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Get to Know: Yolanda Smit, Regional Director (Gauteng) at PBT Group

Get to Know: Yolanda Smit, Regional Director (Gauteng) at PBT Group

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What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?

From a career perspective my journey towards becoming the Regional Director for Gauteng for PBT Group has comprised of many smaller milestone achievements. With that in mind, my most memorable achievement is where I am in my career now – being part of the dynamic data space and having seen myself assume a leadership position at a fairly young age, while still managing to find a good work/life balance, has been nothing less than a dream come true for me.

What first made you think of a career in technology?

I was fortunate enough to have been exposed to the technology industry from a very young age. My father was my first inspiration, and to this day I have great admiration for his work and achievements in the technology environment. He introduced me to BI and since then, I have spent my working career exploring my passion for data, growing my knowledge and expertise in this very exciting and dynamic field. 

What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?

Servant leadership. This means that I focus on empowering staff through providing guidance, while also involving them in responsibility and accountability for projects. I also ensure that I walk the project road with them, providing support as it is required. I believe that such a leadership approach allows staff to play their role in accomplishing the set vision of the company while developing their skillset and expertise and together we achieve much more than originally thought. 

What do you think is the current hot technology talking point?

We are starting to see an undeniable shift from a focus on pure technology to a strong interest in data.  While the focus in the past has been on ‘what are the latest technologies we need to chase’ there is a realisation that technology itself is playing ‘second fiddle’ to the wealth of opportunity companies can unlock from their available data. In the evolving technology world, technology-spend is becoming driven by data and the ability to harness the power of data to allow businesses to make more informed decisions. My view is that technologies that place data at the centre will continue to gain the most attention.

How do you deal with stress and unwind outside the office?

As proud as I am of the career-space I find myself in, I by no means live to work. I am very fortunate to have a wonderful family and spending time with them is very important to me and is probably the first place I head to in order to recharge, destress and refocus myself on what is truly important in life. In order to increase my personal capacity to deal with stress, I do also steal some time away from work and family for moments of solitude These are my WhiteSpace moments inspired by Juliet Funt, where I ponder life, love, work, data, challenges and more, making room for personal ‘ah-ha moments’.

If you could go back and change one career decision what would it be?

One of the greatest lessons I can take away from my career growth is realising the role that women can play in the technology space and with that, the value we add. Being naturally more nurturing, women tend to view aspects through different lenses at times and while we do still focus on the next revolution, we naturally observe all dynamics and dimensions, which can add immense value if leveraged towards sustainability of success to the broader technology and data field. If I could go back and come to this realisation sooner, I would, as part of adding continuous value within my role.

What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?

I believe that there is an increased investment in data and aspects associated to using data more effectively. Globally, we are seeing many explore aspects like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) – where many businesses are looking to invest. In South Africa, while conversations around these areas are also being had, there is still a sense of reluctance and ambiguity as to what business value these technologies can generate. It all comes back to data being the core component of realising what opportunities exist and making new technologies effective. An AI chatbot can only be as “clever” as the data it has available to learn from. 

What are the region-specific challenges when implementing new technologies in Africa?

My view is that one of the biggest challenges in South Africa is skills and the lack there of them. The whole industry, across the public and private sectors, needs to work hand-in-hand to ensure the sustainable development of the required data skills, as well as retaining such skills in the local market. The demand for data-related skills is growing significantly and will only continue as this space innovates. 

What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year and how do you see these developing in the next 12 months?

While evolving in my role over the past 24 months, I have seen myself as more than just another team leader to the people I work with, and more than just a solution provider to my clients. While excelling in both is important, creating and sustaining empowering work relationships across the board makes the difference between deals and partnerships. Partnerships are key to a sustainable approach to business and being able to form such partnerships and sustain these will remain key to future business success. This will be a focus for me on the next 12 months and beyond, to ensure sustained business growth and the success of my teams and my clients.

What advice would you offer somebody aspiring to obtain C-level position in your industry?

Personal development plans should be holistic in nature – think bottom-up and top-down. My bottom-up advice is, give your best to whatever is put in front of you because the reality of the industry is that you are only as good as your last success (or failure). My top-down level advice for those looking to grow into the C-level is, lift your head up sometimes. To succeed at this level, you need to be flexible and always have a grasp of the ‘big picture’ on the strategic level of the organisation – and contribute on that level. Additionally, research and read as much as you can on your technical areas of interest but also stretching personal self-awareness. A track-record of small achievements, coupled with a good grasp of the complex landscape of business, all glued together with the unique self-insight of what you uniquely contribute to this picture.

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