CCI alumnus Gomolemo Mohapi can’t see through walls. He can’t fly. (Though he’s no stranger to airplanes.) And he doesn’t have superhuman strength.
But the 21-year-old from South Africa does have what he calls a superpower: computer programming.
Gomolemo’s interest in technology began in high school. “Not only did it feel really cool to be able to build a computer program from the ground up … but thinking about the ways in which my applications could one day entertain and also help millions of people around the world really caught my attention,” he said.
As a college student, Gomolemo selected information technology as his major. In the 2017-18 CCI program year, he got the opportunity to spend two semesters taking courses in his field at Northern Virginia Community College – Alexandria. During his exchange year he also interned with a local nonprofit, for which he helped improved the website.
Now back in South Africa, Gomolemo is finishing his degree and using his expanded skillset to help others find their programming superpowers. In fall 2018 Gomolemo was selected for the Microsoft Student Partner Program, which empowers university students to share their knowledge and passion for technology with their peers. Among 1,467 Microsoft Student Partners around the globe, he was the first South African. In this role, Gomolemo leads tech workshops for students at Durban University of Technology and other colleges. In February 2019, for example, he organized two workshops at DUT focused on Microsoft Azure, a cloud computing platform that is not part of the university’s IT curriculum.
So far Gomolemo has led nine student workshops and written eight tutorials, covering content from basic computer skills to artificial intelligence services, and reaching more than 450 young people. He said that he is passionate about peer-to-peer teaching because it allows him to assist other students while developing himself.
Gomolemo’s commitment to serving others has roots in his volunteer and internship experiences in the United States. “CCI encouraged us to take every opportunity that comes our way, with both hands,” he said. “If it doesn’t work out, too bad. If it does, then that’s great. It doesn’t hurt to try. And I’ve carried this sentiment with me, this past year. Doing as much as I can to empower myself and the people around me.”
In March of this year, Gomolemo was one of 20 Microsoft Student Partners selected to attend the Microsoft Student Partner Regional Summit in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The four-day event featured demonstrations, lectures, and workshops led by Microsoft employees, student developers, and members of the Department of State’s GIST (Global Innovation through Science and Technology Initiative) Network. Just over a month later, he got an opportunity to attend Microsoft Build, the company’s premier developer conference that drew more than 6,000 attendees to Seattle. Gomolemo not only attended sessions to learn new skills; he also presented about his own experiences teaching young developers in South Africa.
Gomolemo took full advantage of both conferences by engaging with as many activities as possible and approaching role models with his thought-out questions. In the people he met, as well as the tools and outreach programs he learned about, Gomolemo saw reflections of his own passion for empowering others through technology.
“Microsoft just opened up two Azure data centers in South Africa and a development center with offices in Kenya and Nigeria,” he noted. “The first tech giant to do either! It just goes to show that their focus isn’t just on the Americas and Europe, they also want to build and develop underserved communities despite what the majority may think. I find that special, and I appreciate all the work that they do.”
The Microsoft mission statement, “To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more,” aligns with the vision Gomolemo has created for his own life. Beyond simply pursuing a career in IT, Gomolemo wants to be known as a “community developer” – a term he coined.
“Essentially, what I mean is not only do I want to become a software developer that builds great software, but I also want to be a software developer that builds communities by sharing my knowledge and teaching as many young people how to code so that they can cope and stay relevant in this technological era that’s creeping onto us,” he explained.
His best advice for other young developers working in underserved or underrepresented communities?
“Instead of complaining about it, use your skill, your tech superpower, to make a difference,” he said. “You might not be the person to completely change the circumstances of your community but whatever contribution you make – big or small – is significant and will touch the lives of some people. That’s all it takes!”