Women in Tech Q&A with Chumile Dlamini

Asked what her super power is, Chumile Dlamini, one of our talented Women in Tech at Derivco, humbly brushes off the question but it’s obvious she’s here to do great things. A Software Developer in our Customer Solutions team, Chumile is a quiet powerhouse, using her talents to make a difference, not just at work, but in her community at large too. And when a lot of people simply talk about making a difference, it’s a rare person indeed who follows through…

For the newbies among us (or the not so technical), what do Customer Solutions do?

We maintain Game Information, which is the system that carries all the information on games for Derivco. We’re like the “source of truth” when it comes to what games we have. Every release also has to come through our system and we create the necessary scripts that the game has to go out live with. We also try to assist with live issues – if something goes wrong with a game, we’re usually the people that would see that.

How long have you been at Derivco?

Almost 3 years!

When did you graduate?

So that’s an interesting story…I went to UP (University of Pretoria) for my first year. Did my first year in Computer Science…and then I came back to Durban.

I didn’t get what I wanted. I knew that I wanted to write code. I knew it was my mission, but when I got there, we were doing a lot of other stuff, other than writing code. So I stopped.

And then in 2015 I was introduced to the Microsoft Certified Solutions Development Program. So I joined that and a full year, and seven Microsoft exams later, I was certified as a Developer!

So did you find the Microsoft Program was more hands-on, in terms of getting straight into the code?

Yes. There’s a lot of theory but they leave that to you. It’s your responsibility to get through that in your own time. While you’re doing the course, it’s literally hands-on, practical. For example, our first assessment was to produce a Windows Media Player, from scratch.

When did you first realise you wanted to work in tech?

I think it started when I was in about Grade 3… My dad came home with a computer for the first time and my brother and I were fascinated by this thing. All we knew was how to play one game on it and that used to frustrate me because I used to think, “there must be more to this thing!”

Then, when we got to high school, my brother got a scholarship with Telkom and went on to do networking with them. I was in Grade 9 at the time, and I was like, you know what, I’m also doing IT.

We had a really good IT programme already at Durban Girls High and they put on expo for us in Grade 9, when we choose our subjects, and the senior girls who’d already done IT were showing off some of the stuff they’d done. One of them had created a whole game, and I was like: “I knew you could do more!”

What has your experience of being a “Woman in Tech” been?

I think you make of it what you want. It is up to you.

I came in as a Developer Level 1, I got to Developer Level 2, and I feel like there’s been a lot of support. I’m not going to say it doesn’t come with challenge. Being in a male-dominated industry, you have to speak up more than once, and I think that’s where the challenge is.

Unfortunately though, and this is why I like the Women In Tech group at Derivco, not everybody can do it, not every person can persevere. So if we join in as a collective to help those who can’t, if we use a collective approach, we might get it right and give people the courage to speak, knowing they’ve got others behind them.

Does being a Woman in Tech give you a different perspective in your approach to coding?

I don’t think so. I think code is an art. We all do it differently and I’m not going to put that to gender.

You were instrumental in the establishment of an Adult Basic Education and Training Programme here at Derivco. How did that start?

Derivco had brought some children in for Mandela Day last year from CodeMakers, an NPO that works to skill young people in low-income communities, and I was sitting with another developer, listening to them talk, when it hit us how programming can change a person’s life.

Afterwards we walked out, and we were like, we need to do something!

We sat talking about it, trying to plan, for a couple of months. Then we got support from the CEO, Quraish Behari, and all of a sudden we were “starting” but we still had no plan. This was about September 2018.

So we started and we made the biggest mistake ever. We started teaching Python.

The classes were open to the cleaning and kitchen staff, security guards and gardening staff, and when I arrived at that first lesson, the other developer was already deep in the programming concepts, and all I could see were blank faces.

We realised we had it so wrong. So we took a step back and said let’s have a chat with the people that we’re trying to help and see where the need is. That’s when we started off with basic computer literacy. Then we started introducing programming concepts slowly.

We assessed how everyone did with the basics. Then we said, looking at how you did in the basics, if you feel like you can take this on, let’s go forward. So we went from about 40 people to 10 people who’re now doing the C# course. And it’s pretty exciting.

Any last words of wisdom for Women in Tech? Especially those who’re just starting out?

If you’ve found your passion, fight for it and don’t take no for an answer. Push new boundaries and always have a mind eager to learn because that’s your key to new heights and once you get there, find someone else in need of help and wanting to learn.

One of my favourite sayings is “Each one, teach one” – it doesn’t take much to change someone’s life, sharing knowledge is an easy start.