Nonkululeko: From a Small Town Girl, to a Big City Dev

We often read about people’s journeys and every obstacle they overcame and we think to ourselves “Wow this person has had so many challenges and yet they were able to make It”. I personally think that if you know what you want and are in love with it, everything that comes your way is a part of the journey. 

Below is glimpse of my journey from a very small town in Mpumalanga with no IT background, to a big city I have never been to and didn’t have anyone to call friend. 

My Computer Science Journey

My story is like so many others, a typical girl from a small town who has managed to dream beyond the dusty roads and her circumstances determined to better her life and those around her. I am Nonkululeko after all, which means “freedom”, and freedom is what I sought. However, in my case, I was always encouraged to do better in academics. With the support of my teachers and my family, I managed to keep good grades until I got to Grade 12 where I had decide on my career.

In high school, my favourite subjects included Mathematics, Physical sciences and Business Studies (weird combo, I know). When I first took these subjects in Grade 10, I was not sure what I would do with them after Matric or even if I liked them, I took them because when I was in Grade 7 my aunt spoke so highly of them and did so well at school and I wanted to be like her. I grew to love them to a point where whatever I chose to do after school, had to have Maths and Business Studies and at that point,  I came up with Actuarial Sciences. 

Being in a farm school in Mpumalanga, the only career options we were exposed to and actually had expos on were either in the Mining sector or in agriculture, so yes I didn’t really know what Actuarial science was about. Each time, someone would ask what I was going to do the following year, I held my head high and with so much pride I would answer actuarial science. It is true:

“Not everyone has it all figured out, especially not the people who are acting like they do.”

~ Tucker Max.

When I started my  journey of being an Actuary, I was not sure who was going to fund my studies, how I was going to meet the course requirements as I had missed a whole month of school and in between, I was sick a lot. However I told myself; “I decide what I get and what I do not”, I went ahead and applied for the course at UCT.  At that time, applying was not easy as we were so far from town and didn’t have access to the internet. I also did not have a smart phone at the time so I would either borrow from my friends or I would wait for my uncle to come back month end with his laptop so I can apply.  

To get in, I wrote my National Benchmark Test (NBT) twice and  both times my score was not enough. I then added Computer Science as a second option. January 2016, I got admitted to study BSc Computer Science and received financial aid.

Intro to Computer Science 

I have come to notice that when I have my mind set on something, it is really hard for me to let go because when I got to UCT, on the day of registration, I spoke to a student advisor on how I could get into actuarial science. To my surprise first year Computer Science was one of the courses they had to take and so I was on the right path (Fate right?). As advised, I took a few courses that could pave my way to Actuarial Science. You are probably thinking “But I thought this was about your journey to Computer Science”, you are right it is about a journey.

When classes started, I faced a lot of challenges, Calculus was a huge jump from my high school Math, Computer science was very foreign as I had no IT background and until the first lecture, I had never heard of programming. Even though I did English at school, there was a huge language gap between my lecturers and I. I got overwhelmed and decided to get into the Extended Degree programme (EDP). All this happened while I didn’t have accommodation and a personal computer. 

It all happened so fast

In high school I did consumer studies, I enjoyed making things from scratch. Collecting ingredients and making something nice, but what I couldn’t stand was being on my feet the whole day, following a recipe and being cautious.

“Computer Science was different, like Consumer Studies, I got to make something from scratch – but in this case on my own terms.”

~ Nonkululeko

When the material got harder, it felt like everything was happening the way it was supposed to and in the end, it was worth it. In 2017, I was awarded with a bursary from Sasol and got a laptop. And in that 2 years everything went smoothly, I had a lot of friends and was very social.

In 2018, going back to mainstream was difficult. In my head, everything was moving too fast and I was anxious a lot. The material got harder and my social circle became smaller. Most times when you are struggling,  you look to see what other people are doing and they seem to be doing much better than you. I kept to myself and decided I don’t like programming anymore. The thought of going back to what I originally wanted was so far away, because at that point I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else other than Tech which is when I decided to double major in information Systems, it was love at first sight.

Igniting the spark with Computer Science

As I mentioned before, when I set my mind on something, it is really hard for me to let go. And knowing how I initially felt with Computer Science, I was not going to let the spark die because I felt so many people were doing better than me. Which is when I joined Women in Computer Science (WICS) UCT where I met a lot of women who felt the same way I did . Who gave me the confidence and assured me that I was not alone. Later that year I participated in their annual hackathon on which we won 3rd place. They held several events during the year and each time I went to these events, I felt heard.  Which led me to joining their executive team in 2019 in my final year. 

Getting a job 

In final year, most people decide what they want to do the following year, one either decides to get a job or continue with their studies . In my case, I  felt my path was already decided as I had a little sister who was about to start University the following year and with an unemployed mother; 2 kids in university was going to put a lot of financial strain on her. 

In the 4 years I have been to UCT, I never did vacation work. So, finding something I would like was very difficult. But, as they say ‘once bitten twice shy’, I told myself I was not going to get into something I didn’t know anything about and hope that everything falls into place the way they did when I first got to UCT. I built a lot of courage to attend career expos, asked a lot of questions, most times I felt they were stupid but they were necessary. When I applied, I already knew what the job entailed and what the  company will assess me on. I familiarized myself with my strengths and weaknesses. And made sure I aced every interview I would go to. And in July 2019, I was offered a Cloud Support Graduate at AWS which I took. 

Looking back at where I come from and how I got here, I wouldn’t change a single thing about my life.

All difficulties I faced along the way, I do not see them as obstacles but as enhancements that made me appreciate my journey even more. 

~ Nonkululeko mashiane

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