Introducing the Random Hack of Kindness (RHoK)


We think that Hackathons in Africa are enjoying mixed results:
There are opportunities which are being missed by focusing on the wrong problems.
There are lack of skills around Shipping Product.
There are also skills gaps around determining the business case of projects / problems etc.

There are of course exceptions to this, thankfully (!), but by and large we’re thinking that by focusing on workplace relevant skills, and problems which can product viable businesses, a Hackathon could have more long term value to the people who participate.

We don’t think that it’s our place to take sides on specific Technologies, and we don’t really want to replicate what other people are already doing.

Which is why the Tech4Africa Hackathons moving forward will do 4 things only:

  1. Focus on one utility problem which is local & relevant
  2. Include collaboration technology and business case skills transfer for everyone
  3. Focus on User Experience – this is the key driver for adoption and is largely ignored
  4. Result in Shipping an MVP Proof of Concept


Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs
Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs
Internet Heirarchy
Internet Heirarchy

We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what the opportunities are in Africa right now, and what’s clear is that it’s not going to play out the same way it has in the “developed” world until now.  The reason is that when you look at the building blocks of the internet, there are clear un-met challenges which make those opportunities both different and harder.

When you dissect the landscape using Maslow as your reference point, and then you overlay that with the mobile market data, we think that the major differentiation will be:

  1. most everything is going to happen on a mobile device rather than on a desktop PC;
  2. whilst the rest of the “developed” world is focusing on top of the pyramid problems around self-actualisation, creativity, problem solving, authenticity and spontaneity (as memes for products), the African market still has pretty much all the layers of the pyramid left as opportunities, with the bottom of the pyramid still largely untapped.

When you dissect the opportunities at the bottom of the pyramid, you’ll find that they are primarily “utility” problems which exist in the lives of people everywhere, every day, in all markets.

For example: most diagrams will show “internet” or “wifi” as the base of the pyramid, and as such is probably the biggest opportunity (which is why the Telcos are so dominant in people’s lives).

Maslow in the Internet Age.
Maslow in the Internet Age.

So this is what has led to our mantra of:

Want to build big tech product for Africa?

  1. Focus on product with daily value for user. This is the utility & viability part.
  2. Mobile first. This is the market demographic & adoption part.
  3. Make it easy to share. This is the common sense part.
  4. Make sure cash-flow has you in it. This is the “Don’t waste your time” part.

So, when you unpack this, we see examples (these are simple ones) coming out of:

  • Education: I want to add to or complete my education
  • Transport: I want to be somewhere on time / I need to inform my employer / I need a lift
  • Utilities: I want water / gas / electricity / housing
  • Personal finance: I want to make a payment / I want to send money to my family who live far away
  • Employment: I want to work to earn an income / I have jobs to offer
  • Information: I want to know what is going on around me
  • Family: Where are my family? Are they safe?

When applied to communities and devices (Internet of Things), some examples could be around:

  • Medical devices which are designed for low-resource hospitals
  • Infant phototherapy / General health issues
  • Smoke alerts
  • Air quality
  • Using 3G to connect communities and make them aware (using something like BRCK –
  • Tablet devices pre-configured for education and learning
  • Community security via drones
  • Smart metering applications (eg: energy usage)
  • Community / family communication (single button modes, not Group chat)

So we’re not going to be encouraging an “Uber / Facebook / LinkedIn / Buzzfeed / Slack etc for Africa” – what’s the point?


Maslow's Heirarchy of Software Development
Maslow’s Heirarchy of Software Development

So, instead of following the usual Hackathon experience you can find anywhere, our approach moving forward will be different:

  1. We’re going to give clear direction on a product that could become a business.
  2. The RHOK will focus on problems which occur in everyday life (this is where the business value is).
  3. It will solve something which will mean people will talk about it (because it has given them value).
  4. There will be a reasonable vision of adding transactions for cash flow, although this won’t be the focus for the RHOK itself.
  5. Everyone will work together as a team.
  6. The development focus will be on executing for mobile devices.
  7. We WILL ship an MVP product in 2 days.
  8. All skills learnt over the two days will transfer to the workplace.

And instead of focussing on the usual set of development skills (or taking sides on what stack to focus on), we’re going to focus on skills which enable collaboration in teams and shipping code and realising something beyond the Hackathon:

  • GIT (source control)
  • Continuous Integration (CI – easy stress free deployments)
  • App architecture (essential for teamwork)
  • App business case (just, essential)

We’ve engaged with Microsoft who have the vision to believe in what we’re doing, and they are going to help with:

  • Cloud servers on  Azure – The machines will be small but adequate, and limited to the Hackathons.
  • Cloud training help, eg: how to build machines running Linux/Win/MySQL,IoT, etc on Azure.
  • Free online training via Microsoft Virtual Academy.


For anyone attending, this is roughly what to expect:

  • We will announce the problem / focus area of the Hackathon
  • This will more than likely be a single page, Minimum Viable Product (MVP) approach
  • Explain what viable use & business cases mean
  • Group everyone into teams of logical skill sets
  • Go through application architecture & needs
  • Assign responsibilities
  • Push first code to Github
  • Setup servers to push & pull code
  • Review progress every 3 to 4 hours
  • Setup a booth to record teamwork & results for everyone to see

And the rewards will be:

  1. At the RHoK:
    1. Learn new skills
    2. Learn how to ship  a product in 2 days
    3. Meet new people
  2. Present at Tech4Africa Day 2
  3. From Microsoft:
    1. BizSpark / Azure offers
    2. Demo of Azure Cloud setup for learning
    3. Small Azure instances to attendees who participate in the RHOK.
    4. Free training vouchers for their Virtual Training Academy


We’re really excited by what this will produce, and we’re looking forward to rolling this out across all of the cities we go to.  See you there!

Tech4Africa comes to Cape Town

Now in it’s 5th year, the annual Tech4Africa conference will be running the first Cape Town event on August 28th. Tech4Africa focuses on deep technical workshops and sessions for practitioners, and then engaging talks which impart knowledge, perspective, African context and inspiration.

The unapologetic vision for Tech4Africa is that the best tech ecosystems in the world have regular events that bring together everyone in tech to learn, meet new people and have lots of fun.

Tech4Africa bills itself an un-conference – they don’t like suits and ties, there are no plenaries, committees or chair people. Their focus is on great content and value for all who attend, coffee all day, and fun at night. Placing greatest emphasis on learning, interaction, engagement and discussion, they want Tech4Africa to be a place for new ideas and to encourage people to make and change things.

“We were skeptical of bringing Tech4Africa to Cape Town, but after watching the clear growth of the industry in the Cape, we felt that in keeping with our own Lean / MVP approach to Tech4Africa we would kick off a Cape Town event this year.” said Gareth Knight, Founder of Tech4Africa. “There are so many great new things coming out of the Cape, it’s going to be great to hear the stories that emerge…”

Tech4Africa Cape Town will take place at the Old Mutual Conference Centre, Pinelands in Cape Town, on the 28th August.

Tech4Africa was sold out in 2013 and it is strongly advised that interested parties book as early as possible.

This year Cape Town will be showcasing over 20 speakers [], in 4 rooms, running sessions concurrently every hour.

IBM SmartCamp:
There will also be an IBM SmartCamp running on the same day, and startups are strongly encouraged to attend in order to benefit from the mentoring on offer.

The following topics will be covered:
Community and Activism, Content and Distribution, Design and Development, DIY Hacker and Maker, E-Commerce, Entrepreneurialism and Business, Growing into Emerging Markets, Health and Medicine, Impart wisdom, Mobile and Emerging Markets, Talk about success or failure in a positive way, WTF and Beyond.

Dates: 28th August 2014
Venue: Old Mutual Conference Centre, Pinelands in Cape Town
The Schedule

Tech4Africa: R500

Applications for speakers for Tech4Africa Johannesburg 2014 are open. Candidates may submit their session at for consideration and voting.

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.  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.  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.  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.  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.

Howzit! Nairobi, win R35k, awesome speakers and what the tech community is thinking about

Hi All,

Just a quick update to inform you of progress, invite you to participate, and to give you something to look forward to 😉

Tech4Africa kicks off in Nairobi

Next week we’re kicking off the year in Nairobi, with a day focussed on mobile product development, learning and networking. It’s the realisation of our dream to do more in Africa, and so we can’t wait to get things started!

Please forward to your Kenyan colleagues, or anyone in your networks who is interested in mobile.


Win R35k at our DevDays!

We’ve had an overwhelmingly positive reaction to our DevDays this year.

They are tech agnostic, and aimed at getting folks talking to each other, collaborating and exploring new technology, all in a fun environment. It is open to all, and you can join us after work!

The Developer Days ‘DevDays’ are in Johannesburg and Cape Town on July 19 and July 26 respectively and our objective is to solve a unique and complex business challenge within 24 hours. This will manifest in a challenge that will see the winning contender walking away with R35,000 in cash compliments of Nedbank.

IBM has kindly offered to provide free education on their Worklight platform (Worklight supports all mobile platforms from one code base – you can learn more here in advance, or of course attend workshops on the day).

Get your tickets: Johannesburg | Cape Town


It’s all about the content

From Day 1, we’ve made a conscious decision to create an event which is not a conference; where there are no suits and ties, where delegates are on the edge of their seats (remember Herman Chinery-Hesse’s talk?), and where the content is king. We still believe that now more than ever, down with Death By PowerPoint!

This year we’re getting more traction with our gender diversity agenda, we’re finding more African speakers, and we’re learning from last year and really focussing on short, sharp, interesting content which attendees will find stimulating and thought provoking.

We’ve been working on a fantastic lineup of speakers for this year, and we’re proud to start trickling the through as we confirm and finalise with the speakers.

Without further ado, welcome to…

Amolo Ng’weno
Digital Divide (Kenya)
Ahmed Fathalla
GyroLabs (Egypt)
Kaitlin Thaney
Mozilla Science Lab (UK)
Alistair Hill
OnDevice Research (UK)
Petra Cross
Google (San Francisco)


Submit your talk

This year we opened up speaking submissions to the general public, and again the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Below are some of the talks submitted so far, and we’re really looking forward to including as much content as we possibly can into our schedule this year 😉

  • e-Commerce: Obstacle or Opportunity?
  • Africa is growing: but how, why and so what?
  • Bootstrap your startup with online freelancers
  • Building a RESTful API using WordPress
  • Building an Open Source TV Station
  • Cloud Based Software – Is it really the future?
  • Creating globally software companies in Africa
  • Creating HTML games for Windows 8 using Construct
  • Cross-platform apps in Html5: Our case study
  • Defying gender stereotypes in the tech world.
  • Doing something new in an old company
  • Enable and Accelerate ecommerce in Africa
  • From the field: Helping teams become lean & agile
  • Geolocation with MongoDB in 3 easy steps
  • Growth Hacking on App Stores
  • How customers want to interact with businesses & tech
  • How localisation can help you speak African
  • How pet projects can enhance your career
  • How to Contribute to Mozilla Localization
  • Is PHP the slums of the programming world?
  • Location Services – maps, routes, traffic, search
  • Mobile handset detection, mobile analytics
  • Open platform the key to mobile transacting & mark
  • Open Source Startup
  • Paywalls: good for readers, advertisers, editors.
  • Rethinking Education
  • Strategies for building successful products
  • Survival through innovation:Powertime to PayGenius
  • The long hard road to Product-Market Fit
  • The Rise of e-commerce in East Africa
  • The Rise of Real-time Global Hybrid Cloud Systems
  • Threats and Opportunities in Future TV
  • TOP12WINES, the first 360¬∞ Wine experience
  • Unlocking the long tail of mHealth
  • Using Data to Drive Meaingful Insight & Analysis
  • WEBRTC – Open a hailing channel Mr Sulu
  • What is a graph database and how can it help me?
  • Why improving accessibility can drive revenue

Speak at Tech4Africa

Submissions are open to anyone. All you need to do is fill in the form!


Howzit! Welcome to Tech4Africa 2013!

Get ready for DevDays 😉

Since we’ve started, we’ve made it a priority to listen to the tech community at large so that we could get better and better. 2012 Saw us get a lot of great feedback for the developer day we held, and the general change in format of the 2 day conference.Overwhelmingly, you folks asked for more developer days, deeper content, shorter high level talks, and more focus on African tech. Similarly, we’ve been getting requests for #T4A in countries all over Africa.

Well, after a lot of work and preparation for 2013, we’re proud to start kicking things off!

First up is two developer days aimed at giving techies a place to meet new people, try new ideas out, hack around on problems, and generally geek out. These are not your typical developer workshops with ties and a projector – we want to encourage speed, execution, MVP, new ideas, new tech, and disruption. There are no boundaries, no stack predilections, no rules and most definitely no ties allowed!

Use the links below to visit the site, and get your pass for the DevDay closest to you!

After that, we go to Nairobi to kick off Tech4Africa East Africa. We’re super excited about this, and will be bringing a lot of great content to tech people there.

In October, we gather for the main event, where we’re going to combine all the good stuff, DevDays, delegate feedback, great content and awesome speakers, to put on the de facto, must-attend, take no prisoners tech event of the year. We’ve got a bigger venue, more rooms, and more bandwidth, so we’re super excited to get 2013 started!

Perhaps most importantly, for the first time we’ve opened up speaker submissions to anyone, so please submit your speaking proposal so it can be considered for 2013!

The 2013 Schedule

Please put these dates into your calendar.
Get in touch if you have any questions.

We’ve also launched our new site so please bear with us as we iron out the kinks – any feedback and bug reporting is much appreciated! 😉

Johannesburg DevDay

A 24hr Hackathon for developers, engineers, geeks, hackers & problem solvers. R35k total prize money on offer.

Includes snacks, drinks, pizza dinner, breakfast, lunch.
Features hacking space, case study room, demo room, wp room, chill zone & RaspBerry Pi’s.

Where: Deloitte Digital, Woodmead
When: May 24, 12:00 pm to May 25, 3:00 pm

Cape Town DevDay

A Hackathon for developers, engineers, geeks, hackers & problem solvers. R35k total prize money on offer.

Includes snacks, drinks, pizza dinner.
Features hacking space, case study room, demo room, wp room, chill zone & RaspBerry Pi’s.

Where: Bandwidth Barn
When: June 7, 8:00am to 8:00pm

Tech4Africa Nairobi

1-day event, with morning and afternoon sessions, and networking drinks afterwards.

Where: iHub
When: July 3, 8:00am to 10:00pm


The premier African technology event for everyone interested in technology in Africa.

The first day is for deep dive technical sessions, hands-on workshops and subject matter sessions, and the second day is for higher level talks, demo’s and inspiration, followed by post-event party & drinks.
Includes coffee / tea, lunch.

Where: Focus Rooms, Johannesburg
When: October 9th & 10th 2013

Get your 2-for-1 tickets:

These Pre-Early-Bird tickets are selling fast, with 30 2-for-1 tickets left!


Once sold out, ticket prices go up to the R1,500 Early Bird rate for a single ticket, with a final Ticket price of R2,000.

** DevDay attendees get a R250 discount on their #Tech4Africa conference price

Don’t miss out on the coolest tech event of the year, for the price of two rounds of golf, or a hairdo and pair of shoes! Grab your tickets now!

What else can I do?

Speak at Tech4Africa

Submissions are open to anyone. There are 33 submissions already.Grab the mobile conference app.

Help us serve the tech community. It’s our belief that the best way we can stay relevant is to serve the tech community.

Forward this email to your friends and colleagues. Show them some love!

Get involved.

Speaking deadlines

If you want to speak in 2013, these are the deadlines for submissions 😉

17th: Jhb DevDay
31st: CPT DevDay

27th: Nairobi
30th: Tech4Africa

Speakers announcement
Schedule 85% finalised (always changes!)

The anatomy & habits of mobile users, and why business should take note – Nic Haralambous Tech4Africa 2011

This topic covers how mobile usage has changed over the past decade or so and the changes that have taken place in the market as well as how marketing has been defined previously by brand advertising. Where previous brands sat in the middle and the consumer around it, this has changed now where this has been democratised and almost been switched around to the point where the brand is owned by the consumer rather than the company; the consumer is the centre. This is very similar to marketing from a mobile perspective. Therefore, it is important to understand that marketing from a mobile point of view is very different to the traditional method as a lot of the techniques used mobile marketing such as banner adverts can be irrelevant and sometimes can be intrusive to the consumer. In this speech Nic Haralambous talks about mobile usage from a platform perspective. However, mobile marketing can be a very powerful marketing tool if you look at it from a user’s point of view.


Importance of Big Data – Steve Watt Tech4Africa 2011

Steve Watt from HP, talks about Big data, what it’s all about and how to access vast amount of data for the use in businesses. Big data is about mining information from unstructured data, where you ask your own questions and learn something from everything. The video covers the whole model of retrieving, storing, processing and analysing big data using open source software to benefit your business.