I first encountered a computer 23 years ago as an unsophisticated albeit curious fifteen-year old.
At the time, I was staying with an uncle who had recently returned from the US, having attained a PhD in Economics. Being a nerd of sorts, he was an early adopter of computing.
He had one of those early IBM machines running MS-DOS. When you switched it on, you encountered a black screen with a command prompt and nothing else. This may sound like Greek to anyone under thirty but trust me; it was state-of-the-art computing at the time.
Every morning when my uncle left for work, I would switch on this thing that looked like a hospital monitor and the black screen with a flashing single white mark would appear.
I would punch the letters on the keyboard but nothing much would happen and out of frustration, I would switch the damn thing off!
My luck was to turn for the better about a year and half later. Upon completing my O levels, I was enrolled into a three-month basic computing course. Like a duck to water, I took to this new world of wonders with gusto; my thirst for computer related knowledge was simply unquenchable! Thus began my recurring interest in computers.
Later on in life I qualified as a systems engineer and worked on mega IT projects such as Rwanda’s first centralised government data centre, proof that the wildest of dreams can indeed come true!
When I first ventured into the shadowy world of Information Technology, it was a man’s world. Technology was about control, everyone wanted to be a systems administrator, a network engineer, a software programmer, all powerful titles and requiring specific skills to control a portion of the IT infrastructure.
The girls did call centre support and escalated the tough calls to the engineers who were almost always boys. That was 20 years ago; thank heavens things are changing for the better!
The time for opaque ‘home-brew’ technologies is gone! It is Uber, it is Snapchat and it is whatever you want it to be….
Power belongs to the user of technology now, is it not appropriate that the youth seize the reigns of technology at the time of its maturity to democracy?
Enter Ms. Geek Africa. The competition, formerly known as Ms. Geek Rwanda, has now morphed to reach a wider continental audience. The organisers of the event seek to answer a particular question in ICT; why so few girls and women?
The challenge has always been the number of hours of self-study that were required to make sense of the ICT world. It literally takes over your life. For some peculiar reason, boys have always had more spare time as girls are in most cases burdened with household chores or supervised more closely as to how they spent their free time.
Formal training helps but any ICT enthusiast will tell you, it is what you discover on your own and in your own time that really helps you carve out your own niche in the wondrous adventure that is ICT learning.
The power of the internet is such that you don’t need to leave your bedroom to make ‘Isaac Newton-esque’ discoveries. What a God-send for the youth who are often misunderstood by their elders and castigated as ‘lazy layabouts’.
It is no coincidence that the likes of Bill Gates of Microsoft, Steve Jobs of Apple and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook made their most profound discoveries in their teenage years, a time when most rules don’t make sense and the natural instinct is to rebel or start a revolution.
Dear Rwandan youth, ICT has no rules cast in stone. If you can dream it, you can achieve it!
A young man that I have mentored since he was seventeen, recently left university with grades that put him in the top five students in his graduating class. I was obviously happy for him and went on to ask,”What next?”
The answer was as surprising as it was exciting; he told me he intended to start his own ICT Company providing solutions to SMEs in Rwanda and beyond.
It’s been a year now and he has three applications on the market and a growing list of clients some of whom had never dreamt of using computers in their businesses!
My personal favourite application is a Point of Sale (POS) system that does billing, bookkeeping and inventory management all at a modest cost of Frw180,000 payable over a year in monthly installments of Frw15,000.
All the applications come customised in Kinyarwanda and are tailored for use by anyone with the most basic of reading skills.
I am constantly inspired by this twenty three year old young man’s vision and ambition. In him, I see the future of Rwanda. There is so much potential out there, all we need is to harness it through appropriate career guidance programs and providing all necessary moral and financial support.
The reality of a knowledge based economy is up for the taking for those that dare to dream!
The writer is a consultant and trainer specializing in Finance and Strategy. He is based in Kigali.