Being a female software developer in South Africa

Being a female software developer in South Africa

I don’t smoke. I don’t drink coffee. I’m female. Throw in the colour of my skin and then it gets REALLY interesting! But that’s a story for another day. I have been a developer for 4 years now and I recently joined my 4th company since I started working. (I spent 2 years 5 months at my first company, 8 months at my second and 11 months at my 3rd). I was received differently at each of these companies. This made me realize the important role that the environment one is in plays in one’s success.

I was a fresh graduate when I joined the first company. I didn’t join through a graduate programme, and I believe that it made it a bit more difficult to adjust. I was the only female developer and the only one with no work experience in the team at that time. I felt like I was not allowed to make mistakes. If I was given a piece of work, God forbid I mess up; the work would be taken away from me! The justification would be that “time is of the essence” and I would walk away from the piece of work with my head hanging low as it made sense that I was wasting everybody’s time. I changed my mind when a couple of months later another lady joined our team and was treated the same way as I was, even though she had over 6 years of development experience.

It all became clear when the following year a young male, fresh out of university joined our team. He was immediately given “important” work and if anyone dared to suggest that perhaps a person with more experience would be suitable for the work, the response would be: “well, how else is he supposed to learn?”

It wasn’t all bad. I mean, I received great mentorship from other male colleagues and I will forever be grateful for that.

I left that company and joined a smaller one where my new boss, male, trusted me with developing a proof of concept for a potential client. I was given an opportunity of a lifetime and I nailed it! Yes, I made mistakes, but no one held them against me. In fact, it was expected as the potential client requested that we use a tool that no one in the company had used before. A completely different environment from where I was initially! This is where I finally felt like I was making progress in my career. I had finally found a place that encouraged me to get involved. I tried to tread carefully initially, but I was encouraged to try new things and fail, because that’s the only way to learn, that is what constitutes work experience. I did more work in those 8 months than I had ever done in the 2 years 5 months I spent at the previous company!

I subsequently joined another company, and I played a lead developer role for a client. The interesting thing about this part of my story is I was recruited by two of my former colleagues from the first company I worked for. They decided to start their own consulting firm, they are both male. This was an opportunity of a lifetime, and I am still enjoying the fruits from the time I spent at that firm. My new bosses encouraged me to run the account as if it was my business. I had to manage the project, make coding recommendations, code and enforce best industry coding principles. They trusted me with one of their biggest income generating avenues!

One thing that stood out from this client that I was consulting for is that there were seasoned, female developers. I celebrated this fact when I first started there and tried to build some relationships. It didn’t work out well as each time I would try to get close to the ladies to find out about their experiences it became clear that I was just there as a consultant, no relationships would be built there!

The company I work for currently seems to be doing things differently. There’s a young lady, also a developer, who has been working there since the inception of the company. She started as a graduate, learnt on the job and grew. She acknowledges that she made a lot of mistakes, but the environment allowed her to keep picking up the pieces and become the great developer that she is today! I work with a great team; whose objective is to deliver great work! The environment is such that we all help each other, male and female. There’s a lot of respect amongst ourselves. We all recognise our strengths and weaknesses. And it is because of this that we always find a way to deliver good work.

I have since learned that it is important to pay attention to the type of environment I find myself in, both in my personal life as well as in my professional setting. If one spends enough time in a negative environment, regardless of how positive the attitude is, one will get influenced.

I left my first job insecure and with a (very) small voice at the back of my head whispering: “you got this!”.  The second company helped me confirm that indeed, “I got this!”, I know what I’m doing and wherever I am lacking, my attitude makes up for it. And the 3rd company I worked for, made me realize that I have always had it, even at the first company. I didn’t know it then, but my two colleagues did. And now I have gone from playing Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” on full blast each morning on my way to work to Alicia Keys’ “How it feels to fly”

by: Keneilwe Mafatshe

10 thoughts on “Being a female software developer in South Africa

  1. thers a saying that if u want what ever that is u desire. U have to first prove to the universe that you are capable of having it, by developing a consciousness that affirms. u can create space for it by letting go of what u have. trusting that the universe or higher power knows what it is doing..

    i think your story is inspirational and challenges my views both personally and in the proffessional environment. how i perceived female collegues more especialy in the mining environment. that women need to be given opportunies and that us men should be at the forefront of change.

  2. Interesting read, environment is everything there are some places that are just not conducive for growth no matter how hard you push

  3. Wow what a journey! I myself also have 4 years experience of software development under my belt but returned to study towards a bachelor degree afterwards. My first qualification was a 1-year diploma but now I have a solid foundation for software engineering and know this is what I want to do.

  4. Great Piece.

    some advice, Dont lead with “i dont smoke, i dont drink coffee”. Stereotyping is never a good start.
    Not all Developers drink coffee or smoke.

    Other than that, nice read

  5. Your story signifies the core essences of how women in the workplace are often undermined an treated differently in any industry.i genuinely believe that your story will inspire the ordinary girl child to never give in or give up when things don’t go their way…Congrats Brenda

  6. I really which I also had this kind of determination maybe I wouldn’t have opted out of development after a lil while of trying. Thank you for sharing you certainly will inspire up coming developers.

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