Afikile Masebeni studied chemistry but now works in the technology space. For her, changing course has often yielded the greatest rewards. It’s all about taking the first step, she says.
After completing her honours in chemistry at Rhodes University, Afikile knew that she wanted to explore her professional options. “I really wanted a job, but I didn’t see myself working in the lab for the next ten years,” she says. “While doing research about what else was out there, I came across an advert for a graduate programme in Cape Town.” That’s how she discovered her current employer, software developer contracting company, FDM. “They were looking for computer science graduates but said that they could train and upskill anyone from a STEM background. I applied, we did three months of training and then came onto the job.”
While Afikile was the only one who hadn’t studied computer science in the group of 17 graduates, she embraced the chance to grow her skills. “I was out of my depth but thought, let’s see where this goes,” she says. “I saw that it involved learning a concept, learning another one and then bring them together to solve a problem. That was what I’d been doing all my life, that’s what science is, so it wasn’t such a huge adjustment. I had a lot more to learn about the core concepts of computer science than someone who’d done it at university, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t do it.”
Afikile feels she’s found her place in the IT industry. “My biggest fear, was that I’d reach a point where I was just doing routine work. Here it’s always different, technology is evolving very fast and there’s always something new to learn – it’s a surprisingly creative space. This is it for me.”
A values-based education
Born and bred in Butterworth, Afikile came from a family with a lot of teachers. “In terms of immediate family, I am the first graduate though,” she says. “From an early age I was told I was the bright one and that if I worked hard and studied, I could make a difference. I went to boarding school and focused on academics.”
“After school, I applied to universities but there was always the reality that the money we had wouldn’t cover my studies.” With partial funding from NSFAS, Afikile started her course, hoping she’d be able to complete it. “I knew that there was the possibility that we wouldn’t be able to pay money that was due in April. I wasn’t aware of all that was out there in terms of bursaries, but I applied to a few.” Afikile heard about Moshal from someone working at the financial aid office and applied.
“It was so different from all the other bursary applications in the sense that it was more about values than about marks and sporting achievements. They asked, “if you get this chance at having a free education, what will you do with it, what is your plan?” For me, that was one of the biggest things, it’s really close to my heart.”
The Moshal value of paying it forward also came to mean a lot to her. “I tutored high school students during university,” she says. “I’m now involved in an organisation in Cape Town where we go to the township every Saturday and teach Grade 10 students the principles of science through experiments. It’s a very hands-on thing. It always just touches my heart seeing the students become curious. I don’t care if they ever become interested in chemistry, I’m just hoping that the work that I do will click a switch in their minds making them curious about the world around them. It teaches them a different way of thinking.”
Finding your way
Asked what message of hope she’d give to the next generation of learners, Afikile says: “It’s not always about what you know right now. For me, that’s been true my whole life. I knew I wanted to go to university, so I went but I knew there wasn’t enough money at home to pay. But then Moshal made that possible. After varsity, I knew that I didn’t really want to do chemistry and so I asked what else was out there. Sometimes you take one step and then life will push you in the right direction and you take another step forward. Just be brave. You don’t know what the future holds but if you just take that one step, then the other step just comes to you – things come together and you find your way, you learn. Push yourself directly in the line of fire and say; “let’s see how that goes.” It’s about bravery. Whatever happens, just take the first step. Just try, you might win.”