EduConnect ambassador Francesca reports back on the Hello Group’s premier open day where students were invited to delve into the world of the award-winning tech company.
When friendly faces greeted me as I entered the Hello Group building in the warm Centurion, situated between Pretoria and Midrand in Gauteng, I could tell that I was entering an inviting environment. A warm feeling slowly worked its way to my tummy. It was clear that I was entering the building of a company with a heart and drive. It made sense that it had been such a company that had ended up winning the Sanlam Business Partners Innovator of the Year and Entrepreneur of the Year awards.
The Hello Group, founded in 2005, celebrated its 10-year mark on its premier open day which took place on the 23rd of September 2015. In an interview on the day, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Shaazim Khamissa explained that what started the company was “the view to provide game-changing, innovative solutions to migrants and marginalised communities.”
The company aims to assist migrants coming into South Africa with simple technological tasks which can often, if not available to them, make migrants feel very isolated in a country. Examples are tasks like phoning home, finding a job, or trying to transfer money to family members in other countries.
Hello Group’s Open Day
The open day was an event specifically aimed at students from different institutions such as UNISA, TUKS, Open Window, Varsity College and TUT who study within the field of Information Technology. Students were invited to apply beforehand to participate in the open day event. The Hello Group received about 300 applicants, and a lucky 50 were chosen to experience what it’s really like to work in a tech company. Khamissa stressed that this had been his desired outcome for the open day – an opportunity for students to understand what it’s really like in the work place. Khamissa also mentioned the importance of students leaving the event feeling motivated and driven to do something far greater with their lives than they previously thought they could.
When I arrived on the tech floor, the ‘master techies’ where already waist deep in their tasks for the day. The staff divided students into various groups and assigned team leaders. Each team was then assigned a digital application to construct. Some of the applications included creating a chat App, a voting system App, as well as a ‘list your space App’. The ‘list your space App’ which required users to submit certain information about themselves, such as ethnicity and location, in exchange for a list of job opportunities, possible places to stay, as well as social events in their area.
Personally, I saw this as a clear example of what the Hello Group is all about – using technology to cater to the lowest perimeter and allowing these communities and people to connect to the things that matter the most to them.
Dirk Waldeck, a software developer and leader of service portal team, identified that the importance of this day was for the students to be able to apply the theory learnt at their institution. Participating in the construction of these Apps highlighted this for me quite clearly. Experiencing these events that demand the practical application of learnt information gives students a certain edge, and allows for a wider general perspective once students leave varsity.
The Hello Group Experience
I had the opportunity to chat to two students about their Hello Group experience – Thabiso Biyase (23) studying Information Technology at UNISA and Kyle Clarke (23) studying software development at Varsity College. When I asked Thabiso why she had applied for the open day, she replied that it was her desire to learn more, especially about working in an IT company. She also mentioned the significance of having the opportunity to network with people experienced in the IT field. I asked both students about the one thing that stuck with them from the day’s experience. Thabiso responded that it was the fact that during the construction of the application, they hadn’t merely been spoon-fed through the process.
Kyle replied with a simple, “Your code is not wrong, it’s just not working” which makes reference to the Chat App his team was working on. What I read from this is that everything you do whether it be creating a Chat App or not, there is always room for improvement and we should constantly be pushing ourselves to achieve.
The day was jam-packed with learning, knowledge sharing, and some healthy pressure to get the applications done successfully. The atmosphere was rather relaxed and fun, and play was encouraged. As it were, this was particularly the case inside the game room in the middle of all the vibrating computers and clicking keypads. This is where I relaxed on a beanbag and watched some of the employees and students go head on against each other in a game of FIFA.
To a Better Future
The Hello Group’s slogan reads: “To a better future.” And with their goals, it will be a better future indeed. Personally constructing these applications hands-on can instill confidence in students and motivate them to work further towards their dream careers. I believe that the Hello Group open day was a great way for students in this field to be exposed to their subjects beyond the borders of their institutions. The Hello group truly does believe in empowering the disempowered and using technology, an everyday utility to reach thousands and change the lives of many. This event was extremely useful as it empowered the youth and encouraged them to do more than just the average and truly approach their future careers head on, confidently.
We at EduConnect look forward to the next one.
Advice from the CTO Shaazim Khamissa
- Whatever you’re learning at varsity might not be enough to get you into your desired job position. There are a lot of smart people out there, so constantly work towards brushing up your skills and learning extra knowledge. In order to stay ahead of the pack you need to fully immerse yourself in your career.
- It’s important to follow your passion. Do what you love and you’ll make a great success of yourself.
- Be entrepreneurial; we need more entrepreneurs.
Attending an open day such as this is always helpful for any student or young person entering into the working world. Gathering as much information as possible and equipping yourself as much as you can, will not only give you an edge but the confidence to go out and be the best at what you do.