Woman in Tech of the Week – Bernelle Verster
Name: Bernelle Verster
Designation: Water Maverick, Shit Stirrer
What do you do every day?
Writing, mostly. Sometimes growing things – bacteria, algae, plants, fungi, animals (like flies, worms). I am trying to learn how to play with hardware like Arduino and getting better at data driven visualization to help communicate my work.
I work in beneficiation of diffuse pollution through biology. This includes wastewater treatment, but I’m also moving into urban waterbodies like urban estuaries. I like interfaces, connecting the dots to fill in the gaps. So much of my time is spent translating between what, for example, engineers say and what ecologists say and try to find a way that both can be accommodated. Or, what the public perceives and try to communicate all the trade-offs and complexities. At the moment I am trying to see how to coordinate bottom-up, DIY type behavior with the efficiency and economy of scale that engineers prefer but that comes with environmental trade-offs.
How did you get into the tech space?
I wanted to become a vet, but then fell in love with biochemistry in first year of university and stuck with that. Then I realized the cost of biotech is way too high and needed to learn some tech and engineering to make the biology work better. I’ve sortof just stumbled along with things, there wasn’t ever much direction or specific support.
What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Do what you can with what you have; and you will always be someone’s dog (in other words, don’t expect to come out ‘on top’ and then all your issues are over. That just doesn’t happen). The advice I never listened to was ‘it’s time you stop dreaming and get a proper job’.
What advice would you given someone wanting to get into the tech sector? Dream. Big, small, doesn’t matter, but don’t lose sight of reality. Prototype, play, fail fast. Look at what is – the current reality, even if it is uncomfortable. Ask the tough questions, listen to what people say. You don’t have to believe them, but they are coming from somewhere, interrogate what they say. Don’t underestimate the value of incremental change.
What motivates you to get out of bed everyday?
Frustration. Having a big goal is nice, but really it’s the frustration of ‘if only this small thing can work better!’ Generally I wake up thinking, I’m going to go at it from this angle, maybe that works today. I think the real value I add to society isn’t through my big dreams and passions, but the little itches and irritations I try to smooth out along the way. Connecting people who can help scratch 😉
Who do you want to be when you grow up?
A whole person. Not a whitewashed darling on a pedestal.
Twitter handle @indiebio