The memories of a most difficult time are reflected in Sally Mampane’s face and eyes as she describes living in a shack in Goniwe Section in Tembisa on the East side of Johannesburg, being scared to use a gaslight at night because she felt too visible to the outside world. “I used to sit underneath a blanket and study, because I felt so vulnerable there,” she says. One morning at around 4am someone tried to break in, but when she phoned the police, she couldn’t give them a house number because some shacks don’t have numbers. “It was an extremely challenging situation, with dirty water regularly running through the streets, litter everywhere and safety issues. I stayed there because my internship provided me with a stipend of R2 000 a month and I knew I had to manage this money really carefully.”

Growing up in Tzaneen in South Africa’s Northern Province, Sally’s journey after school continued in Pretoria, where she was unable to complete her post-Matric studies at PC Training & Business College (now Richfield Graduate Institute of Technology). She was unable to write her final exams, due to financial constraints with her father not supporting her studies. “My mother – my parents were divorced – told me not to harbour grudges, but instead to focus on myself and where I wanted to get to. It was the best advice she could have given me, although it wasn’t easy. Then my sister in Cape Town said she could support me while I finished two semesters for my final year of an Information Technology certification, so I relocated. While I was studying, I volunteered at the SAEP (South African Education Project, an NGO based in Cape Town. They were using Salesforce as part of their operation. I knew nothing about Salesforce when I started at the SAEP, so I started learning more about it in my spare time. I also attended a conference that was hosted by Salesforce and Cloudsmiths, and when The Driving Force (aka CEO!) of Cloudsmiths, Derek Hughes, did his presentation, I took down many notes!”

Sally moved back to Johannesburg after completing her Information Technology qualification. She knew she wanted to work in the industry, with Salesforce being her passion, but in the meantime the monthly bills had to be paid. “I applied for internships online, but most of them didn’t even call me back.” She also tried to get work as a cashier or a shelf packer – anything to pay the bills – but wasn’t successful. “At the time, although I needed an income, I thought perhaps this wasn’t meant to be and that something else would come up.”

Sally’s instinct was right. A developer friend sent Sally a link for a DVT Academy Internship and she submitted her CV. A short while later she received an email from the DVT’s Len Venter who was assisting with the recruitment process. They asked if she would like to come in for an interview with DVT HR Manager Bontle Songo and the now MD of Dynamic DNA, Prudence Mabitsela. “I was so nervous before the interview, I was shaking. But then I got the email saying I had been accepted into the DVT Academy Internship Programme. I felt totally overwhelmed. I knew my Salesforce experience helped, but knowing that someone had seen my potential and was giving me an opportunity was an amazing feeling.”

Sally started her DVT Academy internship in March 2016 – and moved into the shack in Goniwe Section just before that. “My rent was R350 a month and I knew that I had to keep my expenses down as much as possible, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to enter the Internship Programme. My mom had moved to Mpumalanga for family reasons and my options were very limited,” she says.

The 12-month programme – six months of theoretical studying and six months of work-based learning – began with a comprehensive induction. “Previous learners had been invited to share their own experiences and we all learnt a lot from that. The new learners also shared their challenges. We were able to help each other because we understood one another’s circumstances.”

The programme included a six-month course in Systems Development at a training institute called Torque IT in Rivonia, Sandton. The Certification covered Life Skills; Fundamentals; End User; Introduction to Programming; Practical Applications; Programming in C#; and Essentials of Developing Windows Store Apps using C#. “Len and Prudence stayed in touch with us via a WhatsApp group, where we could talk about problems and issues,” says Sally. “We were also mentored about why we were on the programme. One of the lecturers at Torque IT always reminded us that the shack life wouldn’t last forever. It kept us motivated.”

After studying in Internet cafes on weekends and under the blanket at night in the shack, Sally wrote exams and achieved her Systems Development Certification. Then it was time for placement at a company for her work-based internship. She was asked if she would be interested in doing her internship at Cloudsmiths. “It was as if the pieces of my journey started falling into place. I said I would be honoured to work there,” she says, tears and a smile revealing the myriad emotions she felt at the time. She started at Cloudsmiths on 10 October 2016. “I was really nervous, but because I had had contact with them, been invited to their family days and events, it was easier because I wasn’t going to total strangers.” Sally managed her nervousness by reminded herself that this was what she had always wanted, plus “everyone at Cloudsmiths was so welcoming and friendly,” she says.

Meanwhile Sally’s mom, worried about her daughter, had been able to move back to Joburg, and they found a room in Tembisa. “I couldn’t take the shack life any more, so I asked Prudence for a day off and went to look for another place. My mom is really supportive and makes sure I study for my exams,” she smiles.

On completion of her internship, Cloudsmiths offered Sally a permanent position as a Junior Consultant, starting on 1 April 2017. “Of course I accepted!” she says. “I work in the Managed Services Team, offering support to customers via email, phone and face to face client visits. I have also continued my studying and have now passed Salesforce Admin and Salesforce App Builder Certifications. Some of the things I dream about also scare me, but I won’t let that put me off. I was so nervous before my first exam that I almost postponed it, but then I thought, if I don’t do it, I will never know how it feels to sit the exam. Even if you fail the first time, don’t give up, try again until you get that certification. I didn’t postpone it and I passed the first time. It took a while to sink in!”

Since joining Cloudsmiths, one of Sally’s has been attending Dreamforce, the massive and exciting week-long annual Salesforce conference held in San Fransisco. Each year, Cloudsmiths gives their staff an opportunity to attend the conference. Anyone can apply. As part of the application process, applicants are required to go through an interview, and give a presentation to the Cloudsmiths Dragons – CEO Derek Hughes, Sales Director Jason Timm and COO Vaughan Diedrick. “We had to ‘present our case’ stating why we thought we should be selected to attend Dreamforce,” Sally explains. “It was very exciting and a real honour to be chosen.” Her Dreamforce visit included attending a session hosted by former US First Lady Michelle Obama and Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce. “The entire week was an incredible learning experience, absolutely amazing,” says Sally. The Cloudsmiths delegates also had an opportunity to attend Dreamfest, a benefit concert in aid of children’s health, where they saw over 18 bands, including Alicia Keys and Lenny Kravitz.

Sally says that if she had had a comfortable start in life, perhaps she wouldn’t have pushed herself. “I can look back now with some humour, but I don’t go back to Goniwe Section,” she says. “We live on the other side of Tembisa and it’s much better now.” Career-wise, there are many more Salesforce Certifications she wants to achieve and she strives to apply herself every day, working with her clients, learning and gaining exposure. What would her advice be to someone in a similar situation? “Even when things are really difficult, they shouldn’t think that this will be where they will stay. Have a goal and stay focused on it, no matter how hard it is.”

Cloudsmiths, the DVT Academy and Dynamic DNA are part of the Dynamic Technologies Group.