Monday, 20 October 2014

Time to board the mentor ship

"Seek every ally you can find because success is rooted not only in performance but perception." - Innovating Women

Jelly beans have nothing to do with mentorship... but they are delicious!

Note: I am writing this from the perspective of a software developer, but this can be applied to other fields or situations as well.

WHAT? Mentorship? In the typical situation, a more senior or experienced professional will advise and mentor another less experienced professional. Ideally, there should be something you can learn from your mentor. I engage in technical discussions with my senior team members and learn technical skills from those around me, so I haven't relied much on my mentors for technical advice. This may differ for some people.

WHY? Why should you bother with mentorship? I can talk about my own experience of the tech industry and say that I would not be where I am today were it not for the mentors I had along the way. Not only were they able to provide insight from their own experiences, but they were able to give some perspective on some of the issues I have had to deal with in the tech industry. Also, alluding to the opening quote, mentors can be great advocates or allies.

WHEN? I believe we never stop learning and growing (unless we choose to stop, but c'mon, don't do that!). As such, it's always a good idea to have some form of mentorship at whatever rung on the career ladder. It's never too early to start looking for guidance from those with wisdom and experience.

WHERE? Mentors don't have to be physically located in the same place as you, but obviously it makes meeting up much easier if they are. At the same time, it also helps to have a mentor that you don't work with too closely on a day-to-day basis as it allows them to be a bit more objective and gives you a chance to speak more freely.

WHO? This one can be tricky. Some organisations don't recognise any requirement for mentorship while others encourage mentorship and might even assign mentors to individuals. It can be difficult to identify potential mentors. Take the time to get to know some senior professionals or people you look up to at work. I prefer to have mentor relationships evolve organically - when you turn to a certain colleague or professional for advice or input because you respect their opinion, it's mentorship. Even if it's not official.

HOW? Some of the best advice I was given by one of my former mentors is that the mentee should be driving the mentor relationship. It does not help me to show up to a mentorship session with an attitude of "well, what can you do for me?" or even worse, "Entertain me!" Rather, approach the person you would like to have as a mentor and be honest about what you would like from the mentorship - this also gives them a chance to decline if they aren't able to or think they can't be of help to you. This may be intimidating, but the worst they can say is no.

And this brings me to my last point: mentorships aren't for life. Sometimes the mentorship is terminated when employees leave, but you don't have to wait for that to happen. At any time either the mentee or mentor should be able to walk away if it's not working out. Just be honest with each other.

I believe everyone can benefit from mentorship and that we should be doing more to encourage industry newcomers to seek out mentors.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Advocating for Male Advocacy in Tech

What's the good in tearing down the "boys' only" clubhouses in tech only to erect a "girls' only" tech space?

Since attending the Grace Hopper Conference in Minneapolis last year, I've been a strong proponent for increasing diversity in the tech space. The imbalance of diversity - both gender and otherwise - has been in the limelight much in recent times. Many tech giants have stepped up and published their diversity statistics.

There have also been a great number of conferences, meetups and other gatherings focusing on gender diversity in tech. From Grace Hopper Conference to Girl Geek Dinners, Women2.0 and others, even in more remote locations - like South Africa, where I am based - we have access to many more fantastic women in tech networking events than before. Don't get me wrong, I love the fact that this is getting a lot of attention and that we're pushing for diversity. I just don't much like the exclusivity of some of these initiatives and events.

I get it, it's great to be in a gathering where, as a woman, I'm not in the minority. It's a good feeling to know that I am not alone. But I also think it's time to push for male attendance at our diversity meetups. I believe that our cause for driving better gender diversity in the workplace will fail without male advocacy. It may seem like a harsh statement, but it's not. It's not because women need men to get something done. It's that we need each other to build the kind of technical culture that we all want.

And here's why. We still have a huge imbalance in terms of gender diversity in the workplace. It's not something that will change overnight, despite all the good press. In-house affinity or diversity groups would seriously lack membership if we did not reach out to male colleagues to be advocates. Any group that wants to be an effective agent of change needs enough hands to make it happen.

It's more difficult to ignore a case in favour of gender inequality when it's a man that speaks up about it. Lack of gender diversity is not a "women's issue" and when men speak up about it, other men are more likely to listen.

Another reason is that men make great allies. They are really good at the whole brotherhood thing, and men advocate and support each other amazingly well. Not so much for women in tech - in my experience, at least. We tend to isolate ourselves and we'll often choose not to advocate for any women that may come to us for help or support, as called out in a post from WomenInTechZA. I used to think it was kinda cool to be one of the "chosen few". Thankfully, I don't think this way anymore and it's sad that I used to. The ideal would be for us all to advocate for each other, no matter the background, beliefs or colour.

It's also really important to show men that having more women in tech is a good thing. Often, our talks on gender diversity in the workplace can be perceived as a threat to their existence. In some ways it is, because a culture of boyhood jokes and inappropriate behaviour is less likely to exist in a more diverse workplace. It is still vital that we show them the good side of having female coworkers and how it can benefit the team, the company, the customers and the economy. This can be done by building good relationships with these coworkers and winning them over to your side of thinking. Lead by example and they are likely to want to join the cause.
And finally, the cause of diversity is one of inclusion. Let's not forget that.
Some great resources from NCWIT:

Monday, 9 June 2014

Arts scene in Cape Town

Design fairs, jazz bars, salsa dancing ~ these are just some of the fantastic artsy delights that the World Design Capital of 2014 has in store.

Design fairs

Cape Town's castle hosted its first Kamers Vol Geskenke fair this past weekend and drew crowds of nearly 13000. Against the backdrop of the distinctive castle architecture and the gorgeous Table Mountain, the fair had a lovely bustling atmosphere. The highly successful popup retail event has been held in Stellenbosch in previous years and will be hosted in the Cape Winelands again at the end of the year. 

Kamers 2014

Earlier in the year, the annual Design Indaba, held at the CTICC, was a big affair due to Cape Town's Design Capital status. Hundreds of designers and craftsmen from the full range of the arts were represented. Everything from textiles, ceramics, jewellery, graphics designs and other decor was on display and up for purchase.

Salsa dancing

Cape Town has a lively Salsa dance scene, and 2014 will see our city play host to the second annual Mzansi Salsa Festival in November. There are several dance schools around town, like Just Dancing Salsa and the Salsa Studio. Every weekend the local salsa social scene is bustling and you may even be lucky enough to catch some bachata and kizomba. On Friday nights head to Grand Daddy Hotel, Saturdays to Arriba and Sunday nights Buena Vista.

Live music
The Crypt at St George's
If you enjoy live music, Cape Town is the place for you. The Crypt at St George's Cathedral plays jazz every day (except Sundays) in a cool gothic setting. Another jazz joint with daily performances in various styles is the Piano Bar in De Waterkant. The Cape Philharmonic Orchestra hosts several shows throughout the year. During the summer months, Kirstenbosch botanical gardens and De Waal park host concerts. While the De Waal Park concerts are free, you can find the Kirstenbosch concert tickets on webtickets.

All things artsy
First Thursdays at Michaelis, Lutge, 1000 drawings and New Heritage Gallery

Every first Thursday of the month, the Cape Town CBD entices large crowds to wander the streets from galleries to vintage clothing markets, from art shows and doodle sessions to antique furniture shops. First Thursdays started in November 2012 and is an initiative to draw locals and tourists into the heart of the Mother City to discover her artistic side. Custom maps can be found at most venues and are updated every few months. Third Thursdays takes place (every third Thursday) in the East city. The best part: almost all venues have free wine! Follow First Thursdays on Facebook to get all the updates.

At the beginning of the year, the annual Cape Town Art Fair takes place at the Waterfront. It draws exhibitors and art lovers from across the country.

Film festivals

The Labia theatre, the oldest independent art-repertory cinema in South Africa, runs various film festivals throughout the year, including a documentary film festival this month and a Halloween Horror film festival in October.

Rocky Horror
The Artscape and Baxter theaters host several shows throughout the year, including ballet, opera, musicals and drama. The Baxter is owned and run by the University of Cape Town. Rocky Horror Picture Show is set to run again in 2014 at the Fugard theatre in town. The Maynardville open air theatre puts on shows when the weather permits (mostly during summer months). See also Theatre on the Bay for some local talent. A fantastic theatre dinner experience can be found at Madame Zingara's Theatre of Dreams (in Johannesburg for the autumn/winter months).

Literary things

On the corner of Buitenkant and Roeland Streets you can find the Book Lounge. Curl up with a book on one of the comfy couches nestled between shelves of books and enjoy a cup of good coffee. The Open Book Festival takes place towards the second half of the year and draws some great authors.

Whether you're in town for a few days or you're a local, whether you're into being socially arty or something more refined and dignified, there's something for everyone.

* Note: all photos taken by me and belong to me.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Exploring the Cape Peninsula

Whatever the season, the Cape Peninsula has so much to offer visitors and locals alike. I know that I've barely scratched the surface of things to do and see in this stunning and unique part of the world.

Disclaimer: According to Wikipedia, the peninsula is 52 km long from Mouille point in the north to Cape Point in the south. As a somewhat assimilated Capetonian, to me the Cape Peninsula runs from around Llandudno to Cape Point and to Muizenberg on the other side. I'm probably incorrect in my classification, but for the purpose of this post, those are the areas that will be included!

Aerial view of the Sentinel and Hout Bay

From my self-proclaimed starting point, Llandudno is a lovely secluded beach, visited mostly by surfers and local residents. It's remarkably clean, pet friendly and mostly sheltered from the wind. Parking can sometimes be tricky as the small parking lot often overflows into narrow spaces on residential roads.
Llandudno beach

Follow Victoria Road from Llandudno to the Republic of Hout Bay. I highly recommend the Hout Bay Harbour market which is open every day of the weekend (and Friday nights). Weather permitting, seal island tours depart hourly from Hout Bay harbour, about R60 for an hour trip. Watch seals cavorting in the waves against the stunning backdrop of the Sentinel peak and the bay. From here you can head to World of Birds which is good fun for the whole family. Walk through large enclosures housing many species of birds and other animals and encounter monkeys clambering on branches (and people!) around you.

Harbour Market and World of Birds are great for the whole family

Chapman's Peak drive

The Chapman's Peak drive starting in Hout Bay is fantastic. Just be aware that this is a toll route and it may close to adverse weather conditions. Enjoy the stunning Cape Atlantic archipelago and indigenous fynbos of the area along many of the scenic stops along the way. Chapman's drive will take you through to Noordhoek, which boasts a sizeable beach and shipwreck. The Foodbarn in Noordhoek is a great gourmet bistro restaurant. Thorfynns Restaurant at Monkey Valley Resort is also a great spot for a family outing and has lovely views of the Atlantic ocean. From Noordhoek, your path may split in various directions and each holds a journey of its own. 

Foodbarn and Thorfynns Restaurants in Noordhoek

Kommetjie lies to the south west and is a quaint town in a seemingly remote spot. On the way you'll pass Imhoff farm which offers camel and horse rides and has several eating spots. You can choose to pass through or head directly to Cape Point, which forms part of Table Mountain National Park. Those with Wild cards will not need to pay an entrance fee.


Cape Point is a great day or half day trip. There are various hiking trails across the peninsula, but for those on a tight schedule, it is easy to drive directly to the Cape of Good Hope. Stand in line to snap a picture with the sign! Drive up to Cape Point and jump on the Flying Dutchman funicular or brave the brisk walk to the top to see the lighthouse.

It gets pretty windy at Cape Point!

Submarine tour
From Cape Point, head to Simon's Town, home of the endangered African penguin (renamed from Jackass penguin). Boulders Beach boasts a large penguin colony and visitors are able to get close to these adorable birds. Entrance to the beaches are not free, but a boardwalk starting at Boulders parking lot is open to the public. Kayaking from Simon's Town harbour to Boulders and back only takes about 2 hours and is good fun. Simon's Town is home to South Africa's Navy. The barracks and ships are quite visible in the harbour. Go on a submarine tour of the decommissioned SS Assegaai and explore this metal hulk as it sits in the water.

Penguins at Boulders

From Simon's Town you can jump on the train to Muizenberg and hop off at Kalk Bay on the way. Kalk Bay is a bustling community popular with locals and tourists alike and boasts many popular dining spots and shops. Some of these include the Brass Bell and Polana. False Bay is also good for whale spotting, typically between June and November. Muizenberg is a must for those into surfing. The beach front often boasts markets and festivals.

A mere weekend in the peninsula will not be sufficient to discover all its secrets but it surely will be more than enough to capture your heart.

PS. All photos used in this post belong to me.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Cape Town food market culture

Exploring markets is a great way to spend weekends in Cape Town.

1. Harbour Market in Hout Bay

This is definitely my favourite market and a good one to take touristy visitors to. It's open every weekend for most of the weekend and there's a good mix of food, knick knacks and novelty drinks. It gets pretty busy so it's a good location for breakfast or for some drinks with live entertainment in the afternoons and evenings.

When? Fridays 5pm - 9pm, Saturdays and Sundays 9:30am - 4pm
Where? 31 Harbour Road, Hout Bay
More info:

2. Neighbourgoods Food Market at the Old Biscuit Mill

This is probably Cape Town's most well-known market so it's a good idea to arrive early. It has loads of food stalls and artsy things for sale and gets pretty crowded. Please note, parking is a bit of an issue.

When? Every Saturday 9am - 2pm
Where? 373 Albert Road, Cape Town
More info:

3. City Bowl Market on Hope

I like frequenting this market on Thursday evenings, though they are also open on Saturday mornings, as it's a few blocks from work and a good place to grab a quick dinner or catch up with friends over a glass of wine. They also have fresh produce on sale.

When? Thursdays 4:30pm - 8:30pm, Saturdays 9am - 2pm
Where? 14 Hope Street, Cape Town
More info:

4. Market at the Palms

My vintage purchase

Open every Saturday, this market is attractive due to its location inside Palms Centre. Light filters in through windows spanning two storeys and gives a nice ambience to this small market. There are vintage items for sale on the top floor and plenty of fresh produce available on the ground floor. Free parking is available in the centre.

When? Saturdays 9am - 2pm
Where? 145 Sir Lowry Road, Cape Town
More info:

5. Oranjezicht Organic Market

My latest discovery, this outdoor market is good on days where weather conditions are not too extreme. The organic community farm is really great to walk through, nestled on the slopes of Table Mountain with stunning views of the city. The market is relatively small in comparison to others but you'll find a nice range of food and drink options, even if you're gluten free like me. A great market for those with kiddies to entertain as there are jungle gyms and gardening sessions!

Parking may also pose a bit of a worry.

When? Every Saturday, 9am - 2pm
Where? Homestead Park, Upper Orange Street, Oranjezicht
More info:

Friday, 31 January 2014

365 days of 2013: the year in review and also something about FOMO

an ambitious photo journal project and posting it on Facebook for the whole world to see...

For those reading this who are not avid readers of my blog (I don't blame you, I post about as regularly as I visit the hairdresser - which is not a lot), I attempted and completed my goal in 2013 of posting a photo on social media of every day in the year. This is a post about it.

Admittedly, I was a bit of a failure when it came to sticking to my guns. I didn't do a post daily, but rather uploaded in dribs and drabs, batching my days up. Because of this, there were days when I let things slide a bit. Days that whizzed by unassumingly, days that sparked no comment, days that fade into obscurity as I found "filler pics" to accomplish my goal. Or make it seem as though I did.

I could have given up on after the first failed day. It's true that posting about my project so boldly on social media was a pretty big reason for me to carry on. I didn't want to be outed publicly as having little integrity or disappoint my adoring fans (haha).

There are some days that I went out of my way to ensure I had something awesome to post about. Dinners with friends, new adventures in the Cape, and thankfully my month spent in 'Murica provided me with stuff to post. But what do those "filler" days indicate? Sometimes life got hectic. Sometimes my days sucked. Sometimes I was so lethargic and demotivated and down about life that I didn't even want to roll out of bed let alone post about it to all my friends.

And that's just it... when we see our friends' lives on social media, we see what people selectively choose others to see. We see the nights out with friends, we see the fantastic overseas holidays, the weddings and engagements and accomplishments. Yes, there are some tragic events that some choose to share with the world, but for the most part I feel slight but noticeable triggers of envy when I check my social media updates. It could be that I just have pretty darn awesome friends doing amazing things in their lives. All I know is, it gives me a serious case of the FOMO.

Perhaps not everyone attempts to portray their lives as perfect. I certainly don't like to make posts that indicate my vulnerability online. So on the tough days, I didn't want to post anything. I didn't want to show how broken I felt, how overwhelmed by life, how exhausted, miserable or stressed.

But on you will go
though the weather be foul
On you will go
though your enemies prowl
On you will go
though the Hakken-Kraks howl
Onward up many
a frightening creek,
though your arms may get sore
and your sneakers may leak.
On and on you will hike
and I know you'll hike far
and face up to your problems
whatever they are.
- Oh the places you'll go by Dr Seuss 

Twenty thirteen to my mind was a pretty shoddy year. There were some pretty high highs and lowest of lows. I'm happy to leave it far behind. There are some things I've taken into the new year with me, and several have been due to the project. Far from doing fewer things now that my photo journal is done, I've done many more things, in fact. And I haven't necessarily posted about them. There's a joke about something not being official until it's Facebook official. I feel a certain freedom now when I embark on my adventures without pasting it on some site.

Resolutions for the new year? 2014 is a year of freedom, of doing, of making it happen, of not waiting. No waiting for the right moment, for the right person, for the right place. There is no right time... Today is The Day! We are naturally resistant to change, but change is inevitable. We might as well initiate it on our terms.

Friday, 8 November 2013

GHC13: What would you do if you weren't afraid?

The Grace Hopper Women in Computing Conference 2013 was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Almost 5000 technical women (and a few men) gathered together to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and computing. The sheer number of technical women gathered together in one place was pretty amazing!

The opening plenary, which included Sheryl Sandberg and Maria Klawe, definitely set the right tone to inspire everyone for the next few days. Before arriving at GHC13, I'd heard rumours about this "revolutionary" book called Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and I'd watched her TEDtalk online. She reiterated a few of the key points in the opening plenary, and two of them which really stood out for me, and made me think of my own role as a technical woman. One of them was the fact that not talking about gender and realising that we have an issue with the low numbers of women in tech, was not working on making it better. Talking about gender in the workplace is seen as risky, and we steer clear of it - but we're not changing anything by doing so. The other was more of a question than a point -
 "What would you do if you weren't afraid?"
I carried this question, in fact The Question, with me throughout the conference, and my month in the US - and it still echoes in my mind daily.

The first day of the conference was not a huge success for me in terms of attending useful sessions. Most of the sessions I tried to get into were full, and the one I managed to make it to didn't really strike a chord with me. However, the time spent outside the conference rooms - whether chatting to other women while sitting on the floor and charging my cellphone, or engaging with people during the career fair - was so much more useful as time spent networking. It's always fun to chat to people about what I do and what I love about my job and to hear their own stories.

Conference shenanigans

Over the next few days I did attend a few really great sessions. One of them was about negotiation. This was a vital workshop for me, specifically because of the epiphany I'd had on the flight to Minneapolis. The interesting thing to note is that most women do not negotiate for salaries. I had never even considered that it's something I could do! The workshop highlighted some pretty important points about negotiation. Before going into a negotiation, you should know what you want and have reasons (based on data) ready. This requires doing some market research. It's important not to become emotionally attached to the outcome of the negotiation, and not to come across as having a sense of entitlement regarding the terms. It's important to gain visibility within the company and the team where you work - do something challenging and outside of your comfort zone, step up and volunteer for project. Self promotion is important - don't assume people will notice or recognise and respect you for your efforts. Promote the colleagues around you and network within the organisation to both advocate for and gain advocates. In essence, the preparation around negotiation starts long before the actual conversation takes place.

Another useful session was around creating LeanIn circles - a group of women (and even male advocates) coming together to share experiences and learn together. Often as women in tech we feel pretty isolated and don't really have a platform for sharing challenges that we face or breakthroughs that we have had. Working in tech can be very intimidating for women when there is a self perpetuating stereotype that it's not really a "woman's thing". What's even more difficult is that women do not advocate for other women in technology. It's important to have women leaders and role models in industry.

The closing night of GHC13 was grand event. There was a Google/Microsoft sponsored party including massive dessert bars with every sweet treat imaginable, thousands of glowsticks and free t shirts, and a pumping dance floor. We'd made new friends and new acquaintances, chatted to fellow women in industry from every well-known and awesome tech company, laughed and debated and cried, and had raucous fun while doing so.

Grace Hopper was a huge eye-opener for me. My own experiences as a technical woman to date have been rather fraught with obstacles and daunting times. Until recently, I actually didn't really want to get on board with the whole "let's hire more women" thing. I'd worked hard to get where I was, and I felt kinda special - one of the few "elite". I definitely didn't feel as though I'd had special treatment or opportunities during my studies and career. In fact, I felt the opposite: as though I'd had to work harder and exceed the successes of my male peers to garner their respect. I'd encountered sexism both during my studies and in the workplace, but felt proud of the "thick skin" I'd developed. What I didn't realise was that this was causing me to become desensitised. Also, the lack of diversity in the workplace was to my detriment - and is to the detriment of us all.

It's pretty terrifying to start having conversations about gender with male colleagues and senior members of the organisation. However, thanks to The Question, fear is not stopping me. In short, I now definitely consider myself to be a feminist. Not the kind that wants special treatment for women - or in fact all minorities - but the kind that wants to be on equal footing with male peers and the kind that believes that real change is possible.