A Developer First.

A Developer First.

Written by Mitso Qalaba

Member ReflectionsMembers

Pursuing a Career in Programming as a Woman from the Eastern Cape

Born and raised in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, I grew up in a rural widowed single-parent household. My upbringing is not unique for the country.

I did not have clear career goals growing up, but I always knew I wanted to work in media. Living in the rural areas, radio and television kept me informed about national and world affairs. Whether it was a news anchor, journalist, or film producer, I just knew I wanted to deliver information to people, especially those who were underprivileged and living in remote areas.

Today, I use computer and mobile devices to help millions of people access information.

Mitso Qalaba

First Encounter with Computers

When I was attending tenth grade (Standard 8) in South Africa, The Eastern Cape department of education installed a computer lab in my rural school as part of a Learning & Development program. This was an exciting experience for me as I didn’t own a personal computer. We were forced to teach ourselves how to use the machines as the school struggled to find computer-literate tutors. It was up to us to learn how to operate them. When it comes to education, the Eastern Cape was failing to provide students with an adequate education and the matriculant pass rate continues to drop every year producing the worst results in the country.

Technology was a perfect fit for me because I am a natural problem solver. I like to understand the logic of content and design systems. I set out to do a Multimedia technology course (MM Tech) in Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) in the Western Cape, which involved everything from web design to back-end and front-end development. MM Tech equipped me with development skills in languages such as PHP, MySQL, HTML & CSS, presentational JavaScript & JQuery. My daily job involves creating progressive-enhanced responsive desktop and mobiles websites.

Women in Web Development

There were only a small number of about 15 women enrolled in my MultiMedia Technology course. The majority shied away from programming because they found it intimidating. The lack of women in the field played a significant role and only five of us remain in the web development field today.

Faced by the reality of the lack of female web developers and the fact that I did not have a personal computer growing up, I knew I was at a disadvantage but I took this as a challenge. Programming soon became my favourite thing to do and do well. I enjoyed creating websites, writing code, collecting user data into databases, and querying data from databases.

I indeed had a hard time fitting in in the industry. In contrast to my environment at Praekelt.org today, in the past I often found myself being the only female, let alone a woman of color, amongst mostly white males. Getting along with people has generally been a challenge for me, I didn’t even have much in common with girls from rural areas or townships, so fitting in has never deterred my ambitions. I decided to identify myself as a developer first and foremost in order to accomplish my goal.

Moving Forward

Technology moves fast and I know I have to grow quickly as well. I have made a conscious decision to play my part in addressing the lack of diversity of women in my industry, helping those whose interests are like mine, regardless of their backgrounds. I’m happy to be involved in initiatives such as Django Girls in my city Johannesburg with the help of my current company. Django Girls was founded just 3 years ago to help develop females coders through a series of workshops held in over 64 countries and over 177 cities worldwide. This will be the first time the workshop will take place in Johannesburg.

A huge thanks to companies such as Praekelt.org, Python Software Foundation, and ThoughtWorks that launch and support initiatives addressing the lack of women in programming. Often that’s all female developers really need to make it in this industry: a supportive environment and a chance to make mistakes and learn.

Contributed by Mitso Qalaba, Developer at Praekelt.org

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