Eskom Expo highlights Akash Makhan’s journey of mentorship and leadership

The Eskom Expo for Young Scientists engaged in a Q&A session with Akash Makhan (pictured with Martins Makofane from Lydenburg Hoërskool at the Eskom Expo International Science Fair), who began his mentoring and coaching journey about eight years ago as a project exhibition judge and judges convenor at regional science fairs across various districts and provinces in South Africa. Makhan, an operational technology (OT)/information technology (IT) convergence specialist at Eskom, later progressed to become a judge, category convenor, and international selection panel judge for the Expo’s International Science Fair.

Question 1: Can you please tell us about yourself?

Akash Makhan:  I’m an entrepreneur with humble beginnings in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal. I enjoy TED Talks, short documentaries, being home with my wife and two sons, and getting a thrill out of entertaining family and friends. I’m inspired by electric mobility and a cleaner, more sustainable world to live in.

Question 2: What qualifications have you obtained?

Akash Makhan: At the age of 13, I taught myself programming on a Commodore VIC20 computer. At 17, I attended a school that offered B.Tech-level electronics from Grade 10 to Matric and completed Matric with Technikon (or Technology Institute) level 2 Electronics (second-year B.Tech electronics in our days) obtaining a university exemption (known as a bachelor pass today). I completed a year’s course in Computer Data Processing at a private college directly after Matric, and then went on to a technology institute, studying towards a full diploma in Computer Science. The following year, I dropped out in the first year of that qualification to pursue my micro-computer sales and service business (called Compu-Excellence) as a young entrepreneur at the age of 20.

I hold a 1-year certificate for Computer Data Processing and obtained a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE Windows NT 4.0) certification, in 2000 during the time of Y2K, at a time when the certification was one of the highest paid in the world. It’s one of the certifications that although expired now, holds tremendous nostalgia for me, as it had been signed by one of the world’s richest persons, Bill Gates, as was back then.

Question 3: What do you do for a living and how has your career trajectory been to this point?

Akash Makhan: I’ve been working for Eskom since 1999. I started at Eskom Treasury in the role of an IT technical support specialist and then moved to a business-related role as the Opportunity Sourcing and Development Leader with Eskom Research Testing and Development business unit in Innovation Circuit in 2012. Since 2019, I’ve been seconded to our Eskom Generation (Power Plan Generation Business) to assist them as an OT/IT convergence specialist, analysing connectivity and cyber security in our power stations.

Question 4: What made you pursue your profession?

Akash Makhan: My love for technology from a very young age, the need for constant change – or innovation – and the affinity for the world of computing and digital electronics.

Question 5: What brought about your interest in Eskom Expo?

Akash Makhan: The subject of innovation, as well as innovation management, is more a business concept that is both broad and in-depth, and as a result, it makes a huge difference for an industry person to assist learners and educators towards enlightening the subject. As an internally recognised and experienced subject-matter expert in innovation at Eskom, I see many gaps between industry and what learners understand about innovation, and as a result, I think we need a mechanism of coaching or enhancing the fundamental understanding of innovation for both school educators and learners, as well as mentoring them towards improving their Eskom Expo research projects at regional level and International Science Fair (ISF) level.

Question 6: What positions have you held at Eskom Expo?

Akash Makhan: I’ve held several positions in the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists in the more than eight years that I have been involved with the programme. My mentoring and coaching journey began by supporting regional events, as a project exhibition judge, as well as judges convenor in various districts and provinces in the country. I then became a judge, category convenor and international selection panel judge for the ISF events.

Question 7: What do you enjoy most about your role at Eskom Expo?

Akash Makhan: I get the opportunity to meet the most incredible minds, both learners and educators, along with some mentors too.

Question 8: Why do you continue to volunteer at Eskom Expo?

Akash Makhan: Mentorship and coaching is my second self-discovered passion, together with the business philosophy of innovation and innovation management. In my profession as an Opportunity Sourcing and Development Leader, which can be loosely described as a senior internal innovation consultant, I’m an experienced internal “subject matter expert” on innovation. Part of my job involves fulfilling corporate training on innovation, and as a result, I find myself drawn to mentoring and developing the young minds of our country.

Owing to my other passion for innovation, I’ve come to realise that innovation is such a core part of growth and success in business (economic innovation) and society (social innovation) that I truly believe that the people of our country must understand innovation from the grass-roots level. Innovation has been the key to the success of many countries and companies, some of which have become leaders purely through innovation, so what better place to start learning innovation culture than at the school level? Coaching, motivating, encouraging, confidence-building and overall developing people, especially young people, now runs in my blood.

Question 9: Do you have any achievements/highlights to mention while at Eskom Expo?

Akash Makhan: Besides growing my knowledge of science and technology while judging research projects, during the years I judged at various events, learners have emerged as either the first or second grand prize winners at ISF. This could just be a coincidence; however, it was my internal self-satisfying highlights.

Question 10: Where did your passion for STEMI come from?

Akash Makhan: I guess it was from the age of 12 or 13, at a time when I didn’t know what STEMI meant, but I had a boost when I joined Eskom Expo for Young Scientists for the first time.

Question 11: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your thoughts on the importance of science, especially for South Africa?

Akash Makhan: I believe that learning has to become radically fast-paced, which is so much possible today with technology like online learning, the internet, YouTube and learning sites like Khan Academy, amongst others. The old, boring way of only learning at school is so 1970s. What took six months to a year to learn before, should take one day to a week today. Technology, the internet and audio-visual learning have allowed us to grasp concepts so much faster today than yesteryear. All this modern technology of learning has been made possible by science, technology and innovation itself – Wow isn’t that amazing!?

Registration to take part in Eskom Expo opens on 15 January 2024.

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