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Rise of tech and workforce need to meet halfway

 

Techies on their computers. The Innovation Village created the Tech Connect among many programmes to ensure Ugandans match the rest of the ICT world.

TECHNOLOGY | THE INDEPENDENT | Sheba Ayinzabyonna has always held the career of programming in high regard. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology (IT) and has since then served as an Information Communications Technology (ICT) teacher for secondary school students.

But she always dreamt of becoming a programmer which is the industrial term for a person who creates computer software.  A few factors stood in the way, the first being the absence of mentorship.

While at school, Ayinzabyonna says majority of the students in the course, just like her, did not clearly understand the applicability of programming in the job market.

“Our focus was getting jobs and we were not familiar with people who were doing programming as a job,” she says.

The second factor that stood in the way of acquiring these skills had something to do with her impression of the field through a gender lens.

While at university, most students who were interested in programming were men, and it gave other young women, including her, the impression that this field was best pursued by men whom she presumed had an aptitude for programming compared to women.

What research says

According to the Google Developer survey of 2020, Uganda has 11,000 developers, which puts the country in ninth place on the African continent. To the Technology Community Manager at The Innovation Village, Solomon Opio, this is a small pool of developers compared to the country’s needs.

“In the current climate where every business needs some form of digital presence to thrive, the demand supersedes the supply,” Opio says before adding, “One of the major reasons responsible for the shortage of developers is the existing deficit of skilling in this field.”

Echoing Ayinzabyonna’s point of view about the nature of education at University, Opio attributes the deficit in developer skills to concentration on academic material instead of hands-on programming, which requires time.

In addition to these hindrances is the huge cost of the internet in Uganda that limits access for a lot of people. With so many academic resources online like Coursera, Udemy, Udacity and others that last up to six months, learning programming becomes too expensive to sustain for many Ugandans.

The skills 

Findings By The Innovation Village show that the most sought after skills in the programming languages were HTML, Python and Cloud. With an eye on these trends, The Innovation Village set out to equip young people with the most critical skills within the tech sector today.

The Innovation Village’s Tech and Data department in partnership with the CODEIT Institute of Technology, put together a six-month program providing education and training in the field of technology to those who are least likely to afford opportunities at the highest levels of technology.

The programme has been attended by 50 students so far who are receiving instruction in JavaScript, Python, Cloud, HTML/CSS and Block-Chain for six months.

Ayinzabyonna speaks of the need for mentors who can illustrate the place of programming in the modern world.

To address the problem highlighted above, The Innovation Village created the Tech Connect events where it enables the interaction of Tech enthusiasts with mentors from reputable brands like Google through their developer network. Opio says the high numbers for these events, justifies the need for mentors.

In addition to these efforts geared towards increasing the number of developers in Uganda, The Innovation Village sought to bring gender balance in the field of programming by increasing the number of women.

A six-month programme called Women in Tech Series has revived Ayinzabyonna’s hope of becoming a programmer. The Women in Tech Series is an initiative implemented by The Innovation Village through its Tech and Data department. The series is intended to increase the numbers of girls and women in the field of Technology by equipping them with the trending skills in ICT.  Facilitated experts and mentors, women are learning a range of topics in technology from Data Science to Programming languages.

“We started running the Women in Tech series as a response to the low numbers of women in this field. In 2019 according to the Uganda Developer Survey prepared by Andela, it was discovered that women in Tech were taking up only 16 per cent of the industry.  Since then, that number has moved up to 23 per cent as of 2020. So the gender distribution is changing for the better.” Opio says.

Three months into the series, Ayinzabyonna has gained confidence in the programming languages of Python and Cloud.

She credits this to the extensive experience she has been given during the program and the hands-on style of instruction.

“At university, I found Programming difficult because I never gave it time. We were interested in finishing coursework and passing exams so we crammed our way out of there. But here, I am practising and taking my time.”

The programme has opened her mind to think creatively and come up with solutions. She is one of the many young Ugandans who are trying to attain skills in the field of programming.

As the skilling takes place, there is a need to provide incentives for this skilling in the form of work opportunities. To address this, The Innovation Village is also working with large recruiting firms like Laboremus, NFT Consult, Brighter Monday to ensure that they provide work opportunities for the youth in these fields.

These efforts to provide work for the skilled youth in this field have been further reinforced  by the establishment of the “My Village” platform, an initiative by The Innovation Village.

“My Village” platform is where businesses and entrepreneurs in quest of services link up with talented programmers. The programmers simply open work profiles and those in need of their services select the desired skill set, virtually. In an era of remote work, this is a pragmatic move.

Private sector efforts

Away from The Innovation Village, in the private sector, there are players in the industry who are taking on the task of mainstreaming the science of programming in education by introducing it to children and teenagers.

One such player is Mindset Coding programme that holds an eight-week programme to prepare children and teenagers (7-18 years) to become developers.

For a majority of Ugandans, the earliest time they are exposed to computer programming is likely at university. Valentine Masicha the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Mindset Coding is working to change this. To Masicha, Uganda’s education system is still traditional and the curriculum in most schools does not take into consideration the ongoing global technological revolution.  She notes that to address the digital demands of globalisation, writing computer programmes should be a skill that is imparted early on rather than later.

In her experience, after training children within this age group, confident with the newfound programming skills, they begin working on innovative projects, participating in local and international competitions where their creativity and innovation are further reinforced.

She also believes that if skilling is approached from this angle, the developer work force will automatically increase.

Governments’ role

These efforts are nestled within the larger national plans of the government of Uganda through statutory bodies like National Information Technology Authority Uganda (NITA-U) and the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance.

To promote the development of skills, NITA-U  signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Council of Higher Education and Ministry of Education and Sports to ensure ICT is embedded in the national curriculum. Adherence to IT education regulations was also part of the agreement.  This will be implemented with the support from the funds allocated to digital transformation that amount to Shs134bn for the 2021/2022 financial year.

These funds will enable the setting up of digital infrastructurlike virtual laboratories and other facilities that will enable E-Learning in universities.

Through the Tech and Data department at The Innovation Village, the goal is to supply the ecosystem with 100,000 developers that have gone through skilling in the latest trends on the market by the end of 2021. So far, the department has been able to skill 2000 youth who are ready to work and to innovate. While it’s an ambitious target, Opio believes that its achievable when all hands from the private and public sector get on board to create an enabling environment.

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