Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Touching base.....

It's been a while since my last log post. I have been busy working on new projects like Anansipedia is an educative platform that would bring students, scholars, lecturers and everyone who seeks education or information together, and also it allows the sharing of educational resources to help less privileged students around the world to also have access to world class educational resources. Go to www.anansipedia.com for more. I also joined fellow techies and health professionals to build and deploy http://ebolaghanaalert.org/  It's a platform that aims to provide people in Ghana with a reliable and easy-to-use application for the tracking, training and disseminating of information to the general public about the Ebola virus.  Our official USSD dial for the Ebola Ghana Alert (EBA) has been set up:Kindly type *713*444# currently available on MTN and Airtel. Tentatively, there are three (3) live menus with content for quick facts, diagnosis, and daily updates. Go to http://ebolaghanaalert.org/  for more or you can view the source code here https://github.com/egha .

On the 8th of October was my birthday and I spent my birthday morning @ TV Africa on the Day Break tv show for an interview. I talked about technology adoption , OasisWebSoft , made in Ghana technology , ICT and many more. See below the interview. I spent the rest of the day with my family ! A big thank you to everyone who wished me a happy birthday via facebook , sms and email etc. Thanks for the continuous support !

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

My article "AGONY OF AN AFRICAN PROGRAMMER" goes viral online.

In October 2012, I wrote an article about the challenges of most African coders which is loosely based on my own journey. Almost two years later a South African journalist Tefo Mohapi chanced upon it and decided to repost it online. His website has received about 6,000 unique visitors. Now the article is out there and has been featured on the prestigious Hacker News and iAfrican ,  Geek Time Trending.co.ke  , TheNewAfrica , Daily Newz plus many more blogs  .

It has received both positive feedback and constructive criticisms.

Plus many more tweets here.

I wrote this article in 2012 and would have loved to make so many changes to it, since I have learnt a lot through my entrepreneurial journey. The bottom line is as African coders we are faced with so many challenges from the onset but we must hunker down and build something awesome that will make sense to the users and solve key problems.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Stepping down from Oasis to join Microsoft on windows 9 project

Sorry guys I am still the founder of  Oasis Websoft and we turn 3 in July :) Add me up here and lets solve Africa's problem one byte at a time. 

Monday, 10 March 2014

Ghana lags behind in Open Source Development

Usage of Open Source software in Ghana, while growing constantly and rapidly, is still very much in its infancy. This is perfectly normal and characteristic of the adoption patterns of Open Source software all over the world. Open Source comes like a thief in the night and before you know it, it's all over the place. A typical example is the android operating system. Isolated programmers and system administrators, small, medium and large companies as well as students and hobbyists are the primary users of Open Source software in Ghana.

Ask the CEO of a large multinational organization in Ghana whether his company uses Open Source software and his answer will most likely be, No. Ask the techies at the same organization whether they use any Open Source software and from time to time, you'll hear, Yes!However, even though Ghana's usage of Open Source software follows the pattern that is seen in many other places there is a distinct lack of adoption of Open Source from within the developer community in Ghana. 

In February 2014, Edem Kumodzi and myself paired to give a presentation on Django Programming framework at Google Developer Day. The plan was to spend about 30 minutes on the slides talking about the advantages of django , features , popularity of python and a short demo on a site I built with Django then spend the remaining one hour on a practical hands on session with the participants. Our first part of the presentation went really well but the practical session was an interesting one. Before getting our hands dirty with the codes, we first had to make sure our participants had installed all the prerequisites eg python and to our surprise about 85% of the developers were running windows operating system and the remaining 15% running linux ( eg Ubuntu , Fedora , MACOS ). We spent about 50 minutes of the one hour trying to set up the machines of the windows users for django development. As for the linux users it was quite easy since they had python pre-installed. This is normal i guess ? Yes it is normal for everybody else to use windows but for software developers it is not. Linux operating systems are the best when it comes to advanced web and software development.  After the event i came to the realization that there is a big problem and we have to go back to the drawing board and get everyone interested in free software and open source development.

 Why Open source ?

The first benefit and the one that is most often cited, is that Open Source software is free. This follows from the fact that the software is freely distributable. Strangely enough, this has not prevented people from charging for free software and the ability to charge for free software is specifically allowed in the most common Open Source license, known as, the General Public License. This suggests that free software is free in the sense that there are no restrictions being imposed on it as opposed to the situation where no money is charged for the software.

Another benefit of Open Source is a side effect of the availability of the source code. Other people are free to improve the source code as they see fit. It has been empirically shown, with the Linux operating system source code, that the availability of source code leads to more rapid development, more robust source code that crashes less often, quicker turnaround time for fixing bugs, fewer security holes and vastly increased customizability. If, for example, the Ghanaian government wanted a standard word processor ( MS word widely used now) which could be used by all government officials that has been tailored for each government department, an Open Source word processor could be modified to suit the exact needs of the government. In fact, this is exactly what the German government has done with regard to a program that will replace Microsoft Outlook in the German government.
The particular reasoning behind the German government funding development of an Open Source project can be explained as follows: Open Source is a way of cutting costs from software licensing; a capacity-building strategy whereby the German software industry can grow, in terms of manpower and expertise; and lastly, a means to ensure national security by eliminating opportunities for foreign governments to introduce backdoors into software that will be used to conduct espionage. Munich says the move to open source has saved it more than €10million Euros and thats how they kicked microsoft out of the city. Read more here Now you can imagine the amount of money African governments will be saving if they choose to go open source.

Jon “Maddog” Hall (In the picture on your left) Executive Director of Linux International also said there are many good reasons for governments to be running open source software, the primary reason being security. He cautioned, however, that “security is about more than just keeping secrets safe. We have to ask the question ‘can our government systems survive if our software systems collapse?’ If you’re depending on a particular company to run your government and you don’t have access to the source code you don’t have security.”

There have been major setbacks in the open source movement here in Africa , late last year South African Department of Basic Education banned Free and Open Source Software in SA Schools and mandates programming an ancient, moribund language in contradiction of government's own policy. A good friend and mentor of mine Derek Keats (On my left hand in the second picture) spoke out against it and you can read it here  Two of the many interesting points he raised in his own words were "The decision to allow only a single office suite from a single license rental company (Microsoft) is anti-competitive, and denies school learners exposure to a variety of viable alternative office suites that could indeed run even on said operating system, and also denies other companies access to the school environment. " The directive locks school children to a particular company's product, hiding from them that there are viable alternatives that they can have full control over, and that does not lock them into being customers of a particular license rental company (indeed that do not extract rents from artificial scarcity at all and that respects their freedom). "

In Ghana's case it is even worse since we do not have any open source policy that I know of and also in  schools students are introduced to Windows, Microsoft Suits and other proprietary systems. When it comes to programming Visual Basic , Microsoft dot net etc Most of the I.T lecturers themselves are running windows so  I keep asking myself this question Where is Ghana’s Gold: In our earth or in our minds? 

Somewhere in July 2012 , as a move for me to get most people interested in linux here in Ghana. I was so ambitious to launch a linux based operating system in other words another linux distro called Anansi OS. The idea was for it to come pre-installed with the basic software we use in Africa like office , media players etc and in the future with the help of more code contributors add a bundle of educational tools targeting our educational system in Africa and possibly with a local language  ( Swahili and twi etc. ) keyboard layout and localisation of some of these educational tools. This project was faced with a massive backlash from the Ghanaian developer community. People raised both constructive criticism and also others simply lambasted the project. It created one of the longest threads on our Ghanaian developer mailing lists people raised questions on the tools i chose , if it had any unique selling point etc I finally decided to put the source code on Git for other devs to contribute to make the software evolve and till date not a single developer has followed up on the project or contributed code as you can see here https://github.com/raindolf/Anansi  This tells you the problem with the dev community. More talk and less action. There is no spirit of collaboration. As a result I hardly attend dev meetups and also opted out from the linux user group.

Open source development is limited in Ghana because programmers are too busy trying to earn a basic living than to donate their time to creating open source code. The main carriers of open source in Ghana will be senior devs like Alfred Rowe  ( Senior Ruby dev ) , Saya guys ( Robert and Badu ) and many more starups building software on complete open source technology stack. The Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT (AITI-KACE), Ghana's first Advanced Information Technology Institute is the only institute that runs open source operating systems completely ,from their administrator computer to the students and in this way they do microsoft a big disservice.  

I continuously put my money where my mouth is. I have open sourced each and every project I have worked on personally. Open this link to view my repositories.  My believe is that to get more people to adapt to open source we have to start from the grass roots. The absence of many viable community of FOSS developers in Africa is the biggest weakness of the FOSS movement in Africa. This is because the availability of a pool of developers, testers, documenters, translators etc is drawn from the community. I have also presented on how Africa can be an open source society. 

Lets start from introducing the younger generation to open source and the benefits. I would finally want progressive people to join me to start a movement here in Ghana. Our mission will be at least once or twice every month we will choose and go to a random Junior High School or Senior high school and for about 3 hours on a saturday introduce them to the linux shell or open source programming. In the near future we will partner with major stakeholders to introduce open source policies into the Educational curriculum. Send me an email here iraindolf [ at ] gmail.com if you want to become a part of this new linux movement. 

"We want knowledge, we want information, we want freedom. Hinder us not and aid us if you will. But dare not call yourselves civilized while we remain where we are." - Guido Sohne 

Monday, 23 December 2013

Hey, I'm a Thoughtworker and #ComeHome !

During the last summer vacation from school , I got an offer to join Thoughtworks Pan-Africa in the Kampala, Uganda office. I was excited to receive such an opportunity to join this revolutionary tech company and also to travel to an East African country to learn their culture and meet new people.

Let me give you a gist about Thoughtworks Inc. Thoughtworks was founded by Roy Singham , we are a community of passionate individuals whose purpose is to revolutionize software design, creation and delivery, while advocating for positive social change. We have over 2500 employees, with 29 offices in 12 countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Ecuador, Germany, India, Singapore, South Africa, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and the United States. You can learn more about us here http://www.thoughtworks.com/about-us  Thoughtworks is a leader in Agile software development.

Thoughtworks Pan-Africa  is focused on hiring local talent to help in the design and creation of software. This is a game changer in technology here in Africa since most foreign technology companies set up marketing offices in Africa, in order to sell their products to the masses because they do not believe African techies are baked enough to help in the building of softwares.  I was enthused over this and also happy to be a part of this new tech wave here.

Working at Thoughtworks was simply amazing and I will give you a feel of my experience. Prior to joining Thoughtworks, my technology stack was mostly .net framework , VB , java , C++ , php , mysql , html , javascript but after two months of working about two different social impacting projects my technology stack , programming patterns became more advanced and my github repository is prove of that https://github.com/raindolf?tab=repositories. These are a few build tools and languages I was working with Python , Django , Ruby on rails and postgresql. TW programming patterns relies heavily on Agile and Object Oriented programming principles. This is a demo ruby OOP program i wrote with a colleague called Parking Lot.  I had a feel of Agile practices like Pair programming and Test driven development which was a bit difficult at the beginning but adapted to it quickly. Open this link to check out our Technology Radar which includes our build tools , programming languages , techniques , platforms etc The team I worked with was patient and they made me feel at home. I miss them so much. See below a few pix from Kampala :)

We have offices in Uganda and South Africa. The homeland of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah , Ghana is the next stop.......yaaaay! If you have a passion for technology and want to be a part of this revolution join us.We encourage more women to apply, most of our great engineers and business analysts are women. Meet our awesome Regional Director of ThoughtWorks Pan Africa Enyonam Kumahor.  We already involved in the Ghanaian community , we sponsored Women 2.1 Summit and the Start-up weekend Accra.  Okay I know i'm talking too much..Watch this awesome video and meet our awesome Pan-African team..

Finally we are inviting you to attend our #ComeHome cocktail this holiday season on Friday 27th December , 2013 @ Villa Monticello . Join Betty Enyonam Kumahor, Regional Director of ThoughtWorks Pan Africa,  to spend an evening exploring how Africans are returning home and contributing to Africa’s continued development using technology as their tool. Yours truly will be there with my fellow TWER's Uchenna Moka  and Edem Kumodzi . Join us @ ThoughtWorks Pan Africa and be a part of Africa's technology revolution Register today for this event today!

Any fool can write code that a computer can understand. Good programmers write code that humans can understand. - Martin Fowler 

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Is it my time to dropout from the university ?

I don't want to pretend that I am the only person to think of this, nor that I will be the only person trying it - but there are both good and bad reasons why I contemplate on leaving school to pursue technology full time .Hearing of the success stories of Bill Gates , Steve Jobs , Zuck and other great entrepreneurs who dropped out of college to start their companies has been my number one motivation in technology. What I always keep in mind is we are from two different worlds and you cannot take approaches that work in the West and think it will work in Africa, there will be so many failures than you can imagine.
 I'm currently in my final year in the University and the founder / lead developer of  a two year old start-up company called Oasis Websoft plus I double as an application developer at Thoughtworks Pan - Africa an agile software consultancy that aims to revolutionize the IT industry in Africa and create positive social change. 
I lost interest in theoretical computer science as opposed to practical construction of software systems after my first year in the university. Since then I've managed to balance my work with my academic activities although the ratio between work and school is 70 : 30 . I love the education process but I think ours in Ghana has been put in place to kill creativity. Each month a horde of new programmers, freshly trained out of Universities and professional ICT institutions graduate with impressive looking syllabuses, certificates ,degrees etc. claiming skills in Java, C++, C, Php, JavaScript,  COM, Oracle, SQL, HTML and MS Office. The problem is that, though the syllabus looks good and would be a good starting point for being a software and web developer, students do not spend time working on their personal projects like I do and instead code for a grade “A” in exams. 
Bottom line: We students are less than half-baked and cannot do productive work.
Those who get jobs afterwards land more technical jobs like computer administrators, hardware jobs and so on. Instead of utilizing the methodologies we learnt in programming and so on. Companies who hire us in Ghana for such job do not realize that we can actually build software to make their work a lot easy. 
I don't want to derail from the topic at hand. I spend late nights ( 11pm - 5:30am ) hiking on the internet and become oblivious of the fact that I have to be in school at 8:30am. I end up taking naps in school. Pictures of me has gone viral on campus so many times for sleeping in class. ( see below ) Just like most geeks , I hate sleeping , I feel we have slept all our life and this is the time for us to innovative and make a lot of mistakes. Is this good reason enough for me to put aside school and take on the world ? Technology waits for no man , I can't finish school before implementing all the crazy ideas I have in mind. In this context is school an obstacle ? Or should I finally dropout ?

Should I fulfil my mother's wish of graduating. If I do so , I will be the first and maybe the only son to graduate from the university in my family of eight with 6 siblings ( 3 boys & 3 girls ) Is this a good reason to stay in school this last year or just drop out once and for all ?

 I come from a society where majority of the youth enroll in the university to gain authentication ( degree ) to secure jobs in the future. Do I need papers to authenticate myself or is it my works that will vindicate my talent in technology? I have all these question running in my mind but I guess at the end of the day I will just sail through.

The first semester of Level 400 is almost over and I think I have come a long way to just drop out. Dropping out is two things. It's either success or failure - Great entrepreneurs are risk takers who have all gotten over one very significant hurdle: they are not afraid of failure. That's not to say that they rush in with reckless abandon. In fact, entrepreneurs are often successful because they are calculating and able to make the best decisions in even the worst of cases.. The decision is yours ? To all the great men in Africa who made it without a degree Kudos to you and to those like me who are passing through the system to make things right more grease to our elbows :) At the end of the day i'm a Humble programmer with a big mouth :)

Thats me in the blue African print in school this semester sharing Ideas during a class seminar. 

Wisdom is knowing what to do with what you know.
-- J. Winter Smith

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Oasis @ 2 : The journey thus far.

I launched Oasis Websoft on 11th, July 2011. Last year in July, we celebrated our first year of hard work , dedication and this is a blog post I wrote to tell our story Oasis WebSoft @ 1.

Time flies so fast and it's now been two years since we set out to create advanced software by providing superior solutions for web applications, web sites and traditional GUI/console open source software. We are committed  in building infrastructure that will ensure that the West African sub-region is not left behind in the continuous evolution of information technology.

This past year has not been an easy one but despite a lot of challenges  we have kept our eyes on the bigger picture. I hope this blog post will give you a deeper understanding on what goes on in our technology camp and will hopefully answer a lot of your questions.

Over the last year we have worked on a lot of projects spanning from building web solutions for companies in the fashion space like Frozen Jungle Clothing , Agriculture: Avicola Farms ,Transfarm Africa  , MVP Hair and technology:  Intelligent telemetry  .

In the open source and software field we have built Dr Diabetes  : A web application that allows you to know your diabetes status. We have open sourced it so you can contribute code or build codes on top of it here Diabetes - Webapp .We joined forces with other African developers to develop Africapp : Africapp is a cross platform and multicultural African App offering service. To serve the growing need of mobile users in Africa and diaspora, this service is aimed at making the developers ecosystem more viable and providing registered developers a renowned platform to showcase their apps and get paid.

Our other open source projects include African Grading Program , Dollar to Cedis Converter  , Java Stack Demo  and Linux option scripts  The reason we invest our time and resources in open source is because: When programmers can read, redistribute, and modify the source code for a piece of software, the software evolves. People improve it, people fix bugs.

In April of this year I was invited to Germany by the  Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) the Development Policy Forum of GIZ ( Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit ) where I met with Gudrun Kopp, Parliamentarian State Secretary,Federal Ministry for economic cooperation and development, Germany.I also promoted my work via presentations , interviews ,met other techies and hubs etc. Other photos from my trip can be found here Ich Liebe Berlin
Our work at Oasis WebSoft  was presented at Re:publica Conference in Berlin , Germany. Fast forward the video below to the 20th minute for the awesome presentation on Oasis WebSoft !

Being the founder & CEO of this awesome software company has not been an easy ride since I'm still in the university. I founded this company after my first year in the university and I almost dropped out because Oasis felt like the only thing that mattered in my life ( and still does..It is my first and true love ) but I did not because this is Africa. ( if you know what I mean ) I just completed my third year in the university and I'm happy to inform everyone that I have a year more to finish the university and spend more time in the advancement of technology in Africa. I must admit that school has become my biggest obstacle due to my lack of interest in theoretical computer science as opposed to practical construction of software systems. I've opted out of so many great opportunities due to the fact that I want to win in school as much as I'm winning as the founder of Oasis.

I want to thank God for directing my ways in the decision making and all of His mercies. We at Oasis websoft want to thank everyone for your continuous support and prayers. Keep recommending our work to your family and friends. We also promise to improve Africa through software technology. Shoot me an email here raindolf [at] oasiswebsoft.com if you want to collaborate , need our service or work with us. Cheers.