IEEE Office 3 Park Avenue, 17th Floor New York, New York 10016-5997 U.S.A. Tel: +1 212 419 7900 Fax: +1 212 752 4929
From Society Leaders
President's Message Editorial News Focus on Technical Committees From Society Leaders Submission Guidelines Back Issues Society Information
Aurona Gerber: An exemplary Senior Volunteer of SMC
An Autobiography

(My website is at http://www.aurona-gerber.net/ )

I started my career by enrolling in a degree program in electronic engineering at the University of Pretoria.  This choice was mainly due to the influence of my father who held a Ph. D. degree in Mineralogy. He was one of the most intellectual people I have ever known, and his enquiring mind and pet projects resulted in a very interesting childhood.

It was quite a shock to realize how few women enrolled for any engineering discipline. I was one of 8 women across all disciplines in an engineering class of more than 600 students. It is still a male dominated world, and it was a challenge to establish my own identity as a female in this male dominated environment. During the first year we did a general practical course that included welding, sheet metal work, soldering as well as automotive electrical wiring. I managed to pass all of these sessions, often I just made it, but I regarded this as an important challenge to overcome in my engineering career.

I graduated with B. Eng. degree in Electronics at the University of Pretoria in1987. I started working as a bursar at CSIR (the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research of South Africa) developing firmware for speech encoding/decoding devices. This was used to transmit speech over radio systems. I implemented algorithms that compressed speech before mp3 became popular.

The next project I worked on was the design and development of a massively parallel computer using transputers. Up to 128 processors could be linked together in different configurations with a configurable switch. MC2 was a massively parallel computer with up to 128 TMS32020 processors. I gained valuable experience in this project as I was involved with the software design as well as the implementation of the operating system written in parallel Modula-2 and Occam, as well as the hardware debugging, hardware and software integration as well as installation and support of the beta systems. MC2 won an IDC design award in 1990 and I received the Mikomtek Golden Chip award for my work on the project. The design of the system switch as well as the design methodologies used for parallel system software was the topic of my M. Sc. thesis. I completed a Masters degree in electronic engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS) in 1992.

Following CSIR I went to industry, working at an affiliated company of the Dimension Data Group. Here I was responsible for the research and design of Dimension Data’s local products such as the MasterMux, an intelligent TDM (Time Division Multiplexer) which multiplex data channels on up to 4 high-speed aggregate links. I was part of the team responsible for the design and development of the Mastermux Software consisting of the User Configuration software, the Network Management software and the embedded Node Control software. The software was developed using Modula-2 and NMTS (Nucleus Multi-Tasking System), an in-house developed multi-tasking kernel. We developed our own multitasking Operating System before Windows or IBM’s OS/2 were able to multitask

During 1993 Dimension Data changed its policy regarding locally developed products. There was a shift towards importing rather than local development and manufacturing. Our unit formed a new independent company, Tech Control, and I was a technical director of  this new company. At Tech Control I was involved in the software maintenance and upgrading of some large Defense Projects. In November 1994 I returned to the CSIR where I had an exciting time because it was on the eve of the breakthroughs in the Internet and my responsibilities during this time included the development of WWW interfaces for databases in Informix running on SunOS. I always like to believe that, during this time, I was responsible for arguably the first Web development that was executed in South Africa, when I developed a front-end for the Braby’s database which was similar to an electronic yellow pages.

During this time our young family grew and we had our first daughter. I decided to leave the exciting but challenging corporate world and returned to the CSIR to work on their internet applications, and writing front-end web interfaces to databases. We used Oracle, MySQL, SQL Server, DB2 and Sybase, and any possible web programming language that one can think of at that time. This CSIR Internet venture was commercialized and is known today as MWeb. As technical project leader and manager I managed the technical delivery, preparation of proposals, finances, project planning and project management of projects. I was also involved in coaching of junior personnel, analysis, design and implementation of the interfaces as well as the databases, as well as deployment and maintenance of system.

After our second daughter was born, I decided to investigate a career as academic. I went to Unisa as a senior lecturer in several subjects and completed a Ph. D. degree in Semantic Web technologies (2007).  During that time I joined the IEEE, and with one of my Ph. D.  supervisors, Professor Alta van der Merwe, we established the IEEE SMCS Chapter in South Africa.

I enjoyed academia and research and when the CSIR decided to place more emphasis on research excellence, I joined CSIR again for the third time. I helped with the formulation of research strategies for some of the core groups, as we created our group in Knowledge Representation and Reasoning at the CSIR, as well as the Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research (CAIR - see http://www.cair.za.net/).

At present I am principal researcher in knowledge representation and reasoning at CSIR, as well as in CAIR. I am also chair of the IEEE SMCS chapter in South Africa.

I find ontologies and modeling interesting, and my research focuses on the development and application of models, specifically formal ontologies using DLs (Description Logics). In addition, my years as system developer and technical project leader, as well as my research colleagues lead to an interest in software and systems architectures and software engineering. This interest grew to a additional research focus in enterprise architectures and enterprise engineering which I try to combine with models.

Because of the identified need to have enterprise architecture and engineering established as a research discipline, Prof ESSOR Alta van der Merwe and I proposed establishing an international technical committee on enterprise architecture and engineering under Systems Science and Engineering. This proposal was accepted, and the new TC was formed in May 2012. See http://www.ieeesmc.org/technicalcommittess/tc_eae.html,

I have been married for 25 years, and with husband Thinus we have two adorable daughters, Aurona and Ane. We live on a game farm east of Pretoria (see  http://africa-genesis.yolasite.com/ ).

In my private time I enjoy scuba diving and one of my best pictures ever was taken my our dive master where a huge Manta ray passed above me. This was a breathtaking experience.