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Publication date: 6 December 2021

Entrepreneur. Renewable energy aficionado. Gamer. What can’t this man be? From the warmest parts of South Africa, we bring you the story of our new colleague, James van der Walt. If you are interested in sustainability and adventures, his story will definitely interest you! Let’s read his People of HICO story.

Could you tell us a bit more about James, the person? Where are you from? Where do you live? 

In short, I’m an innovation entrepreneur and software architect. I’m a bit of a globe hopper so I don’t classify myself by nationality but rather as an earthling. I was born in South Africa and that’s where my full circle has taken me back too. I currently live in the beautiful wine lands of Stellenbosch with lots of mountains and vineyards.

Sounds like quite a life, James! You seem to have many interests too!

Something like that, yes. My interests are varied – from metal to trance music, dancing, gaming… to sitting quietly, contemplating the meaning of life. 

I like to think of myself as a student of humanity. What drives us? Where are we going? And what are we going to do about humanity’s short-sighted goals? 

Sustainability in business and life has fascinated me for a long time. I have spent a big portion of my life campaigning for equality and harmony with the planet. South Africa has many problems of such nature and it’s one of the reasons I ended up here again after my world travels. 

Speaking of, can you describe your journey to joining HICO-Group and becoming Lead Software Architect?

So, I come from a diverse technical background – from avionics to fintech. Before joining HICO-Group, I had the privilege of running a social innovation startup called SolarTurtle. I figured enough people just talk about giving back and never do it, so I resigned from my normal 9-5 job as a software engineer and started learning about business models, and renewable energy.

For the past decade, I have been training less-privileged communities to start their own solar micro-utilities – community-owned energy companies. The idea was to ride the wave of renewable technologies to create circular economies. After years of creating and establishing a solid base, it was time to hand over the work to the communities so they can continue to make a difference. As a techie, this experience has given me valuable insights that I would otherwise not have had – concepts like entrepreneurship, business models, campaigning, and every other aspect of a startup eco-culture. It is with these newly found business skills and established software skills that I now join HICO. 

So far, what is your favorite thing about HICO?

The perfect blend of software and business development just makes perfect sense. I love talking business and software in equal measures so HICO is a perfect fit. However, it is the people that made it stand out. There is passion and drive in the people of HICO. It is really inspiring and I love the challenge.

I love creativity, learning, and problem-solving with a team of good people. There is nothing better than working on a difficult project as a group and rejoicing when it all comes together. It’s the creative and design process that defines the journey to a complete solution.   

So, what has your typical day looked like so far? We’re interested in the deets! 🙂

Well, being new on the team means there is still a lot of doggy paddling and keeping my head above water. It’s a new business, new culture, new tools, and technologies… However, in the words of our Product Manager, Geneve: “How do you eat an elephant? Bit by bit”. 

So, out of all the at-work challenges you listed, what would you say is the greatest one?

I’d say it’s keeping up with technology trends and the ever-evolving business culture. What clients want and what technologies they want to use changes on a daily basis. So, not only do we need to deliver a quality product today but also future-proof the designs so that we are ready for the next call to action. 

Could you give us a specific example of a “job well done” in your line of work?

As a software architect, a job well done for me is when the next generation of software launches with minimal problems, plus it is easy to maintain. Elegant design must be easy to use yet simplistic at its core.. 

At the moment, data security and privacy are on the forefront of any new project, so the future of any HICO software will have to bring this into their plans and designs. So…

Simplicity + elegance + security = I have my work cut out for me. 😊 

In your opinion, what is a major change or new trend you expect to see in your job in the next 10 years? Is there something today that indicates it or is it just your “hunch”?

Artificial Intelligence, for sure. I think AI will redefine how we determine business success. And it goes even further than that. Like, with AI that can outthink, outplan, and outdesign any human, how will we define our purpose? We can already see the effects of AI on humanity – from natural language building websites to analytical tools predicting future markets. Successful organizations will know how to use AI as the tool of the future.

Name someone in your industry whose content you really enjoy following.

I know this is controversial but I really like Bill Gates. 

His early hardcore business tactics gave him a negative stain that still follows him around. However, I believe you are what you do. He has spent his time and money on projects that promote the well-being of billions of people. He has convinced other prominent business people to donate to philanthropic ventures, as well. Because of his shady past, he doesn’t have the Tony Stark status of Elon Musk, but he is still a shroud business mind, and more importantly, he is using that mind to solve long-term humanitarian problems.  

Aaand… time for some Rapid Fire Questions! Quick questions, quick answers. Please try to make your responses to the following questions short and to the point. Ready?

What is the most interesting thing you’ve read this week?

My Eskom load shedding schedule – my city’s electricity supplier. Fingers crossed I can get some work done in the dark!

Describe yourself in 3 words.

Techie. Gamer. Philosopher.

What is the most interesting project you’ve ever worked on?

Oh, many come to mind… but I’d like to highlight a recent project of mine called AutoTurtle. So, imagine solar panels on the roof of a shipping container, and with some IoT, the container automatically opens in the morning and follows the sun. It is also linked to local weather APIs so in the case of a storm, it closes itself. This was AutoTurtle, in a nutshell.

This container was donated to a community center in Delft, Cape Town, for local entrepreneurship programs. There were hopes to commercialize such portal energy hubs but the high cost of renewable energy is always a bitter pill to swallow. Still, the technology was amazing to build and for a good cause.

What is one thing about you that people would be surprised to know?

That I like fire dancing… and not being normal. 

I have also been an actor in an Irish theater production. I once ate tripe at a rural community wedding and got sick for days. It still tastes good even though it has a funny texture – bumpier than normal meat. 

Name someone whose work/life you find inspiring.

Elon Musk; he is really in the spotlight at the moment. 

What is your favorite thing about Elon’s work?

Being a South African himself, he is taking on projects that will change the way we connect in the future. The Starlink project? Like, why have offices in an expensive, crowded city if you can run your business from anywhere? It could have a massive effect on billions that live off-grid. It could also spark de-urbanization. I predict tech hubs starting in all the most beautiful places as connectivity issues become a thing of the past. 

Also, the Neuralink project – it’s like Sci-Fi turned reality. Will we be able to plug “into the Matrix” in the near future? Musk might not be the humanitarian Bill Gates is but his innovations might end up changing more people’s lives in the long run. Will this make the world better? I’m excited to find out.

Name one thing you really COULD NOT live without.


Name one thing you really COULD live without.

Reminder pop-ups.

What is your favorite movie?


Favorite TV show?

Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Favorite food?

Pizza (duh).

If you could visit one place on Earth, where would you go and why?

Pyramids – a simple design that withstood the ages. So much history and conspiracy theories…

Where would you go right now if you were invisible?

I’d sneak around. You know, travel the world without a plane ticket or a passport? That’d be cool!

As a reward to our readers for reading ’til the end, please share your best piece of advice.

Find out what gifts you have, then gift ’em!

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