Silicon Mountain

“Silicon Mountain Conference”: Why now?

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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

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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.

😛