BrainGym: A place to exercise your brain while developing tech skills for the future!

I have been up to some exciting stuff that is keeping me very busy. I am launching emerging technology courses in Europe, starting with Lisbon and Paris. (See current courses here: If these go well KATO will setup shop in these cities and run regular courses as well as spread to London, Berlin and Amsterdam.

I am calling it #BrainGym, because I have always dreamt of having a place that I can go to daily to learn. Much like popping into the gym for a daily 1 hour workout, but these workouts will be mental and be up skilling me to be ahead of the game.

The courses are classroom based, because if you have tried to learn subjects like backend programming or electronics by yourself, it can be very challenging and off putting.

The topics/courses will cover the skills you need to develop IoT devices: electronics, sensors, data collection, data analysis, product development, blockchain, solving problems and more. Basically, attending all of the BrainGym workshops will give you the ability to solve real problems, or meet the people who can help you develop a solution. In gym terms, the functional training (a.k.a Crossfit) of the learning world.

Please do reach out to me at if you have suggestions, be it things that you would like to see, potential people/companies you believe I should be working with, etc.

Thank you

Are women participating to their full potential in the local tech sector? No, why we can’t be a 100% certain…


This month has been particularly busy for me. It was International Women’s Day on Thursday 8 March, so over and above my normal day of work I was busy letting South Africa know what is happening in the local tech industry in terms of women participation and how everyone can play their part to bridge the gender gap in this sector.

I was lucky enough to voice my opinion throughout the day on five radio shows and to have four articles published online about the steps we need to take to make a change. (Features added at the bottom)

Women in Tech in South Africa

Tech in South Africa is on the rise as the country increasingly welcomes the adoption of new and emerging technology, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) and Blockchain. But, during this time of industry growth, men continue to take centre stage as woman remain underrepresented in the field.

The solution for inclusivity in the local tech sector lies in encouraging and supporting women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Young women embarking in STEM often don’t have their family’s support as a result. This means they need to turn to their fellow students for support, who are often mainly males and also struggle to understand why a woman is studying a STEM subject. This lack of support has proven to limit women participation.

The 2017 Women in Technology global survey conducted by ISACA which revealed that a lack of female mentors (48%), a lacked female role models in the field (42%) and limited networking opportunities (27%) were some of the top barriers experienced by women in technology.

We have witnessed firsthand how these barriers have impacted women contribution to our local tech communities.

In 2012 and 2015 respectively, we started two tech communities: Arduino Cape Town, aimed at those who design and create in the world of electronics, and the Modern Alchemists for South Africa’s Maker community, those into art, coding, gaming, electronics, music or any form of making and incorporating tech into their creations. The meet ups offer a chance to interact with likeminded people, skill swap, ask for advice, and build relationships. But we quickly realised that these groups were almost solely attended by men and those women who did attend felt isolated given it was a male-dominated community.

It is for this reason that, in April 2016, I established Women in Tech Cape Town with the aim to empower gender diversity in the tech sector. But, what makes this community unique is that it encourages men and women from all walks of life to be part of this group. We are strong believers that the greater the diversity, the better the solution. The more we try to understand and accept each other, the sooner we will start supporting each other and working together to bridge the gap.

The success of this model is evident, we now have over 1 000 women in this group and it is growing. We’ve also noticed that the number of women has now also increased in the more male orientated groups. This proves how creating supportive networks — those that offer mentorship, support and encouragement — can be powerful motivators to empower women to pursue their passion for tech and progress their career in tech.

If we are to bridge the gender gap in South African tech space, we need to understand that South Africa’s challenges are unique when compared to Europe and the US. Our struggles are broader. We need to start voicing these obstacles and work together to create solutions for the future we want to live in.

Data to Make a Difference

It is no secret that data is incredibly important to make any real impact or change. Data exposes where the real issues are and in turn, where the solutions need to be focused. This cycle of collecting and reviewing data needs to continue continuously in order to measure whether the solution is having the needed effect, or if adaptations need to be made.

Last May I posted a story on The realization that your country is lacking the data that is needed for it to progress. In summary, I wanted to see what impact the women in tech communities where having in bridging the gender diversity gap by tracking data, but to my horror, there is little to no South African data on females in STEM.

So I put the challenge on myself to collect this data and reached out to a group of women in the field and influencers for their help and advice. These women were amazing and helpful, and through hours of hard work of creating surveys, reviewing and adjusting them, and speaking to experts in STEM, journalists, data specialists — it became evident that to collect and formalise this data properly was more than an after-hours volunteering job. We needed to raise funding and hire a team of experts to achieve the results we were looking, and to be able to say, with confidence: “This is the percentage of women are in STEM in South Africa. This is how women in South Africa feel about STEM. And this is how we can change these numbers and people’s views of STEM.”

This year I am dedicating the majority of my spare time into finding a partner to fund this research project. Keep an eye here to see any updates on my progress.

How can you make a difference?

  • Join our Women in Tech groups. You can find your local group here.
  • You can create a Women in Tech chapter in your area. Get in touch with me:
  • Sponsor or partner with us, contact me for more details:
  • Join other tech communities in your area, you can see the ones I am connected to here

“What it is like for Women in STEM in South Africa” – Panel Event.

On the 19th September 2017, KATO and Women in Tech Cape Town held an event “Women in Tech Panel: What it is like for Women in STEM in SA”. KATO partnered with the Canadian initiative Kamloops Innovation to bring you two events that had in mind the goal of creating a space where a conversation could happen to better understand “what is like for a women in STEM”. The first event was held in Canada on the 12th September and the second was hosted by KATO in Cape Town.  


There was an exciting panelist of South African females working in various forms of STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering and Maths) that told us their story and answering questions from the audience, whether it is how they have reached goals and discussion hurdles they have overcome.

The panel were:
Cleo Forster
Cleo is an civil engineer by training, a wind and solar project developer by profession and a philanthropist at heart. She has spent her career thus far dabbling in the many environments that engineering can offer… from the side of the N3 laying pavement, to the frantic pace that was a tech startup and recently the political disaster that is utility scale renewables.

Mmaki Jantjies
Mmaki is currently a Senior Lecturer and Head of the Information Systems academic department at the University of the Western Cape. She has previously served as a Head of Department at the North West University department of Information Systems. Mmaki also researches in the field of ICT4 Development, focusing on how education and small businesses  can be supported through mobile and electronic platforms. Mmaki has a passion for youth education and works with various NGO’s to upskill teachers in high schools with ICT skills, to use in classrooms. She also mentors graduate students to open and run technology clubs in underprivileged schools in South Africa with most of the clubs focusing on training young women and girls.

Viola Milner
Viola graduated from the University of Cape Town in 2013 with her MSc in Civil Engineering.  She started with Mott MacDonald (previously PD Naidoo and Associates) in 2013, to work in solid waste and water engineering. In September 2016 she joined JG Afrika (previously Jeffares & Green) in the municipal department. Her civil engineering work experience ranges from integrated waste management, environmental management, stormwater management, water infrastructure design and construction monitoring. She believes that engineering requires technical expertise as well as social and environmental sensitivity and actively seeks to maintain and further develop this integrated approach in all her projects. She has been actively involved in Young Professional Forums, both within her company and Consulting Engineers South Africa (CESA) since 2013. She is currently the CESA YPF Chairperson of the Western Cape and member on CESA YPF National EXCO.

_MG_5583.JPGWhat we learnt from the Cape Town event:

We decided not to dictate the whole event, but to rather give you a summary of what we thought would be the most beneficial information to anyone reading this who want to know what it is like for a female in STEM based in South Africa.  

The italics and bold statements are comments that we felt stood out, we are not saying it is exclusively South Africans or females that feel this way, but they are remarks that stood out for us.

How did you get into the field you are in?

  • Mmaki: I was working in ICT then I moved to academia and found I really enjoyed academia more.
  • Viola: My mom said your sister is the creative one so you are going to have to do something sensible so I studied engineering
  • Cleo: I wanted to do Eco’s and my dad said I’m not paying for that so did civil engineering instead

Do you have female mentors?

  • Viola: A rare occurrence is that we do have a senior female and she is even working reduced hours. She worked her way up doing her own thing and then returned at a higher level rather than working her way up within the company. I “stalk” more senior women and go talk to them at conferences nerve wracking as that may be.
  • Cleo: Difficult because the more senior females keep leaving.

Do kids really need to be taught about the digital environment?

  • Mmaki: Kids in the middle and upper class may be growing up with ipads but firstly that doesn’t mean they they know what is actually going on they just pushing the screen to play games and aren’t necessarily familiar with things we take for granted like how to use a work processor or the internet and this is especially true of children from lower income backgrounds where access to the internet and digital devices is a scarce. The digital era is in many ways widening the gap between the poor and wealthy.
  • Robyn (Host): For students with English as a second or third language take for granted that most coding languages are in “English”.  

Does your company have training or a procedure for sexual harassment issues?

  • Mmaki: In a unionised environment the union takes care of that
  • Viola: Recently brought up the need to talk about mental health and sexual harassment with my bosses and they open to it but I will probably have to be the driving force behind it. I have also heard of stories where someone was dismissed only to be rehired by the same company a couple of years later.
  • Cleo:No, and there was a situation at a previous company where it wasn’t handled well at all. It was allowed to spread as a rumour around the office and in the end the female was seen to have reported something silly and the male didn’t really get any heat or embarrassment out of the situation.

How did you find your passion? (Question from a 22 yr old student)

  • Mmaki: If you had asked me at 22 if I wanted to be a an academic I wouldn’t have thought so but  tried it out and turns out I really enjoy it.
  • Viola: Trial and error. Talk to people and find out what they actually do so you can narrow your options then try it out and if you like it great if you don’t try something else.
  • Cleo:I still don’t know what I’m doing! Younger people seem to think that you have it all figured out by the time you are 30 but try not to worry too much what people say you should be doing and follow your instinct about what you enjoy

Do you find working in a male dominated environment impacts who you socialise with ( do you have more guy friends?)

  • Mmaki: No
  • Viola: No, but I do value my female colleagues who provide a space to vent
  • Cleo: Agree female colleagues are helpful

What is it like working in a male dominated environment?

  • Mmaki: Being in tech and academia is like being in a double male dominated environment since tech is male dominated and higher levels of academia is also white male dominated.
  • Viola: While the men are not outright sexist and are supportive they do make annoying ‘jokes’ like when you rinsing you coffee cup: “I see you in the kitchen where women belong” or “what’s the point of training you, you just going to leave and be a housewife with kids.” I try to think about clever retorts with fellow female colleagues instead of letting it get to me.
  • Cleo: You understand why female prefer to work in the cities once you have been into more rural areas. It’s like being transported back to the 1960’s. Not only with regards to women but other things too. The attitude seems to be this is the way things are done if you don’t like it then leave, nevermind how backwards it is. I have less patience with those ‘jokes’ Viola was talking about and tend to just get really irritated and they see on my face that I’m not impressed.

How do you balance motherhood and career?

  • Mmaki: If I have had a rough day at work I’ll get myself chocolate and sprite ( soda) and sit in the car in the garage rocking to my favourite music before I go into house so I am not in a bad mood when I greet my kids. When you have kids you realise how much time you wasted before, nothing is done at the last minute you need to be more organised that being said it is also about juggling and going from one thing to the next, ordering take-aways ( HEALTHY ones 😉 ) while in a meeting because I’m not going to home in time to cook or organising a uber to pick up the nanny with the kids coz I don’t have time to be a taxi. Kids are a joy and will remind you of the important things. Having a good support structure is good and I have a person who helps look after the kids and I take the washing to the laundromat.
  • General discussion: Younger women think they have to choose between career and motherhood because it seems impossible to juggle both since companies don’t seem to be that accommodating of working flexible hours even though they not outright against women in leadership

Is there a gender pay gap, how does it come about?

  • Mmaki: Men will apply for promotion every year until they get it while women tend to build up a case and then after a couple of years with some persuasion apply for a promotion. Also men will tell you about every tiny achievement and want to discuss pay raises or promotion.
  • Viola: I don’t think it is an explicit aim to pay women less but comes about because of differing opportunities especially if a woman has children and may need flexible hours. In my experience graduates start with the same salary but after 5 years a women may have a child, take maternity leave ( usually about 4 months) and need to work reduced hours 4- 6 hours or flexiblily so while the males get managerial positions with people under them it is thought that a woman can’t fulfil  a managerial role because they are not at the office ALL the time and that is where the divergence starts.
  • Cleo: After working at a company for a couple of years I was talking to a new recruit fresh out of university only to discover we were being paid the same. Because it is awkward enough working in this male dominated environment the awkward conversations about pay raises are even more awkward.

Are there any quirks to working in a male dominated industry, how you dress or act? E.g. do you have to have multiple changes of clothes to look feminine but also sometimes hardcore?

  • Mmaki: I wear what I want, they must just accept me for who I am.
  • Viola: Hasn’t figured out how people manage to wear dresses when you have to put steel tip boots on when you go to building sites.
  • Cleo: Looking ‘feminine’ took a bit of getting used to, keeps a pair of heels under her desk if she has to look a bit more snazzy for a meeting. Most of the time I’m walking around in sneakers
  • General discussion: If you put a bit more effort on a particular day the assumption is you have an interview or something, ie what you wear gets more attention.

For more information contact:

Robyn Farah: +27 (0)713328121,

Bianca Cherkaev:

Information from the Canada event:

On September 12th Kamloops Innovation hosted a women in Tech panel apart of their celebration of the Startup Canada Awards week.The event had in mind the goal of creating a space where a conversation could happen, so both women and men were encouraged to join from all backgrounds, companies, and organizations to get together to celebrate the vibrant and growing tech and entrepreneurial community in Kamloops.

The main points from the panel :

  • We need to create a support system for each other, as women we Should the uplifting each other and showing each other the ropes. Creating a support system is the most important thing as it allows for women to share their experiences, to mentor each other and to know that there is someone out there like you who understands.
  • It is important to be willing to have courageous conversations and to be okay with being “one of the boys ” for a bit. These conversations will lead to you” Earn your stripes” . So you have to be willing to take that step and be ready to start those discussion, it will get you out of your comfort zone.
  • Learn to toot your own horn; Learning to appreciate all of the good stuff that you’ve done : the successful meetings, reports, projects and more… Those successes are very important in the journey of a woman in entrepreneurship. So celebrate your success and failures, those hurdles will ultimately allow you to grow as a woman, whether in the professional or personal area of your life.
  • Call people out if you need to. This is an important step because there are situations that you’re put in where you won’t know how to react  but it is okay to call people out.  If we do not have a call to action how are we supposed to share our story. So call them out for comments, jabs or whatever it may that affected you
  • The most important takeaway from the panel was that it would not be easy at all, but in the end with your hard work, dedication, tears, and motivation it would absolutely be worth it. Our hopes is that by starting this conversation now, we can inspire change.

This was an amazing event and very well attended by a lot of incredible women and men, we wanted to show that this event was not just about women but about the supportive men in our lives and community. The panel was about uplifting each other and empowering each other; it was about having a real, honest discussion about values, stereotypes, and perceived work/life balance. The panel was moderated by Stefanie Butland, who is managing an international community of scientists at ROpenSci, and featured distinguished panelists such as Elycia Buckley, (President of the Computer Science Club at Thompson Rivers University), Tammy Uyeda, (Founder and CEO of FitSpark), and Paris Gaudet, (Executive Director of Innovation Island).

For more information contact:

Assetou Coulibaly

The sad realization that your country is lacking the data that is needed for it to progress.


While writing a pitch for donors to show them why sponsoring our tech communities is the best investment they can make, I discovered that South Africa has NO data on females* in the tech industry. Be it women working for tech companies or female tech entrepreneurs.

This leaves me with a HUGE hurdle which I am happy to tackle, but this cannot be done alone!

Basically it is hard for our Women in Tech groups to progress without numbers, as we have no idea what it is that we are trying to overcome. Sure we can continue to have female in tech events, workshops, etc, but unless we are measuring how many new women are entering into tech or creating their own tech company thanks to us, our work ends up being mundane and pointless.

When you read/listen to this amazing these articles/podcasts:

They cover things like:

“Our research findings show that on the lower rungs of corporate career ladders, fully 41% of highly qualified scientists, engineers, and technologists are women. But the dropout rates are huge: Over time 52% of these talented women quit their jobs. Most strikingly, this female exodus is not a steady trickle. Rather, there seems to be a key moment in women’s lives — in their mid to late thirties — when most head for the door.”

“Just 8.3 percent of venture capital-funded U.S. tech startups founded in 2014 were led by women CEOs, according to PitchBook.”

“In middle school, 74 percent of girls express interest in STEM subjects, but when choosing a college major, just 0.4 percent of high school girls select computer science, according to Girls Who Code.”

“We need to change the perception of science and math as masculine fields by providing girls with female role models, and giving them hands-on experience with all different kinds of technology.”

“The U.S. Department of Labor projects that by 2020 there will be” “1.4 million jobs will open in computer science by 2020, yet we’ll have enough qualified graduates to fill just 29 percent of them — and less than 3 percent will be filled by women.”

Now picture that you are getting stats for South Africa when you read/listen to these articles/podcasts. We have very similar issues to the U.S., but none of our own stats to fill in for the issues covered. When we (South Africa’s referring to females in tech/female entrepreneurs) have to use information to back up our points, we have to pull data from overseas articles/journals which is WRONG! Although we face similar issues, we are a very different country, with multiple cultures, multiple different issues and let’s not forget that we also have a huge class and race gap that needs to be tackled along side this.

So what’s next…

We need to collect the local data and from there to devise a way to change and improve things. We already have create initiatives like: WomEng, Code4CT, GirlHype, codeX to name a few, that are educating females in STEM, all of which we try very work closely with.

We (KATO’s tech communities) aim to collect this data and from there guide and encourage females to become tech entrepreneurs, educate females in tech that are already working but want to change focus, connect employers to employees and run mentorship programs.

Stay tuned, and let’s hope that we get the ball rolling sooner rather than later.

*female/women in this article refers to anyone that considers themselves a female.


Seeking Sponsorship for our South African based Tech Communities


Over the past five years, I have driven several successful tech communities and events, all of which have reached a stage of growth that requires more than just myself and a part-time committee to run them. For more, view these pictures, videos and events.

Each of these initiatives have succeeded in fulfilling numerous exciting achievements. One such achievement is the sharing of tech knowledge and skills with as many people as possible while also bridging the gender and class gap — not only in Cape Town, but also internationally.

In order to see continuous growth and have an even larger impact on the world around us, we need to expand.

Our vision includes setting up a dedicated office and hiring a full-time team of staff who will execute on the following:

  • Mentoring programmes
  • Tech courses and events
  • Hackathons to solve real world problems
  • A space that has an in-house support system for the tech community and for those interested in entering the tech industry
  • The perfect place to go to expand your tech skills and network
  • A safe place to get advice, network, grow your start-up, expand your tech skills and learn product development skills.
  • A connection platform for the public, educators, investors, employees and employers
  • The go-to place for employers to find their perfect employee

What the initiatives are:

Although each initiative varies our over all aims are:

  • To encourage gender equality and diversity in tech
  • To inspire and guide the community in developing new technology products or startups that solve local and global problems
  • To educate the public in hardware and new tech
  • To have the best support and mentoring system for anyone who is in or interested in the tech sector

And so much more.

Please contact me ( if you are interested, if you know anyone who would be, or if you would just like to know more.

In the meantime, here is a teaser video from one of our past events .

Thank you,


Global Tech Communities

Women In Tech Cape Town, mentorship meetup

I created a global tech database…well I created a website which intends to grow into that.


Since I run a tech company and several tech and maker communities and events, I have no issue meeting and connecting with people, whether it is down the road or on another continent. It came to my attention that the people who are not in my shoes do not have the same luxuries as me and have no idea where to start when it comes to connecting to people.

Logging and keeping track of all the tech people, groups and events I know is not my forte.

So my solution is to get people who know of any tech event or community to add it to our database.

This will better connect us on a global scale!!!

Check it out and add any tech communities and events you know.