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How this startup is part of the solution to SA's tech skills crisis

Hyperion founder, Riaz Moola, on making global connections and why CS education should be open to all


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This article forms part of the Youth Month 2016 series in which SME South Africa, throughout the month of June, will shine the spotlight on youth issues and highlight the work of young entrepreneurs and innovators who are shaping SA's future.

"The university degree with the highest dropout rate across all tertiary institutions across South Africa is computer science (CS), with approximately 88% of all entering students nationally dropping out each year," says Riaz Moola founder and director of Hyperion, a company offering software development training. 

What's sadder is the majority of South Africans are simply never exposed to CS. 

"There are fewer than 280 'IT' or CS school teachers across the whole country, and fewer than 1.5% of all school students in our country get to learn these skills," he adds. 

And where there is a demand, there are entrepreneurs who are eager to meet it. 

"The startup has trained nearly half of all IT/CS school teachers in South Africa for the Department of Education"

Moola is just one of the 'eduprenuers' who are catering to the huge demand within South Africa to improve and expand the country's education sector, in his case it's South Africa's massive shortage of computer science skills.

Moola launched Hyperion in 2012 when the company when he was 19. He has an undergraduate degree in Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science from the University of Edinburgh in 2014. He is also a Gates Scholar at Cambridge University which is where he also obtained his MPhil in Advanced Computer Science.

8 500 students and counting

Supplied

Riaz Moola, HyperionDev.

Hyperion is the largest provider of computer science education (which includes software development and programming) in SA. 

They train university students from every tertiary institution in South Africa (and most of Southern Africa) on their online courses, as well as industry professionals from across the country.

The startup has trained nearly half of all IT/CS school teachers in South Africa for the Department of Education. Their courses are taught by instructors and volunteers, all based in South Africa. Each student get access to their own personal instructors, available at any time.

They now have 8 500 students on their courses.

The Durban-based startup works with some of the largest players in the space. They recently partnered with international tech companies like Google, Python Association, Oracle and the British Computing Society to match the platform’s courses to international standards.

Earlier this year Hyperion's efforts to improve the country's computer science skills were given a boost from tech giant Google which has pledge its support. Hyperion's programme now forms part of Google’s international project of improving computer science and training. 

In demand - in need 

"The demand for software developers is so high that the most successful people in this space often don't hold traditional CS degrees," says Moola

The computer science skillset is extremely in demand - not only in South Africa and Africa, but across the entire world. For example, over 50% of all jobs in the USA are expected to be CS-related by 2020, says Moola. 

The practical side of CS which is coding - is used in nearly every industry today, says Moola. 

While South Africa is still stuck on mathematics and science being the most critical fields - the focus of countries like the UK and the US is on computational thinking skills or problem solving skills.This problem solving capability is what employer are looking for "not just coders, but problem solvers," says Moola. 

The skills learnt in CS can be applied to many other fields - not just building computer software, he adds.  

Large-scale change

Hyperion operates on a social enterprise model - they sell courses to companies and individuals. With that income they are able to provide free training to educators, unemployed youth, and low income individuals across Southern Africa.

They are also able to do this through donations. The most recent being a R1.3 million donation from Google and the Python Software Foundation which will enable over 4 000 local students to study for free.

"Our business model supports rapid and large-scale change. Online courses are scaleable and open to anyone, and we have an innovative solution that lets low LSM individuals take courses with us even without a good internet connection. Over 60% of students on our free courses do not even own an internet connection yet are able to take a course with us." 

This means that their client base is extremely diverse and ranges from university students and professionals looking to switch careers to miners, prisoners, and even unemployed youth from rural areas.

"CS education should be open to all and we are proud that our typical user is any type of South African or African.  

Making global connections

Moola was chosen by Investec to join their trip to Silicon Valley in the US, an initiative which aims to expose SA hi-tec startups to some of the world's most cutting-edge companies, incubators, VCs and hi-tech startups.

The trip will also be an opportunity for South African entrepreneurs to establish new global business relationships.

Moolas excited to meet other South African startups and share our knowledge.

"We also have meetings with Google in California as well as introductions to various potential partners such as Facebook. We've been lucky to already have strong links abroad, but this is a great opportunity to cement those in California and seek out new partners." 

Following that the next area of focus will be improving every facet of their course experience to ensure that they continue achieving high completion rates and reaching students from a variety of backgrounds, says Moola.

"This includes launching new courses, and a new version of our website which will go live in the next few months. We are in the process of expanding our relationship with Google and are working with many new partners in the UK." 

 

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