My Tech4Africa Experience

The moment felt very surreal when Afrocast was called up as the local winners of the IBM SmartCamp award at Tech4Africa 2014. So you can imagine my shock when we (Afrocast) were also announced as the Regional winners of the IBM SmartCamp award! It was unbelievable and it still has not sunk in almost 2 days later.

When I look back at the journey and even at that moment as I was standing up on the stage, the only thing that I could think about was how just a year ago I was at my first ever Tech4Africa hackathon at JoziHub with a few colleagues where I was about to set off a domino effect that would result in me being where I am today and possibly shape my vision of where my journey in IT is heading.

The Tech4Africa JoziHub 24 hour hackathon was an amazing experience for me as it was my first ever hackathon and it was the first time that I was in the same room with a bunch of people that were doing what I love for the love of it. The people there were amazing. The food was good and of course the free drinks! All the problems everybody set out to tackle were very ambitious especially for a 24 hour coding session but it just made me proud to be a part of a group of people that were as ambitious as I was and not afraid to set out to tackle a problem and try everything that they could to make sure it got done.

We managed to stay up the whole 24 hours working on our application and managed to complete a large portion of it except a few geolocation features that still till this day make me cringe at how simple the solution was but I guess after the 23rd hour even the most simplest solutions don’t seem so simple. The next day I actually changed a line of code and it worked…

The most important things I took away from that hackathon was the realisation that apart from being something one does for a living and as a hobby there are some common traits that I shared with the people in that room: The need to be good at they do, the desire to leave a mark on the world through what they do and the thirst for knowledge and to better ones self.

I also got the opportunity to go to only my second Technology Expo (Tech4Africa) via the hackathon where I got further introduced to the South African technology community and see how creative individuals and thinkers in our country are solving problems and sharing their expertise on some of the most interesting fields in IT. I thought I knew a lot about IT but at my first Tech4Africa I got introduced to some of the most amazing topics and fields in our industry, some of the most amazing technologies (which I have been able to carry into work and apply to create some amazing solutions) and some of the most amazing people that still recognise you when you are walking down the street.

– I will never forget the day, about 3 months after Tech4Africa 2013, when a student I met at the event stuck his head out a taxi flying by and yelled “Great talk at Tech4Africa!”. It was priceless. –

I think the opportunities that Tech4Africa presents the average techie cannot be taken for granted. The networking opportunities, the opportunities to get your ideas out to the right people, the opportunity to sit amongst people better than you at what you do and get inspired and of course a reference point from which you can use as a benchmark for all your endeavours.

In fact at the time I was at a startup (Fresh Thinking Technology) where we were building solutions that were revolutionising the government sector I met another startup (Boxfusion) that was turning the government sector upside down and inside out with some of the most innovative solutions addressing problems specific to the public sector on a scale where your competitors can feed small african countries. I had to be a part of that and I now work there!

I cannot even began to thank all the individuals that make Tech4Africa happen and the effort that they put in to make sure that it is well executed and especially Gareth Knight who seems to have more belief in the South African tech community and is responsible for igniting more flames of ambition and desire in young tech entrepreneurs than he will ever know.


Thank you!

Mobile / Research Top 10

What you need to know in the world of mobile trends

November 2014

#1 Mobile Is Eating The World

There is no point in drawing a distinction between the future of technology and the future of mobile. They are the same. In other words, technology is now outgrowing the tech industry. – Benedict Evans

#2 Global smartphone penetration 2014

“What’s the smartphone penetration in…?” is one of the most frequently asked question by our clients. Here’s the data for 47 countries (Singapore wins, by the way).

#3 Alibaba smashes China’s Single’s Day record with $9.3B Sales

Up from $5.75 last year and 42.6% of sales came from customers using mobile devices. For the uninitiated – Alibaba is Chinese Amazon on steroids, Single’s Day is China’s largest online shopping festival.

#4 Getting In on the Emerging Markets Smartphone Boom

Suhair Khan works at Google and spends most of her time focusing on trends in emerging markets – her observations and recommendations are bang on.

#5 The Fall 2014 GRIT report

Market research industry trends mapped, again. We’re thrilled to see that mobile research has firmly established its position but there are plenty of challenges ahead.

#6 Google Consumer Barometer

The Consumer Barometer helps you understand how people use the internet across the world – data from Q1 this year from over 45 markets. All free to explore and play around with.
Bonus link: Mobile-first is not a future trend in Asia, it’s here now

#7 An #MRX Hallowe’en Parade

Leave it to Tom Ewing to cram ghosts, zombies, Dracula and a mummy into an article about market research. It’s a tongue-in-cheek take on the monsters in the market research industry with plenty of painful truth in every sentence.

#8 Impact of the mobile internet in Africa

Mobile internet is having a massive positive influence on the lives of ordinary Africans – education, health, communications – no aspect of life is left unchanged as masses come online for the first time ever.

#9 Advertisers Are Moving Hundreds of Millions Of $ Away From TV

TV ad dollars are down, not much, but down, and the money is moving to digital, perhaps some to multiscreen around hit shows.

#10 Mobile is changing shopping decisions in the Middle East

Sky high smartphone penetration meets the super mall culture, at least in Saudi Arabia and UAE. Mobile is changing shopping decisions but also offers a new way to (re)capture people in shopping centres.

What’s the most insightful opinion piece or useful resource that you’ve seen this month?

Siim @ On Device

WomeninTechZA Panel Discussion – Tech4Africa

Despite what you might think if you take a look around, there actually are women in the tech sector. And they’re not just in sales, marketing, or hiding behind a screen coding. They’re engineers, developers, BAs, project managers, founders, CEOs and most everything else.

Samantha Perry, co-founder of WomeninTechZA, an initiative that aims to address the gender diversity gap in the tech sector, will be chairing a panel on WomeninTech at Tech4Africa. Panellists Mich Atagana (managing editor, Memeburn), Ellie Hagopian (CEO, Nomosphere), Shana Kay (CEO, IntelliCred), Lisa Lyhne (executive director, Dariel Solutions) will share their thoughts and experiences, specifically around:

– Why are we battling to attract women to the tech sector? And why can’t we keep them here?

– Why do we need women in tech anyway? If they don’t want to be here we shouldn’t force them?

– How can we start framing the discussion so that we start solving the problem? Debate at present seems to be: “We need more women in tech.” “Ok”.

We look forward to seeing you there.

Florian Aschenbrenner – Scaling from experience

Florian Aschenbrenner will be holding a workshop on how to ensure your infrastructure can grow with your business. It’s something, he says, that not many people think a lot about.

“You start a business, write an app, but you don’t think about how it will handle spikes or increased traffic a few months down the line. For most people it’s about scaling the business not the infrastructure – and that’s what I’ll focus on.”

Aschenbrenner says he will mostly focus on the ecommerce world – it’s where his experience lies. “I’ve worked with Magento, and built similar systems over the past few years that I will be talking about. My 10+ years experience in IT has been mostly about scaling, in one form or another. I’ve had the chance to see a lot of companies grow and had the responsibility to make sure that the systems in use are able to cope with these expansions. I’ve been an advocate of secure, well-documented and user-friendly systems.”

This is his first Tech4Africa, he says. Having worked with founder Gareth Knight over the years, he got interested in the event. “With the topic, and with Africa being an emerging market and more and more start ups coming out of SA… The earlier people start talking about the things you have to do to make a business and its infrastructure scalable the better, and what I’ve learned might be of use to people,” he says.

“I’m looking forward to meeting a lot of people – networking – it’s great to get a lot of viewpoints and learn new things. You might have been working on one thing and missed a lot of other things I can add to my knowledge-base and learn better. It’s great to have a talented pool of people and speakers and be able to see how they doing things.”

Erik Hersman – It’s about the journey

Erik Hersman is the well-known co-founder of Ushahidi, a web mashup built in 2008 to map post-election violence. It’s become a platform and organisation. He’s also a co-founder of iHub – Nairobi’s Innovation Hub – and most recently, BRCK – a rugged solution to connecting in places where electricity and internet access are problematic.

Hersman spoke at the first Tech4Africa, back in 2010, mostly, he says, about the bruises the Ushahidi team had gained on the route to getting where it was at the time. “This time.” He says. “I’ll be talking about the things that happened on the way from Ushahidi to iHub and BRCK – lessons learned – the personal journey.

“I’m also going to talk about how hard hardware is,” he grins. “It’s better to go in with eyes wide shut – not knowing what you don’t know. You need to team up with a lot of people and go through a steep learning curve. We’re still going through challenges, and that’s where the personal part of the journey comes in – dealing with adversity, how to overcome it – and what comes if you stick with things long enough and push – fun things happen after you’ve done a lot of really hard stuff to make it there.”

Having been involved since the first, Hersman says he’s seen the conference evolve into an event that straddles multiple Africa countries, and attended two Tech4Africa events in Kenya.

To first time attendees, he says, “Tell your team/company that you’re going to be doing this event and not answering emails. Be plugged into this thing so you’re there – in body and person.

“Spend time talking to a number of people – a mistake people make is to stay in the crowd they go with. It destroys the opportunity for serendipity that you have. If it’s anything like the first tech4Africa,” he says, “there will be great people there and if you do not get outside your own little bubble you’re hurting yourself.”

Aaron Marshall – What is your purpose?

Aaron Marshall is the founder of Over, one of the world’s most popular photo editing apps. Shortly after the app took off, about 18 months ago, Marshall and his family relocated from the US to Cape Town.

“I like telling stories,” says Marshall, “so my talk at Tech4Africa is going to be some stories from our life and our experience.

Marshall’s talk is entitled: Go Big and Go Home. The keyword, he says, is ‘and’. “I think we live in a really fascinating, opportune time. There are lots of things we can waste our time on. And since life is short, I really want people to be working on meaningful products that are important to them and have a meaningful impact. Not social entrepreneurship – but doing things with meaning and not wasting our best years working on things we don’t care about for people who don’t care.

“I want to inspire people to make things that have real meaning,” he says, “There are so many startups, app this, VC that. It’s not enough to talk about why we are doing something. We need to know ‘what is our purpose here?’ If you don’t have a strong purpose it’s going to crumble and it’s going to hurt. That’s also why I say Go Big and Go Home – there’s no point in building if have no family to go home too. “

Marshall says he’s never been to Johannesburg before and is really looking forward to visiting, as well as having a chance to see (and hug) some old and new friends at the Tech4Africa conference.

Tech4Africa turns five. Feels all grown up and SxSW like.

Tech4Africa turns five. Feels all grown up and SxSW like.

In 2006 when founder Gareth Knight first conceived of Tech4Africa, his vision was to bring SxSW to Africa, so that people wouldn’t have to travel to Austin to soak up the knowledge, inspiration and networking it is well known for.

2010 saw the first event in Johannesburg, and, next week the 5th event will be held in South Africa’s biggest city. Tech4Africa is also in its 4th African city, having been to Nairobi, Lagos and Cape Town so far.

Says Knight: “I’m proud to say that this is the first year where I believe we’re well on our way to being the SxSW of Africa. Because we’ve been able to get the community to submit 258 talks and vote over 14 000 times, we’re able to put out a schedule with 85 speakers in 10 rooms, over two very full days. There’s something for everyone.”

In addition to that, Tech4Africa is putting on a space for people to showcase the weird and wonderful things they are working on – a hacker space, a demo area, a cloud room for people interested in leveraging the cloud, a space for 3d printers, vacuum formers, robots, flying things, solar & green innovations, an electronics showcase, and a BYO (Bring Your Own) product showcase for anyone to demo their products.

Tech4Africa places extra emphasis on networking and social interaction, so, as in previous years, there will be an after party both evenings, and delegates can expect the coffee to be free!

Says Knight: “This year we’ve grown our reach substantially by going to Nairobi, Lagos and Cape Town, and next week in Johannesburg we’re expecting to see 570 people, so it’s going to be fun!”.

The website can be found at and anyone can register at Tickets are R500.