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:
- encourage fun, mirth and expression
- push open source thinking, active collaboration, problem solving
- be about new technologies, new approaches to solving difficult problems, and applying ingenuity
- welcome and involve anyone in the community / ecosystem
- 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.