Saturday, September 24, 2011

Flying East….and Back

If you are a jazz fan then i am sorry to tell you that you may not be on the right page. You may be looking for this link (i also love the jazz band Fourplay so i could not resist pulling this one on you)

Anyways …a few days ago i returned from  a brief sojourn in East Africa. 
I had a fun time in Uganda and Kenya attending G-Uganda and G-Kenya. Its always great and eye opening hanging out with software developers, especially when those developers are from other parts of our great continent.
First off let me say that East Africa is a great place to visit. From the landscape and wildlife to the people. If you are single and need a place where you can run away to have a good time on vacation (responsibly of course) , you should consider East Africa, If you are newly wed and need a place for that romantic honeymoon, you should also consider East Africa. If you have been married for like 10-15 years and are looking for a place for that second honeymoon to rekindle all rekindle-ables….again include East Africa in your plans. A note of warning to my friends from West Africa. If you ever intend to visit East Africa, either you pack your own personal stash of pepper from home, or you remember these two words : "green chilli"  and repeat them several times to the waiter whenever you order food (for some reason pepper is not a standard part of east african cuisine). The life you save may be your own.
Personally i had a number of take aways from my interaction with attendees who came for the programs in both countries. I guess it confirmed to me that Sub Saharan Africa has a lot in common in terms of people who have an interest in technology.
My greatest take away was that there is a need for developers in Africa to be more internet aware. Yes the internet is great for checking emails, chatting and hooking up on social networks, but then there is more to it than that. The internet is actually a great repository of searchable information. Information that can be used to change one's circumstances in every way imaginable. For the African software developer, this means that the internet is a great repository of invaluable information on software, how it is built, what it is built with and also information on how to get in on the action and make money from building it. Developers in this part of the globe should be taught to take greater advantage of all the open resources out there (and believe me there are so many of them that its unbelievable ).  Google Code, Source Forge, Stack Overflow are just a few.  For those who want to understand the theory behind some of the wonderful technologies that exist out there, there are lots of information available on sites like MIT Open Courseware and Khan Academy
So why are we not using them like we are supposed to? I know the first thing you would say is that  internet connectivity is a challenge in this part of the world and how are developers expected to use online resources when they cannot get online? While that is a valid question and i would agree that there is indeed a serious problem with internet connectivity in Sub Saharan Africa, i would make the following argument bearing in mind that we are talking software developers here not normal human beings (there is a school of thought that says that geeks are not human):
lets assume that there were 100 sub saharan African developers, i would be willing to bet that they all have email accounts and that 60 of them have Facebook and/or Twitter accounts. Of that number i would say that at least 30 of them either tweet, update their social network status or read other people's updates and chat with other people on the internet at least once everyday, be it using their mobile devices or desktops/laptops. But then ask these developers how many of them have heard of the websites i listed above and you would be amazed that only about 3 in 5 have ever heard of any of them , 2 in 5 know what they do and about only 1 in 5 has ever used any of them.  You would find that the problem is not necessarily one of access, but one of awareness.
Why is this?
It beats me because these days almost every university has a computer science department and there are a large number of computer institutes scattered all over the place, charging an arm and a leg for a diploma or certification in one thing or another. 
Could it be another clear case of these institutions handing out fish instead of teaching our budding developers how to fish for themselves in the vast ocean of knowledge that is the internet? 
I wonder how many people agree with me ( i know many would disagree) i am always willing to hear arguments for or against.
But i believe i have stated my case: 
It's time we took maximum advantage of the internet….that's what it's there for.
Excuse me while i reach for my sachet of pure water….typing this stuff is hot work….


  1. The difference lies in coding for survival vs coding to solve problems. In Africa coding is something you do because you have to put food on your table. Even when you think you might solve a social problem with it, the first thought is how money will be made from solving that social problem. Hence, the time you may need to spare a thought to some research just isn't there. You can dash in and out of Facebook but you can't do same for SourceForge. You have to search, download, install and realize it doesn't quite work for you and repeat the process over several iterations. This takes time and patience, both are a luxury to a guy coding for survival.

    Also, to come across those resources , you need to be interested in research and learning more. Patience is a factor there too. You need to spend endless hours just browsing and reading articles upon articles without any game plan other than seeing what's happening in the software world. I think African developers generally don't have the patience needed to do the research unless its directly tied to cash.

    Don't even go near the institutions. You and I know how much we 'learnt' from school concerning software. Other than easier access to computers , I don't think much has changed since we left school who knows maybe they've dropped Fortran and Pascal and now teach Java!

    Is the pure water cold?

  2. I agree with your observation and i think Kere has also touched on some other dimensions...

    I believe in as much as some developers don't know whether SourceForge or Google Code exist, does not mean they don't have some other source of information...It is the vast nature of information out there that has given rise to that alternative.

    Personally i seldom join forums because most of the time i don't get what i am looking for there.

    Whether or not the institution teach Fortran/Pascal/Java.... the question still remain .How is it thought!!!?.

    I mean those days we heard stuff are a geek when you code in NOTEPAD or Code in a black screen referring to the DOS prompt! This is just to mention a few of some of the rot most intellectual lectures love to brag about not about SOLVING PROBLEMS.

    Yes i can really see that you were really doing "HOT" typing delegating the hotness to the "pure water"...hahahhaha Check out this line you wrote and it was really hot(i have marked the word with ---the--):

    "For --the-- those who want to understand the theory behind some of the wonderful technologies that exist out there there is lots of information available on sites like MIT Open Courseware and Khan Academy"

    These are just ma thoughts too...thanks for the post.

  3. For me, the internet has always been the largest Library in the world. And for software developers, it is what levels out the playing ground.

    Anytime someone tells me that they are interested in software development, I direct them to the internet.

    Everything I know about development, I learnt from the internet.

  4. I feel the same way too. I have never learnt anything by going to such academies (no disrepect to these academies). But where better to get info about Java than in those days. With Khan Academy, all the Mathematics you struggle with in school is laid bare.

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