For Mandisa Mjamba a career in Tech was not always the obvious future. The East London native, who has worked across all the Tech teams at Yoco, recalls an unconventional upbringing that took her to the United States and back.
In Grade 8 a chance meeting led to getting a scholarship to study at the prestigious Phillips Academy Andover in Massachusetts. As she puts it: “This international school was doing a roadshow in the Eastern Cape. My uncle told me to attend one of their shows and I eventually decided to apply. Not knowing at the time that it was a fancy, independent school in the US. I got the scholarship and I studied there for four years.”
After coming back to South Africa she spent a few months working as a Mandarin translator (a language she picked up in the States) while figuring out the next step in life. Luckily for us, Tech came calling. “At the time NMMU was one of the few universities where I could still apply and I basically looked at what was still open to study…and it so happened that it was Computer Sciences.”
Apart from a little bit of Delphi coding when she was young, she had no real background in technology. But the challenge excited her and being a natural autodidact made it a good fit for her. “I remember in my third year exams my lecturer would not let me into the computer lab, because he had never seen me. I had to prove that I was one of his students. That’s the kind of student that I was. I have always preferred to teach myself and work to get to a place of understanding – which is a great skill to have in tech.”
And when it came time to start her career she found herself in a string of unfulfilling roles at big corporates.
“At my first job most of the tech infrastructure had been moved to Germany, so it was basically just maintaining a legacy system and I wasn’t learning anything. I knew I had to go elsewhere and I started applying to other places. I once heard that most women won’t apply for a job if they have eight out of ten of the requirements, but men will with only four. So I was very conscious of that when I was looking for another position. I knew that I didn’t need to be a great candidate on paper.”
And so she applied for a role that required three years’ of experience that she did not have. After a few months at her new job she realised it was not the right place for her and she finally made her way to Yoco.
“My average day now starts with a standup meeting to discuss our current project, peer coding alongside one of my colleagues, reviewing code and doing some testing. At the end of a two week period we demo what we have built.”
One of the jobs the Tech team does is to build interfaces that speak to the card machines and connect them with Yoco’s backend systems. Mandisa is deeply involved in the process of creating tools that allow the Yoco app to communicate with the card machines. “I have been exposed to almost every part of Tech at Yoco: the business portal, signup, backend, integrations and more…”
But Tech for her goes even further with startups and in teaching. She describes her hobby as being a sweat capitalist, whose capital is technical knowledge. Some of the projects she is involved in include: Good Hair, an on-demand salon app; Gyma, an app to book fitness classes with trainers from R15 a session and Midorii, a soon-to-be launched digital yellow pages for non-profit organisations.
Recently, teaching has piqued her interest. In her spare time Mandisa teaches Maths to Grade 10 students in Guguletu and she teaches code to mothers in Langa.
Her advice for people interested in a career in Tech, but who may be intimidated by code:
“Tech is very broad, people always think it is just code. Take whatever your interest is and infuse your work with tech. Don’t think you have to choose between your passion and tech.”