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Tech Bites

Tech Bites

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Published by Will Mworia

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Published by: Will Mworia on Jun 16, 2009
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06/16/2009

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The Power of Students
Part of my work officially includes speaking to students who are learning technology in one form or
another, be it Computer Science, IT, Software Engineering or anything of the sort. There’s a very specialpresentation I like making, it’s called ‘
The Power of Students
’.
 
It’s interesting that some of the largest corporat
ions today were started by students or at least youngpeople under the age of 25. In technology we of course have Microsoft, Google, Apple, Yahoo, Facebookand tens of other start-
ups that have made it big. There’s an interesting co
-relation between academicinstitutions and companies in Silicon Valley. Many of the big corporations we talk about started as a
student’s idea
, students thinking out of the box, innovating actively and consistently.
Let’s take a minute and look at the mindsets of students versus
those of people who are already in the
IT/Software industry. Anyone in industry of course knows that you just can’t do anything; you just can’tmake any product. Similarly, you just can’t make every kind of product, or be in every market. Anyone
who has worked in the software business either as an engineer or software developer, technical lead,program manager, or whatever other capacity knows the restrictions that exist in creating a softwareproduct. There are many decisions to be made, you have to use one technology instead of another
because the client wants this or that; it’s not economical to do this or that; what skills do you have?
What tools are available for the job? For the developer, Ruby on Rails looks cool and they just releasedthe ASP.NET MVC framework
, but then your manager claims it’s not a mature technology. ASP vs.
ASP.NET vs. PHP vs. Ruby; or C# vs. Java; and at the end of the day you have to make a profit.
Let’s now step into the student’s mind set. For the most part, a student can lear
n whatever, whenever.
In fact that’s the job description of a student;
to learn
. So a student can decide to build an application
simply out of curiosity, do the same app in three different languages to learn each. They don’t have to
worry about cost or pro
fitability; it’s not necessarily for sale. They don’t have to deal with restrictions
imposed by a client, users or a manager.I believe in Kenya, and Africa by extension, we have students who are just as talented and just as smartas those in
the valley
,
at Stanford or MIT or wherever else. So the question is what’s different? Whydon’t we have a similar environment? Well, as far as I can tell the only difference is, firstly, motivation.
David Heinemeier Hansson, the creator of Ruby on Rails in a presentation called motivation a silverbullet. And motivation comes from the creation of a conducive environment for the student to haveopportunities to innovate, opportunities to learn and think outside the box, giving students the righttools, the right skills.After all, students change the world
. It’s because of students that the computing industry is what it is
today. And we in private and public corporations can do the world a favor by empowering students.
 
Concerns for a Connected Kenya
Generally speakin
g, it’s fairly well known (and even more so within developer/techie circles) that the
computing landscape in Kenya is about to change radically. This is as a result of the anticipatedcompletion of the sub-marine fiber optic cable projects.However, it may be worth stopping to think a little deeper about some of the consequences of this.Obviously, we can expect, at least hopefully expect, the outsourcing industries to grow, creation of someindustries or at least jump starting them, areas such as e-commerce and the like.
But let’s take a step back and look at this scenario from another perspective. For the most part, onaverage, we currently have a net consumption of the internet. ‘Net Consumption’ here is simply a
complex sounding that basically means that for the most part people are using internet resources that
have been created by other individuals who are ‘out there’, not locally built services. So, we’reconsuming a lot of Facebook, Yahoo, Gmail and a lot of other services. There’s nothing particular
lywrong with these services and they are great services that provide good service. However, the risk is
that simply having more bandwidth may not necessarily mean that we will have a ‘Net Production’ of 
internet services built locally. In fact, I think th
ere’s a significant risk that more bandwidth may end up
meaning that we have an even larger net consumption.I had the opportunity once, of working within a local software engineering outsourcing firm. It was agreat experience but of course the key challenge was simply the fact that with literally 100% of ourclients in the US, Australia or New Zealand and having to deploy our applications in these areas, internetcosts were just insanely high and we constantly had to grapple with the cost of having a not-so-goodinternet connection. Of course, this is exactly the problem that the fiber connectivity is aimed at solving.However, the really cool thing about this company is that, once the fiber projects are completed andconnectivity costs fall, their mindset
will be something like, ‘Hey, we can now
continue
(note theemphasis)
doing what we’ve always done, only now we can do it more efficiently ’
; they already have asolid portfolio of clients, they have a track record, now they can deliver even better service. I think this
shift of mentality is a simpler transition as opposed to, ‘Oh boy, now we have cheap internet.
Let’s
start 
…’ That could still work, but I believe the sooner all the developers and software companies outthere start, the better. If you’re go
ing to build a software product, create a website, whatever, startnow; suffer the cost for the time being and I bet it will be easier for you moving into the next era.

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