National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)

Tala Ross

Tala is from the Western Cape and is currently studying BSc (Computer Science,
Maths and Applied Maths) at the University of Cape Town.

“The one thing that I knew for sure was that I didn’t want to get involved in the financial field and simply replicate processes such as in accounting. I wanted to be involved in creating something new, creating something that was mine. In the purest form I wanted to be an inventor.”

Tell us a bit about your school.

  I went to Claremont High School. It has a maximum capacity of about 500 pupils with 3 classes of about 30 people per grade. It is a maths and science focus school, in urban Claremont, Cape Town, which was founded in 2011. I am in the founding class. I love the fact that you always feel welcome at my school. Clichéd yes, but it’s like a second home. On the first day of grade 8, when you walk into the school, the principle, Mr. Gibbon, already is able to greet you by name. I also love the fact that the school is so determined to give you the best education possible. I’m pretty sure that the teachers put in way more time than they are paid for. Our school is very diverse and it was amazing for me to meet people from so many of different backgrounds. It was a lot of fun being in the founding class of the school and getting to be part of designing uniforms and badges as well as creating school traditions and cultures.

When/how did you realise you enjoyed science and mathematics more than your other school subjects?

I don’t think there is a specific moment where I discovered that I loved science subjects. I suppose I just have always loved them. I specifically enjoy Mathematics because I enjoy solving problems and having to think out of the box. To me it is like a challenge or a puzzle instead of a study subject in which you just repeat facts. I also really enjoy Physical Science because like Mathematics it involves lots of problem solving and can be very thought provoking and challenging. It also is fun to learn about the reasons for why things around you exist in the manner that they do due to gravity and momentum etc. On the other hand, I didn’t just like science subjects. I also really loved English. I enjoy being creative and inventing my own stories. I can have some weird and wonderful ideas in my head and enjoy learning how to express them and share them with others.

Did you encounter any challenges at school that made it difficult for you to achieve good marks in maths and science?

I don’t think I faced too many challenges regarding Maths and Science. These were generally the subjects that I did best in and this was probably due to the fact that I enjoyed them and was able to put in the work needed to do well without getting bored.

Who inspires you?

I am not inspired by any one person in particular. Instead I find I am inspired by driven, passionate and dedicated people that I meet in my life as well as the ones that are highlighted by the media. That is what I’m chasing after. I want to have that passion and drive for an idea or project that is going to change the way we thing or help with the environment or help lots of people out there. In relation to my field of study, I am inspired by Anita Borg. She very strongly advocated for greater representation of women in technical which I believe was very brave at that time. Her work has done an incredible amount for improving working environments and opportunities for women especially in technical careers, although a whole lot more work needs to be done in my opinion. I am also really inspired by Alan Turing. He was very involved in developing many theories in computer science and played a major role in the Enigma cracking team in WWII. I find it truly sad that he was forced to take his own life at age 41 due to persecution from his country which he gave so much to. One can only imagine what I could be studying in Computer Science now if he had lived longer.

What advice do you have for matriculants who have to apply for places at higher education institutions?

My advice for applying to university is to really think hard about what you are applying for and why you want to do it. You need to have some passion for the degree that you are studying because a lot of hard work has to be put in at university. I strongly believe that, the desire for money or your parents’ wishes cannot motivate you through all that work, only your love for what you’re doing can do that.

Why did you choose the course you are studying now (BSc, with Computer Science, Maths and Applied Maths)?

At the time that I started to consider possible careers, I knew that Mathematics was by far my favourite subject. I really enjoyed how everything fitted together perfectly in a set of rules, allowing us to solve incredibly large amounts of problems, but I also enjoyed the challenges and strange problems I came across in Maths Olympiads and Additional Program Mathematics classes. On the other hand I also really enjoyed drawing cartoons, painting and photography. I suppose you could say that I got the perfect balance between the genes of my mother, the artist, and my father, the actuary. The one thing that I knew for sure was that I didn’t want to get involved in the financial field and simply replicate processes such as in accounting. I wanted to be involved in creating something new, creating something that was mine. In the purest form I wanted to be an inventor. I used to have designs of various contraptions, ranging from a claw machine for Market Day at school to outrageous hydraulic powered green cars, on scraps of paper lying in a pile on my desk. With creativity and a love for science in mind, I eventually decided that I wanted to either study Computer Science or Electrical Engineering. For the second half of Matric I was relatively sure that I would choose Engineering due predominantly to a major interest I had developed, and still have, in renewable energy, particularly solar energy, which was sparked by a Geography research essay I wrote in Matric. I even began playing with ideas for self-sustaining batteries and algorithms for optimising solar energy gathered by solar panels in a very basic yet hopeful manner, in my head this time. Eventually though, I came to the conclusion that I was better at solving theoretical problems than the more physical problems I would face in Engineering, and I chose Computer Science. This I coupled with sufficient amounts of Mathematics electives, Mathematics, Applied Mathematics, Fundamentals of Mathematics and Statistics. I now have a little notebook in which I write down all my ideas for programs and algorithms that I think of along the way, including computer games, sports applications, education applications and a continuation of my renewable energy ideas. Although I have not yet learnt all the techniques needed for these codes, I attempt creating the code of my more simplistic ideas when I have free time.

Where do you see yourself five years from now, in terms of your studies/career?

I am now very certain that I am studying the perfect degree for myself. I am thoroughly enjoying Computer Science. However, I am very unsure about what I want to specialise in. I know I would like to have completed my Honours and could possibly be pursuing a Masters but for now I will just keep on focusing and attending as many career expos at UCT as possible to get exposure to as many fields as possible. When I get a job, I would love to work in a very new innovative company such as HealthQ in Stellenbosch and I would also love to work for Google at some point in my career.

Anything else you would like to share that would be helpful to learners in Grades 11 and 12?

My advice for Matric in general is to put in the hard yards. You have to be prepared to put in a lot of hard work. You have to balance your life though and also take time for yourself and to meet with friends. I know it is a bit hypocritical of me to promote sleep, since I think I had an average of about 6 hours of sleep in Matric, but looking back now I know that more sleep would have been better for me. One of the hardest things to accept though is that you have to prioritise in Matric and may have to give up a few things. Personally, I played cricket for Western Province Women, Western Province u/19 Girls during high school and I also represented Western Province Equestrian team in Dressage through high school. These were 2 sports which I loved but due to time constraints I had to significantly decrease the amount of horse riding I did in Matric and now at University I have pretty much stopped riding all together.

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