App helped student achieve BSc - Herald Reporter

NELSON Mandela University graduate Yanga Nkohla pursued a career in computing science before he had even seen or used a PC. He graduated with a BSc degree in computer science from Nelson Mandela University on Thursday.

 “When I was in Grade 9, I was playing chess on my mother’s cellphone, and after losing a game I was curious about how computers worked,” he said.

“I then did a bit of research about what I had to study in order to learn about computers.

“At first I was going to go for IT, but I later found out about computing science, and I went for it.”

A part of the research that guided his decision was through an application designed by Melissa van der Merwe, who was working on her doctorate in computing sciences at the time.

“The app – which I started as a side project – worked as a bot on Mxit,” Van der Merwe said.

“It had two main parts, which consisted of a glossary that allowed users to look up computer-related terms, and a career guidance section explaining different careers.

“Many people didn’t realise how many career paths there were, and [we hoped] to show people there was more to it than programming and get them interested.”

This certainly worked in Nkohla’s case.

“I came across the app and I read about the different careers,” he said.

“It helped me a great deal.”

Still, it was hard to adjust at university initially.

“I had no exposure to computers at all, so I had to learn everything: how to log in, work with Word and Excel, how to code, and everything else I had to know.

“After the first semester I had an idea of how things were done and how to manage my time, and things got better.”

Nkohla, who now lives in Cape Town, said his passion lay in programming.

“I think it’s really cool that you can see a real-world problem and just write some lines of code to solve it.

“Take the Cape Town water crisis – one could write a programme (someone has probably done it already) to help them monitor their daily water usage.”

Van der Merwe said she was awed to know her project had reached someone.

“The goal was to help people, and now he has his whole career ahead of him. Who knows what he might do? He could be the next Bill Gates.”

Associate Professor of computing sciences, Professor Jean Greyling, said: “Yanga’s story highlights the plight of thousands of learners from mainly rural schools who have very limited access to career-awareness opportunities, as well as guidance regarding further studies.

“We are very excited his story ended in him obtaining a degree, realising that a project we worked on seven years ago had this positive impact on his life. As a department we are passionate about reaching learners across the province.”

Nkohla said he hoped to create software programmes that helped people.

 “Ultimately, I’d like to take what I’ve learnt thus far and what I’m still to learn and maybe teach other kids from back home.”