Raindolf Owusu, a software developer from Ghana, has published this post about some of the challenges a software developer living in African has to cope with. He titles his post, Agonies of an African Programmer, and after reading his piece I realize we share similar sentiments about how the African continent is the new land of opportunity, so long as it’s leaders can get their priorities straight and stop being greedy.
Raindolf outlines seven agonies in his post in which he elaborates on the frustration himself and other developers are faced with. According to Raindolf, technology in Africa is generalized, or thought of as coming in a “box.” Prepackaged, and can be purchased off the shelf. “Let’s all visualize technology as a process and something we are going to build ourselves here in Africa,” he writes. But in order for technology to be visualized there needs to a sustainable infrastructure to enable this realization. The Government and private sector industries must do more to create the backbone where this process can thrive.
Out of all the agonies the African programmer faces, the most poignant, in my opinion, is an unstable source of power. Ghana is still heavily dependent on hydroelectric power, and has been for quite a while—ever since the Akosombo dam was commissioned in 1966. To put things in perspective, that’s 46 years of primarily depending on rain-water to power a country, now of about 25 million people—it’s unsustainable. Ghana is now going through a period known as load-shedding. This is when different electrical grids in the country are rationed with power. So one section of the country may have power from 6am-6pm, and another section from 6pm-6am. I first witnessed this load-shedding back in the 90s, and again in the early 2000s when I lived in Accra, Ghana. It’s unbelievable to learn that it’s still happening after all the talk about the West African Gas Pipeline and how it would provide another source of energy for the country.
This is an infrastructural problem, one that a developer or any other middle income citizen can not get around. Getting yourself a generator costs money, and not to mention the rising cost of fuel which is absurdly high in that country. Instead of African leaders asking for foreign aid and loans all the time, it would be better for the country as a whole if they’d ask for the technological resources (in the form of engineers) to help in developing sustainable sources of power that can scale with population growth, and will be robust enough to withstand further load-shedding.
Raindolf also touches on the lack of angel investment in African startups, and the fact that most investors are always looking for a quick return on their initial investment. He likens the form of investing he’d like to see in Ghana similar to that of angel investing in Silicon Valley, where investors literally beg you to take their money when you are a developer. I don’t blame them, they’re all looking for the next Mark Zuckerberg. If the African continent hasn’t realized technology is a process rather than a off-the-shelf product, investors will be looking for a quick gain because they don’t understand how technology works. Most, if not all, have never written a single line of code or understand how software can make basic tasks they do every day simple and more efficient. In simple terms they can’t relate to the benefits of technology in the country, and are still bent on doing business the usual way––The long way.
This is a country where the majority of high school grads are influenced into the medical and law fields. With little or no consideration for software engineering. You can’t blame them though, the infrastructure, resources and education are just not there. I remember back at the University of Ghana students had to fight to secure seats for lectures. Some would even stand at the entrances of lecture halls to take notes. The good ol’ days.
The lack of investment in software developers and their startups have improved considerably from years past with the arrival of the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology. This is essentially an incubator where a few lucky startups are given technological training and seed funding to launch their startups. Not only on the continent, but on a global level. One of the startups that graduated from the school was interviewed by Robert Scoble last year. This is a big deal for Ghana and the African continent as a whole because it ensures that software companies are growing from within and are not just setting up remote offices on the continent. Incubators such as MEST can only do as much to get the ball rolling, we need private businesses and schools to invest in these software startups to propel emerging “communities” where developers can focus on coding solutions for the continent without encountering any barriers to entry.
Raindolf touches on another good point where he says college grads with computer science degrees just graduate to work for employers as computer administrators, without utilizing their software programming education to build software that can make their work easy and more efficient. I believe this problem can be tackled by improving the level of software engineering courses in the universities. More focus should be placed on grading team and individual projects rather than having the student pass a bunch of multiple-choice questions. Every student (or group of students) should be able to code one useful piece of software that solves a problem in the country. Showing people the benefits of software and how it can solve a problem is the only way to get people interested and inspired into going into software development.
In today’s world of Google and the internet, a computer science student (or an aspiring one) living in Africa has all the resources available for a quality tutorial in software development. There are even free online courses that one can take and come out knowledgeable about software development––The world is indeed flat.
I believe there’s a future for the software development community Raindolf hopes for, developing software solutions to make businesses more nimble and efficient will only transfer benefits to the economy as whole. The work of the developer will be recognized, and he can earn a salary worthy of the value he creates.
It’s good to know one man has decided to take on the challenge.