We caught up with our cyber security intern, Emmanuella Tieku, this Women's Day to learn more about her career plans and her hopes for future women in tech.

Emmanuella Tieku joined BUI earlier this year as part of our internship programme. Her passion is cyber security and she’s determined to lead the way for the next generation of women in tech. We asked her about her career ambitions and her thoughts on South Africa’s IT industry…

Q: Emmanuella, what did you study at university, and how did it influence your career trajectory?

A: I went to Pearson Institute of Higher Education, in Midrand. I got my Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science and at the time I didn’t really know what I wanted to do as a career. My love for cyber security didn’t come in varsity; it came after, when I went to a cyber security institute to do a course there. I thought I would be a software developer or a coder.

Q: What drew you to the field of cyber security?

A: My varsity has an entire office dedicated to helping graduates at the start of their career journey. After I’d finished my degree, they called me and said there was an institution that wanted to train students in cyber security. I knew I had to go for it. So, I grabbed that opportunity. And when I started the course, I thought it was so interesting. I felt like a real hacker! Like the ones you see in the movies. When I started to understand what actually goes into it, that’s when I got really interested in it… Since then, I’ve never looked back. Wherever I go, I know I want to be in cyber security. I don’t want to do other stuff.

Q: You’re a cyber security intern here at BUI. What’s the most rewarding aspect of your job?

A: What is most rewarding is getting all this knowledge, and knowing that I can use it and my new skills to help somebody else in the future… Maybe somebody who was like me in the beginning.

Q: How do you feel about being the only woman in the cyber security team at the moment?

A: Even when I was studying Computer Science at varsity, women were always in the minority. In a class with 40 students, we’d have maybe 4 or 5 women sitting together.

Q: Do you see a similar trend in South Africa’s IT industry?

A: I’m definitely seeing it… Maybe things are changing faster overseas, but here in South Africa it’s still a big issue because we’re a developing country. I think a lot of people still believe that women can’t be engineers. And I know that it’s hard for a lot of young women to study today. I’d like to help change that, because we have to pave the way for those who come after us. I want it to become a normal thing for girls to study engineering or computer science.

When I used to fail at something, the first thing that would come to mind is ‘you failed because you’re a girl’. I had to change my own thinking. I had to stop comparing myself to other people – men and women. And I did it. I told myself: ‘Do what you want to do. Attain your goals the way you want to attain them. Don’t make it a boy-girl thing. Do it for yourself.’

Q: How has your internship been so far?

A: The whole atmosphere at BUI is lovely. When I come to work, it doesn’t feel like I’m coming to work. Since the lockdown, everyone has been working from home and I miss the office vibe… That buzz from everyone working together. I really enjoyed the BUI birthday party earlier this year. I have such fun memories from that day!

Q: What excites you about the tech industry?

A: If you look at the computers we used to work with in the past and what we have now… Who would have thought we would ever be able to carry around a computer in our bag. Things are becoming better and better. There’s always something fresh and new. There’s always something to learn and look forward to, so you aren’t stuck in the same spot, doing the same thing every year.

Q: How do you keep up with the latest trends and technology changes?

A: BUI posts a lot of technical articles and I like to check them out and grab information that is interesting and relevant to me. I also spend time on YouTube and social media; there are a lot of cyber security channels that I follow.

Q: What do you do in your spare time?

A: I’m all over the place. I’m a person who can’t sit too long doing one thing. So, I would either read a book, play games, or learn something new. For instance, this weekend I’m learning to sew with my mom!

Q: How do you think South Africans should spend Women’s Day this year?

A: I think people should make a real effort to highlight our country’s problem with gender-based violence. And personally, I’d like to see more projects to support young women, through education and job placement, so that they can find their place in society.

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