C-suite Career Advice: Lutfiyya Moosa, MFS Africa

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? “Set yourself apart by being willing to take on new responsibilities outside of your comfort zone…”

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MFS Africa

Name: Lutfiyya Moosa

Company: MFS Africa

Job Title: Deputy CTO

Location: Johannesburg, South Africa

Lutfiyya Moosa is responsible for managing the Software Development team at MFS Africa. As a senior developer with over 9 years of experience in the development space, she leads the team on MFS Africa development projects, such as financial products for mobile applications, e-commerce portals, and system integration projects. She holds a BSC Computer Science degree (Cum-Laude) from UNISA and is currently pursuing a PGDIP in General Management and Business Administration and an MBA from GIBS.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? The most valuable piece of career advice was given to me by MFS Africa’s CTO, Maz Chaponda, which was to complement my tech background with an MBA. At that point, I had only ever considered deepening my technical skills, but he made me realise that it was just as important to develop my business acumen. His mentorship and support has been invaluable.

What was the worst piece of career advice that you received? I guess it would be to “make yourself indispensable”. Especially in the IT field, you should avoid being the critical load-bearer in any process. In tech lingo, we speak about network redundancy – setting up backup systems to mitigate a single point of failure that could bring down your entire system. In the same way, we’ve got to think about developing those around us in order to share the load. I would feel that I’ve done a good job if I were able to empower my teams with knowledge and skill, to such an extent, that they could supersede my own performance.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? There is more to consider than a pay-check. Make sure you can align yourself to a job that best fits what you want to do, gives you experience in your desired tech stack and encourages you to keep learning and developing yourself.

Did you always want to work in IT/tech? No. I started on a completely different career path in Physiotherapy, as I was inspired by the rehabilitation of stroke patients and children with cerebral palsy and knew that I wanted to serve a higher purpose with my career choice. In my final year, I had to drop out due to health issues and subsequently pivoted to software development. I was very fortunate to eventually come across MFS Africa, where I can still align the same values I hold with the company’s and use my abilities to make an impact in people’s lives.

What was your first job in IT/tech? I completed a JAVA bootcamp at VZAP with the highest grade in my class. From there, I was immediately contracted out to a company who specialised in ECM solutions. I was thrown into the deep end, as the company was a start-up. I found myself learning on the job while managing relationships with one of their big partners. This experience was invaluable as it taught me to work under pressure, think about the customer’s needs and most importantly, trust myself to find a solution to any problem. The environment taught me to work with an agile mindset, a skill that benefitted me tremendously in my career at MFS Africa.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? Programmers sit alone in a dark room, wear hoodies, code all day and lack social skills.

If you want to code all day, you could do that, but it’s definitely not the only way to work in tech!  Teamwork is imperative as you brainstorm solutions with multiple stakeholders, run demos and training session and collaborate with your team to build better products.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? Set yourself apart by being willing to take on new responsibilities outside of your comfort zone, be agile enough to take on tasks that reflect broad leadership skills and be able to demonstrate the value that you bring to the table. While I acknowledge that I am fortunate to be in a company who truly values diversity, it is worth mentioning that it is incredibly difficult, particularly for women, to reach a c-suite position without support from a mentor or sponsor at the top. I would really encourage women to be vocal, open and unapologetic about their ambition.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? Right now, my career ambitions are to add real value to MFS Africa by delivering on our strategic objectives. As we scale, I am excited to both maintain and redefine our IT infrastructure and software systems as well as drive innovation within our company to expand the reach and impact of our products. I also aim to continue building diverse, high performing and passionate teams who are proud to contribute towards providing greater financial inclusion in Africa. Being newly appointed into my position, I’m eager to demonstrate this value.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? I think that’s an aspect that we’re all struggling to perfect, especially in this virtual environment, where we find ourselves a lot more “switched on” and isolated. Honestly, it has been tough to balance work, my kid’s needs and self-care in this new context. When addressing work life balance and burnout, a quote by Arianna Huffington comes to mind – “For the human operating system, downtime is a feature not a bug”. I believe that we’ve got to be conscious about taking time out for ourselves, setting boundaries and daily rituals that allow us to reset. I’ve consciously started making time for myself by beginning my day at 5 am, saying my prayers, going for a run with my little (social-distanced) running group and grabbing a quick cup of coffee with them before getting wrapped up in my day. This has made a huge difference to my energy levels and mood!

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I am exactly where I want to be on my career path and I am grateful for the opportunities I get to build diverse teams, affect change and innovate within my space. Technology  evolves so rapidly and I’ve found that I have to constantly update my knowledge-base and understanding around different tech stacks and their potential benefits to the business. I find this really exciting.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? I began my career in tech through a coding bootcamp and studied towards my degree while working. I don’t think it’s imperative to have a CS degree in order to begin your career in software development, because you can complete credible certifications and show off your portfolio of projects to prove you are competent. However, the CS degree gives you a structured way to learn software engineering and gives you broader coverage across advanced computer concepts. After landing a job though, it’s your skill, job experience and your portfolio of work that gives you your competitive edge, with or without a CS degree.

How important are specific certifications? I think that they do send a positive message as they are proof of someone’s desire to learn and keep up to date with the latest developments in technology. That said, I do think that certain certifications are theory-heavy and while you would gain the theoretical background, you may not necessarily gain practical experience from them.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates?  Autonomy/Initiative- I look for people who demonstrate that they can take initiative and have the courage to voice ideas they feel passionate about.

Learning/Adaptability- Since our environment is constantly changing, I look for people who demonstrate the ability to thrive in a changing environment and can upskill themselves to maintain a competitive edge.

Teamwork- I have to iterate that being a successful programmer also requires one to focus on soft skills like interpersonal and communication skills. I look for candidates who can demonstrate the ability to work successfully on scrum teams and can communicate and collaborate effectively with multiple business stakeholders.

What would put you off a candidate? It’s a bit disappointing when a candidate doesn’t know much about the company that they are interviewing for. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to look up the company’s website or LinkedIn profile beforehand, so one has a broad understanding of what the organisation stands for.  

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? In our technical interviews, we’d typically ask candidates to solve business-related scenarios that would give us insights into their problem solving abilities. I have seen candidates jump towards solutions or provide theoretical answers that don’t relate to the question. I would advise candidates to ask a lot of questions and walk the interviewer through their thought process, even if they don’t have a full grasp on the theoretical concept or have never encountered that specific problem in the past. The interviewer ultimately wants to ascertain if a candidate can take a step back and equip themselves with the information that they need to work towards a solution, even if it isn’t perfect.

Another mistake that candidates make is putting pressure on themselves to be perfect.   As important as it is to highlight success, it is just as important to demonstrate the ability to accept, process and learn from failure.  As an example, I had once asked a candidate to tell us about a body of work that they were most proud of and instead, he chose to detail a project that was an “epic failure”. In doing so, he demonstrated how he was able to learn from the experience and eventually, recover from it. I found this so disarming and refreshing.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? I definitely think it is good to have both. Understanding the environment of business, the context in which an organisation operates in, the customer base and the financial implications of certain decisions can aid in building better technical solutions. Even though a developer doesn’t necessarily need extensive knowledge of all the business detail, it would add a lot of value if they can apply abstract thinking to a problem, with the bigger picture in mind. Furthermore, having the ability to distinguish between isolated cases as against more important business objectives, allows for better prioritisation of features and can be a deciding factor in the implementation of a simpler design as compared to an overengineered solution.