2013 Tech4Africa Speaker Entries Deadline is July 31


Greetings from Tech4Africa, we hope your winter is going splendidly! ๐Ÿ˜‰

I just wanted to remind you that the 2013 speaker submissions for Tech4Africa (http://tech4africa.com/speak-at-tech4africa/) is now open and accepting speaking proposals. You, as the community, play a large role in telling us what you would like to see more (or less of) at Tech4Africa by submitting and voting on entries, and we hope that you’ll submit an idea this year. With the deadline for submissions quickly approaching, we urge you to visit http://tech4africa.com/speak-at-tech4africa/ and submit sooner than later. Be sure to make note of the following important dates in the 2013 Tech4Africa process because October will be here before you know it!

* July 15 – 2013 Speaker voting process begins
* July 31 – 2013 Speaker entry process closes
* August 31 – 2013 Voting process ends
* Mid-September – First speaker announcements for 2013

Got questions regarding what it takes to make the cut, or just want to get some helpful tricks of the trade? Then please be sure to get in touch.
As a freebie, we will say that for 2013 we will continue our trend of increasing the number of solo, dual and instructional workshop programming that we accept, in lieu of panel sessions.

We look forward to reading through all of your super awesome ideas. Remember that Tech4Africa is positioned at the forefront of technology, so get creative with it. The more innovative your speaking proposal, the better!

Your friendly Tech4Africa team

Hack is not a four letter word

When Tech4Africa started, our hypotheses was that the tech ecosystem in (South) Africa was missing a few vital parts.ย  We set out to bring a broader perspective to folks living and working in what looked from the outside like a self congratulating bubble.

The overwhelming learning in the 4 years we’ve been working on this is that the landscape for techies / developers in Africa provides pretty poor opportunity for the talented person looking to really push themselves.ย  In cities like London / Tel Aviv / New York / Boston / Berlin / Talinn / Austin and of course The Valley, the hiring market is so desperately in demand of technical skill and thus skewed to the developer, that the good ones are able to command great salaries AND work on the most interesting stuff in technology.

In Africa however the landscape looks different – although good developers are able to find jobs because the market is equally in demand for skills, the scope and range of work (call it interestingness) is for the most part very different.ย  I won’t go into this in more detail because this is not the topic of this post, but what is important is that 80% of the developer conversations we have are around one central theme -> “I don’t get to do fun stuff at work” or “I don’t know what fun stuff to do“.

So we started the idea of a developer day at Tech4Africa (which I’m happy to say we only partly executed on last year, and will do better at this year) for developers to learn about more fun stuff, and then our Hackathons which happen during the year, for developers to do more fun stuff.

We subscribe to the notion that a Hackathon is “an appropriate application of ingenuity“, rather than anything subversive or nefarious.ย  This is 2013 people, most of the most famous and recent success stories you could think of started out or resulted from a couple of engineers hacking a problem (think Mark Zuckerberg hacking together Facemash in Harvard, Daniel Ek working on the first iterations of Spotify), and “hack” is no longer a four letter word people need to be worried about.

And so, without going into too much philosophical detail, this is what we believe our Hackathons should and shouldn’t be about:

Hackathons should:

  1. encourage fun, mirth and expression
  2. push open source thinking, active collaboration, problem solving
  3. be about new technologies, new approaches to solving difficult problems, and applying ingenuity
  4. welcome and involve anyone in the community / ecosystem
  5. be free to attend

Moving forward, we’re only going to work with partners and people on Hackathons that fulfull the four objectives above, and most importantly which build the ecosystem.

By building the ecosystem we teach younger developers to become better and more capable, we give non-technical people exposure to the way technical people think, we expose developers to new, exciting, different technologies which allow them to solve problems in different ways, and most importantly we build an ecosystem which is positive, fun and challenging.

For us the benefits of this are obvious and sorely needed in the African tech ecosystem, and we hope you’ll share that view with us.
If not, c’est la vie!

Your thoughts and comments welcome.

What we learn’t from our first Tech4Africa in Nairobi

IMG_1276Last week we held our first Tech4Africa in Nairobi, which was great. We’ve wanted to do it for a long time, and so viewing this as a test run for a bigger event next year, we came away generally upbeat and excited about opportunities the Kenyan ecosystem seems to be presenting, albeit with some negatives.

What follows are our thoughts and observations, in no particular order:
Our contention is that technology traction in most of Africa will come from solving everyday utility problems in a meaningful way (think mPesa, Mode, iCow), and so key to this is researching, understanding and then problem solving these daily problems which create opportunities for disruption and thus wealth creation. From what I was able to see in a week of being in Kenya, there are real opportunities and there are some smart folks taking advantage of the gaps they are seeing. For the most part, opportunities seem to be a growing enterprise or corporate market that needs services, and then consumer problem solving with tech.

However, it seems that in Kenya most tech people (developers) are thinking about problems very localised to themselves (largely because the cost of travel within Africa is prohibitive), and so the markets which they’re working on are very small (ie: solving traffic in Nairobi is a local problem but probably not scalable or revenue generating), and traction is slow or non-existant. There are some thinking globally (using the app stores as distribution channels), but again the chances of success are against anyone in any country – the vagaries of the app stores are well documented.

Our audience was very passive, whilst we actively encourage engagement with speakers and lots of questions. Sometimes it felt like pulling hens teeth, which was demoralising. After learning this was normal and primarily the result of an education system which is based on rote learning, we felt a bit better (that it wasn’t just us).

Tech4Africa Nairobi
Our audience had little or no idea of timekeeping and respecting start times or the time slots the speakers are allocated. That, and a few speakers running over meant we ended up running an hour late at the end of the day. Very frustrating. My own view is that this isn’t good enough, and is indicative of a mindset partially responsible for relatively little tech traction so far (the go-getters are on-time, hustling and doing well, everyone else is wondering why they aren’t). So in future we’re going to be more militant about timing and introduce de-incentivisation (like closing doors) to counter this.

Some of the local speakers were really awesome, engaging and clearly very good at their subject matter. This was extremely encouraging and so obviously we’re going to look for more of them!

In the end, we had a packed venue for the whole day, attendance rates which I’m told are standard, everyone staying to 6:30pm, and really good attendee feedback on the content, so that’s what we’re counting as success.

The most exciting thing I saw or heard of all week was the BRCK wifi device being pushed by Erik and his team. Really cool to see a hardware play coming out of Kenya / Africa, and with some top hardware folks working on it to boot.

USSD is definitely something any mobile developer in Africa should be skilling up on until the smartphone market is pervasive. That and Android. Backend architecture to cope with lots of small amounts of data input are still key however.

I feel the biggest opportunity for a software play would be “Data as a Service / Platform” which everyone can build off of. I’ll leave you to untangle the rest ๐Ÿ˜‰

I didn’t hear anyone mention the business model canvas. I did see a lot of Facebooking.

IMG_1289In three of four separate conversations, we spoke to non-technical people who were looking for tech people either to partner with or to contract out to, but who were finding it very difficult to do so. They felt that Tech4Africa was a great place to meet developers, and commented that some of the talks they listened to were great at helping them with “bullshit detection” with some of the developers they were already talking to. So that was great validation, but also showed how we can add value.

All told, it really feels like the most limiting factors are belief, confidence and hustle; rather than technology, opportunity and market. At least three people I spoke to felt that a good success story was sorely needed to create role models (we believe that every tech ecosystem needs good and bad role models), there were very few folks who displayed self-confidence and the self-awareness to go against the grain and build something awesome – and they were mostly folks returning to Africa from Western countries where they gained their skills and confidence. Again, hustle and drive are the first characteristics needed for success in general – and we just didn’t get the feeling it was in abundance.

So, where to from here?We’ll be back in Nairobi with an entrepreneur bootcamp to help ‘treps skill up on business models, revenue models, presentation skills, and building teams; an action packed developer day to focus on mobile development skills; and a full day of inspiring sessions. It’s pretty clear that the best we can do is to offer learning, inspiration and networking.IMG_1333