Faculty of Engineering celebrates first Data Engineering graduates

Faculty of Engineering celebrates first Data Engineering graduates

[Graduation Spotlight: BEng in Electrical and Electronic Engineering in Data Engineering]

The Faculty of Engineering at Stellenbosch University celebrates the first graduation of students specialising in Data Engineering from the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering. This event, taking place at Stellenbosch University’s upcoming graduation ceremony this month, marks a significant milestone as the first cohort from a South African university equipped with a unique skill set in Statistics, Computer Science, Machine Learning and Engineering.

In addressing the evolving demands of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the degree represents a specialised stream within the existing undergraduate program in Electrical and Electronic Engineering. It focuses on preparing engineers for the transformed landscape of the modern workplace.

Theodore van Wyk, one of the graduates, envisions a future in Artificial intelligence (AI) and plans to explore various applications of machine learning in the workforce. “I am planning on doing my master’s after working for a while, and hopefully contributing in some way to the field of machine learning.”

He says the challenges they faced during their studies because of the pandemic “forced us to learn on our own from all kinds of resources”. “The ability to understand a concept on your own is key and will be crucial as we enter the workforce where we will learn about new technologies in a short period.”

Expressing his excitement about the broad field of AI, he believes data is the future. “With machine learning models such as ChatGPT growing in popularity, there is a growing demand for data engineers, data scientists, and machine learning experts. Pursuing a degree in data engineering is a difficult but rewarding journey,” he says.

Another graduate, Minette Farrell, also highlights the adaptability and resilience acquired during the challenges of the pandemic as crucial skills for a career in Data Engineering. “The pandemic transformed us into self-reliant learners, an invaluable asset in the ever-changing landscape of data engineering.”

She encourages prospective students to embrace the comprehensive skill set offered by the degree. “Adaptability and independent learning are skills integral to a successful career in this dynamic field. Embrace the challenges; they shape you into a resilient and innovative Data Engineer ready to tackle the future,” is her advice.

In her plans, she envisions contributing to the field by applying her combined knowledge of statistics, computer science, and engineering practices to deliver in-depth solutions to emerging problems, pushing the boundaries of what data engineering can achieve.

Simon Malan emphasises these unique skills acquired through the degree. “We are well versed in upcoming technologies such as machine learning, which enables us to enter the workforce with knowledge of these fields that no other engineering degree possesses.

“This degree did not only instil the knowledge but also the passion. We understand the power that comes with this knowledge and want to use it to better our communities and even the world,” he says.

To prospective students, he says: “This degree is difficult; there is no argument there. But as with any challenge in life, it pays off in the end. If you enjoy work that challenges you and you enjoy any data-oriented field, this is the degree for you.”

Another graduate, Donald van der Westhuizen, plans to enter the workforce as a data engineer with a new perspective. He also believes that the pandemic challenges have taught him the adaptability that will benefit him in future endeavours, “especially in a career because you constantly face unfamiliar situations”.

These four graduates agree that pursuing a path in this field is a rewarding journey, providing a well-rounded education that opens doors to diverse career opportunities. Being part of the inaugural cohort, they have actively provided feedback to improve the programme, contributing to its ongoing refinement. The degree, accredited by the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA), has seen a growing demand, with 95 applicants accepting conditional offers for the 2024 intake.

Top row (from left to right): Mr Theodore van Wyk, Mr Shane Erasmus, Mr Nadav Mazor, Mr Paul Ellis, Ms Lise-Mari Prinsloo and Mr Donald van der Westhuizen.
Bottom row (from left to right): Mr Simon Malan, Ms Minette Farrell, Ms Rachel Rawraway, Prof Herman Engelbrecht (Chair, Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering), Mr Harry Odendaal and Mr Luke Swart.

[Article by Amber Viviers]