At 22 years old, Rumaanah Khan is street ahead of her peers as one of the youngest IT boffins. Her success has not only brought excitement and pride to her family but to the country as well. This is primarily because IT is one of the critical areas that the South African government and the UN have identified to empower and encourage young bright girl learners globally to pursue STEMi fields.
Placing digital power in the hands of girls
Two years ago, in observing the International Girls in ICT, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, as the Under-Secretary-General of the UN and executive director of UN Women, said they recognise that digital power must be in the hands of girls. She said more connected be connected so that they are adequately prepared to play a meaningful role in shaping a more equal, green and tech-driven future.
Mlambo-Ngcuka’s office champions the interests and needs of women in general and the young girls in particular. She lamented the growing gender gaps that exist at almost all levels of STEMi fields between male and female saying no girls should be left behind. She also highlighted the fact that across the world, only 28.4 percent of people engaged in STEM careers are women and in sub-Saharan Africa an average of 30 per cent are women. In addition, she said, they want to invest more towards feminist technology and innovation and ensure this is increased by 50%.
Khan also wants to leverage her success to inspire more young girl learners to study the sciences. Currently, Khan is employed as IT consultant at Wits University having completed a cyber-security learnership at Huawei. She says when she was growing, like most children, Khan was always ambitious and strived for excellence. To her and those who know her, becoming an IT expert at such a young age, is a testament of her extra-ordinary genius and diligence.
Curiously, Khan achieved all this in spite of the fact that she suffers from fibromyalgia – a condition which causes musculoskeletal pain, accompanied by extreme fatigue, and affects one’s sleeping and mood patterns. It is an incredibly debilitating condition that would have put paid to dreams of many girls her age. But she shrugged it off and focused her mind on attaining her goal of becoming an IT prodigy. More importantly, she wants her peers to use her odyssey as a learning curve; that it is possible to achieve one’s dreams despite obstacles they are faced with.
But before she got the learnership, Khan said she struggled to hold down a job as different industries refused to accommodate someone with her condition. Huawei bucked this trend by drafting her into their skills development and learnership programme. She was part of the 2022 learnership intake while simultaneously studying for her CompTIA 1101 qualification. She is currently studying towards her CompTIA 1102. Says Khan: “I realised that I have an unquenchable desire for information technology.” She adds that “the programme radically changed my life, providing me with the education, skills, ability and belief in myself to go into the working world and seize every opportunity.”
Unearthing new IT talent
The learnership programme is aimed at unearthing talent from young people who are passionate about the use of technology and innovation. The youth are upskilled and equipped with relevant IT skills that prepare them for the 4th industrial revolution. Khan believes ICT is an ideal vehicle through which the country and the African continent can address its critical general skills shortage including the widening gender gap.
Using technology to fight crime
“I see myself as an IT professional in the cyber environment and hopefully moving up to a more managerial position eventually. I want to be able to lead with confidence, towards a common goal of making technology safe for everyone,” says Khan. She also hopes to help harness technology to tackle other social challenges such as crime as well as empowering communities to adopt the latest technologies to create safer environments.