Building Technologies For Impact
Tiyani Nghonyama is a qualified Computer Systems
Engineer and is a Founding Member, Director and
COO of Geekulcha, and Strategic Lead of the
Northern Cape Developer (NCDev) Ecosystem.
In 2019 he was named 41st IT Personality of the Year
by Institute of Information Technology Professionals
South Africa in annual President's Awards.
He sits on the Advisory Committee Boards of the Tshwane University of Technology and the Vaal University of Technology for Computer Science. Since 2014, he has been working with the University of South Africa in building Open Source stamina, pipeline and innovation development. With this, he champions the role of Hackathons and Open Dataquests in helping accelerate academic excellence.
In 2015, he created the Geekulcha Student Society programme at Sol Plaatje University. The programme has now spread to 18 campus in 6 provinces in the country. The programme builds Tech and Innovation Leadership capacity on campus with a mandate of student innovation support, STEM in community drive, civic innovation development and Female Geeks empowerment.
Throughout his career, Tiyani had wished and aspired to be included in history books. It was an absolute thrill for him to be included in the London’s book, Creative Superpowers, which highlights his work in the IoT/Makerspace scene in South Africa and also included the various programmes.
He has been invited to the South African Parliament by 3 Ministers, 3 times for his work in apps for social activism, public sector innovation for enhanced service delivery and information security skills capacity building.
Tiyani is proud of his role in Public Sector Innovation development including:
- Led the implementation of the first cabinet-approved Hackathon, IgniteHack which saw Minister Ayanda Dlodlo coding in C#, guided by Geekulcha’s developer, Skinny.
- Country’s groundwork of the National Treasury’s Online Budget Data platform, Vulekamali which saw local innovators building solutions with Budget Data
- Tiyani created Geekulcha’s Data strategy: Open Data for Innovation and Smart Citizenship (ODISC) which has supported the country's efforts in Data Interest, Literacy and Innovation
- The ODISC initiative integrated into Geekulcha led Hackathons which saw creation or support of startups such Open Kasi, Datawizzards, SowetoHacks, etc.
In 2019, Tiyani got appointed into Open Data South Africa Steering Committee which seeks to support the country’s action plans in the Open Government Partnership. Tiyani’s journey in the Open Data space began in 2015 and he has been involved in driving these programmes:
- City of Ekurhuleni Open Data pipeline: usage hackathons, curated an Open Data Debate
- Response Cities Challenge (City of Tshwane, Ekurhuleni, Sol Plaatje and Ethekwini)
- Led the Africa’s leg of the international Open Contracting Innovation Challenge
Tiyani has led the development of apps such as the We Are Africa app for Anti-Xenophobia campaign by the Department of Science and Technology, ZiRRA app for anti-racism by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, and others.
Upon his first ever visit to Kimberley in April 2015, Tiyani called for the creation of the NCDev Ecosystem - a localized Geekulcha platform in the Northern Cape. Together with Northern Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism. The platform was used as case and an instrument that helped enable co-funding for the mLab Incubator in the Northern Cape, which is now operational in the Northern Cape.
Advancing Local IoT Capacity
a) Tiyani created the SkateHacks initiative which had been integrated as part of the Skateboarding World Championships - taking coding to skateparks. Gets local geeks and young minds to build smart tech for skateboards.
b) Since 2016, he has integrated Makerpaces as part of South African Hackathons for IoT projects development and enabled the creation of a number of startups c) Conducts trainings on SqwidNet IoT tools based on the Sigfox Network such as the IoT University Challenge, at Hackathons and schools programmes.
In 2019, he got appointed as an Ambassador of Sigfox in South Africa, a mission to enable IoT startups and help build IoT capacity on the Sigfox Network.
Tiyani is one of the Coaches for the Red Bull Basement’s IoT startups incubation programme. He has driven programmes like Arduino Data South Africa which champions creation of IoT startups on the ground. This has now been complemented by Geekulcha’s seasonal Dev Days launched with Minister Stella Ndabeni Abrahams in December 2018.
Him and his business partner, Mixo Ngoveni, have pledged to never shy away from being on the ground and commit to building a Geek Culture of Sustainable Innovation in the country. It’s great seeing local talent gain skills through Hackathons but greater joy comes from seeing them pursue their innovation and scores have gotten hired through Hackathons. “We hackathon differently” - providing a pool of skills for work or collaborative opportunities.
The Future of the Geek Culture in South Africa
He believes that a greater method to addressing skills capacity growth is by starting at a very early age, thus created a Future GeekStars program to expose and equip youngsters with the right skills for the ICT industry. With this, in July 2014, he created the Geekulcha Vacation Work programme.
- 1 440 scholars and currently takes place in 5 provinces
- It’s a simulated working environment where scholars spend the week learning how to code, work on real life projects and create own startups.
- In Gauteng it’s supported by The Innovation Hub and the City of Tshwane
- Over 160 projects created and 8 operational startups
- About 152 university/college students have volunteered as mentors/trainers
In 2016, Geekulcha through leadership by Keitumetsi Tsotetsi (CIO) and Tiyani took a stance and drove a Secure By Design movement onto the local Geek Culture ecosystem. The following are the results and hands-on actions taken:
- Creation of SafeHack which is the largest Information Security Hackathon in Africa
- Collaborated with ITWeb to create an annual Security Summit Hackathon
- Tiyani has made all Geekulcha/NCDev Ecosystem led/facilitated hackathons to include Security as part of the judging criteria
- InfoSec Kimberley workshops connects both digital solutions Developers and Users in capacity building
- For teenangers: The VacWork programme also teaches security which is part of the judging criteria with a Secure SDLC process
Some light moments to highlight in his career:
- Geekulcha being profiled twice by the World Bank’s InfoDev
- Meeting and showcasing projects to Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex
- The VacWork programme’s project being featured on a school
- A university in Turkey requested and expressed interest to use the aspects of the SkateHacks initiative in one of the Master’s courses
- The former Mayor of the City of Atlanta, visited and gave a thumbs up to the Vacation Work programme