The EuroHackTrip is a GO!

During our trip we’ve met a lot of people who are excited about the idea visiting their peers in other parts of the world. To bring together different hacking cultures and to exchange ideas and stories.

After the AfricaHackTrip now the EuroHackTrip project started. Basicly the AfricaHackTrip the other way around. People from all over Africa will explore the tech scene in Europe. One step closer to more cultural exchange in tech between Europe and Africa.

It was Timo from Nairobi who started the project and invited people to the first meetup.

What is the project status?

In short: it is getting started… with huge motivation.
Nothing has been decided yet and teams are forming to identify ToDos and work on them. And we invite everybody who is interested to join.

How to join the EuroHackTrip?

The project is open for anybody who is interested. We will have a lot of problems to solve and it is a long way to Europe and this will be a collaborative effort.

If you are interested, please join the Google Group, and have a look at the GitHub repositories. Currently all ToDos/topics are collected as GitHub issues

Links:

Let’s make this happen!

How I discovered Africa #2

AfricaHackTrip brought so many new experiences and gave me an entirely different perspective of technology scene. Even though I only discovered a small part of the African world, I feel like sharing it with friends and fellows from the European tech community. In the last post, I summed up my thoughts about the environment and technology – now I’m adding a few more paragraphs. Enjoy!

Products
Africa undoubtedly needs technology as much as every other continent. It’s the easiest and cheapest way to solve society’s problems. Of course, it won’t abolish hunger, corruption, or the absence of electricity or water – but it is able to reduce their impact and offer at least short-term solutions. I was impressed by community and government awareness regarding the primary problems and their focus on solving them.

A majority of projects are directed at these social concerns and are supported by government organizations, European/American base foundations or NGOs. The other side of the story is there are not enough commercial products that would have a big influence on the economy and bring more independent national solutions.

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Some of the most memorable projects:
M-FarmBRCKWebDeskGreen FoundationAfrican StatesLight Up Nigeria

An additional but unmissable fact is: Africa loves PhP. And PhP loves Africa. The language speaks in every software product and this likely won’t change in the near future.

Devices
I’ve never encountered so many Windows-based computers in my life! It’s impossible to come across Apple devices, which is more than obviously due to cost. But a general absence of Linux or Ubuntu systems (which was built in Africa, with Africa in mind) is more than surprising. Computers are mostly second-hand, so it’s common to see broken screens or button-less keyboards. Systems infected with viruses and illegal software (btw Uganda doesn’t have any copyright laws established yet) are prevalent as well. Africa is the fastest-growing mobile market in the world, so phones are the main communication device there. The most visible firms were Huawei, Konka, Tecno and Nokia. The little kiosks or even individuals on the street selling ONLY air time or internet bundles are everywhere.*

africahacktrip_monk4

Design
Simply put, there is no design there yet. I met only a few professional designers, but many event attendees emphasized their interest in the particular field. Honestly, I didn’t see any great usability or graphic stuff being developed. To make it clear: I don’t mean American and Western European-based design, but design dedicated to the African user, focusing on their specific needs and esthetic. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time. As African technology is fresh, it is therefore focused on basic needs such as appropriate operation – if it works, it’s good enough :) However, entrepreneurs are aware of the power of design. What prevents them from more focus on usability and beauty in their products are: financial issues (that’s why developers there are often simultaneously designers) and a deficiency of experienced employees. Well, I see a big opportunity for this profession there!

As I said, these are my private impressions, based only on a crazy 35-day trip. Probably I didn’t notice everything and didn’t dig up all the information. That’s why I’m sure about one thing: I definitely want to go back to Africa and observe the real changes that should happen in subsequent years. Even if I don’t like or don’t agree with some of the local ideas or policies, I admire the way of living and the solutions that develop from it. The fact is, a place so diverse and full of contradictions attracts me and discourages me the same time. AfricaHackTrip allowed me to understand the continent better, so next time I won’t come there as silly or naive.

 

* popular tips:
Kenya – you can buy a Safaricom one-day bundle to use social media for only for 10KSH = 0.09 EUR!
Uganda – you can use Facebook Zero for free, everywhere, everytime…errr, sounds ominous but the topic of net neutrality won’t be discussed for now :/

How I discovered Africa #1

Two weeks ago, one of the most influential events in my life came to an end.  I visited four African countries during five weeks with a group of nine curious developers and designers. It would involve lots of explanations to describe how the trip actually was, so it will be easier to say what the trip for sure was not.

  • it wasn’t a business trip – we had neither a commercial purpose nor a business interest in the entire idea.
  • it wasn’t a support action – we had no ambitions to teach anyone; the goal was to get to know the local people and find out what solutions and tools they use.
  • it wasn’t a holiday – it was a super-intense time of dealing with an AHT project, the backlog of work at home and private struggles with the unknown African environment.

 

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I need to admit one thing – I had no knowledge about African reality before the trip. On one hand, this was intentional (similar to the fact that I don’t read reviews before going to the cinema), but also because of time and the lack of easy-to-find information.

It turned out to have positive effects. Being silly and naive helps absorb the reality much more intensively. After living under the constant influence of the American and European continents, Africa appeared to be a distinct world with particular rules, needs and corresponding solutions. I met highly talented people, heard so many inspiring stories and places that charmed me with their innovation. The expedition gave me many personal experiences as well as common knowledge that is worth knowing. A very select summary is presented below:

 

Environment
The first aspect I experienced was a big gap between the average African life and the technology environment. I met modern and actively-operating places as hubs and coworking spaces. On the other hand, what I saw initially were countless piles of rubbish, enormous holes in the roads, lack of sidewalks, poor people and a slow internet connection. Even if african tech community is struggling with daily issues: insufficient infrastructure, lack of qualified people or commercial opportunities, it develops very mature projects (e.g. work of Ushahidi or HeHe Ltd.). Of course, I observe this situation from my personal perspective. I would say the differences in life and society are not that huge and visible in Poland.

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Technology
The lesson I learned – make technology as simple as possible and adjust to the infrastructure you have. I’m big fan of the mobile payment solution M-Pesa that seems like the easiest payment system in the world. Still asking the question: why don’t we have this in Europe? I love the Ping App as a answer to the Westgate terrorist attack. It’s an extremely simple and useful tool that helps people to connect to their families and friends in case of disasters or crimes. The development team made sure that it is accessible to as many people as possible via smartphones, simple phones or desktop computers.

Almost all the valuable projects in Africa are based on sms and offline solutions because there is actually a possibility to make this technology affordable for average person. What we can NOT do is compare the technology in Africa to Europe: these are different mediums speaking to people in diverse economic realities.

 

This is the first bunch of my personal impressions. More information – about African products, devices and design – coming soon!

Hackers love numbers

AHT_infographic

The AfricaHackTrip team got back to (more or less) serious, every-day life in Europe. Only @bumi decided to hack longer so he’s reporting news from tech Africa’s communities to the others. Appreciated!

Even though the trip has finished a week ago we’re still in the “AHT mode”. There is no longer organization, meeting, interview time – rather a reflections and recaps period. Everyone has a head full of information, memories, pictures, faces… Fact is, we visited so many cool places, met countless incredible people, took part in dozens of superb events. Believe us, we feel like that trip took at least half a year, not only 5 weeks. It’s hard to recall all circumstances and persons so number came to rescue here. Geeks love numbers. And open source icons. And a nice visualization using those :)

We wanted to shortly sum up an entire project to share our experiences, present outcome from the events and show how many things (great and not that great) happened during the journey. It’s an interesting summary for us personally but hopefully also a piece of knowledge for AHT followers.

P.S. Quiz: one of the digits is fake. Which one? Sorry guys…nothing could stop us from putting it here :)

AfricaHackTrip in Masaka

Exploring the Opportunity to setup Masaka Dev School

Exploring the Opportunity to setup Masaka Dev School

Last Sunday Alex, Jan and I went on a short side trip to Masaka after we got invited to evaluate the opportunity to start a developer school there.

Ralph, and old friend of mine and also a representative of the German CWM Catholic Workers Movement is involved in several long term projects between Masaka in Uganda and Bruchköbel in Germany. After he heard that we would be in Kampala, which is only a 2h ride away from Masaka, he invited us to visit.

Charles from the Ugandan CWM picked us up on Sunday afternoon and we had the entire Monday reserved for discussions and visits of the facilities.

The Masaka Dev School Exploration

The Monday started with a visit to Africa Point, an internet Café run by Rita. It has 10 work stations with up-to-date computers and a decent internet connection. We explained the concept of a developer school to her and showed them the material of codecadamy.org/afterschool, which is a fantastic starting point with everything needed to start and supervise a developer school. Rita already gives courses for students on how to use Microsoft Office and she expressed their interest to get involved in a potential Masaka Dev School.

Afterwards we had a bigger meeting with Caritas MADDO (Masaka Diocesan Development Organization), the principal of the BTI Mawanda Achilles, Charles, Rita, Goretti, Henry Bomboka and Thaddaeus Charles Bukenya (a web designer working for CWM) on what a developer school is and how it could be setup. Next to Rita from Africa Point,Fr. George Ssemombwe from MADDO suggested to get their local Technical Institute involved, so did Mawanda Achilles from the BTI.

We clarified that a “developer school” is very different from a traditional school. There is no need for an extra building or to adjust the existing curriculum. We also think it should not be run like a traditional class with a frontal teaching style, but should be more like a workshop with a supervisor and ideally voluntary coaches that help students if they get stuck or have any questions. The developer school should take place twice per week for 2-3 hours. Ideally the students would have their own computers so they can follow their curiosity and further explore what they have learned during the sessions. Alternatively giving them out-of-class access to the computer lab could work, too.

After the meeting with MADDO, we visited the BTI. It’s a great school that includes facilities to teach for example farming, plumbing and electrical engineering. There is also a computer lab to teach basic computer skills. Unfortunately, there currently is neither a local network nor internet connection which is a big disadvantage.

A new building is currently being built which includes a very big room that is to become the future computer lab. From our perspective, it is big enough to even turn it into a small incubator for students that want to start their own company after finishing the BTI.

Masaka Dev School: next steps

From what we’ve seen, we’d recommend the following next steps.

  1. Identify 1-3 supervisors that are willing to take ownership of setting up the Masaka Developer School. For example, this could be Rita (Africa Point), Henry (MADDO) and someone from the BTI.
  2. The supervisors should take the course at http://codecademy.org/afterschool themselves and afterwards decide if they want to start and supervise a developer school.
  3. Rita could become the main supervisor, Henry could use his existing expertise to support the students as a coach and the BTI could identify a group of students for the first Masaka Developer School.
  4. For the facility, we’d recommend Africa Point as it is central, there are already computers and a sufficient internet connection.
  5. Once the supervisors, the facility and the students are identified, we’d recommend to set up a 2 day workshop with volunteering programmers from Kampala. Especially Kampala’s strong Mozilla community would certainly be interested.
  6. The material by Codecademy is made for 15 weeks, separated into two semesters. With the acquired skills, the students and supervisors will be able to create and maintain simple websites as well as have a basic understanding of programming. They will also be able to keep studying on their own using online learning materials and potentially help teach the next dev school class.

As a side note, it would be worth researching how expensive it would be to set up an internet connection at the BTI.