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Java course prepares coders

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The Java Post-matric Programme launched this year has just seen its first batch of students graduate. They are now completing six-month internships with leading digital companies.

A year ago, Storm Brown, 18, had little hope of continuing his education after high school, and thought it unlikely he’d be employed and on a career track any time soon. Today, however, he’s already spent three months in a paid internship, which has since been extended to a 12-month fixed term contract, at Cape Town-based custom software development house DVT, thanks to the Western Cape Government and Oracle’s Java Post-matric Programme.

The Java Post-matric Programme launched this year, with the goal of getting young coders ready for the corporate world as soon as possible after leaving school. The 37 students in this year’s cohort graduated on 5 October 2016 and are currently completing six-month internships with leading digital companies in the Western Cape. The post-matric programme is funded by Oracle Academy; the Western Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism; and the Media, Information and Communications Technology Sector Education and Training Authority (MICT SETA).

“This initiative showcases what we can achieve through partnerships between the public and private sectors,” said Provincial Minister of Economic Opportunities Alan Winde. “The Western Cape Government has selected skills as a game-changer, with significant potential to grow the economy. This programme is playing an important role in delivering skills in the tech industry to our young people. They’re receiving the valuable on-the-job experience they need to start their careers.”

In 2016, On the Ball College and CapaCiTi implemented the programme, with On the Ball College delivering Java training to the participants, and CapaCiTi helping the students develop their business and professional skills.

The post-matric programme builds on an existing in-school programme, launched by Oracle Academy, the Western Cape Department of Education, and the Western Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism in 2014 to fill a gap in computing education. As part of the programme, over the past two years Oracle Academy and the Western Cape Department of Education trained 160 teachers in teaching Java, using Oracle Academy’s Alice and Greenfoot workshops, and the full academic curriculum in Java Fundamentals and Java Programming.

This is where it all started for Brown: he signed up for the in-school Java training programme for grades 11 and 12 when he was a learner at the Cape Academy of Mathematics, Science and Technology in Cape Town.

“Java is one of the most in demand coding skills around the world, and South Africa is no different. We are failing our learners if we don’t get them excited about the potential to create with Java,” said Provincial Minister of Education Debbie Schafer. “Through our school programme and now this post-matric extension, we are equipping school leavers for the working world, and giving them the best tools to innovate and solve problems using technology.”

Brown was hooked on Java from day one, to such an extent that his other IT grades rose dramatically and stayed high for the rest of his school career. “The world is moving faster and faster towards technology and we have to adapt,” he said. “I fell in love with Java because it is the leading scripting language in Africa and around the world, supported by a big company, and used in everything from cellphones to TVs.”

“Oracle Academy’s mission is to advance computer science education,” said Jane Richardson, senior director, Oracle Academy EMEA.  “This means we aim to help teachers build their computing knowledge and pedagogical skills, and then support them as they share their new or expanded expertise in computer science with students. In this case, we focused on Java to help grow student interest in programming and hopefully also a career in computing.”

“The skills we teach students through Oracle Academy and the Java Post-matric Programme are essential skills needed to boost the tech industry in South Africa,” said Wendy Beetge, transformation director at Oracle. “It’s been truly wonderful witnessing the growth in these students over the past few years – from knowing very little about coding when we started the school programme in 2014, to developing into skilled, confident and employable junior Java programmers by the end of the post-matric programme, ready for the challenges in a tech workplace.”

Training partner, On The Ball College is an Oracle Academy Partner and WDP (Work Development Programme) Partner with Oracle University, and has been running accredited training with MICT SETA for 10 years. The youth involved will benefit from this as they will receive accredited training that is aligned to the NQF, as well as industry needed scarce skills through Oracle University to be employable. “It’s a win-win situation for industry and the learner,” said Kim Palmer, managing director at On The Ball College.

“The MICT SETA uses these internship programmes to equitably distribute opportunities and bridge the skills gap of scarce and critical skills for all South Africans, particularly the youth. Exposing these students to workplace experience assists them to become employable,” says Jabu Sibeko, Senior Manager: Learning Programmes at MICT SETA.

CapaCiTi, the Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative’s flagship programme for job readiness, skills development and placement, was responsible for upskilling the students on the critical business and professional skills needed to be effective and successful in the workplace. It also tapped into its extensive network of corporates in the Western Cape and facilitated the process of connecting the students to companies looking for interns and entry-level coders.

“Upskilling students on business and professional skills — including insight into corporate culture, customer service, communication skills, personal branding and ethics — makes their transition into the corporate world far smoother, and ensures they have a real impact on the business from day one,” said Alethea Hagemann, head of the CapaCiTi skills development programme at CiTi. “It’s inspiring to see the candidates, who were in grade 12 only a year ago, thriving in the corporate world as interns and forming a clearer picture of the next steps in their careers.”

“This business readiness training had a tremendous impact on me,” said Brown. “From time management, to how to behave in an office, to communication skills. Recently I gave a speech to more than 200 people. It is thanks to the CapaCiTi training that I was able to do this.”

The wins that come out of the school and post-matric Java programme are multiple: school leavers are assisted with an important first step in their careers immediately after matriculating, fast-tracking their progress and earning potential; Western Cape-based digital companies develop a pipeline of in-demand Java coding skills; and the increase in skilled coders helps build a vital knowledge economy in the Western Cape and beyond.

“Our reason for getting up in the morning is to grow our information economy and create jobs in the Western Cape. Working back from that purpose, we know we can’t do this alone and need to mobilise the entire ecosystem to move in the same direction,” said Ian Merrington, CiTi chief executive officer. “This has been a perfect example of collaborating to solve a set of interlinked challenges in a way that sets us up for economic growth through nurturing our future innovators and makers.”

Meanwhile, for Brown, the most surprising thing about entering the workplace is how enjoyable it’s been. “It was so easy to fit into a software company,” he said. “I have such a passion for the work that it doesn’t really feel like work and every day is a happy day.”

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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