Techies must understand the business, says Sophy Moumakoe, head of IT at Pilanesberg Platinum Mines

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The world is moving and the future of IT is getting an array of experience in all spheres of the discipline.

Sophy Moumakoe’s, Systems Application Manager and Head of IT at Pilanesberg Platinum Mines, first experience with computers was at the age of 18, when she became a first-year student at the University of Cape Town.

At the time when I attended high school in Boyne (Limpopo) computer studies and facilities were not offered nor available, and thus I had never been exposed to computers until I went to university. I remember being so excited that I could google about Tupac and download music lyrics,” she says.

Despite the wonder that computers held for her at the time, Sophy enrolled for a B Com, leading to a career as a Chartered Accountant (CA), as that was the most canvased career path at the time and which was also deemed one of the well paying jobs.

One of the BCom courses, however, was Information Systems (IS), and Sophy recalls that she really enjoyed programming.

“In my second year, I had to choose majors and a professor told me that I would earn more by qualifying in IS and never be without a job as that was where the world was heading,” she says.

That conversation changed the trajectory of Sophy’s career and life.

“I decided to major in IS and was exposed to programming, database design, information security and analysis. We used to spend late nights in the computer labs creating these workable computer programmes. The joy of creating one line of coding and seeing it to life into a workable application was something else,” she adds.

Sophy also realised that she was a people’s person and although she wasn’t entirely certain of the career that she wanted in IS, she knew that she was not going to be a programmer for life.

“I had friends who were doing computer science, which was about building machines and apps. With IS, it’s about merging people, technology and processes. I wanted to interact with people, that much I knew,” she explains.

Growth
After graduating, she struggled to find a job in her chosen field, despite applying for a number of graduate opportunities.

“I took a job at a call centre. That was at a time when there was no fibre and no internet support and you had to use your phone and ADSL line to connect to the internet. From this role, I learnt a lot about customer service,” she says.

A year later, Sophy’s long awaited graduate opportunity materialised – marking the start of a fully-fledged career in IT.

After spending a year as a SAP graduate consultant at Gauteng Shared Services Centre, she joined Standard Bank as a SAP process engineer

“I felt like I was not adding value and was also advised to go into consulting for growth and exposure. This is when I joined Satreno Consulting,” she says.

In the role of SAP functional consultant, Sophy had the opportunity to work across many aspects of business and industries, from materials management and supplier relationships to contracts
lifecycle management and business intelligence. In addition, she worked on projects in different industries and in multiple countries, travelling to Kenya and Nigeria , among others.

Shortly thereafter, she received an offer at De Beers and accepted it taking on the role of SAP Solution Architect before becoming Systems Manager of Operations at the mining house.

“I wanted to work in mining or energy sector , so it was a no brainer when I got the call from De Beers. This was one of the most defining moments in my career. I was responsible for designing the entire SAP landscape, supporting sites, including De Beers Canada, Debswana and Namdeb,” she says.

Mentor
It was also at De Beers that Sophy met a female CIO for the first time. “I was intrigued and started following Hlengiwe Mazibuko’s career. Hlengiwe advise that she started in consulting and wanted to be a leader in IT and then she studied for an MBA,” Sophy says.

She adds, “Hlengiwe progressively became my mentor. She encouraged me to get an array of experience within the IT realm as IT has a lot of spheres. She cautioned against being a specialist and becoming stuck.”

The keen traveller took this advice to heart and obtained a B Sc Hons through Unisa before completing a Masters in IT (MIT) at the University of Pretoria.

“Before joining De Beers, I did not think about being a CIO. The role was always filled by males until I met Hlengiwe. Then, when I did my MIT, I met other leaders in the field and realised that being a generalist (with an array of IT experience) is the way of the future,” she says.

The journey to getting more exposure to different areas of IT, also resulted in Sophy joining AECI as a Project Manager and heading the Project Management Office (PMO).

“I was involved in leading and implementing transformation initiatives at AECI.

Then last year, Sophy was head hunted for the role of Systems Application manager and head of IT at Pilanesberg Platinum Mines.

“It is not a traditional role, and I sit on exco. In this role I get to understand the business, which is important for a tech leader. When we go into meetings, we’re not talking tech in isolation, we’re talking business, environmental impact, about the communities where we mine and ESG,” she says.

It is by understanding business better and the factors that affect the bottom-line that Sophy believes tech can be used to mine better, even if it is about the way information is delivered.

“We mine in under-serviced rural areas and thus there is a need to improve the infrastructure in the areas, especially connectivity infrastructure. There is definitely a need for high availability of internet connectivity and local digital skills development. The world has moved and we need accelerated transformation,” she says.

Assisting people in under-serviced areas and promoting digital skills is a core passion for Sophy even in her personal life.

“I volunteer at Progressive Blacks in ICT, which focuses on assisting previously disadvantaged people with STEAMIE which stands for Science, Technology, Arts, Maths, Innovation and Entrepreneurship. It is important that we have more people taking up science and maths”, and thus participate in the Information and Technology space, she concludes.

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