Phila Phungula: Encoding Learning in Youth

#GirlsInICT Inspiring The Future Series | In conversation with Phila Phungula, Z Developer Advocate and a Scrum Master for the Student Experience team globally within IBM Z.
Phila Phungula: Encoding Learning in Youth

Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey that culminated in where you are today?

My Name is Phila Phungula, I am a Z Developer Advocate and a Scrum Master for the Student Experience team globally within IBM Z. I am based in Johannesburg, South Africa. When I started university, I was initially studying Accounting! Yes, Accounting!

I used to help other students by teaching them Maths and Accounting basics. I wanted to be a teacher and also thought I could become an accountant, since I love money.

Within the first year of my studies, while doing my introductory computer science course. I immediately fell in love. My first experience working on a computer and studying computer course involved failure. Yes, I failed my first module in Computer Science. I spent hours in the lab making sure my code worked and the adrenaline rush I got when all my code did what it was supposed to do fired me up. I decided to change my major to IT.

While completing my Computer Science finals, I was offered my first professional IT job. With most graduates in South Africa experiencing unemployment, I took the job anyway despite it not being a hands-on coding job. Two years later, I was headhunted by IBM to join their Graduate Programme. I was so happy! After reading all the capabilities of IBM Z and being given the opportunity to work with so many exciting, new, and forward thinking technologies that make a huge difference in the world, I cannot tell you how excited I was. I was willing to start from the beginning and have never looked back. The more I learned about IBM Z the more I fell in love with it. Within IBM Z, we enable new technologies such as AI and blockchain to allow us to create solutions I never imagined were possible in university.

Being a person who likes learning, my job allows me to learn so much more and also get to share this knowledge with other people who in return also teach me by asking me questions and by sharing the same interests.

We would love to know more about your work.

I get to enable, inspire, and empower students with skills in emerging technologies on IBM Z empower students to learn about the emerging technologies throughout the world, making sure it is easily accessible.

We are building a new mobile application called Hour of Z and I cannot wait for it to launch this summer! It will help many people to learn how to code and understand more about the underlying technology powering many of the world’s leading industries. It’s so exciting for me to empower students to learn coding skills…students from so many different backgrounds, countries, ethnicities, and genders to be future ready.

Another program I love is the Z Ambassador program which gives students exposure to enterprise computing to enable them to make decisions on their future career path in tech.

I will also be speaking at the Women in Tech World Series, knowing I will impower many with Microservices basics, because I believe that in order to tech and learn something you need to understand the basics.

Do you think we should be wary of the shift from human power to machine power?

Yes, we should align some of our education towards emerging technologies, Machine Learning, Robotics and AI to be relevant in the future. We are an asset as human beings with our human interactions. We need to make sure to use online programs just like student hub to master skills that would be needed in decades.

What is crucial to do right now in ensuring the human evolves?

It is essential to learn and excel in emerging technologies like AI, machine learning, analytics and robotics so we can be  future ready. We need to make sure use online programs just like student hub to master skills that would be needed in decades and work based programs like Z ambassador programs to get work experience and be exposed to the future of work.

As technology shifts the balance of power and opportunity in society, does it impact gender equality?

Yes, diversity in leadership will ensure gender equality with women bringing in different perspectives. This will usher a new way of leading, to adapt efficiently just like COVID has forced many organization too adapt quickly.

What are the most important skills that are essential for our future and the future of work?

AI, Machine Learning, Analytics and Robotics. The amazing IBM Z capabilities of scalability, reliability and security actually supports these areas very well.

As the future of work is rapidly changing, how is digitalization empowering our society and especially those who were being left behind before?

It gives access to everyone regardless of affordability (excluding data expenses, fees especially in developing countries like South Africa where data is expensive) to the same high quality education.

We all have access to YouTube which seems to be our new university, with quality content for all.

We still need to work on accessibility, since not everyone in the world has access to data or laptop, but it is very promising as research shows a large percentage of the population own smartphones globally.

Why is an inclusive dialogue about gender equality important especially in this fourth industrial revolution of technology?

Because the pay gap is huge and the skills female leaders bring in, like innovation, adaptability and inclusion, mean the future will have all the strength of the individuals living in it, and be more successful and catering for all.

Gender bias is a huge topic as far as tech and machine learning is concerned. What needs to be done to address this?

We need to empower more females from young age, so they can have the confidence to join STEM, we need more female leaders of all color and backgrounds to inspire young girls. We need corporations to be serious about gender inclusion and re-dedicate pay gaps and mentor and equip females to have the same skills and opportunities like their male counterparts.

How can we realize an inclusive future?

By all of us (Organization and people in it) doing our part, females lending a hand to each other, help each other grow and succeed.

This interview was organized and conducted by interns participating in Ananke’s Empower – Digital Capacity Building Program (Anam Javed, Mwajuma Faridah Abdallah, Tooba Arshad Khan)


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