She recently won a global technology award and intends to use technology for good.
Nitasha Pillay, a 22-year-old UKZN BCom honours graduate in information systems and technology student, is not only the South African ambassador for the Women in Tech Global movement, but she is also the co-founder and president of Tech Society UKZN, the university’s first of its kind.
Nitasha’s introduction to the world of information technology began with a robotics competition in primary school. She did not pursue IT in high school, owing in part to the fact that her school did not offer it as a subject, but her interest was reignited in university. This was because, despite having been accepted into a university, Nitasha was still unsure of what qualification she would pursue until the end of her studies.
“University was a culture shock for me, and I struggled to adjust in my first year,” she says. “It was during this time that a friend suggested I major in IT, and despite having only a basic understanding of IT, I applied myself and became one of the top performers in my class.”
Nitasha became more involved and joined the Women in Tech organisation, where she is now the South African ambassador and social media marketing and community manager; she says it has helped her understand technology and its potential. “When you are a part of a community, you learn from the experiences of others and gain role models to look up to who have experience in this space.”
“I love technology because it’s the future,” she says. “You have to keep up with the trends and participate in the tech conversation, but I mostly appreciate the impact it can create within this space.”
Women in Tech global award
Nitasha first won the Women in Tech Aspiring Teen: Africa Award in Cape Town and was given the opportunity to represent the African continent at the Women in Tech Global Awards 2022 in Dubai. Amidst being nominated for these awards, Nitasha was very committed to her studies at university. “I was juggling assignments in between the awards,” she recalls. “I went to Dubai for the awards and then came home to submit my research paper,” she explains.
Nitasha didn’t have the funds to attend the awards at first, but when her local church (Harmony Centre) heard about her ’opportunity of a lifetime’ nomination, they rallied behind her and gave her a portion of the funds she needed to travel. Nitasha’s friends and family also assisted her with funding to attend the awards ceremony in Dubai. “My mother was also fully supportive, even taking out a loan to fund the rest of travel expenses, and I am truly grateful to God for surrounding me with people that helped me reach my dream” Nitasha says.
“Two things really stood out to me: first, getting up on stage to accept the award and having it handed to me by the Princess of Dubai, and second, witnessing the kindness and humility of another woman in tech who made a grand gesture,” she continues.
During Nitasha’s stay in Dubai, she met Mamela Luthuli, CEO of Take Note IT, a fellow South African who heard about the effort it took to get her there and offered to pay off Nitasha’s mother’s loan.
What does the future look like?
Nitsha plans to pursue a graduate programme after completing her undergraduate studies. “Graduate programmes are a good entry point into the world of work: that’s the foundation of everything. You need to start at the bottom in order to understand what it takes to get to the top, and I also encourage my society’s members to do the same,” she says.
She, too, is a millennial, and she paints a picture of her ideal working environment, especially in today’s hybrid workplace.
“I’ve seen the power of the internet in connecting people from all over the world and getting things done,” she says. “I also believe that things need to be done efficiently: why take a flight to meet someone when we can do it online? This is how I envision my working environment to be.”
Nitasha, on the other hand, points out that remote working/online working has disadvantages, particularly when it comes to mental health issues. “You spend the majority of your day staring at a computer screen, not interacting with others, but this is where good leadership comes in, to encourage and check in on your fellow team members.”
In terms of mentorship, Nitasha believes that there are a lot of young people who want to be mentored, but there are a few obstacles in their way. “Unfortunately, young people don’t know how to get access to mentors. Mentors exist, but young people are afraid to speak up and ask the right questions,” she says.
“It’s about having the courage to approach your desired mentor, and using the resources at your disposal to do that.”