Tech stories to inspire

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…

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.

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.

Tech Review: Oculus Rift

Oculus RiftWant to know what it feels like to be in Star Trek’s holodeck?

Oculus Rift is a new virtual reality (VR) headset designed specifically for video games.  This truly immersive VR headset has an incredibly wide field of view with high resolution display and ultra-low latency head tracking that provides you the experience of feeling like you’ve stepped inside your game world.  Oculus Rift takes 3D gaming to the next level.

Unfortunately, this most wanted gaming device is not yet available on the consumer market.  That is only because the Oculus team are working tirelessly along with many game developers to make the consumer versions even more impressive.

For further developer information the Oculus Rift and its technical specifications, check out the Kickstarter project.

Here are some cool videos to check out:

Oculus Rift Skyrim

Oculus Rift Scary

A 74-Year-Old Man Creates Beautiful Works Of Art Using Excel Spreadsheets

horiuchi-excel-artI have to confess: we’ve been teaching Excel for many years now, and helping people do different things with it, but never in our wildest imagination did we think of this: Tatsuo Horiuchi, a 74-year-old man from an area in Japan called Nagano Prefecture, has discovered how to make stunning works of art using Excel spreadsheets.


Free Internet Classes at IT varsity

globe-internetTrue story: an associate of IT varsity recently went to a library in a Durban suburb and noticed that even though there was a computer with an internet connection at the library, no one was using it. This was despite the fact that there were a number of students doing research at the library.

She decided to approach a couple of the students and inquire why they were not using the computer to do their research. The response form the students was shocking, to say the least: they did not know how to use the Internet!

Shocking as this may seem to those of us who have the privilege of being connected 24/7, this is a sad reality in South Africa. The vast majority of the population does not know how to use computers and the Internet.

In a world where technology is moving at an amazing pace and the Internet is changing the way we look at business, work, shopping and communication, this is a situation that is highly detrimental not just to the individuals but to the economy of the country: we’re going to get left far behind if something is not done about it.

The staff and students of IT varsity decided to do our part to help alleviate this situation by offering free Internet classes to the public. We realised that the July holidays are around the corner, and that there would be scores of school kids around with nothing much to do, so it would be an ideal opportunity to bring them in for classes.

But the classes are not just for school kids – everyone is welcome, young and not-so-young; so if you are really interested in learning about the Internet, and were afraid to ask someone to show you the ropes or you couldn’t afford computer classes, then this one is for you! And to make things easier, we’re hosting the classes at five different venues on different days. See the programme below (please note that the dates and venues may change):

Date Venue
30 June, 1,2 July IT varsity City Campus
3,4,5 July Chatsworth Centre
7,8 July Chatsworth Centre
9,10,11,12 July Phoenix Plaza
14,15 July IT varsity City Campus
16,17,18 July The Workshop


The duration of the class will be 3 hours. There will be 2 classes per day: 9am until 12pm and 12mp until 3pm.

To get more information about the free Internet classes or to book your place, please contact us.

Do programmers still need a computer science degree to land a great job?

Degree or no, demand for coding talent continues to make it easier for hopeful programmers seeking a job. However, landing the gig might not be the biggest challenge for those on non-traditional paths.

App Dev


Cellphones spur reading revolution

BOOKstackThis article was originally published on ITWeb

Mobile phones could help to enhance literacy rates in emerging markets, where physical books are in many cases outnumbered by cellphones.