Carey van Vlaanderen is carving her own niche in the IT sector, refusing to be one of the boys. Marchelle Abrahams chats to her.
Mention the word IT geek and the image that comes to mind is a sleep-deprived pubescent teen sitting behind a PC in a dark room. That’s Hollywood’s version.
In real life, people like Carey van Vlaanderen are changing the face of the IT sector. The 36-year-old mom of two is the go-to person when it comes to viruses, data encryption and internet security. Her wealth of expertise even has the likes of Carte Blanche knocking at her door.
There’s similarities in the stories of Van Vlaanderen and that of the late Apple founder Steve Jobs. Both journeys into their careers started in a garage - callings that would later create impacts in the world of technology.
“I studied Informational Systems at UCT and then straight after university, my husband’s family started a software company in 2003. It was just the two of us and we learnt as we went along,” recounts the chief executive of cybersecurity company, ESET Southern Africa.
Her passion and drive is evident, and her sense of humour is never far behind: “I remember in the early days when we first started out, people would phone and ask for the accounts department. I had to pretend to be different departments when in fact it was only myself and hubby.”
Fourteen years later and ESET is a market leader in consumer security software - in 2015 the company maintained its fifth place position in the security software market.
Her unpretentious nature gives nothing away to the fact that she runs a company which is prominent on the IT landscape.
And the best part is, she’s a woman!
It’s no secret that IT is still a very much male- dominated sector. Van Vlaanderen agrees to a certain degree, but also points out that there are different aspects where women are great at managing.
“As far as the technical aspect is concerned, women are put off because in their minds men are up to being more technical,” she adds, and then notes that it’s a mindset that needs to change.
Government is also doing its part by trying to promote females in the sector with Seta internships. But even then it’s still been hard for her to source on the development side of things - currently ESET employs one technical intern who is a woman.
Van Vlaanderen makes mention of an online app called gomintor.com. It’s a local app specific to interns, and she uses it to source and vet potential trainees.
It’s clear that her sheer drive and determination are inbred as she lovingly speaks about the women who have shaped her.
“My mom is an amazing person. She has a human side that comes more naturally to women, and I think I inherited that trait from her.”
She also describes her paternal grandmother as a pioneer in her day: “She lost her husband in the war, moved to South Africa on her own and started her own advertising company. Back then your only choice was to become a teacher or nurse.”
Van Vlaanderen has managed to build a successful company from barely nothing. Her story is one of inspiration to young girls who feel that the world is not yet theirs to conquer.
When presented with a series of Women’s Month hashtags and asked to choose the one that best describes her, she doesn’t hesitate and confidently picks #Womenarechangingtheworld.
Dark web of nightmares
ESET South Africa is on a mission to promote responsible and positive use of the internet through their #SaferKidsOnline campaign. Here chief executive Carey van Vlaanderen provides her tips for protecting your children from the dark web.
The stuff of nightmares:
The problem is that children know more than parents when it comes to mobile devices. It’s not easy to get into the dark web, but it is possible. It’s important to make sure you have the right protection by means of discussions with your children and always keep communication open with them.
Should parents be worried?
Embrace technology - but within reason. Like anything in life with kids, if you make them fearful, they are never going to try anything. Educate them, even when it comes to images they’ve come across by accident.
How do I protect my child?
Have parental control installed on devices. There are various different vendors that offer it. Monitor what they are doing and have a discussion afterwards.