In Conversation: Tumisang Solomon (Head of Research & Development, Sepapane Group)

From graduating as the Valedictorian of the BAC class of 2018 to getting his first job literally two days after his final exam and making it up to Head of Research & Development in just three years, Tumisang's has proven time and again that he is VERY good at what he does. In this interview, he takes us through his illustrious career and shares what more is to come!

In your own words, tell us who Tumisang Solomon is

Tumisang Solomon is a young man born and bred from a small village called Jackalas No. 2 just a few kilometres from Francistown. I attended my tertiary education at Botswana Accountancy College and graduated top of the whole university and was awarded valedictorian of the year 2018. I hold a FIRST CLASS BSc Honours in Computer Systems Engineering and am certified in Project Management and Risk Management. Currently, I’m the head of research and development at Sepapane Group, but outside of my work life, I am a prayerful and family man. I am a husband and a father to a beautiful wife and one daughter whom I take pride in.  My all-time motivation has been “God first and the rest will fall into place”.

Briefly take us through your journey to a  career in software engineering

Well, my journey was so simplified by a certain gentleman called Thuto Modisaotsile. He happened to attend a certain trade fair where he met the director of Sepapane Group and then recommended me to him. To my surprise I got a call from a director informing me when I finish my exam I should come for an interview. After completing my final exams, fresh from university, I went straight to the city centre to meet the director who then told me that I don't have to undergo an interview and that by Monday I should report to work. You can imagine completing school on Friday and Monday you start work just like that. That's is how my career started. I started as a Support Specialist Intern for a solution called Ed Admin which is used by almost all government schools for their learning management. Within 6 months, I was promoted to be one of the software developers in the company, after which the management saw it fit to promote me again to be a research and development specialist. Last year towards June I was then promoted again to be the Head of Research and Development. Basically, it took me 3 years to be the Head of the department. I have never worked for any company besides Sepapane Group.  

What inspired you to pursue a career in tech?

I lost my mother at a young age and that prompted me to want to be a doctor to save lives but I guess life had other plans for me. Growing up, we had it rough and some of the simplest things like electricity, TVs and cellphones were not there. I was always grumpy when it was me and my cousin's turn to go and collect firewood. I told myself that one day I'm going to create that one robot that would take care of all household chores and we would get to rest. Funny huh, but that was my motivation into the tech world. I've always liked things that simplified our way of life and technology was the way to go

Please tell us what your job entails

Head Facilitator/trainer for the University of Botswana’s Instructional Designers and lectures in their eLearning platform.Technical Support Lead for the Bema Stores e-commerce platform which is currently the leading e-commerce platform having close to 200 vendors selling through it. Manages an LMS platform called Elearners space. Continuously cutting customers complaints by at least 65 % by identifying and rectifying errors within applications supporting existing software products and making progress on new products. Occasionally providing technical leadership to junior IT staff. Handling and analyzing large amounts of technical data. Giving quarterly reports to executive management regarding current developments and track changes in existing software. Research primarily technological developments to determine whether implementation into organization process was efficient and feasible. Participate in strengthening the company’s backend service to optimize usage and prepare for emergency blackouts. Present to management and end of term demonstration on valuable software developments that were in the works. Manage Linux and Windows virtual servers on AWS EC2 instances and monitor distributed servers.

You were involved in the development of Botswana’s biggest multi-vendor eCommerce platform, BEMA Stores. Please tell us more about the project itself and your role in it

Well as I have stated above, my department does not only deal with development but there is also an element of research. As a team, we identified that there is a need for an e-commerce platform. Taking nothing from the already existing platforms in the country, we had to dig deep and make a solution that will not only exist for sake of existing. Our drive was easy because we did not want to compete with other e-commerce platforms hence why we dominated the game from the onset. My role currently is on the technical end meaning just oversee the whole technical aspect

What was the motivation behind undertaking that project?

With the Covid-19 pandemic hitting the whole world, this was one of the projects the company embarked on to help businesses sell online without having to be disturbed by curfews and physical contact which is currently the leading spread of the virus.

How receptive have Batswana been to the BEMA platform?

Currently, the numbers of sales are very overwhelming and the number of vendors/sellers is very high. Batswana have shown trust and confidence in this product. The sales team informed me last week that they have over 200 vendors which are currently not approved and need to be approved asap. Our prices are also affordable to own a store within BEMA Store is very affordable. 

As an online market platform, what challenges have you come across operating in a country with a low internet penetration and logistically challenging place like Botswana?

The current challenge we are facing is that Batswana still have trust issues in buying online. They still have fear hence why we have come up with a new strategy which is to be rolled out soon to promote buying online. Currently, selling online is great. We have many vendors selling through us. We have integrated shipping companies into our platform to curb logistics challenges. Our system gives customers real-time and seamless information as well as prices of anything they are buying from BEMA Stores.

How have you been approaching these challenges?

Well, the main challenge of Batswana having the fear of buying online gave our sales team a huge challenge hence why they have to target the whole world and not only Batswana. The platform has received many orders outside the country which should show you our presence internationally. All in all though, the challenges we facing currently are not that much and we really doing well.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the growth of e-commerce platforms like marketplaces. As BEMA Stores, how have you been leveraging this fact for the growth of your platform?

Like I said above, when we started this project we did look into such but we came up with the concept of dominating the market especially in Botswana. The presence of other marketplaces motivates us every day because we have to strategize almost more often. We are a Botswana solution and Batswana has shown great trust in us

As the pandemic simmers down, the logical expectation is that online shopping will also slow down as people go back to physical shopping. As an online marketplace, how does BEMA Stores plan on maintaining an upward growth trajectory even after the pandemic? 

Our concept looked at a bigger picture beyond Covid-19, hence we targeted not only products but also entertainment. We have included live entertainment to our platforms which should be a selling feature even after the pandemic. Remember iTunes has been there, Deezer has been there to name a few and now we are also tapping into that market.

With many E-Commerce platforms having launched in the country in the past two years or so, what is the differentiating factor of BEMA Stores from the competition?

We do not compete, we dominate the market and that is how we differ from other marketplaces in the country.

What else is in the pipeline for BEMA Stores in the near future in your quest to increase your market share in the competitive online marketplace scene?

Hehehe, that is currently confidential but I can at least share with you great things are coming. What is currently open to the public is the official launch which is about to be announced very soon.

BEMA Stores’ future growth will in one way or another depend on the increase of internet penetration in the country. In your professional opinion, what can be done to improve internet access in the country so that platforms like BEMA Stores become the norm?

Very true. I hope government policies govern internet prices to be very affordable to Batswana. At least now there are spots where internet is accessed for free for 30 minutes as a response. Even from our end, we are still in negotiations with mobile network providers to make BEMA Stores available for their subscriptions packages just like MySocial and so forth.

Sepapane Group has created other innovative products during the pandemic like the Badijo App and the Thermal Screening System. As head of R&D, please tell us more about those

Badijo is an online food ordering app we developed for restaurants or food outlets. Thermal Screening is used for temperature detection.

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?

Honestly being given a chance to lead the research and development department for Sepapane Group has been one of the biggest highlights in my career. Remember Sepapane group is a group of companies both in Botswana and South Africa.

What advice can you give to young people interested in pursuing a career in software engineering?

The best way to learn is through a project that you love, not through classes. Just get started, even if you know nothing. Find a problem that excites you and let solving that problem guide your learning and your choice of tools and lastly, if you are finding it difficult, be patient with yourself.

Also, read other people’s code.  Particularly try to find well-written code. There are infinitely many ways to write even simple programs and some ways are better than others. Other people will appreciate well-written, well-documented programs, so write your programs for people to read.

The key to good code is how you organise the parts of the program; how you modularise.  Focus on putting closely related things together, and on making each part of the program do only one job.

Lastly, please share with our readers where you can be reached if they are interested in getting in touch


Facebook: Tumisang Solomon


NB: Interview has been slightly edited for clarity
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