that I started) to develop hardware things, but I never had the time to take the work on until now,” Farah elaborates.

“The reason for the actual creation of the company, was a meeting I had at the Bandwidth Barn to use their Woodstock rooms as a venue for our electronics meetups. When I met Chris, one of the directors, he asked me to start a business and they would sponsor me. The rest is history. So thanks to Chris!”

As for her Twitter timeline, you can expect a healthy dose of tech and science news,

Emma Dicks (@EmmaJaneDicks)

emma dicks

Image supplied

The co-founder of CodeSpace, which includes the prominent Code for Cape Town coding school under its umbrella, Emma Dicks is another familiar face on high-profile lists. In addition to appearing in M&G’s 200 Young South Africans feature, Dicks has also appeared on a previous Digital All Stars list.

The coder and entrepreneur — whose Twitter timeline focuses on her coding work and technology for social good — elaborates on what drew her to coding in the first place.

“My interest for coding sparked during an internship I did during my undergraduate studies. I interned at Mobenzi, a company that creates mobile software to support community health workers and improve medical care in rural areas,” Dicks explains. “Being able to see first-hand how one could create technology sparked my imagination! I realised that I had been very misinformed when I decided not to study Computer Science or Information Systems.”

Dicks encourages companies and individuals to make a difference by hosting workshops or donating laptops

Were there any singular “wow” moments which made her realise that coding was a passion?

“A series of moments come to mind — girls in Code for Cape Town sitting and programming a computer to play music; girls creating an e-commerce portal for us to sell Code4CT gear; girls designing edtech solutions to make classrooms more effective…” Dicks answered. “Whenever I see young women able to bring their great ideas into reality this reinforces to me how important it is that girls have the ability to design and create technology.”

As for any particularly pressing challenges for women in the tech sector?

“I think the big challenge is that right now womxn are not opting to go into technical study or career paths. I want to encourage young womxn to (do so),” Dicks answers.

Want to get in on the Code for Cape Town action? Dicks says people/companies can join in on “code conversations“, sign up as a “code coach“, donate second-hand laptops or host workshops.

Catherine Lückhoff (@cluckhoff)

The founder of music-streaming service Nichestreem, 2017 has been especially kind to Lückhoff. But the entrepreneur and tech aficionado has had a life long passion for tech, although there wasn’t a single moment she could point to.

“I was however obsessed with having my own cordless telephone when I was a kid. When I reached high school and computer classes became mandatory, I spent every period trying to hack the school’s mainframe. As it turns out I am not particularly adept at hacking yet really good at convincing the teacher that I was a exemplary student in spite of not doing the course work.”

Ventureburn previously covered Nichestreem, which she describes as WordPress for music streaming. Lückhoff gave an update on the company’s state.

“Apart from scoping our first white label client for an international client, the company is also in the process of closing a US$1.5-million seed round which will boost international expansion.”

What about the biggest challenge for women in the tech sector? Lückhoff says it’s simply not possible to “distill” it to one challenge.

“Ultimately the only thing each and everyone of us can pay attention to, men and women alike, is our own biases. We need to be prepared to recognise and combat our own biases first. In so doing we can learn to embrace people of all walks of life, celebrate diversity and recognise its role in driving progress and innovation.”

As for her Twitter timeline, you can expect startup news, Nichestreem/local music news, tweets from tech meetups and general technology updates.

Wiebke Toussaint (@SaintlyVi)

Wiebke Toussaint

Image supplied

The co-founder of Engineers Without Borders SA (EWB-SA), Toussaint’s Twitter timeline naturally focuses on this topic. But Toussaint’s account is also essential if you want to learn more about the impact of IoT and open data in South Africa. The engineer expands on the importance of open data and IoT in society.

“Open data and IoT sit in many ways on opposite ends of the technology spectrum. The more connected our devices are, the more critical data privacy and security become. IoT makes data privacy and cyber security a pressing need,” Toussaint told Memeburn.

“Understanding data, its risks and opportunities is critical to foster collaboration, innovation and development. On a business level it is vital to know the value of your knowledge. Only then will you be able to protect what needs to be secured and share that which has little business value to open new opportunities. On a government level, citizens are increasingly demanding access to transparent and open information. On an academic level, high quality, reliable data is one of the key ingredients to cutting edge research.  A fact-based world view is important to empowering people to improve their lives. Open data makes a big contribution towards that.”

The EWB-SA co-founder explained the organisation’s role as well, saying it courts “technically minded people with a passion for making a difference” in the country.

“We founded EWB-SA because we believe that engineers play a critical role in the development of Africa. EWB-SA provides a space for us to connect and use our technical skills for social impact — empowering engineers to empower communities, that’s what we’re about.”

Interestingly enough, Toussaint said that she initially “avoided tech like the plague”, thinking that computers and electronics weren’t for her.

“After starting to work as a mechanical engineer I however realised quite quickly that the future of engineering and industry — though actually more broadly of human life — lies in integrating modern technology with traditional engineering. I am particularly fascinated by the power that systems of collective intelligence will give us to shape our future.”

“Are there any particularly pressing issues women in tech are faced with?” we asked Toussaint.

“I’d like to turn the question on its head: are there any particularly pressing issues that tech without women is faced with? Yes, many!” the engineer answers.

“Smart systems and autonomous decision making are fantastic in terms of easing our lives. The more automation takes over, however, the more ‘black box’ decision-making processes become. Ensuring that a multitude of perspectives are represented in the design process is thus not only desirable, it is crucial to build resilient, robust systems that serve all of humanity,” Toussaint continues.

“Human diversity on engineering teams is a moral obligation, not a nice to have. Applications of technology are becoming increasingly human-centred and social. Harnessing a wide variety of not only deep technical but also genius social and community-orientated skills will propel technology into a new realm. Without women, tech will never reach its full potential of enabling us to build collaborative civilisations.”

Toussaint also espoused the virtues of technology and women.

“Technology is the future of life on earth and beyond. My fellow women, we make up more than half the world’s population. Why are we still hesitant to shape our future, when we have created and shaped life on earth for millennia? Tech is just a tool. We can turn it into magic.”

Baratang Miya (@baratangmiya)

Women’s empowerment is a big challenge in South Africa, but Baratang Miya and her GirlHYPE initiative have tackled the obstacle in a massive way.

“I started GirlHYPE in 2003 to increase the number of women in STEM by teaching them how to code. I’m happy to announce that we stood the test. The constitution that was written in 2003 when we registered with social development is still applicable even today,” Miya told Memeburn. “We have different programs and we just launched a full-time three months (long) full stack coding bootcamp to post matric students who will be placed at different companies for internships.”

The organisation doesn’t cater for post-matric students only though.

“We also offer after school tech and entrepreneurship clubs in schools were girls learn how to code and how to run a tech start up using a Silicon Valley based Technovation curriculum. By the end of the course the girls have learned HTML, CSS and JavaScript, they have coded an app and created a startup.”

Miya recognised the power of tech and coding when a young woman gets a job straight from high school and earns a life-changing salary

Miya adds that they also offer a STEM camp and conference during the school holidays for girls in grade five, eight and nine.

“I realised how powerful coding and tech is when I was in Silicon Valley through TechWomen US state department programme. Being amongst the most powerful women who are designing solutions for the world was just amazing,” Miya continues.

“Most of the time I know the power of tech and coding is when an 18 year old girl get a job straight from high school and earn a salary that change their lives and family immediately. When a women who is a crafter with little education start selling their product online and their business changes to being a profitable business and she is able to support their families immediately,” Miya elaborates.

“Tech has given women from all over the world a voice to address issues that they were silenced from by their society through social media… Girls from Kenya designed an app that’s addressing girls’ genital mutilation in their country and are presenting it in Silicon Valley at Google as we speak.”

Regina Kgatle (@RrrEeGina)

Image: Xola dos Santos/67 Games Facebook page

Image: Xola dos Santos/67 Games Facebook page

One of the foremost names in the local gaming space, Kgatle has in many ways spearheaded the modern serious gaming movement in South Africa.

Kgatle’s Twitter timeline sees her tackling topics related to (of course) serious gaming, game development and the local gaming community in general.

One of Kgatle’s biggest achievements however has been the Educade initiative, offering educational games in arcade machines that can be hired for birthdays or corporate/school events. Another big initiative by Kgatle has been 67Games, which aims to deliver (you guessed it) 67 educational games. Another feather in her cap has been her work behind the heavyweight Serious About Games competition.

As for challenges in the field, the developer and entrepreneur told Memeburn that representation (or lack thereof) was a particularly noteworthy issue for the gaming industry, as it meant that many games were difficult to relate to. Kgatle adds that more diversity is needed in all aspects of the industry, from gamers to key decision-makers.

Nevertheless, the Educade founder also has some advice for women wanting to break into the gaming sector.

“Just own your space…” she explains, saying that you should be confident in how you present yourself and your work. Kgatle adds that “you might not get nods” from the audience, but you have a different lived experience, which some members of the audience might identify with.

Author | Hadlee Simons

Hadlee Simons
Terrible puns make Hadlee Simons difficult to work with, but he brings over seven years of tech journalism experience to the table. When he's not at work or watching motorsport, he's in the foetal position on a jiu jitsu mat. More
  • Megan Ellis

    Guess I’ve got a few more accounts I need to follow :) Thanks for the article, great list

  • Jade Abbott

    What about the Master of SQL, Gail Shaw? She is brilliant, highly accomplished, and highly respected locally and internationally. The dev community bow down to her wisdom. She was awarded Microsofts most valuable professional in 2008 (don’t think we have any male developers in this country with that title), and presents internationally. Yet she is never on these lists. She is a true role model, and you should have her here. As a female developer myself, I’m upset she isn’t ever mentioned

  • Hadlee Simons

    We’ll always miss out on people unfortunately. :( However, we also made two requests for nominations in the run-up to publication.

  • Pingback: Top 10 African women to Follow on Twitter - CPAfrica()

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