During the course of 20 weeks, 19 young men and women dedicated at least four hours every day to acquiring skills in trending technologies. On September 12, 2021 they graduated from the CODEIT Institute of Technology coding program with skills in Python, Cloud and Blockchain Technologies. The online program which started in February 2021 has been described as challenging, fun and mind-opening by the participating students. Various projects ranging from food apps to digital cultural databases that have been conjured by the minds of the participants during their training have also highlighted the great potential of young Ugandans.
The journey started in January 2021 when The Innovation Village signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with American Software engineering education provider, CODEIT Institute of Technology (CIT), to offer software development training to students seeking to improve their skills and a software development career growth in Python, Cloud and Blockchain technologies for six months for every cohort.
Commenting on the partnership recently, the Chief Executive officer of CIT, Da’shone Hughey says, “The mission of The Innovation Village is similar to CODEIT Institute of Technology or CIT in that, we both use technology to spur growth and address challenges in our communities. At CIT, we train the least likely to be involved with high-level technology, to remove them from poverty and create generational wealth through technology. Partnering with The Innovation Village allowed CIT to further its mission and reach places in Uganda that may not have been possible for some time. The partnership has allowed us to reach citizens of Uganda in Jinja, Gulu, Mbarara as well as Kampala.”
The interest in training youth in technology for both entities was premised on the fact that 90 per cent of the current jobs in the world have a technology component as reported by the United Nations in 2018. With this fact, it becomes imperative to open these opportunities up for young people so that they can thrive in this present and future of work.
When the training kicked off in February 2021, the first cohort had students from all over Uganda including the cities of Mbarara, Jinja, Gulu and Kampala where The Innovation Village has presence. The classes were mostly online with the provisions to The Innovation Village premises to easily access internet. Twenty weeks later, the first batch of graduates is ready to take on the tech world. The graduates are now lead techies in their respective cities.
Olweny Emmanuel- Northern Region- Gulu Lead.
Olweny is a 26-year-old technology enthusiast working as a secondary school teacher of economics. Regardless of his profession, he believes that technology is the future so he applied for the course. “It’s hard coming from a different background academically because everyone has a fear of the tech field as one for those with a good grasp of mathematics,” he says.
While Olweny found the course challenging, more skilled acquaintances supported him through the hurdles until graduation. He says learning programming simply requires commitment and employment of logic, and this can happen for everyone.
He will continue practicing programming as he teaches Economics until an opportunity opens up. As a teacher, he believes education is holistic means and the newly acquired skills will enrich his style of teaching.
“Programming is a language, and in Europe people in various fields code. Even a historian will be able to code or solve problems within their field with the help of these skills,” Olweny says.
He expresses delight at being an ambassador for programming in Gulu and the greater Northern region. He hopes his passion inspires a lot of people. At the moment, he attributes the low interest in programming in the Northern region to the concentration of learning opportunities in the central region. “People who bring such opportunities of skilling always start in the city. They do not consider going upcountry until five years later,” he says with the hope that the trend will change given programs like these.
George Onen- Western Region Lead.
George Onen is a computer scientist who signed up for the training to acquire skills in trending programming languages like Python and Machine learning. At the end of this course, he wants to use his newfound skills to solve challenges in his society. As an ambassador for programming in the western region, he looks forward to providing support to the new cohort as he has garnered enough experience from the program. He believes that his position will enable him to lead to others to become curious and eventually take on programming.
Josephine Bonka – Eastern Region Lead
Josephine Bonka is a second-year student at the Makerere University. Hailing from Jinja, her love for programming and learning in general compelled her to sign up for the course. Following graduation, Bonka feels confident enough to take on work in the software world, owing to her newfound skills in handling technology projects. In the future, she wants to be a tech projects manager and believes being multi-faceted will take her a long way in her career.
“It has been hectic given the fact that I was doing two classes at the same time but it was also fun. I learned new programming languages, I studied with real developers and got to learn from so many people,” Bonka says.
She believes that the pool of developers in Easter Uganda is still small because the advertisement for opportunities is always in Kampala. As the Eastern region technology ambassador, she wants to impact the people around her first.
“We will be the light. I am very proud of being an ambassador for Technology in the East and I am certain that I will inspire people,” Bonka concludes confidently.
Kizza Friedrich Kibalama – Central Region Lead
Kizza is a 22-year-old software engineer who has graduated from the six months program. He says even though he studied software engineering, the quality of education at the university is no match for what he has learnt in the training. Even better for him, he says this training happened in a much shorter period but he has been able to learn concepts that are not covered in school.
“Currently there are technologies on blockchain and machine learning but none of these things is being taught in schools,” he says.
Kizza joined the program when he received an email from The Innovation Village. He says that the program has been interesting and has enabled him to do lots of projects that have increased his expertise and boosted his confidence.
“Before this project, I had never come up with a project of my own but at the end of it, I worked on a project on digital currencies, an application similar to Uber, and so many others. All this within the space of six months,” he explains.
Three months into the program, Kizza was employed by a company as a software engineer and he appreciates the flexibility of the program that enabled him to learn while working.
He is now the regional lead for Kampala, having gone through the first cohort successfully and remains responsible for mobilizing other young people in the central region for the next cohort of the program.
He attributes the high concentration of developers in the central region to the exposure that residents have to technology.
“In Kampala, people have directly been impacted by apps like Jumia, and so there is that interest in how tech works and what it can do. While in other regions it hasn’t been the case,” Kizza says adding that exposure to technologies that ease life, in other regions, would spark interest in the field and enable more people to sign up to be developers.
The Technology Community Manager at The Innovation Village, Solomon Opio expresses excitement in the accomplishment of this first cohort. In the second cohort which starts training on November 8, 2021, there is a focus on growing a developer pool in regions outside the central region. This, Opio, says is in response to the soon to be launched findings of the 2021 Developer Survey conducted by The Innovation Village.
“In the survey carried out among 1288 developers, results show that 97 per cent of developers are operating in Uganda, with the central region taking up 79.5 per cent of those developers, the Western and Eastern regions possessing an equal percentage of 5.7 per cent and the Northern region having the least share with 9.1 per cent.”
To increase the number in other regions, technology enthusiasts from the first cohort to be ambassadors or community leads have been selected in each of the regions where they come from. The regional community leads in the East, West and Central, Regions will help to mobilize and develop a tech community there through providing guidance, support and amplifying opportunities for learning and work.
Following the graduation of the first cohort, CIT’s Hughey says, “Our first cohort was great. We had some challenges due to COVID-19 and the lockdown but those were challenges that the entire world faced. But despite the challenges, we saw some exceptional ingenuity.”
Giving an example of a student from Mbarara who created a food home delivery application to assist residents in his area during the lockdown and another of student in Jinja who created a Savings and Credit Cooperative Organization application to assist residents to keep track of their finances, he believes the training has been successful. He also says some ideas were ingenious including the ones where students created apps in Gulu to assist with a repository of information central to one’s tribe.
Hughey says with the program taking root in Uganda, CIT has expanded to Tanzania. In the next cohort, students from Uganda, Tanzania and America will all learn together in one class bringing together a wealth of experiences and cultural diversity.
“This is extremely exciting for me. It has always been a goal of mine to connect African-Americans with Africans from their motherland. I think many people forget that African-Americans are African. We may not know what part of African we came from because we were brought to America but we know we are from Africa,” he says.
Hughey hopes that CIT can collaborate with more local businesses in Uganda and Tanzania through the partnership with The Innovation Village. This could create more employment or hiring opportunities for the graduates of these cohorts. Overall, a good start and finish for this first cohort reflect a bright future ahead.