This story is a part of our ‘A Day in the Life’ series that highlights the career journeys of 2U employees across the world. Throughout September we’re celebrating Heritage Month in South Africa and featuring 2Utes located in Cape Town.
Karabo Likhethe was only a kid when he developed a fascination with video cameras. He’d look at his dad recording a video and was enchanted by the fact that he could put a box on his shoulder, capture a few good moments, and then watch the events of the day on the TV that very same day. Put simply, it blew his mind.
Growing up, Karabo could often be found stealing his dad’s video camera to test it out himself. So when he turned 17, his dad bought him his very own. That’s when his passion was solidified.
When it came time for Karabo to determine his course of study for university, the choice was easy: he wanted to be a film director. But he needed to convince his parents.
“You see, they grew up in a time where the only professions that made sense to a Black child were to be a doctor, nurse, teacher, firefighter, or policeman—all very stable, state-based jobs,” said Karabo. “So when their youngest son said he wanted to go into film, they couldn’t comprehend why.”
Karabo’s parents tried to convince him to go the financial management route instead. He mentioned it once and received great marks in accounting, business studies, and mathematics, so it was a logical choice in their minds. While Karabo told his parents that he would apply to financial management-focused universities, he threw all of the applications away and only applied to film school. He knew exactly what he wanted to do.
Karabo ended up studying at AFDA film school in Johannesburg, South Africa, which is the place that he claims really opened up his eyes to what the industry was like and what other job opportunities existed in the profession. He focused on directing and screenwriting, and it paid off—Karabo’s graduation film won three awards and a commercial he directed was nominated for one of the most notable advertising industry awards, the Loeries. Karabo’s parents took notice and accepted that their youngest knew what he was doing with his career.
From film school, Karabo was headhunted by the biggest production company in South Africa at the time, Velocity Films. It was his dream job, and he was ready to take on the challenge. But after six months, he realized it wasn’t the workplace for him. He moved on to spend five years at Giant Films, working his way up from a creative researcher to junior director and producer. He produced six short films, directed three of them, co-wrote and edited a feature documentary film, and directed four music videos (one of which helped him achieve the title of 2016 Best Music Video at the South African Metal Music Awards).
While he found great success at Giant Films, Karabo needed a change. He desired a better work-life balance, and when he learned about GetSmarter, a brand of 2U, Inc., and the company culture, he knew a video production job in their Cape Town office would be a beautiful fit for what he needed.
Read on to learn about Karabo’s rewarding career in video production and his perspective on Heritage Month.
What is it about 2U that sparked your interest?
When I walked through the office and I saw people smiling and looking genuinely happy, I thought I was being punked. I turned to Brian, the head of Video Production at the time, and said, “Tell the truth, you hired some models to walk around smiling so I could be convinced to go through with this interview, didn’t you?” I was pleasantly surprised to find out that that was the furthest thing from the truth. People just genuinely liked working at GetSmarter, a brand of 2U, Inc. After the rounds of interviews and learning more about what the company does, I knew that this was a challenge I needed in my life, and the place I wanted to be.
How would you describe your role as a senior video producer?
The best way to describe my role would be a painter. You are given all these different colours (information about a university partner’s style guide, context around the course, introductions to the characters) and you have to put all of that together to create a video that will both engage and educate students. In a lot of cases, you really get to be creative and think out of the box. If you approach the task with the right attitude, there is never a dull moment working on course videos.
What do you find most rewarding and challenging about your job?
The most challenging part of the job is wrapping my head around the content of a new course. Whenever something new is briefed in, I am thrown out of my current frame of understanding and forced to take on a completely new subject, and that can really push me to my limits.
The most rewarding part is creating a video that explains the content so well while entertaining the viewers. I know we are not in the entertainment business, but I really do believe that there are certain entertainment principles that go into engaging the student and keeping them engaged long enough to effectively communicate each learning objective.
What’s your favorite part about working at 2U?
The people are my favourite part of working at 2U. I have made more friends at 2U than I ever have at any other company that I have worked at to date. And I really enjoy the learning culture. Being a person who takes on every new challenge as a chance to learn, I love that most of the people I work with have the same mentality.
What does Heritage Month mean to you?
I think of Heritage Month as a chance to celebrate our many different cultures and also celebrate each other’s cultures. It’s also a chance for South Africans to find their own unified culture—hence Braai day.
How has your cultural heritage influenced your career?
My cultural heritage has taught me how to prioritise peace over being right and being open to continuously learning. One of the greatest Sotho minds is a man by the name of Mohlomi, and his greatest gift to the Sotho culture was his philosophy on “protecting peace to ensure prosperity.” And this filters down to not always trying to have the last say, but instead take the time to listen and understand someone else’s perspective before you impose your views on them. Put down your defense mechanisms so that you open yourself up to new experiences and a chance to grow. A growth mindset is also very integral to my culture. I believe every day is a chance to learn something new and grow towards a better version of yourself.
During Heritage Month, you’re encouraged to celebrate your culture and the diversity of your beliefs and traditions. How will you be celebrating this year?
I will probably be celebrating with a potluck braai. I love food, and mostly, I love food other people make from their granny’s recipe or something their mother or father used to make them when they were a kid. I love food that has a story to it.
What’s your favorite South African saying/phrase/word?
Re kao fela, which is Sotho for we are in this together. It's a phrase that can be used in so many different contexts—sad or celebratory.
Tell us about a favorite place in South Africa where you feel most rooted to your heritage.
Qwa-Qwa. The Free State is a magical place when you overlook all its underlying problems. The mountains, people, food, life—it's amazing to be there. Qwa-Qwa is the place I love going to when I want to just switch off and disappear into the mountains and connect with my roots again.
Out of everything you’ve done 2U so far, what are you proudest of?
My proudest moment at 2U was when I presented a documentary concept to the University of Cambridge and they were excited to try it out. After shooting it and working tirelessly for months to complete the project on time, the course convenors were extremely impressed with the finished product, and that made me feel proud. The team I was working with had taken on something new. It had no template, no previous example, we were literally trying something new, and the only frame of reference was what I had in my mind. But everyone was so charged to take on the challenge. They trusted the process, and by the end, we had something to be proud of. Cambridge has asked for two more of the documentary concepts since I presented them as an option.
What advice would you give to someone just starting at 2U?
Smile and come play. If you think of the work you do as a job, then you are going to get tired of it and hate every challenge that throws you out of your comfort zone. But if you think of it as play, you take on the mentality of a child. Now, every challenge starts looking like an opportunity to try something new, explore a different way of thinking, and get out of your own way. Just watch a child play and adopt that mentality every day at work.
Are you interested in a job like Karabo’s? Check out our Learning Design & Development team page for information on open positions. We’re hiring.
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