CAPE TOWN – From a small boy in a village in Limpopo to one of the most recognisable names in the IT education space, Emmanuel Madzunye, Senior Software Development Lecturer at redAcademy, is driven by a singular purpose: to change and uplift the lives of young people so that they may go out into the world and do the same for others.
“If I look back over my life,” says Madzunye, “I remember moments that set me on a path to achieving my dreams. These moments were fundamental in me achieving what I have, being a senior lecturer at an innovative skills and experiential learning hub that specialises in teaching coding and technology skills, while also completing a doctorate in IT. All those years ago I started as a boy who didn’t even know how to turn on a computer! It is a great accomplishment but one that would not have been possible without important figures who changed my life. It is my passion to pay this forward,” he says.
redAcademy collaborates with South African businesses facing a massive skills gap in the country to build a sustainable tech talent pipeline for the future. Madzunye says it was easy to choose redAcademy as they share a common purpose. “redAcademy is giving young people an opportunity to change their lives. I wanted to assist these young people who are being given this chance, to guide them to make the most of the incredible opportunity,” he explains.
Madzunye says that when he left school IT was synonymous to a computer, nothing more. After travelling to Tshwane to start studying, a lecturer at TUT introduced him to another type of IT, one that held the promise of opportunity, one that makes lives easier and solves important problems. The seed was planted. Against all odds, he completed a diploma at TUT while also being a successful tutor, drastically improving the pass rate which had been very low. This is where the seed of lecturing IT was born.
“I was interviewed to lecture first year students on the condition that I completed a B-Tech degree at TUT. Within a few years I had done my masters and now I am reading towards my doctorate. I’ve worked with TUT, CPUT, Rosebank College, Damelin and Unisa. In fact, I jumped on board with Unisa with their online courses all the way back in 2012 and only stopped recently to give everything to redAcademy and our students, which we call Sprinters,” he explains.
Madzunye, who is warm by nature and always up for a laugh, is also serious about excellence. “Back when I was studying my family, who came from a difficult background, always made a plan to enable me to study. Knowing this fact pushed me, and this sits with me until today. Of course, I encourage laughter and fun, but expect 100% commitment and accountability from others as much as I expect it from myself.”
Zoning in on his passion, and purpose in life, Madzunye says there are areas in the country where the digital divide risks keeping talented and dynamic people out of the IT industry. “I always use any opportunity I get to share the gift of IT and career advice to people who don’t have that institutional memory to fall back on.”
He says that seeing eyes light up inspires him. “It started during my tutoring days and continues now at redAcademy. There is beauty in seeing someone start from a base of nothing, and then go through moments of clarity to the point where they become competent and good at software development. It is indescribably rewarding.”
When asked how he ended up in Cape Town with redAcademy, Madzunye says the methodology of teaching on the job, as it were, is one of the most effective ways to fast-track IT careers, and that this attracted him to join the academy. “Theory is obviously important. But imagine I gave you all the theory about how to drive a car. Would you just be able to climb in and drive? There’s no better learning than doing, and so the experiential learning we do at redAcademy literally sprints young people to being career-ready because we match theory with real-world practice, on real projects, in real businesses.”
The experiential learning he refers to is the methodology where redAcademy teaches young people only the relevant and up-to-date coding languages that are in demand in the workplace today, and then immerses them in live projects at businesses, alongside seasoned IT professionals.
When asked what legacy he would like to leave behind, Madzunye answers by citing examples from his life: “Sometimes I get tagged into a LinkedIn post, or bump into former students, and when they tell me about how they’ve progressed in their IT careers thanks to the start I gave them, it makes me immensely proud and happy. As long as I can keep changing lives through lecturing, mentoring and exposing young people to IT, I will be doing what I was born to do.”