Community development key to tech progress, says du Preez

With the growing influence of technology in daily life, the importance of progress does not lie in commercialisation but rather in a community focus, according to Mariska du Preez, South African establisher of Geek Girl Dinners in South Africa and organiser of HackSTB.

Currently Developer Relations Ninja at @Mxit, du Preez is also a qualified Marketing Engineer with a passion for African networking.

“It doesn’t help just to start anything,” du Preez told HumanIPO in an exclusive interview. “Ask the community what they want.”

She explains how the two tech groups, where she plays a key role, are all about supplying a platform of interaction, development and support regarding tech initiatives.

Geek Girl Dinners are about stimulating conversation on tech ground, whereas HackSTB is an opportunity for tech developers in Stellenbosch to showcase what they have been working on and networking together.

Du Preez stumbled across the Geek Girl Dinner initiative online. After a few interactions, she became the South African affiliate. Ever since she has been organising the events which take place in Cape Town. She handed over the role of Chairman to Suhaifa Naidoo who showed keen interest in the initiative.

Although they ask for sponsorship, marketing was never included as a maintenance strategy. Sponsorships are merely a way of providing attendees with a goodie bag as part of the experience.

“It was never a marketing thing, it is literally a community effort,” du Preez said.

On the contrary, marketing is not welcome in these groups. Being experienced in the area of marketing, Naidoo is quite vigilant about the loopholes of schemes that threaten to overwhelm geek girls and divert the focus from what it originally is meant to be.

However, Du Preez is confident that the average Geek Girl attendee is “desensitised” to that type of exposure.

About HackSTB, she said although “most people think about hack as a fraud-related activity, it is actually a hands-on verb for building cool stuff to solve problems”.

A large number of attendees are from The Computer Science Department at the University of Stellenbosch has made the university’s media lab available for hosting the HackSTB events since its launch in April 2011, the events were hosted at the University’s MIH Media Lab.

“The Media Lab has been instrumental in supporting this (and other tech-related initiatives) and provides an space for like-minded people to work on their new innovations,” said Du Preez.

Du Preez and the other organisers, Joe Botha and Simon de la Rouviere, spend a lot of time on planning how to make things comfortable since tech people are generally not too comfortable about standing upfront.

She provides perspective by saying:  “It’s about giving some kind of platform, rather than the event”.

Everyone who attends these get-togethers is invited to participate, although tech interest is a higher requirement than skills.

With regards to community interaction in terms of outward-focused projects, du Preez mentions the university’s programme to equip school children with technical skills. Although the youngest demonstrating attendee is 11 years old, she would like to see more children involved in their programmes.

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