The importance of developing Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills within South Africa, particularly amongst the youth, is widely acknowledged. It is for that reason, for the past nine years, SAS has been running a technical internship programme that provides graduates with the opportunity to gain workplace learning and experience – and with the aim of finding placements for every candidate within the business, or some of SAS’ customers or partners on real-world projects.
Furthermore, the interns can attain specific SAS qualifications to help them further their careers. The year-long internships encompass several functions, from consulting, customer advisory and marketing to finance and sales. Recently, SAS asked three of its current interns to give their side of the story on what motivated them to pursue a STEM career and what excites them most about data and analytics.
For Kgopotso Magabjane, who is currently a technical intern at SAS, it was a passion for maths at school that led her to study BSc Mathematical Science and an achieve Honours in Science Statistics from the University of Limpopo. Subsequently, an honours science statistics project at university opened her eyes to the power of working with data, which in turn led her to pursue her ambition of becoming a data scientist.
Magabjane’s view of the importance of data and analytics encapsulates the value of it, as she explains that she believes learning how to leverage data provides her with legitimate skills in the world. She adds that learning to work with data will empower people to better understand information and make informed decisions. “We live in a digital world, which is why it is hard to find people without a computer or a phone at hand. Everything is now connected, the digital world is growing and the best part about it is that data is engraved in it,” she says.
For Nkhensani Khoza, who is also a technical intern at SAS, her path to data and analytics was similar to Magabjane’s. She too found her curiosity being stoked by mathematics at a young age, culminating in her attaining a Bachelor of Science degree with a specialisation in Mathematics and Applied Mathematics from the University of Johannesburg.
“I initially intended to enter into the field of statistics and use my degree to solve business concerns. However, upon being introduced to data science, I soon realised that I could instead use what I was learning to solve real world problems,” she says.
Khoza’s view of working with data and analytics is a novel one, as she views it as akin to searching for hidden treasure, where the possibilities are endless, and one never knows what they will discover. “I believe data and analytics is a leverage as it helps with finding solutions to problems more quickly and resolving complex data more effectively,” she adds.
On why she chose SAS to apply for an internship with, she explains that it was SAS’s leadership in the field of analytics that drew her. “I knew that if I wanted to be a specialist, then SAS was one of the top companies in South Africa that would provide me with the necessary training I needed to pursue my dream. The company’s brand and message of ‘We believe curiosity is at the heart of human progress’ really spoke to me.”
For Shannon Arendse, an intern in SAS’ Customer Advisory team, it was the prospect of creating value- added solutions from numbers and data through technology that drew her to data sciences. “I like the idea of being able to transform what most people would call “nothing” into something valuable,’’ she explains.
While she obtained a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Statistical Science for her undergraduate qualification and Bachelor of Science Honours Statistical Science for her postgraduate degree, she notes that she is creatively inclined, with a love for drawing and painting. For her, creativity is part and parcel of a career in data and analytics.
Arendse was initially intent on pursuing a career in academia majoring in Mathematics but once she explored the capabilities of SAS when doing her Honours Research Project, she discovered that she enjoyed writing programs and coding to answer questions out of curiosity.
In her internship at SAS, she is currently being given the necessary skills to code programs more efficiently. “Data and Analytics, to me, is the future. It enables us to achieve better results for almost anything and with technology improving every day, it can only get better,” she says.
While each of the interns have a strong academic background in mathematics, they highlighted curiosity, passion and creativity as primary components in their chosen career path along with a desire to use data to solve problems. This challenges the preconception that data and analytics is a purely cerebral pursuit, but rather, highlights that it is stimulating and creative as well.
The interns’ experiences further reveal how fulfilling a path in data and analytics can be, particularly for those who want to solve problems and make a difference in an era where data is king.