A quick update on the #JoziHackathon tomorrow

Hi All,

A quick update on the schedule for tomorrow, looking forward to a great day!

The following is the rough schedule we’ll follow during the day:
We’ll start at 10:00am.

We’ll make sure everyone get’s an intro, and knows where to find coffee, red bull, food and wifi etc.

We’ll then ask questions to find out what:
everyone can do / is capable of
what everyone wants to get out of the day
what people are passionate about.

After that, we’ll group everyone into logical groups, with groups max 5 in size.
We’ll then ask the teams to work out who is doing what using the massive JoziHub whiteboard!

At around lunchtime we’ll do a quick standup session to see what everyone is intending to work on.

After that, we’ll focus on getting the most out of the time and people we have left, with:
lightning talks from speakers and mentors; no one will be forced to attend / take part.
demo’s from various people on different technologies.
There will be the mandatory talk on GitHub!

At about 4pm, we’ll stop everything to do something fun. This is a surprise!

After that, we’ll carry on coding, and aim to code through the night and into the morning, taking turns to sleep and get features / functions / classes / API’s etc built.

First thing Saturday morning, we’ll take a look at what everyone has done.
Of course, some things will break, so there will be time to work on fixes.

After that, we’ll get all groups to put their work onto the whiteboard with the following:
Name; Description or Problem / Solution; Technology used; People involved
And then we’ll take photos!

At around lunchtime we’ll break for presentations, where we get to look at what has been done and how.
Ideally, we’re looking at 3 to 6 minute presentations each, and some questions from everyone else.
After that, we’ll open source whatever the coders want to open source, write up group progress, blog the photos and screenshots and then go to the pub!

Looking forward to it!

Team Tech4Africa.

Quick update on the Hackathons

A quick update on the Hackathons.
Both Hackathons are all nighters – so be prepped for 24Hrs of Hacking. You can however join at any time.
Cape Town is tomorrow (16th August) at the Bandwidth Barn.
Jozi is next Friday (23rd August) at JoziHub.

Confirmed speakers (Cape Town and Jozi):

Cloud:
#DiData will have speakers on hand to talk through getting setup in the Cloud. They will also be giving away FREE vouchers for anyone attending.

Agility:
Patrick Turley from #Thoughtworks will be talking about Agility and the hard graft of getting products to market.

Mobile:
Ben Adlard, Product Manager for #Vumi at #Praekelt, will be at the hackathon to take questions and give away free accounts for Vumi. The entire core dev team will also be available on IRC during the hackathon to assist any developers with questions. Vumi is the product Wikipedia has selected to deliver content over USSD and SMS.

Product:
Gareth Knight, founder of #Wedo and #Tech4Africa, will be giving a talk on “Talk is cheap. Execution is everything. Product management in the ADD world of today.”. He will also be on hand to answer product dev / execution questions, and is easily bribed with good coffee and pizza.

We’re working on more speakers, which we’ll announce over Twitter and on this blog. Stay tuned, and stay classy.

What to expect from a Tech4Africa Hackathon?

In a recent post regards Hackathons we talked a little about what we think Hackathons should be about. So in this post, we’re going to go into a little more detail, to make things a bit clearer. Applies primarily to: #JoziHack | #CptHack.

Enter the dragon

WillCodeHTMLForFoodFirst, we make the assumption that most people who code for a living these days are in the typical corporate 60 / 30 / 10 trap.Β  That is, 60% of their work is uninteresting / lacks stimulation, 30% is kinda interesting, and then perhaps 10% is the icing on the cake, the really co0l w00t, w00t, super interesting, I wanna do more kinda stuff. It’s not abnormal, so we’re not trying to change that – but we can offer a nice distraction πŸ˜‰

511292936_e0b87fcd70Secondly, we make the assumption that most devs work in teams that are less than 10 people (and if they’re lucky the team is 50% real developers / engineers), and so their proximity to other people like them is pretty low. As a result, feedback loops are limited to what is read online and in forums (which is cool, we all do that), but that also means limited potential for peer reviews, some closed mindedness and narrow perspectives, fewer super technical discussions which make things interesting, and of course simply people who understand that Dependency Injection and Factory Pattern can be complimentary to each other.

blarg-1Third, we make the assumption that most non-technical people who sign off on projects don’t know enough about technology to make good decisions (they’re driven and motivated by different things), and so the potential for trying new things is also pretty low.

In fact, most teams are probably still deploying code from 3 years ago, or they’re caught maintaining code that was written 3 years ago because there is no budget to update. Very, very seldom is there an opportunity to try new things, change old things to work better, or just improve skills. And so the typical developer ends up continually doing change requests, small features, maintaining old code to keep the site from breaking when new things are tried, and of course good old releasing 4 week projects by next week Friday.

So, when you put all of that together you get frustrated devs who would like to be challenged more, who would like to meet more people like them, and who want to try new things.

Enter the Hackathon

hackathon-poster1
So our solution to this is to give developers, engineers, hackers, coders, savants, curious folks, learners, students, designers and even sysadmins πŸ˜‰ a place to get together and do the following:
  1. Have fun hacking on cool new stuff [1]
  2. Drink beer, eat pizza, drink red bull, play poker, eat pizza, go for breakfast, write mad SQL, deploy
  3. Meet new people, hang out with people they already know and do stuff they enjoy doing
  4. Take a look at an interesting problem, figure out ways to solve it
  5. Learn about cool stuff that isn’t on the radar at work

[1] Hack is not a four letter word

And that’s it. We figure (from experience) that the most important element to this is beer, and for everyone to have fun. After that, all the magic happens!

So what’s the deal?

necktielanding_ninjaThere are 3 parts to our Hackathons, and they are
a) having fun
b) learning new stuff
c) meeting new people
d) kicking ass.

That’s 4. Glad you can count. Keep up πŸ˜‰

Free as in beer

ninja_deskFor a) We make sure there are people, music, beer, pizza, Red Bull, loads of coffee, snacks, all on tap.

We also think the following principles are important:
Hackathons are free.
Everyone is welcome.
Anyone is welcome.
You don’t need credentials to join us. You don’t have to belong to a particular tribe (I’m talking to you, Mr Erlang).
You can be at school, you should be at university, and you’re never too old.
We encourage curiosity, humour, sharing, communication, open data, open thinking, open source, solving problems, being proactive, being humble, no bullshit, no suits, no ties, no malarkey.
Lastly, execution is everything. Ideas are cheap, indeed everyone has ideas, but execution is what makes ideas happen, and that’s what Hackathons are about.

Learning is good

For b) We make sure there are talks throughout the Hackathon. Some will be longish, some will be shortish, and others will be impromptu. For each Hackathon we’ll find folks who can contribute by helping / teaching / imparting knowledge.

Sharing is caring

For c) We’ll make sure that everyone gets to meet each other, talk about what they’re doing, what they’re interested in, and what they’re working on at the Hackathon.

Everyone wants to kick ass

ku-xlargeFor d) We get out of the way, and leave that up to the folks doing the Hacking.

We’ll do our best to promote the work that comes out of any Hackathon, we’ll demo good work at the Tech4Africa conference to show people what is possible with a small group of committed people, and we’ll go to bat for you with the larger companies who wish they could innovate but can’t becuase they move too slow, so that you get more time to hack πŸ˜‰

The truth is that most of the major innovations and success stories in the last decade came from developers Hacking at an itch, and then productising their work. So that’s what we’re trying to encourage. Join us, do something fun, do something cool, solve a problem you care about, and most importantly, just come along for some fun!

2013 Tech4Africa Speaker Entries Deadline is July 31

Howdy,

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

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!

Signed,
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.Β  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.Β  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.Β  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.Β  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.

IMG_1293
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 πŸ˜‰

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