M : What lead you to be involved in something like WeThinkCode?

A: I was working at Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) in credit risk, building and coding credit risk models for two years and later joined Corporate Finance for five years. The first deal I worked on was the Momentum and Metropolitan merger. I learned so much at RMB and noticed that most companies were looking to expand into the digital age.  

While at RMB, I was researching the banking competitive landscape. Instead of looking at other banks as competitors, we rather looked at technology companies and Fintech start-ups as the competition.

At RMB you were either a deal maker, or in the business technology (BT) team. The two roles were worlds apart, and we realised that there was someone missing in the “middle”. I was in a unique position to understand both worlds, because I used to build models in credit risk and was now a dealmaker in Corporate Finance. What was required to thrive in this digital economy, was people with “business problem-solving” skills as well as technical coding skills to be able to implement these solutions.  The question was, where do we find these people? People with these skills were extremely rare. You were not taught these skills at traditional education institutions.

I have always been passionate about education and have also looked at the industry from a corporate point of view.

While I was doing this research, I was introduced to Camille Agon through mutual friends.

During our first meeting, Camille told me about 42 and how perfect it would be for South Africa. We exchanged ideas back and forth and eventually came up with WeThinkCode_. We were then joined by Yossi and Justinus after they discovered what we wanted to do with 42.

I realised that I could not do WeThinkCode_ and continue to work at RMB. I resigned from RMB in December 2014, which was a tough choice to make because I was really happy there. I always had the feeling that I must do something that matters. I had to trust my gut.   

Exactly a year later, we opened the doors at WeThinkCode_.

M : Where do you see Wethinkcode_ in 5 years?

A: My big vision is that if you are looking for digital problem solvers all over the world, South Africa will be the place to go. A lot of companies outsource to India because they are good at delivering exactly what the client asks for, but there is not a lot of innovation and creativity. I believe South Africans are very good with that. We are diverse, very innovative and creative but what’s lacking at the moment is technical skills at scale. I see Wethinkcode_ being the driver behind creating a new industry in this country.  Also to open people’s minds to look at innovation differently. I used to work at RMB and they wouldn’t even look at your CV without an honours degree. Now they are sponsoring students that might not have matric.

We plan to scale to about 500 students per year and eventually have 1000 students take over this building. We also have the exclusive rights to the 42 model in Sub-Saharan Africa and might open more campuses but in the meantime we are focusing on Johannesburg.

I see us making a difference in this country. In Silicon Valley they are constantly coming up with new ideas like Snapchat or Angry Birds but they often don’t understand the challenges that we face here. We need to come up with these solutions here, for example in healthcare, education, water, electricity and in agriculture. These are real problems to solve. I really believe that we will come up with ideas and build solutions that will change the world here at Wethinkcode_.

M : Do you have any Role models?

A: The people I look up to are people who stand up for what they believe in. People who stay true to their true values. For example Xavier Niel, the founder of 42. He made it happen. Instead of merely talking about the skills shortage he asked, what can we do about it? Pledged his own money, and opened 42. I also look up to people that don’t just accept the norm. 

Marco Fereira.

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