Buea

“Silicon Mountain Conference”: Why now?

blogger-image-347044051

The #Team237 Community hosts the  Silicon Mountain Conference and I will be the Master of Ceremony.

Nice huh? The event takes place tomorrow, June 20, at Eta Palace from 5 pm to 8pm with theme:

LET’S BUILD PRODUCTS.

Present at this gathering would be: entrepreneurs, startup founders, software engineering students, many mentors, product builders , users and a host of influencers.  The agenda includes keynote speeches from:

1. Churchill Mambe, CEO @ Njorku (A Story of Silicon Mountain)

2. Isaac Kamga GDG Mentor for Cameroon – (An Appraisal of efforts and participants)   and

3. Otto Akama, Community Manager at ACTIVspaces, Buea Chapter (Building Products – The next step of our journey)

Projects in progress will be presented as well as new platforms e.g. BITs by Benyella Njeko and the #MadeInBuea platform championed by Churchill.

The aim of the conference is to get the whole community on the same page, defining the journey ahead, while also celebrating the community’s success in 2014’s objective of building a ‘Community that Codes’Disrupt Africa Article by avid African tech sniffer-Tom Jackson.

The Buea area (Silicon Mountain) is the most attractive to tech startups in Cameroon. With conferences like this, we believe we can be the most attractive in Africa because in the Silicon Mountain, we do real things”– My Aunty Yefon on  her awesome blog. Read her full post here.

You see, the reason why this event interests me in particular is the fact that this #techosystem has been existing for a long time. A few successful products have emerged from Buea- Wasamundi, Fee Perfect and  Njorku include those which have made considerable progress( and #WebNoise).

Keyword: Successful

I don’t mean millions of Frs CFA valuation or IPOs. These are startups that have simply been able to survive the very harsh startup environment in Buea and Cameroon at large.

Wasamundi for example has been around since 2009. If not on the ground, then at least in the minds of Nara Lawrence and Quincy Kwende.

Platforms aimed towards building products for local (and global) communities using new technologies have been around Buea and Cameroon for a long time.

So, why is this the first time you are hearing about such a conference?

Some would say the time wasn’t ripe, or the idea and the synergy was inexistent.

I may not be a coder or one of the startup founders, but I have been in this ecosystem for 7 years. And I can comfortably say that I saw this “community” take shape with the actions of a small group of people.

Is that claim preposterous? Maybe. Should you believe me? Don’t.

Exhibit A: This link goes to the GDG Buea Community on Google +.

Exhibit B: This one, goes to one of the 12 (TWELVE) Google Summer of Code 2015 (GSOC2015) participants I discussed with on labour day.

Do you see a trend here?

Maybe not. What about this?

GSOC numbersWhat does that ’12’ in front of Cameroon means?

Star Witness

As you may have seen in recent posts, there are many students and mentors throughout Africa and all around the world working very hard to spread the word about GSoC to their communities. We are happy to announce that Cameroon quadrupled their number of accepted students in 2015 to 12!”- Read the full Google Open Source Post Here.

This same select group of people have been organizing events and making noise all over the internet about Buea and the tech community.

And, I think it is time they are fully recognized for their role in this movement.

I may not have the full story of why and how Isaac Kamga moved from Google Developer Group Manager for Buea to Google Developer Group Mentor for Cameroon.

Or how the Checks have taken Google Student Ambassadorship to a different level.

Or why Tah Teche’s work wasn’t felt( or was it just that it didn’t affect me directly?)

But as long as I have a mouth and a keyboard, I ask and rant.

You’re not going to climb this mountain alone 🙂

Stay tuned!

#KamgaOut

Advertisements

ASJUB Trip: Day 0

“If you don’t expect anything from anyone, you will never be disappointed”- James Altucher

I did not expect anything from the annual Academic trip organized by the Association of Student Journalists, University of Buea- ASJUB. So, I am not only NOT disappointed but, elated I’d changed my mind and taken these three days from Buea to Yaoundé and back.

A lot happened. Fun mostly. Great conversations and the discovery of awesome people. If I were to attempt to give an ‘account’ of the trip, I would miss out a lot. Fact. That’s why I have constituted a picture gallery (lightest),  an audio slideshow with music only (lighter) and an audio slideshow with voice clips and interviews from most of the participants( light). As usual, not everyone was in love with me so, I did not get everyone to speak. That’s okay. I wasn’t expecting anyone to agree to speak.

So, we both win!

Day 0:

On the afternoon I changed my mind, I had been thinking of a new business idea. A food delivery service. I had no idea how to write had been caught up with the intricacies of a business plan. I was stuck and getting unhappy. I don’t like being unhappy. I called Joshua so that we meet in school and work on the initial stages of the venture.  I then headed to campus to meet him and connect to the internet. There, I found two students waiting for the president of the association to come give their departmental T-shirts, PRESS badges and the programme for the trip. They were all supposed to meet at 1pm on campus. I look at my phone.

1.30pm.

Of course I laugh at joke with them and hangout. I don’t know Ebai that much and Alida is the younger sister of my nursery school crush. Seriously. I had a nursery school crush. I have the pictures if you want proof. But, that’s another story.

Ebai and Alida are freshmen. Excited about the trip ( why else would they be still here after the delay?) After a while, a couple of students who have equally paid for the trip arrive at the meet-up point: Beverly ( freshman), Noella, Ivorita and Marvellous ( second year students). Marvelous ‘Marvy’ Ngale  is the vice public relations officer of the ASJUB and he does his job. He assures the slowly pissed  students that the president was on her way. According to his account, she had been stuck at the printer’s and would soon arrive.

The very slightly infuriated students connive to express discontent when the president arrives:

“Nobody should smile,” Noella instructs the rest.

If they can’t have her there when they expect, at least they would show how ireful they were.

Soon enough, an out of breath Gabrielle appears laden down with a huge white sack containing T-shirts and badges. She is moving as fast as she can, sweating, panting and smiling nervously.

Noella can’t help it. She smiles back and rushes to help her president.

After the reasons for her late coming had been cleared and (almost) everyone was comfortable with his/her T-shirt,( there is always someone whose garment either fits too well or is too loose. Always.).  Gabbie needs to go continue to make the arrangement.

Can someone still pay now?” I half-hope she would say “NO!”

“Of course”, she says “We are 16 of us and we need to pick up Sandy from Douala plus Trevor and Penn who are already in Yaoundé making arrangements.

“If you’re certain to pay tonight”, she hands me a t-shirt “Here’s yours”.

A few hours earlier, I had called Joshua so we could work on market research for my business idea. Now, in a few hours I will be miles away.

Who said life was predictable?

After robbing a passer-by making a few calls, I get the money required for the trip.

I don’t even know what I will take to Yaoundé. The last time I went for the trip, I was one of those in charge. This time, I am an ‘in charge-ee’. How would that be like? Will I be able to wake up at 5 am so as to be at UB junction by 6.30 am? Will I forget a pair of socks and be miserable for the next three days? Will I get missing in the capital? (My list of things I am horrible at has:  city maps and roads  at position 28 and 31 respectively.)

When I stroll down from Malingo Street with Miike Snow’s ‘Silvia’ blaring in my headphones, I barely see the other humans on the street. My mind is far off to ‘la capitale’. I know it is going to be exciting. Every change of environment is for me.

I get home and plug-in all my devices to make sure all are ready to shoot/ record/ tape. As I fail to fend off insomnia.  I know the reason why I am so enthused is that I know deep in my eye sockets that tomorrow is going to be different.

But, how?

CAMWATER #BRINGBACKMYWATER!!!

IMG_0131

Sometimes, I wish I could drink sea water.

(As of the publication of this post, water has started flowing in my hostel. Here’s the caveat: it flows only from about 1AM to 4AM every two days. I get to sacrifice sleep for H2O. Great.)

This is bullshit. Where did all the water go?

I have lived in Molyko, Buea for the past 7 years. 7 bloody years and never have I spent a week in such a nasty predicament.

“My line is different from the others across. But, it seems the others too have the same problem. But your neighbors say….also I have heard that…you see…”

When my landlord (cum caretaker) was trying to explain why our taps had not been flowing for the past 7 days, I was feeling way too sleepy to quip or prod further. Added to my stoned mood was the fact that I had, at the time, a 60 liter drum half filled with water I could use to take a bath and …er…do other stuff.

So, I wasn’t bothered. Dumb me.

6 Days Later

All my clothes are dirty. My toilet stinks. I have no idea how I will take a bath tomorrow morning and I have a Continuous Assessment at 9 a.m.

And oh, did I mention I don’t have water to drink either?

What is wrong with this town?! Seriously! WTF??

I pay rents (actually…er…my parents do). Everyone who lives in a hostel pays too! When #ENEO does its epileptic electrical display of force, all we can do is complain, eat and sleep. At least, you can smell nice while complaining. I would not wish to have written the G.C.E this year. Goodbye to late night revisions…

What happens when I can’t wash my pots, cook, take a bath and eat BEFORE being disgruntled?

If it were a hostel issue, we would probably have burnt our landlord on a stake by now.

Who do I complain to? It’s rainy season (or is it?); the breeze snickers as I bundle clothes over my shoulder. A tactile reminder of the true color of ‘the town of legendary hospitality’.

After spending a day in school; exhausted, hungry and in need of a shower, what do I get?

A stuffy room and a mound of laundry. I don’t even know what the hell I will wear tomorrow.

What sort of bullshit life is this? Who do I hold responsible? Do I buy mineral water to do LAUNDRY with?

They say ‘Water is life’. Really guys? Really? Water WHICH I DON’T HAVE is life?

I suppose I am lifeless now.

Gosh!

This is frustrating. Take away all the electricity you want. In fact eh, take away my already debilitating internet access.

But …#BRINGBACKMYWATER!

A holed bag of tricks

If I don’t get water tomorrow, I have a couple of options:

  1. Crumble of insalubrity like a pillar of salt.
  2. Recycle piss, sweat and saliva. I know it’s not going to work. But, ‘When there’s hope…’
  3. I have no third option.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t have water to take a bath, do laundry or even drink.  I’m essentially, screwed.

Shit.

Oh wait…even that I can’t do.

Interview with Duplex;One of the #GSoC 2015 Winners and 3rd Generation Techies

“My name is Duplex…like the house, but my friends call me Tony”.

If I have ever been grateful for being able to speak two languages, I was doubly so when I discovered that one the 11 current #GSoC (Google Summer of Code) winners for 2015 was French speaking.

Duplex is a final year Computer Engineering Student at the Faculty of Engineering in the University of Buea.

“What do you do?”

I love this question. It is my default techie conversation starter. Keep in mind the following:

  1. Duplex had difficulties talking English.
  2. Duplex will graduate this December.
  3. He has  a history of prizes from National and International competitions in an ENGLISH governed environment.

I had in my presence Exhibit A of the fruit of resolve, determination and obstinate hard work.

“I have been working for GSoC since last year. For one full year.”

Otto corroborates. He wanted to win. He had to win.

“Do you play video games?” I had to know! Could this be an FPS sparring partner??

“No. I don’t.” he said, “I did not grow up in an environment that gave me access to video games at a younger age”.

You can guess my natural retort.

“So, how did you get into computers??” I hope he saw how shocked I was.

Duplex got into the computer through the window. Sort of.

L-R: Duplex, Nyah Check at ACTIVspaces November 2014

After his Technical Baccalaureate studies, he later pursued and earned a civil engineering diploma. His passion at the time (and his natural aptitude) was that of drawing. From what he later told me, even though he no longer manipulates the engineering software that much, he still provides consultancy for his friends and others at all levels of the graphic conceptualization phase.

The then civil engineer landed a job shortly before 2010. The pay was comfortable but the security of his position was unclear.  During this period, Duplex got to play with the computer and found in it a trustworthy creation partner.

“ La programmation c’était ma bête noire.” He would later confess about his first year in UB. Mais maintenant… j’adore

He then heard through a friend that the University of Buea had just opened the School of Technology. Upon coming to Buea, he realized he had just two choices: Computer engineering and Electrical engineering.

“ Je me suis dit…bon…comme j’ai au moins une idée sur les ordinateurs, pourquoi pas l’informatique?

He applied. Halfheartedly. And when in September 2010 a friend called to inform him his name was on ‘the list’, he had to make a choice- keep working as a civil engineer or further his education in uncharted lands?

“ Le boulot n’étais pas si sûr…je me suis demandé et si je laisse passer une chance d’apprendre comme celle si? je pourrais regreter plutard .»

Duplex came to Buea, to study in an English speaking institution,  live in an English speaking environment for a degree programme in a field he had barely mingled with.

If there is ever a time to play “Eye of The Tiger”, now is the time.

And survive he would.

He barely made it during the first semester though. He validate just four of the courses and could not differentiate code from Chinese. He fell, rose, fell and rose again. At the end of that first year, he decided to reapply. That was the last time he fell.

“J’adore programmer maintenant. En plus que j’avais un nouveau prof qui m’a beaucoup motivé”.

From what I gathered, Cameroon is in the first place with most winners of the GSoC for 2015. Duplex told me the brilliant (and intimidatingly short) Daisy Nkewteyim is among the winners this year. Which means she won…AGAIN!” Kudos!

Covert the stipend…

Isaac Kamga (Google Developer Group Manager for the SW) and Nyah Check ( former Google Student Ambassador and current Google Star Ambassador) are doing an exceptional job in pushing the programmers of the Buea tech scene.

Here is how I classify the generations of entrepreneurs in Buea :(Note: This is a SELF BUILT Classification)

The Founders: Made it on their own- out of the country and came back to invest and promote tech e.g. Rebecca Enonchong

The 1st Generation: Made in on their own (or made great strides forward), within the country, usually without external funding and without incubating. Some with. But worked on rough and uncharted territory with little or no mentorship. Learned the hard way e.g Mambe Churchill, Nara Laurence, Fritz Ekwoge, Fua Tse, Otto Isong etc.

The 2nd Generation: May or may not have a working product or service. Benefited from some sort of funding or joined the 1st generation to work on a product, or built the community in one way or the other. This is where I would place myself together with Isaac Kamga, Nyah Check, Clifford Ako, Otto Paul etc.

When the first wave of the 3rd Generation hits the streets…man would we be in for amazing stuff! I think Duplex falls here. Together with the smart, beautiful ladies of the GDG Buea scene (especially Daisy Nkweteyim!). I have already seen a great number of products underway. Kamerrecipe is one by the Ngong Sisters- Ivorita and Ivoline.

Daisy at the #WomenInTech Event organised by GDG Buea and ACTIVspaces on March 7 to commemorate the International Day of the Woman

Duplex cannot hold his excitement much longer:

“I don’t think neither Kamga nor Check realize the amazing work they are doing!

L-R Back: Nyah Check, Isaac Kamga and Krys Nuvagda L-R Front: Mpara Faith and Daisy Nkewteyim

Let me say this just once: 3.6 Million FCFA.

That is the amount Duplex and the other  GSoC winners would EACH earn from their summer of hard work.

“When you work alone in your room…sometimes with no money to pay to move to even get to checkpoint…sometimes you get discouraged.  Sometimes you need to be motivated somehow”.

Here is a quote from Otto Isong, founder at Pursarpay and proponent of the ‘Free money transfer movement”;

“You can’t become a giant by standing on the shoulders of a giant”.

According to Isong ( I am proud to call him my very coveted mentor), anyone who works with Google essentially creates FOR Google. He holds that:

African entrepreneurs need to build from the ground up and not rely on external funds/aid”.

Duplex disagrees.

“The financial motivation pushes you to work harder and to code better. Without it, some of us would have just gotten discouraged.”

The quiet young man now waltzes  his passion for coding freely. Is it the liquor or the sparks of intellectual conversation?

Who cares?

“So, what’s next? Do you have a product in mind?” I sip my coke and wait.

Of course, he has a product in mind. Of course he won’t tell me what it is. But, dear reader, we both know I will find out anyway.

Duplex with one of his Prizes

 

Duplex hopes to build his own company one day. He believes he would need funds in order ‘to ensure sustainability’.

Like me, he believes Buea is the future of technology in Cameroon.

Without knowing, Duplex has re-inspired me.  He MUST be on my podcast!

Buea is at the foot of Mount Fako. It bears the University of Buea at its bossom-a rich gathering of the best minds from all  corners of the National territory. The heat kills me. The mosquitoes sometimes get the better of me. I can’t code (yet). I can’t design (yet). I don’t live in Silicon Valley (yet?) I don’t have a camera. I don’t have a Dictaphone. Hell, it is 2.48 am and I don’t even have internet access to post this right now.

The future is at the foot of this mountain.

I can’t code.

But I am sure going to write the hell out of this Silicon Mountain.

L-R: Ngah Kenneth , Otto Akama and Duplex

P.S: His name is Tony Kamdjou. Duplex is just a nickname. Oops. Just found out a few minutes ago when editing. Too lazy Didn’t want to edit. Plus..it sounds more dramatic.

😛

Tech Labour Day : A Hangout of sorts

Queen Semantics

Queen Semantics

I did not take pictures. Almost intentionally. It was pure fun. I did not spend as much time as the others, but I enjoyed the evening. I would love to say “Twas the perfect way to end Labor Day” but…with my fly, you know what I think of Labor Day.

I was in school stalking a girl checking my Facebook feed when Mo sent me an SMS:

“We’re at Dream Lounge. Pass by”.

Twenty minutes later, I am at the venue- music, lights and the clinging smoke caress my influenza nose.

It was the perfect techie getaway. Three tables, dudes, ladies, drinks, noise and smoke.

Brilliant.

Present at the table were Otto Akama,  Community Manager at ACTIVspaces Buea, Mohammed ‘Mo’ Felata (Founder at IMXsystems), Ngah Kenneth of LCMtours with his sister Clotilde ( a Fashion Design enthusiast) , Bermond Yange and Collins Epey both of Colorfluid, Eddie, my main man Albert ‘Al’ Banda (Note: He is from A Tribe of Lions), Achombom of Unique Printers, Mr. Rodrigue  (we spoke a little about this new banking software he specializes in), and Duplex .

Yes. That is his name. And, you want to remember it.

There were other persons (ladies) at the table when I came in. I was too shy to greet everyone did not want to interrupt conversations. So, I took my seat around the 11 or so man table and started chatting away with Al. It has been a while since we did.

A couple of weeks ago, I had seen this Facebook page he had invited me to like. I didn’t pay much attention to it. But, listening to Al describe his new merge of Chess Art and Technology can only be described as infectious. He learned a new programming knowledge a few months ago just to achieve this. The concept is simple:

“Is a programmer just a programmer or could he/she be an artist…and could this art be visualized?”-Albert Banda

Al’s programme produces art from the movements of chess pieces on a chess board. According to Al, the game of chess has  beauty and his job is to express it. You can check the Facebook page here for yourself.

Transforming Chess into an Art form

 

Because I came a little late, many of the guys had already…well…started getting drunk drinking.  Bermond and Otto were chatting about why the Newera Publishers‘ comic would or would not pickup in the African community.

If you have been following the Cameroonian tech scene, a  lot has been happening. I actually believe less than 40 percent of startups (or projects) revolving around technology are reported. Dzekashu Macviban is doing a wonderful job of bridging that gap. Read his recent article on Ntef Alain’s Gifted Mom .

Al also mentioned a budding video game which would soon hit the streets from the astute programmer Raymond ‘Blanco’ Mbah. Together with Bermond, Blanco has released a few Android games. I’ll admit I was pretty bored with them. I am not a Temple Run fan. Then again, it’s not as though I have a credit card to buy games…so…what choice do I really have?

According to Al, Blanco’s current project could change the face of the African gaming scene. If and only if he (Blanco) made a few tweaks.

The exasperation in Al’s voice when I asked whether he had implemented the tweaks killed my dream of writing on the next ‘thing’. Blanco, apparently, won’t implement the suggestions. But, who knows the future?

I sure don’t.

When it comes to games made by Cameroonian techies, one that has received a lot of acclaim is Aurion by Kiro’o Games.

I first came across the game and its creators during the 2013 BarCamp with took place here in Buea at the Catholic University Institute of Buea. My first impression (which still stands as at now) is that the game is not (as Seth Godin would put it) ‘sticky’. I don’t see myself playing it. It is too… ‘clean’? To me, it lacks the essential ‘Africanness’ which could imbue the product with ‘stickablity’ among Africans.

Al, Bermond, Otto and I agree that the guys from Newera Publishers  (promoters of a new form of online story telling though comics) need to rethink their content and capitalize on ‘Africanness’.

We have a huge legacy for crying out loud!! I’ll admit I am a fan of Mangas (*One Piece Rooooocks!) and video games (I have this new strange addiction to Plants VS Zombies. It used to be the Call of Duty Modern Warfare series. Dunno what happened.

Anyway, here is the bottom line from the Blanco/Aurion/Newera discussion:

Africa needs storytellers who tell African stories using (rich) African content with a propensity towards Africanness.  

Now, this is where I got my kick from this tech hangout. Otto turned   pointed towards me to the quiet young man at my lefthand side:

“That is the richest man on the table”.

He might have been a little tipsy but his statement definitely stirred my attention. I am superficial. I didn’t measure the young man with regular eye glasses, cream shirt and the bottle of Guinness Smooth in front of him as much.  What I would later come to find out is that Otto was not far from the truth.

The young man in question was Duplex.