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IT leaders need skills focus

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South Africa is seeing a massive demand for – and a lack of – skilled IT professionals. This is becoming an issue for the country’s IT industry and if no change occurs, could be detrimental not only to the economy, writes GARETH HAWKEY, CEO of redPanda Software.

In a business environment that is now largely driven by innovative IT and software, there is massive demand for skilled and highly trained IT professionals. Sadly, as has been well documented, there is an increasingly dire shortage of these individuals in the local sphere.

This lack in supply seems to be partly the result of a formal education system that is not adequately addressing the needs of local companies and providing a reliable pipeline of talent. As it stands, gaining entry to top universities remains hugely competitive (and often too expensive), and many students are opting for more traditional careers as doctors, accountants or engineers.

In the short and long term, this means that there just aren’t enough young and ambitious people stepping into the IT industry to meet the ever-growing need.

Global tech bigwigs adding pressure

Simultaneously, this demand is being driven by global companies that are opening up branches in South Africa (e.g. Amazon and Facebook) as well as the growth of South Africa as a prime destination for offshoring. Naturally, this places added stress on the imbalance between the supply and demand of IT talent.

While these are the key factors behind the skills shortage, the mounting challenge for local companies is that IT salaries continue to grow exponentially (mainly because there are so few people in this group being fought over by so many companies). This inevitably puts an extra layer of cost onto recruitment and retention.

In the long term, this worrying trend could eventually lead to such a growth in the baseline cost for businesses that they run the risk of becoming too expensive to compete in a cutthroat international IT market. Given the local market conditions, this would be devastating for South African businesses with an eye on expansion.

Platform for Practical Learning

For local supply to meet demand, we should be producing thousands of new developers each year, for example. Arguably, this has to be addressed on a large scale – through a formal training and education process that takes place within the industry itself. In our view, this cannot be left solely to education or academic organisations to address, but instead, the industry (including business leaders) should embrace the skills challenge.

In a high-pressure environment, today’s companies require new recruits to be productive from day one – and in order to make this a reality, businesses and learning institutions need to provide the necessary theoretical and practical training.

For example, software houses should create a unique platform for learning so that they can produce hundreds, or even thousands of developers every year – who leave that educational forum equipped to be immediately productive and influential.

Training as a Strategic Objective

Given the urgency – and gravity – of the skills shortage within local IT, our view is that training and skills development should be a key strategic objective for savvy businesses. In addition, the issue of recruitment and retention needs to be carefully addressed by the top-level executives within every company in order for it to be part of the cultural fabric that runs through the organisation.

Ultimately, this means that the recruitment process has to be well defined, both technically and culturally… meaning that technical skills need to be a consideration as well as the cultural and personality fit of every new recruit.

Within our organisation, we believe that a career needs to be considered both from this technical perspective and a personal perspective – and both aspects need to be fulfilled in order to achieve the best results for both the individual and the company in the long term.

Critically, this requires educating and training managers to spot the right talent within their own organisation, and to grow this internal talent to meet the recruitment needs. It’s about empowering those managers and giving them the time and space with their team members to ensure that each individual career is always moving forward.

Leadership is Paramount

As countless examples have shown us, building a dedicated and loyal workforce comes down to walking the walk: you cannot simply promote the organisation during the recruitment process and then not follow through on the statements or promises made.

For example, if you say you promote from within, what are you doing to support this process? How are you training and educating people so that they can be promoted from within?

The ability to clearly demonstrate the results of this approach (for example, 9 out of the last 10 appointments in our company have come from within the organisation) will certainly resonate with employees and ultimately build loyalty and trust.

While financial rewards are undoubtedly a factor, developing a long-term culture of trust and a loyal workforce takes far more than money. It takes personal attention, and the ability to demonstrate that your organisation is truly investing in people, and in the country at large.

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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Buy 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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SAFTA awards get first streaming video nominees

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The 2019 nominations for The South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAs) were announced late last week, and for the first time in the 13-year history of the awards, a TV series produced for a video-on-demand service was in contention. The result was a surprise boost to streaming service Showmax.

The comedy series Tali’s Wedding Diary, which premiered in December 2017, represented a major step for the then two-year old streaming service. It was the debut Showmax Original, the first time Showmax ventured into producing its own content. The gamble paid off, with the show becoming the most watched of any series on its first day on Showmax, and now Tali’s Wedding Diary has been further recognised with seven SAFTA nominations, making it this year’s most nominated comedy.

“When we first floated the idea of Tali’s Wedding Diary, we joked about winning awards,” says Candice Fangueiro, Showmax’s head of content. “At that point, just getting our first Showmax Original off the ground was already a major challenge and it was more than we could hope for to actually hit it out of the park. I was stunned when I heard the news about the nominations – it’s amazing to be considered in the same company as these other shows and thanks to this we’re already seeing a fresh spike in Tali views.”

Tali’s Wedding Diary was also a first for co-creator and star Julia Anastasopoulos, who until then was best known as YouTube star SuzelleDIY. “I am so thrilled about the SAFTA nominations for Tali’s Wedding Diary,” says Julia, who is up for Best Actress – TV Comedy and Best Achievement in Scriptwriting – TV Comedy, along with her husband Ari Kruger and Daniel Zimbler. 

“It was such a big and daunting step to create a full TV comedy series and intro a brand-new character. I really didn’t know how it would be received and am so happy to have received such positive feedback for the show and the Tali Babes character, along with the nominations. It feels so good to be recognised for something we poured our hearts into. None of it would have been possible, of course, without the incredible hard work and vision of my husband Ari and the incredible team, cast and crew that were part of the show. And a huge thank you to Showmax of course for making it all possible. Congratulations and best of luck to the entire team and to all the other nominees.”

Tali’s Wedding Diary is a mockumentary that follows Tali, a self-obsessed Joburg princess who’s moved to Cape Town and is planning her wedding to property-agent fiancé Darren (Anton Taylor). The series was inspired by Julia’s own wedding to Ari, her SuzelleDIY and Tali’s Wedding Diary co-creator, who is also up for Best Achievement In Directing – TV Comedy.  

In addition to Julia and Ari’s nominations, Tali’s Wedding Diary is up for Best TV Comedy, Art Direction (Keren Setton),  Cinematography (James Adey), and Editing (Richard Starkey). Winners will be announced on 2 March 2019 at Sun City Superbowl.

Following the success of Tali’s Wedding Diary, the second Showmax Original, The Girl From St Agnes, was released earlier this month. A third Showmax Original, Trippin With Skhumba, is slated for release at the end of February.

“With three Showmax Originals now under our belt and more on the way, we’d like to think this is the start of many more SAFTA nominations for shows from a streaming service,” concludes Candice.

South African content currently on Showmax has 110 nominations and includes the most nominated movie (Five Fingers With Marseilles), telenovela (The River), drama (Lockdown) and soap (Isibaya), with more SAFTA nominees scheduled for the coming months.

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