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‘Find your passion and make it your life’

BUI Technical Consultant Emily Bekker tells us how she embraced her inner nerd and defied expectations to pursue a career in technology.

“I did one of those aptitude tests in high school and the recommended job for me was ‘mechanic’ or something hands-on like that,” says BUI Technical Consultant Emily Bekker as she describes an early discussion about her career path. “The test revealed that I used both sides of my brain equally… Left and right, or logical and creative, pretty much the same. I was advised to look at professions where I’d get to use the two abilities together, but I already knew I wanted to work with computers. I knew that my analytical nature would serve me well,” recalls Bekker.

When she matriculated in 2005 and announced her plans to pursue CompTIA’s A+ and Network+ certifications, there were a few raised eyebrows in her Free State hometown. “My family and friends were supportive, but they were also really surprised. There were a lot of conversations that started with ‘why’,” laughs Bekker. “Even in the early 2000s, I guess the idea of a young woman wanting to study something so technical was a bit strange to people. And maybe there were expectations for me to explore art instead,” she muses.

Bekker comes from an artistic family and has been drawing and painting since childhood. “When I was little, I wanted to become a graphic designer,” she confesses. “But I got my first computer in primary school and I was fascinated by it.” Bekker’s PC DOS 6.1 provided hours of entertainment when it worked – and when it didn’t. “I was a total nerd… I still am! I’d spend all day trying to find the problem and fix it. I was curious about technology, and I was determined to learn as much as possible about my computer, step by step.”

Curiosity and critical thinking

While she’s always been inquisitive, Bekker credits her parents for the measured, methodical approach to problem-solving that she’s employed throughout her career. “My mom and dad are very grounded and very rational. They taught me how to think critically and how to look at things from different angles,” she explains. “These are valuable skills to have when you’re in an IT job, especially one where troubleshooting is an integral part of your day.”

Armed with her A+ and Network+ qualifications and a solid foundation in hardware and software support and network maintenance, Bekker joined a computer sales-and-repair store in Welkom. “It was my initiation into operational support, but I learned so much about sales, customer service, and business processes,” she says, adding that the position paved the way for her later roles with larger corporate and retail establishments, as well as a lengthy spell with a gold-mining firm.

“Working in the mining sector was an eye-opener for me,” remembers Bekker. “I knew, going in, that it was a male-dominated industry, but I’m not sure I was prepared for the level of gender bias I experienced back then. It was intimidating at first, but I wanted to prove myself. I also wanted to prove that success didn’t come down to gender.” Bekker’s tenacity paid off, and she counts her seven years as an on-site support technician among her most formative experiences.

Making a real difference for customers

Today, as a technical consultant and key member of the BUI managed services team, Bekker provides operational and service support to customers around the world. “No two days are the same, and I love that about my job,” she says, explaining how she might move from server patching one moment to desktop troubleshooting the next. “I spend a lot of time talking to people, and it’s so rewarding to be able to help them. When I’ve answered their question or fixed their issue, and they can happily move on with their day, I know I’ve made a difference. There’s always something new to learn, though, and that certainly keeps things interesting!”

Bekker is currently studying towards her Microsoft 365: Modern Desktop Administrator (Associate) certification, and plans to expand her M365 skills in the future so that she’s equipped to manage and secure Microsoft 365 enterprise environments. “I’m grateful to have such supportive colleagues here at BUI, and to be part of a company where career development is not only encouraged, but enabled.” As an enthusiastic learner, Bekker admits she finds it tough to walk away from her textbooks. “But I’m taking Women’s Day off, for sure,” she chuckles, sharing her plans for a spa day with her mom.

What else is on the horizon for Bekker? She hasn’t closed the door on her childhood aspirations and may still add “graphic design” to her list of skills – but technology remains her favourite niche. “I’m always telling people to get into the IT field… A logical brain and a healthy sense of curiosity will take you far in this industry. And don’t let anyone box you in: when you find your passion, make it your life,” she concludes.

Attain your goals the way you want to attain them

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.