Faith only saw a computer for the first time when she went to university.
“In my role, you don’t just need IT expertise. You need strong governance expertise,” says Faith Burn, chief information officer at Eskom, South Africa’s public electricity utility.
Eskom has what she describes as “strong, entrenched processes” she needed to navigate, which can be an issue if you don’t understand governance. She joined the entity in May 2020, leading a team of 700. The onboarding was the most challenging she’s had.
“When I go into an organisation as a leader, I strongly believe in leading by example, so I go into the office and display what I am looking for without using words, and pick up the pulse of the business,” she says. However, she was unable to do this due to lockdown.
Faith only met her colleagues face-to-face in February 2021. Before that, video calling was not allowed in the organisation. She quickly had to learn her colleagues’ voices to identify them. Now she does video call check-ins with her team.
She believes many organisations have these issues:
- Legacy systems that are not being used to their fullest potential.
- The rules governing the data in them have evolved over the years which makes data integrity a challenge.
- Digitisation doesn’t live on its own as systems need to talk to each other.
She also mentions that all organisations are struggling through the Protection of Personal Information Act. “You can code rules into software, but your biggest risk is people,” she says. Faith finds that awareness and education of people in both data and information security management are challenging as people are overloaded with information and may be suffering from fatigue.
With an education that lies in IT, internal auditing and mathematics, Faith believes all her previous roles were stepping stones. “Everything that has happened in my life has been a build-up to this moment,” she says. Although her peers tried to discourage her from joining Eskom, she is patriotic and finds it a privilege to work for the entity.
Faith grew up during apartheid and only saw a computer for the first time when she went to university. Chemistry was her first major. She then chose computer science out of interest.
“It was extremely hard for a poor Coloured girl coming from a Coloured township who’d never seen a PC before to try and do programming, and to try and understand a computer and how it works,” she says. She dedicated one day a week to sit in the computer lab to gain a better understanding.
Her advice to anyone who wants to venture into the IT industry is, “When you know your purpose, it will give you a passion that will help you go beyond.”