by Prof Barry Dwolatzky
Today is the 18th July – Mandela Day. To mark Nelson Mandela’s 92nd birthday we’ve all been asked to volunteer 67 minutes of our time doing something that contributes to the betterment of our community. Writing this blog is my contribution.
Isn’t that a bit of a cop-out … or even a bit arrogant? Shouldn’t I be out and about, cleaning the local park or planting a tree? I hope that by the time you’ve read this you will agree that writing this on my blog is a valid contribution in the spirit of Mandela Day.
Before I go any further, I need to define the “community” I’m volunteering to support. I guess as a software engineer it’s valid to have a “virtual” community. I see this community as a group of people who share my passion for the South African software industry. Being passionate about our local software industry is not enough however. I’m hoping that you, as a member of this community, are passionate because you have some sort of stake in the industry. Maybe the industry provides you with an income – a job or ownership of a company. Maybe you depend on the South African software industry to help you succeed in doing your job. Possibly, like me, you just believe that South Africa simply MUST have a viable and strong software industry.
I believe that there are two possible scenarios facing South Africa’s software industry:
- There’s the ‘high road’ scenario in which the industry grows and prospers. Our software industry already has a long and proud tradition going back to the 1950’s. The high road scenario sees the industry continuing to serve the needs of South Africa – continuing to be innovative and creative – and finding and filling new niches in the international ICT market.
- Then there’s the ‘low road’ scenario. In this scenario the local industry loses out to international competition coming from Europe, North America, India and other emerging ICT powers. Our software industry shrinks and becomes primarily a source of customization and maintenance of other countries’ software.
Those of us with a stake in the local software industry and a passion for its continued success obviously need to find ways to avoid the “low road” and travel along the “high road”. How we do this is not a simple matter. There are many interacting factors at work, many of which we have no influence over.
There are however a few simple steps we all can take to increase our chance of success. These are:
- Grow the skills base: We need more skilled people. It is easy to push the burden of skills development onto someone else. I’ve often heard people complain about the state of our schools, the shortcomings of our universities, and the failure of Government to train more IT people. We need however to each play a role ourselves. During the struggle against Apartheid there was a slogan “Each one teach one”. It was a call for everyone who has knowledge and skills to find a way to share these with someone else. I believe that everyone in the software industry should look for an opportunity to train someone. It may be someone you work with. It may be a school child or student. At the same time we should make a concerted effort to learn something new ourselves.
- Embrace quality and professionalism: Our major challenge in facing competition from abroad is that we struggle to develop high quality systems on time and within budget. If we are to meet this challenge we each need to find ways of acting professionally and dedicating ourselves to doing quality work.
- Promote the South African software industry: Many people around the world are not aware that we have capacity and a long history in producing great innovative software in South Africa. We need to talk more and talk proudly about what we’ve done and what we can do. Many software professionals in SA focus too narrowly. We “sell” our company or our region. We need to work together to “sell” South Africa.
This 3-point call to action that I’m making on Mandela Day is not simply lip-service on my part. Through the JCSE (www.jcse.org.za) I’ve been working since 2005 to develop activities in support of each of the points listed above. I am willing and keen to donate my time free-of-charge to any person, company or organisation keen to discuss what I have done and to explore any other ideas you may have.
Our community can only succeed if we work together – and this I believe is the message to all communities on Mandela Day.