Lorna Nqodi: The San Francisco Experience

Lorna Nqodi: The San Francisco Experience

GirlCode Hackathon 2017

The opportunity of travelling overseas certainly satisfied a desire I had been longing for, for a long time. My adventure began the day before the hackathon at the Cape Town airport. I remember reaching for my Id from my back-pack’s side pocket and realizing I had not put it back in the previous day after cleaning out my bag. My whole world started to cave in but I was determined to keep calm. My biggest concern at that moment was getting myself to Jo’burg no matter what.

GirlCode Hackathon winners

Fortunately, the airport officials were willing to let me go through after presenting some sort of identification. I knew however that I would not be so lucky at OR Thambo on my way back but I was not too concerned about that because at that point I would have already had the opportunity to participate in my first hackathon and in my mind, that’s all that mattered.

Coming back to Cape Town after the hackathon was as stressful as I had anticipated. Let’s just say it involved long runs to the police station to get an affidavit and ID copies certified and almost missing my flight in the process. Team support came a long way during that moment because if it wasn’t for Val who was pacing right in front of me I would have probably missed the flight.

 

 

 

 

Now let’s fast forward to the 14th of October.

San Francisco flights
San Francisco flights

I wrote a list of all the things I needed to bring and as you guessed, my passport and Id were at the top of the list. We left early in the morning on a Saturday. The journey to San Francisco was long and exciting, it included a 9-hour layover in Dubai which went by much quicker than I thought. I brought my laptop along so that I could kill time by getting some work done. I wasn’t very productive but I tried nonetheless because I after experiencing what was to become the most phenomenal adventure, I would have to go back to reality and fulfill my student obligations.

We arrived at San Francisco International Airport on a Sunday afternoon. Setting foot on American soil of felt like a dream come true because exactly one year before that moment a friend from the US that I had met in South Africa had given me an American dollar and I had promised that I would go to visit America so that I can get to spend it. I had this weird feeling when I got there, it was as if I was at home, the atmosphere, weather, infrastructure and culture felt very similar to what I had experienced in Cape Town. The landscape was very “hilly” in some places and funny enough quite a number of people cycled around town. It felt great to be the tourist in a place for once, and like all tourists, visiting the Golden Gate bridge was at the top of my SF bucket list.

Early the next morning we hit the streets of San Francisco making our way to the Microsoft offices where we met 3 lovely ladies who gave us a tour of the Microsoft offices and introduced us to some new technology that Microsoft had released. They also shared some insight on the reality of working in tech in Silicon Valley. We also got invited to the launch of Microsoft’s Mixed Reality event and that was definitely something to look forward to.

Our next stop was at the Cisco offices in San Jose. We drove down the bay area for the first time and we were fortunate enough to spot a of the tech companies situated in Silicon Valley(SV) such as SAP, Oracle, Nasa. At this point we still had to pinch ourselves a few times to remind ourselves that we were in really SV. During our time at Cisco we had the honour of meeting Ehrika Gladden, the Vice President of Market Strategy at Cisco. She is a phenomenal woman who imparted some wisdom about her journey as a woman of colour in the tech industry and how she worked her way to the top. The mere fact that she is a woman was inspiring enough but she has such a captivating presence, we couldn’t help but be inspired by her wisdom and passion for the work that she does. My biggest take away from the conversation was that in order to get further in your career quest you have to know exactly what you want and most importantly, what you don’t want. It is important draw up a strategy that will help you get to where you desire to be. After the meeting, we decided to take the Caltrain back to SF, just so that we can get an experience of the local transport system.

The next day we visited a career fair hosted by the tech inclusion conference where we had the privilege of receiving one on one career guidance. The lady I spoke to emphasized the fact that nothing was more important than finding that one thing that makes you unique, because there are a lot of talented people out there but we must find something that differentiates you from the rest of the people who are gunning for the same positions as yourself.

meeting Andile Ngcaba
Meeting Andile Ngcaba

Later that day we had the privilege of meeting Andile Ngcaba. An Eastern Cape born entrepreneur who co-owns a private equity firm in Silicon Valley. This was by far one of the most memorable encounters I experienced during our visit. It was quite inspiring to meet up with a fellow South African from my home province and is currently making it big in Silicon Valley(SV). The thing that made that encounter so memorable was the advice he gave us about taking charge of steering the trajectories of our careers. He told us that we should be aiming to have ideas that target global markets because that is the privilege that working in technology provides us.

He also shared about the differences between South Africa and SV. In SV, people embrace failure and see it as a crucial part of learning. He said that the key to moving forward is to remove fear and letting go of the thoughts that make us think we can’t do certain things. Overall, I think this that was a crucial conversation to have especially during this part of our careers where we have to decide what the next step is.

Wednesday and Thursday were mainly conference days. We attended talks and workshops surrounding the topic of diversity and inclusion in the tech world. This was a very educational and necessary engagement because as women in the tech industry we need to have conversations about how being a minority in this industry affects us and how we should infiltrate and establish ourselves instead of taking a back seat and wait for other people to bring about change.

On the last day of our trip,

We were determined to make the most out of the Silicon Valley experience. We were picked up by a Tesla and made our first stop was at the Google visitors centre where we got the opportunity to cruise around in the famous google bikes and we also took pictures at the android theme park. We then went to the Facebook campus where they treated us to some well-deserved ice cream, we didn’t see Mark but at least we caught a glimpse of his office. During our time in SF many of the local’s urged us to try out the famous In-and-out burgers so we popped in for some lunch that was served with some giant bottomless soda’s. After that we had to make a brief stop at Target because according to Fadzi, we could not leave America without stepping into Target. I have to admit cruising around in a Tesla made the whole experience so much better.

“To sum it up the trip was phenomenal.”

I really enjoyed the experience. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to travel with Zandile, the chairwoman of Girlcode. I would like to say a big thank you to Standard bank for sponsoring the trip.

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