Post-doctoral Fellow in UKZN’s Quantum Research Group, Dr Yaseera Ismail, attended the TechWomen initiative in the United States - a five-week programme which included a professional mentorship visit with a host company, exposure to cultural and community service events and targeted meetings with the US Department of State in Washington DC.
The programme brings emerging women leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) from Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East into contact with their professional counterparts in Silicon Valley in the United States. The aim is to empower, connect, and support women leaders through innovation and technology.
While in Silicon Valley, Ismail was hosted for three weeks at Synopsys - an EDA company based on the development of silicon in chip technology - where she engaged with various divisions within the company from software development to prototyping.
Emerging leaders were also hosted at LinkedIn, Symantec, NASA Ames research institute, UC Berkeley, Twitter, Google and Autodesk, among other companies.
The involvement of the various tech companies exposed emerging leaders to the environment within the tech industry. This varied from hands-on training at Autodesk on 3D modelling and design to the development of business plans and start-ups to empowering leadership workshops at LinkedIn aimed at discovering and nurturing soft skills such as personality strengths, focusing on leadership and career development.
Emerging leaders were also given the opportunity to attend events hosted in Silicon Valley such as Biztech San Francisco, where business meets technology. This one-week event was aimed to promote start-ups and was hosted at Oracle. One of the prominent topics at the event was the Internet of Things (IoT).
Part of the Techwomen experience was for participants to take the programme a full circle and use the skills developed to impact others and give back to the community by tackling a socio-economic issue in their own country.
Team South Africa - three scientists, a PhD candidate and an aerospace engineer - focused on the issue of low literacy rates within township and rural areas. These impact plans were pitched at Oracle with the opportunity to win one of five seed grants. Team SA won one of the five grants for their impact plan, Books4Mzansi.
Books4Mzansi is an app operated on Android system and aims to provide a platform to connect resources in English and native languages to underprivileged schools, with the intention of inculcating a learning environment and driving the youth towards a prosperous future.
Ismail described the experience as life altering and an opportunity that all emerging women in STEM should aim to undertake.
‘To be awarded this prestigious title you have to be an individual working in STEM with a prosperous and growing career. You also need to be influential and involved in the development of the youth and STEM careers.’
Ismail is currently conducting research in quantum technology, specifically quantum communication, which promises to revolutionise ICT security solutions in the future through the encryption of data using quantum mechanics.