When Simoné Kaalsen was growing up and people asked her what she wanted to be one day, she would say everything. “I wanted to do every job under the sun. I could never decide,” she explains. “I remember sitting in class, in primary school, and setting up my books and pencils in such a way that I could pretend to be in a meeting. I had to listen really carefully, because at the end of the ‘meeting’ I was going to receive a task – one that I had to do diligently. I worked really hard at school. I wanted to be the best at everything.”
It comes as no surprise then that this early-instilled work ethic, combined with later-acquired paralegal skills, followed her from her home on the East Rand to Altron BMS. And it’s these very skills that have served her in both her position as an administration clerk, as well as set her up to play a valuable role within the company’s recently launched all-women’s innovation forum, FemmeTechZA.
“The primary objective of the forum is to provide women with the opportunity to showcase their ideas and offer their skills in helping to develop and implement innovative technology solutions,” explains Simoné, who admits to being somewhat confused when she was initially invited to join:
“I don’t have a lot of experience in I.T. and tech in general, as my skills mainly lie in the admin-management space. I also really look up to the women already in the group and wondered what my contribution could possibly be in comparison to theirs. We started by discussing and bouncing ideas off of each other and then one of the tasks that came up was to do research, specific to retail, to find out what the market needs. I put my hand up and have since discovered that I really enjoy doing research and compiling data from different sources. Being a part of this group has definitely made me feel more comfortable and confident in that sense. It’s enabled me in ways I didn’t expect.”
Well, for one thing, I’ve realized that not being at someone’s level doesn’t diminish the value you are able to bring. It’s definitely pulling me out of my comfort zone and throwing me in the deep end, but also increasing my confidence and making me believe in myself more. It’s not just about what you bring to the table but what you learn as you go.
I also feel like this perfectly sums up my experience with Altron as a group. I’ve been given opportunities that I didn’t expect or foresee, as well as a space to grow; one that aligns with who I am as a person. Altron wants to provide opportunities and wants people to push their own limits. You can start small and work your way to becoming someone you never thought you could be.
My days revolve largely around checking legal documents and contracts that need an initial review before sending them off to our legal advisor for further review and sign-off. I handle that process to ensure all the necessary approvals are done and that our MD sees and signs off on them before they’re filed. I also deal with external attorneys where there may be any outside litigation going on. I like to cross over into other departments to assist where I can too. I like helping because I feel that it opens doors to other areas that may be of interest to me; exposing me to departments that I might want to delve into further in future.
The first thing I think about when I think of women is ‘nurturing.’ I think women, in general, are very nurturing and also that when we have a project or something assigned to us, we give it our all, every time. We don’t want to put something out there that isn’t going to work – we want to improve the lives of people – of consumers. Having said that though, if I look at technology – a cellphone, for instance – I don’t see a feminine edge or whether it was made by a man or a woman. I just see something that was made to make my life easier. So I don’t want to say that women bring in one thing and men another, as it sounds stereotypical. I think that both equally bring things to technology and what we put out there is focused on the end user. It’s the blending of both that I appreciate.
I wouldn’t describe myself as particularly outgoing; I enjoy being a homebody. I love to read, mostly fiction, now and again non-fiction, such as financial advice or something similar. I think there’s a lot we can take from stories, putting ourselves in the positions of the characters, the hardships and the triumphs they experience and the decisions they make to get through things. Books both teach and inspire me.
The women in my family are a big inspiration to me. They are all very independent and have learnt to do things on their own. Then again, when I just consider people in my daily life – the people around me in general – everyone has something that they’re going through and we don’t know what challenges they are facing, but they get up every day, they go to work or they’re out there trying to make a living in some or other way. They’re working towards a goal, whatever it may be, and that inspires me. So, no matter what challenges I may be facing, I know that there are other people who are also going through difficulties. If I keep pushing and persevering, I will get there. It’s these strangers that I don’t know, that inspire me.
I don’t necessarily have advice for breaking into tech because I’m still relatively new to it myself. However, I’ve found that learning and broadening my knowledge has served me well. So my advice would be to never stop learning. As clichéd as it sounds, knowledge really is power. Continuously improve your skills and what you can bring to the table – and always strive to be better than the person you were last year.