Godwin Mafireyi enjoyed the subjects biology and computer science, and he was a high school teacher before he became a bioinformatician. After completing his BSc degree in Biochemistry and Mathematics, as well as getting his postgrad diploma in Education, Mafireyi got his first job as a high school teacher. He taught biology, mathematics and physics to grades 10 to 12.

During his time as a teacher (between 2010 to 2014), he completed his Honours degree in Forensic Genetics and then after that, masters in bioinformatics. “When I did biochemistry I knew I wanted to do bioinformatics, I ended up choosing agriculture.”

Mafireyi, who is a bioinformatician at the seed company Starke Ayres (Pty) Ltd, says he likes solving analytical problems. “I write code to solve real life biological problems.”

His daily activities include sitting in front of a computer for long hours, writing code and using software programs to analyse biological data, as well as communicating the results to plant breeders, biotechnologists and pathologists to help make data driven decisions.

To become a bioinformatician, you need the subjects mathematics and biological sciences. Having Computer Science will be an advantage.

Simply follow the advice below to find out more about getting involved. Also check out many more careers to choose from in the agri sector on Food for Mzansi.

Okay, now it’s over to Godwin Mafireyi, bioinformatician at Starke Ayres:

Could you sum up your job for us?

As a bioinformatician I use a combination of biology, particularly genetics and computer science and computer programming to solve real life biological problems. For instance, I use python program to analyse DNA sequencing data to identify genes responsible for disease resistance.

So, what does the day-to-day of your job entail?

Sitting in front of a computer for long hours, writing code and using software programs to analyse biological data. Communicating the results to plant breeders, biotechnologists and pathologists to help make data driven decisions. The main goal is to assist a team of scientist in producing superior seed varieties.

What qualification do you need for this career?

You will need to get an understanding of both genetics and computer science.

What are the character traits you need to be great at your job?   

You need to have some interest in solving analytical problems and a lot of patience. Dealing with code and computer programs needs a lot of patience and careful attention to detail.

What subjects do I need to become a bioinformatician?

Mathematics and biological sciences. Computer science will be a great advantage.

What do you love about agriculture as a space to work in?

Knowing you are actively working in feeding the nation, being actively involved in food security, it brings me joy.

Also, knowing you are contributing to the production of high-quality seeds that farmers can trust gives me a sense of satisfaction.

Don’t be modest, tell us about your proudest career moments.

Getting an award for the breakthrough in research for discovering the location of one of the virus resistant genes.

What do you do when you’re not at work?

The main thing I do is to spend time with family, my two kids and a wife. Coding is a hobby – I’m always writing small programmes; improving my coding skills is what I do in my free time.

Any advice for young people who are inspired by your career story here on Food for Mzansi Agri Career Fair?

Go for it if you have a passion for computers and biology. You must have the patience to be in front of your computer for hours. Most universities have genetics or computer science separate, so you can take one first and then do the other.

It is advisable to start preparing for a bioinformatics career early, even before university. One way to do that is to enrol for free online coding classes and coding bootcamps to get started with the programming side of bioinformatics.

Where can I study to become a bioinformatician?

Most universities in South Africa offer undergraduate and postgraduate programs for bioinformatics, e.g. University of Pretoria, the University of Witwatersrand, Rhodes University and the University of Stellenbosch.