The group CIO landed her first IT job during her final-year university exams.
Sadiyya Nosarka, co-founder, director and group CIO at STS Holdings, studied a double major in IT and law at Wits University, not initially sure that IT was the only route she wanted to take. However, by the time she was about to write her final year exams, she already had a few job interviews lined up.
She attended Wits Business School where she completed an executive leadership programme (sponsored by FNB at the time), which she successfully completed. She’s also a certified information systems auditor (CISA), internationally qualified IT auditor and she completed her AI certification through the University of Oxford.
“I actually landed a job offer at the very first interview I went to, and before I knew it, I was working on ensuring the successful implementation of a complex forex trading system at Standard Corporate and Merchant Bank,” she says.
“In a short period I had figured out this system, and had already acquired the skill to trade foreign currency,” she explains. “I received my first award for that project.
“At the time, Standard Bank had acquired tools to automate testing. So, in my spare time, I would go to the labs and teach myself how to use those tools and end up learning how to automate the tests that I had built,” she explains. Impressed with her ability to learn quickly, Standard Bank promoted Sadiyya to the manager of the department a year later.
Spending hours in Standard Bank’s server rooms, she acquired even more software skills as time went on. “I had even hacked some of the bank’s systems at some point, and found vulnerabilities,” she says. However, as impressed as the bank was with her technical skills and work ethic, Sadiyya’s age unfortunately stood in her way. “I was 22 years old and knew that the prospects of the bank pushing me into a position that was higher than quality assurance manager was highly unlikely,” she notes.
Around this time, an offer from FNB presented itself. “I chose to take that opportunity because FNB Electronic Banking was starting a QA department,” she explains. “There were two people who were seconded to me and I also had a manager I reported to, but when the merger between our department and eBucks happened, we were assigned a new CEO and I was promoted to an executive IT position, given the project management portfolio to manage as well as production support in addition to QA across all applications from front end to legacy. I had a team of 20 people which I successfully built up to over 60, mostly through training and development. I was 23 at the time. My staff turnover rate was less than five percent.
“I’m not a political player, I’m just very ambitious and focused,” she says. “I'm an executor that gets the job done.”
She describes her biggest strengths as her ability to understand systems and people. Therefore, it’s no surprise that not long after she became manager, she had already hit the ceiling at FNB. Once again, being exceptional at what she does at a young age played to her disadvantage. “I knew I wouldn’t be promoted to CEO at that stage of my life, so I had to figure out what my next move was and consulted with my husband on a way forward,” she says.
Sadiyya’s husband, a physician and businessman, suggested she go it alone. “Believing in my capabilities, he offered to fund the business himself,” she says. This led to the couple co-founding STS Holdings, a technology group with various subsidiaries specialising in different technological disciplines such as Al driven platforms, IoT, robotics and SAAS.
“My husband is a great strategic thinker and I thought we’d make a great pairing, with me on the execution side and him on the strategic side,” she explains. “The perfect combination – best friends at home and in business.
“The business has done quite well over the years and we recently opened a branch in the UK. This would’ve happened sooner, but the pandemic delayed things. However, things have picked up a lot this year and our UK branch is getting some activity. As such, I travel extensively between South Africa and the UK.”
In addition, STS’s solutions have also received praise from leading technological research and consulting firm, Gartner. According to Dr Jim Scheibmeir, director analyst at Gartner, their risk management and prevention platform is unique and distinctive and sets them apart from other vendors in the market.
“As group CIO, I have to mention that my core leadership team have been with me for at least 15 years. Dr Nosarka sets the strategic group objectives and we execute as a team. I continue to groom exceptional talent within the group as well as provide entrepreneurship or tech executive mentorship/advisory sessions as I love to see intelligent people grow.”
Sadiyya’s business activities keep her quite busy, hopping from one plane to the next. But it’s travelling for leisure that she enjoys the most. She has been to several countries, Iceland and Turkey being her top two favourite destinations.
“I have quite the adventurous spirit that loves natural wonders of the world: I’ve climbed down an inactive volcano chamber, trailed Mount Everest and driven over the largest glacier in Europe, on a snowmobile – just some of my exploits,” she concludes.