This article first appeared on IT-Online on 26 June, 2015
In a technologically and data driven economy, information and communication technology (ICT) has taken its place at the forefront of business operations.
Regardless of industry or offering, organisations across the globe and here in South Africa have become increasingly reliant on technology and software solutions to remain competitive and see their business survive into the digital era.
This has highlighted the need for more tech-savvy employees, who possess the required skillsets to effectively work in dynamic, highly technical environments has increased exponentially. “However, while Africa offers boundless opportunities within the ICT space, there is a critical skills shortage – particularly in South Africa when compared to our counterparts across Africa,” explains Tim Kroon, General Manager of Resources at Entelect. “With a youth unemployment rate of over one third of young South Africans, mainly due a lack of skills, we are seeing some compelling efforts from the private sector to improve ICT education levels and attract more young people to a field which provides opportunities across every business sector.”
“Various corporates and institutions have set up ICT-focused educational funds and charities, skills development programmes and upskilling incentives,” says Kroon. Among the most successful of which is Entelect’s own annual R100K Challenge, supported by partners Sony Mobile and NAG magazine. Now running for its fourth year, the R100K Challenge hopes to encourage students to pursue ICT as a career, as well as encourage professional programmers to continuously learn and develop their own skills. “There are specific skills required to take part in a Challenge such as this, which we hope will encourage more young people to improve their skills within the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, with a view towards entering the ICT skills arena once their studies are completed.”
Kroon goes on to explain that the R100K Challenge plays an important role in attracting people to the local development community, as it presents a compelling incentive to both student or novice coders and professional developers alike. He says that the R100K Challenge, this year with the retro-gaming theme of Space Invaders, is specifically designed to test the artificial intelligence (AI) skills of entrants, in a face-off competition where candidates are required to write the code for their own designed bot.
“The necessary skills to win the R100K Challenge are relevant to the industry at large, as winning requires not only the ability to write the code, but also strategic thinking, critical analysis, and a structured process of testing and optimisation,” says Kroon. As the competition grows each year, so it is modified to cater to its entrants. “For example, this year we have launched the Player Portal, where players are able to upload their code and test it properly, offering the chance to iron out any flaws.”
These elements are reflective of the industry and could help prepare entrants for making the leap into the marketplace of software engineering – where professionals are primarily responsible for writing, designing and testing of computer programs.
With the global ICT industry now producing trillions of rands’ worth of value within a myriad of industries, Kroon says that it is Entelect’s hope that the increasingly popular R100K Challenge will continue to encourage and introduce more young people to the field of programming and development, and highlight the massive opportunities for them in this essential industry. “Choosing to study within the field of ICT disciplines puts students at an incredible advantage when entering the marketplace, while simultaneously improving South Africa’s capabilities and economic outlook,” says Kroon. “There are significant professional benefits to mastering computer programming topics like logic, patterns and problem solving. For students moving into computer science at tertiary level, having a background or introduction to computer programming at a high-school level will of course put them at a distinct advantage.”
In addition, the increased volume of local skills will play an important role in enhancing South Africa’s competitiveness on the global ICT stage. “This will promote job creation and create the opportunity for us to ensure we are able to not only able to depend on our own local products and services to meet our South Africa’s ICT needs – rather than outsourcing skills from other countries – but even create the capacity for our country to export these skills,” he says. “This ability will exponentially improve our economic outlook in the age of the knowledge economy, and as such we encourage other public sector organisations to take part in the drive to attract young people to our industry, through supporting existing incentives and programmes or creating their own,” Kroon concludes.