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lightbulb in focus at nightThis article is the seventh in our series on ‘Real Life Careers’ in which we chat to people about their career and look at the (sometimes unexpected) paths they took to get there. We chatted with Nkululeko Mthembu – a social entrepreneur and innovator. Nkululeko (26) holds a BSc from Wits University.

High school

Nkululeko answered some questions about his experiences in high school and how they impacted his varsity and career choices.

Q: What subjects did you take at school?

A: English, Afrikaans, Life Orientation, Maths, Science, Biology, Geography.

Q: What were your favourite subjects at school?

A: Science, Biology, Geography.

Q: Would you say any of your favourite subjects have been helpful to your degree and career?

A: They were invaluable. They all covered crucial subject matter which explored the makeup of humanity and the environments around us.

Q: What skills that you learned at school have proved helpful?

A: Understanding due dates is vital. Also, assignments for learning in school subjects help with the practice of investigation and learning required on topics outside the classroom environment.

Q: What do you wish you had done more of while at school?

A: I would’ve liked more practical projects involving building prototypes. This would have helped with the globe of the world focus on Africabuilding and inventive nature of some of the work I do today. I also would do French. I started the course but did not complete it. With my hope of travelling more African countries, French is proving to be a necessity in the francophone countries.

French is proving to be a necessity in the francophone countries.

Q: Were you aware of your current career path when you were in high school?

A: Yes.


There are a few general considerations to be made when leaving school and heading into varsity. In this section, Nkululeko reflects upon his choices and his path through his degrees.

Q: Did you take a gap year, and why?

A: Yes, exploring entrepreneurship.

Q: Did you get into your first choice degree/institution?

A: Yes, a BSc in Construction Management at Wits University.

Q: Did you start tertiary education pursuing the degree you ended with?

A: Yes.

Q: What attracted you to pursue the degree and career you did/are?

A: The course was the most diverse – it brought together all schools on campus.

Q: Is your current career path related to your Degree?

A: Somewhat. While moving away from the built environment, my work involves finding creative and technical solutions.

Q: Have you done Postgraduate studies and would you do so again if you went back to the end of undergrad?

A: No I have not. I have always had an entrepreneurial bone and did ‘the school thing’ as a formality and backup plan to failed ventures. I have not had to employ the backup plan. I am however toying with the idea of pursuing a PhD, for the titles-sake. It has a nice ring to it.

I did ‘the school thing’ as a formality and backup plan to failed ventures. I have not had to employ the backup plan.

Q: Would you like to in the future?

A: Potentially. I am currently studying a short course in Mandarin (traditional Chinese).

Q: Have you taken any ‘breaks’ during your studies (either within or between degrees)?

A: No.

Career: Social Entrepreneur

Nkululeko now answers some questions that are specific to his open data durban logocurrent career. This gives us insight into some of the realities of being an entrepreneur and where he directs his energy with The Durban Innovation Hub and Open Data Durban.

Q: Do you have a specific focus or specialty within your field?

Durban innovation hubA: No, I do somewhat unrelated work. The frameworks for planning, and project mapping, assist in the workflow within my current career path.

Q: What does your job involve day to day?

A: Designing programmes in social entrepreneurship and innovation by helping people and organisations understand the need to innovate. I also help them build systems and processes to finding creative solutions to everyday problems.

Q: What ‘things’ would you recommend individuals who are wanting to go into your field (general or specific) to consider that they may not be aware of?

A: The world is always changing, and one should rather pursue a difficult course in school to test oneself. The grit, determination and positive outlook it requires will build positively in your pursuits later in life because one would have learned the culture of curiosity.

The reality of innovating is not knowing what the future holds, or how humans interact with the world they live in. So one is always in the business of uncertainty. This is the grey cloud and the thrill.

The world is always changing. The reality of innovating is not knowing what the future holds. So one is always in the business of uncertainty.

Keep an eye out for the next post in our ‘Real Life Careers’ series.

This article was originally published on 12 Apr 2017

About the author
Jax Heilgendorff

I have watched the development of AL.com for years and marveled at the ingenuity and passion shown from the start. As a Linguistics major, university lecturer and burgeoning copywriter, the Advantage Learn story is one close to my heart. I hope to add to the development of educational thinking in South Africa by helping to relate topics and create spaces for thought on the challenges and opportunities facing South African learners, students, and parents.

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