About Bilal Kathrada

Posts by Bilal Kathrada:

CompuKids June 2015 Graphic Design Gallery

Take a look at what the Graphic Design students did at CompuKids during the June 2015 holidays:

Adem Teke




Sanaa Suliman


Batman logo


Lamiah Legodi


Hannah Thandar


Layyah Kharwa



Team Deep Blue – My Thoughts

“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.” — Steve jobs

DSC_0095There is an old saying that there are two people who are happier at someone else’s success than their own: a teacher and a father. I believe this is true because I don’t think winning the IBM Youth Innovation Challenge myself would have made me as happy as seeing my students win.

I am proud of our students who worked hard, put in the effort and work well as a team. I am excited about where this could possibly go; I mean, they won the first ever Hackathon held in South Africa by none other than IBM – this is no small accomplishment, and considering that they will now be offered internships at IBM, I am sure there are big things in store for these bright minds.

This is a realisation of our vision at IT varsity to produce the best developers in the country who will be comparable to the best in other countries. Our team is not happy to merely go through the motions of lecturing, giving exams and providing qualifications; we are aiming for much more. We live by the words of Steve Jobs quoted above. We want to do something that really matters. We want to produce the best. We want to make our little dent in the universe. And this week, we made a tiny little dent.

We have an awesome team, each of whom is passionate about technology and about empowering others. There is no substitute for a great team, and I am grateful to be working with such awesome people, and I sincerely hope we can do much greater things going forward.

Whenever our students go out there, winning awards, gathering accolades, becoming success stories of their own, we will always be here, working behind the scenes to ensure that they get all the support they need long after they’ve graduated and moved on. And we will be busy producing the next cohort of winners.

That is what IT varsity is all about.

IT varsity Produces Winners

IT varsity’s Team Deep Blue were awarded the top prize by IBM’s judges at the 2015 IBM Youth Innovation Challenge which was held at the University of KwaZulu Natal in Durban from the 25th to the 29th of May 2015.

The Youth Innovation Challenge is an initiative of ‘Innovate Durban’ in partnership with IBM, the eThekwini Municipality, the Sustainable Enterprise Development Facility (SEDF) and the Government of Flanders. The focus of the competition is to support youth driven technology businesses.

See also: Team Deep Blue – My Thoughts by Bilal Kathrada, CEO of IT varsity

The theme of the Innovate Durban- ’Hackathon’ event was ‘Smarter eThekwini’. This supports the agenda of ‘Open Government’ and ‘Open Data’ and in this way supports engagement by the eThekwini Municipality with its citizens.

The event was booked to capacity, and attracted developers and students from around the country. Nine teams participated in the Challenge, and each team was tasked with developing a technology-based solution to one major challenge facing the city and its citizens.

IT varsity’s Team Blue developed WorkerBee, a social app that linked skilled artisans to potential clients. WorkerBee is like LinkedIn, but for artisans.

So what’s in store for the winners?

  1. A cash prize
  2. A 3 month internship with IBM at any of their facilities worldwide.
  3. Possible funding and incubation by the eThekwini Municipality and SmartXchange.

Well done to our winners!

Some pics of the event. More pics on Facebook.


Maseehullah, Adrial and Simba having fun


IT varsity CEO Bilal Kathrada with the winning team


When the going gets tough…

Beware: Your Social Media comments can have severe legal implications

Can your opinions and negative comments about individuals, companies and brands that you post on Twitter hurt you – legally speaking?

The short answer: yes. At a presentation at the Social Media Evening (@smevedbn) which was held at IT varsity recently, Social Media Law specialist, Emma Sadleir (@EmmaSadleir)  explained that whatever you publish on social media could land you in hot water.

Ms Sadleir explained that Social Media law is “the law that regulates any conversation that takes place over the internet, called User Generated Content (UGC)”. She went on to explain that the instant you publish information (including Tweets, Retweets and Facebook comments) you are subject to the same laws that would apply to the traditional media. In short, every person who has access to the internet and publishes content is considered a publisher.

Ms Sadlier provided real-world examples of people who made statements on social media, only to meet disastrous consequences. One such example is that of Justine Sacco, the PR executive who was fired over her infamous tweet: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

Ms Stucco published the tweet as she boarded a plane for a 11 hour flight, totally unaware that during her flight her tweet would go viral and cause an international outrage. Nontheless, she was subsequently fired from her job.

Freedom of Expression versus Defamation – where does one end and the other begin?

As far as freedom of expression on the internet is concerned, Ms Sadleir explained that while freedom of expression is a very important constitutional right, that right is not unlimited. “If your speech infringes on the rights of another, violates copyright or constitutes hate speech then your freedom is legally limited.” says Sadleir.

Are negative comments about your employer subject to defamation law?

Yes. Ms Sadlier provided examples of employees who posted negative comments about the companies they worked for on their personal profiles, resulting in dismissal.

In summary, Ms Sadlier compared social media to a billboard: just as you wouldn’t put certain types of comments next to your your name and picture on a billboard, do not do so on social media.

KidsLearningCodeZA Project Summary

This article is a follow up on the KidsLearningCode article. Where the first article explained what we are doing, this one aims to show how we are going about it.


1. Syllabus, courseware, outcomes:

IT varsity has developed coding courseware tailored to the cognitive levels of younger students.

Our target group for this offering is school kids between the ages of 7 and 17 years.

Learners will be taught to:

  • Use their new computers (bearing in mind that most learners in rural areas have never used a computer before)
  • Create basic algorithms with Scratch
  • Understand the basic functioning of the Internet and browsers
  • Code JavaScript on their computers

The proposed programme outline is listed below.  This is a 3-month course, with classes taking place once a week, which gives a total of 12 sessions. The course has been designed by IT varsity with the sole aim of empowering the kids of today, for a better future tomorrow.

Module 1: Basic Computer Skills (2 sessions)
Module 3: Game Development with Scratch (3 sessions)
Module 4: Basic coding with HTML and CSS (3 sessions)
Module 5: Introduction to coding with JavaScript (4 sessions)

Since each learner will be given a computer, they will be given assignment tasks to complete during the week which they can complete on their on computers. This will encourage self-study and exploration.

A long-term sustainable solution

Our aim is to provide a concerted, sustained effort with the following specific outcomes in mind:

  • Inspire continued learning and practice after the classes are over
  • Instil a passion for technology
  • Encourage a competitive and entrepreneural spirit
  • Nurture the willingness to perform at optimal levels

To encourage active participation and excellence, we will follow up the training with a competition where learners who excel will stand the chance to win various prizes such as bursaries.

2. Computers and Internet

Each learner will be given a low-cost yet powerful, Linux-based Raspberry Pi computer, complete with screen, keyboard and mouse. Providing learners with their own computers will ensure that they can keep coding whenever they want.

Internet access will be provided via mobile data where required.

3. Classes:

Classes will be held once a week, on Saturdays.

4. Venues:

Currently we run coding classes at the IT varsity campus in the CBD, and at the Umkhumbane School in the Chesterville township. However, there has been a demand in many other areas, so we’ve approached other schools such as the Meadowlands Secondary School in Chatsworth, as well as schools in Phoenix, Inanda and Wyebank to allow us to host classes at their computer labs, to which many have graciously agreed.

Learners will be provided a light meal at every class.

5. Trainers:

The training will be done by our trained and qualified lecturers and IT varsity student volunteers, many of whom are eager to impart their knowledge to others.

6. Logistics

Many learners are from remote areas, so there may arise a need to provide them with taxi fare to get them to the training facility. We will cover the taxi fare from within the greater Durban area.

7. Accreditation

IT varsity is an accredited training provider. We are accredited by the MICT SETA, and most of our courses are accredited programmes.

Even though the Kids Learning Code course is purely a skills programme, it is aligned to assessment standards of the SAQA qualification “Systems Development” (SAQA ID: 48872)

Project Impact

Classes at UmkhumbaneBy providing coding skills and computers to kids, we will be opening up to them a new world, the world of computers and App development. They will be free to learn and explore, imagine and create, and in the process find their passion.

We believe that this project will go a long way towards addressing the IT skills shortage in South Africa because it will encourage more young people to get into IT careers.

It also has the potential to impact the economy of the country, because some of these kids may become innovators and tech entrepreneurs of the future.


“You educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a woman; you educate a generation.”

At IT varsity we understand the need to get more girls into IT careers. This project will address that need by ensuring that at least half of the learners will be girls.


IT varsity is a small startup company with big, audacious ideas. As much as we would like to continue providing free training to kids just for the love of it, the reality is that there is only so much we can do on our own, and that the way forward is to partner with like-minded individuals and organizations. That way we can do much more.

The current cost per child for the full 3-month program, including tuitions, meals, Raspberry Pi computers with screens, keyboards and mice, courseware and t-shirts, is R4500.

We are looking at getting enough sponsorship to run an initial class of 20 learners at our city campus.

For the initial class we intend to take in three learners per school from various schools in the Durban area. The three learners will be nominated by their schools to participate in the programme.

Our major challenge at this stage is finance. As a startup we have severe financial constraints, but with active participation of the government and private enterprise we will be able to easily reach out target of empower 20 disadvantaged students.

Based on the success of this project, we would like to run more projects of this type in other areas.


kids learning code zaMany technology experts believe that the next big frontier for technology is not Silicon Valley USA, but Africa. Many also believe that Africa is on the brink of a major technology revolution, and that South Africa is ideally suited to become the forerunner in the revolution.

But South Africa’s major challenge is that it lacks skilled ICT professionals. This is a major hindrance that is keeping back the local economy in an increasingly information-centric global economy. We need a constant supply of young professionals with the right IT skills; skills that are relevant, up-to-date and in tune with global technological trends.

At IT varsity we believe that South Africa has sufficient potential talent, but we are failing to harness it from a young age.

The big question is, how do we harness local talent talent? How do we get more kids, especially girls (sadly, females make up about 12% to 15% of SA’s IT workforce!) into technology? Not only that, but how do we train them to be among the best in the world?

We believe that we have the answers to these questions.

The Solution

Kids from middle to high-income homes have far more tech opportunities at their disposal than those from low-income homes due to the fact that they have access to computers and other devices at home as well as Internet access.

And yet there are so many extremely bright children in rural areas and townships who deserve an opportunity and, given one, will show the world what they can do. In empowering these children, we are empowering the entire economy; because it is these kids who will go on to fill the much-needed skills gap in the IT sector in this country. Further, it is possible that some of these kids will be great innovators of the future, developing solutions for people all over the world.

We believe that the only way to overcome this unfair situation is to:

  1. Provide coding classes to kids in rural areas and townships
  2. Provide them with computers of their own so that they can continue their learning


The Benefits

“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” Margaret Mead

In most parts of the world a lot of emphasis is placed on teaching kids to code, because coding present numerous benefits, as listed below:

Benefits of coding classes:

  • Identify and harness talent from a young age
  • Encourage learners to get into IT careers
  • Coding teaches people how to think
  • Coding enhances problem-solving abilities
  • Encourage learners to start innovating from as young as possible
  • Encourage an entrepreneurial spirit
  • Improve the overall levels IT skills among students currently in schools.

We believe that this training must be made accessible to all children.

At this stage we are unaware of any institute on South Africa that is actively teaching coding skills to kids of all backgrounds, so we at IT varsity have decided to address the problem by piloting classes at a couple of schools. This has proven quite successful, and now we would like to extend the scope to include as many other schools as possible.

IT varsity is the ideal institute to offer such classes because it is our core business to teach advanced coding skills.

If you are interested in this project, and wish to learn more, please view the Project Summary here.

Six Skills Every Entrepreneur Needs

In an article published on LinkedIn, Frank E. Pobutkiewicz, founder of College Apprentice, outlines six skills that every entrepreneur needs. Despite their importance, most entrepreneurs tend to ignore them, putting themselves at a severe disadvantage.

Skill 1: Presentation and Public Speaking

We all have heard the claim that the number one fear for most people is public speaking. For entrepreneurs, this presents a giant problem. Luckily, most people do not suffer from glossophobia; they simply lack the confidence and experience.

I have years of experience teaching presentation skills, public speaking, and debate. Of all of the skills we teach, I feel most strongly that anyone can learn how to give dynamic presentations and speeches.

Skill 2: Web Design and Development

If you are going to start a new business, you must have a web presence. Regardless of whether or not you are a technology company, every entrepreneur needs to have a basic understanding of how the internet works.

Our web design and development workshop does not focus on coding, nor do I believe that every entrepreneur needs to know how to code. Every entrepreneur does need to know how to speak tech, though.

Without an understanding of how servers, browsers, and programming languages work, you leave yourself open to wasting months of time, at best, or being taken advantage of by unscrupulous programmers, at worst. The end result in either case can be losing thousands of dollars.

I would also like to stress the importance of design in this section. While branding and graphic design do not have a dedicated skill in the Six Skills, they must not be overlooked. The use of space, color, and structure are difficult to master but with time and effort, they can become cornerstones of value for any entrepreneur.

Skill 3: Social Media Campaigning

Admittedly, social media is a forte of mine, but that does not mean I can simply ignore it. The key to social media traction seems to be utilizing the correct platforms. In my context, high school students tend to use Facebook and Twitter while parents seem to check my LinkedIn profile. Because I don’t have an infinite amount of time, I try to concentrate on these three networks, and even that can be taxing.

The more important lesson in social media success revolves around content marketing. Just as cash is king in finance, content is king in marketing. People consume content at incredible rates, and the right content can lead to a huge influx in leads.

Learn how you can acquire these skills at IT varsity with our Digital Lifestyle range of short courses. Click here for more info.

Skill 4: Analytics (KPIs)

For every company, no matter what stage, there are a few key analytics that determine their success or failure. Determining, measuring, and analyzing key performance indicators (KPIs) can have a drastic impact on decision making.

Depending on the industry and business model, startups use a range of KPIs to guide them. For College Apprentice, I focus on three key metrics: repeat customer rate, average customer acquisition cost, and application to customer conversion ratio. For other businesses, different analytics rule the day, such as rate of user growth, click-through-rate, bounce rate, operating leverage, and return on marketing investment, to name a few.

Skill 5: Strategic Analysis

Many new businesses fail because their founders fail to appreciate the intense competition they will face once they go to market or because they fail to properly position their brand. It is of paramount importance that entrepreneurs are able to analyze the marketplace prior, during, and after launch. The market is never static and must constantly be reviewed.

Some of the basic analytical tools can save a fledgling enterprise or provide new market opportunities. I tend to teach the following:

Business Model Canvas (internal, business model tool)
Porter’s Five Forces (industry-level, competitive analysis)
Blue Ocean Strategy (market opportunities analyses)
PEST Analysis (macro-environmental/economic analysis)
SWOT Analysis (internal/external analysis)

Skill 6: Finance and Budgeting

Not every entrepreneur needs to be an accountant; however, every entrepreneur needs a basic handle on finances. Ignoring your bottom line won’t make your losses disappear. Since I normally have a very limited time to teach finance and budgeting, I like to focus on what I believe to be the three* most important financial numbers for every business.

Contribution Margin/Breakeven Point
Quick Ratio
Return on Investment
If students leave with a firm understanding of these three numbers for their business, they can easily learn all other related financial metrics. Even the almighty concept of cash flow can be ascertained after understanding what portion of revenue flows through the income statement and combining it with the return from investment from asset deployment. The Quick Ratio, [(current assets – inventories) / current liabilities], forces students to examine the balance sheet and have a knowledge of liquidity and working capital.

There you have it! The Six Skills that every entrepreneur should try to master through their career. I believe that teaching hard skills to students that already display an interest in entrepreneurship is more vital than trying to teach soft skills, which can be developed over the course of execution.

Entrepreneurship is all about execution, about doing, and I hope to develop the Six Skills into the “how to” manual for new student entrepreneurs.

See the full article here.

Zero to Web Developer in 12 Weeks!

Botcamp Grad

Haroon Vankra receiving his certificate from IT varsity CEO, Bilal Kathrada

Last Thursday we had a mini graduation at IT varsity for two of our Dev Bootcamp students, Haroon Thami Vankra and Sahal Motala.

Now there are a few rather amazing and inspiring  points about these two guys:

  1. Neither of them had ever coded before, but they are now Web Developers who’ve created their own mobile-friendly web application called NotesPlus. Click here to see their app.
  2. They used no frameworks – everything is “hand-coded”
  3. Sahal, at only 15 years old , is our youngest Dev Bootcamper to date!
  4. They achieved this in just 12 weeks.

How they did it (the Techie details)

Sahal Motala receiving his cert from Bilal Kathrada

Sahal Motala receiving his cert from Bilal Kathrada

Haroon and Sahal started out the intense 12 week course by learning to code HTML and CSS. They learned to design fully-fledged, beautiful, professional, responsive web sites.

From there they moved on to the PHP programming language and MySQL databases, where they learned to create secure database-driven web apps. They covered end-to-end app development, including database access, web app security, authentication and authorisation, form validations, the whole shabang. This proved very challenging, but they pulled it off with hard work and dedication.

Once they gained a thorough understanding of the basic concepts, they were required to work as a team to create the NotesPlus app. To plan and track the project, they used Trello.

For version control, they used Git.

Where to from here?

Haroon has already found a job as a Web Developer (to be quite honest, it was more like the job found him!). Sahal, who is being home-schooled, is going back to school to complete his formal studies, under solemn oath that he will never stop coding.

We’re really proud of these youngsters, and wish them the best going forward.

To Rethink Digital in SA, we need to Reinvent Education

african-kids-with-tabThe Opportunities

The next big frontier for technology is not Silicon Valley, but Africa. This is the belief of many tech-fundies, who also believe that Africa is on the brink of a major technology revolution. Where many technologies have reached saturation points in other parts of the world, Africa is just getting started. And many believe that from a political and economic perspective, no other African country is better poised to become the technology gateway to Africa than South Africa. But there are challenges.

The Challenges

It is no secret that South Africa is lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to Information Technology. It is true that there are a few interspersed glimmers of hope here and there, but by and large, we’re struggling to meet our own technology needs, let alone helping to solve Africa’s needs.

No doubt, there are many reasons for this situation, but I firmly believe that the root of the problem is the poor state of education in this country, particularly in the field of Information Technology. A comparison of the quality of IT graduates in this country with those in countries like the USA, Kenya and India will clearly show that something is amiss in our education system.

We simply cannot progress as country technologically if we are not producing a constant supply of young graduates with the right IT skills; skills that are relevant, up-to-date and in tune with South Africa’s technological needs, skills that will allow them to compete at a global level. It is the young IT graduates who are driving the digital economies in other countries like the USA, and it is them that will do so in South Africa.

Not that South Africa does not have talent; on the contrary, we have an abundance of talent, but we are failing to harness it. From the youngest kids at primary schools, to the students at universities; from the bustling cities to the remotest of rural areas, SA is brimming with talent, but the big question is, how do we harness this talent? How do we get more kids, especially girls (sadly, females make up about 12% to 15% of SA’s IT workforce!) into technology? Not only that, but how do we train them to be among the best in the world? Is this even possible? I believe that it is possible, but the solution is not an easy one.

The Solution

What South Africa needs, and needs urgently to play catch-up in the IT field, is a major overhaul in the education system. We do not need incremental improvements, not even major improvements; we need nothing short of reinventing the entire system. This has to be done in two ways:

  1. Change what is taught
  2. Change how it is being taught

What is needed from a content point of view are relevant, up-to-date courses that are in tune with global and local market needs. This is easier said than done, given the rapid pace of change in the IT industry.

Added to that, we need to change the way we approach IT education for two reasons: one, IT is a practical subject that needs to be approached in a practical way and two, students these days do not particularly fond of thick, voluminous textbooks full of theory – they want to get down to coding asap.

Anything less than these, and South Africa will be right where it is in ten years!