Working as an independent mobile, web and software developer in Afrika can be a trying experience.
Afrika for so long has been recognized by the world as an agricultural continent and for the past decade, many software developers are working tirelessly to prove that we are also a technological continent by building great websites, mobile apps and software that aims to solve our problems on the ground.
This does not come at a cheap cost.
We live in an environment that tech equipment costs two to four times than what it does in Europe and North America, where technical books are almost non-existent in most parts of the continent, and where most people do not have credit cards to purchase from Amazon.
In Afrika there is a perception problem though, some people still think technology comes in a box like a camcorder, computer, laptop, iPad and so on. I have listed below a few of the agonies myself and most developers go through.
We need to all visualize technology as a process and something we are going to build ourselves here in Afrika.
Infamous load shedding - a practice of cutting off electricity to whole sections of the city in order to conserve power in countries such as Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, to name a few.
They never mind that you need electricity to work and you need to work to eat. In Ghana, things are much better - they just cut off electricity without any warning whatsoever or the power fluctuates crazily and the electricity corporation thinks that is entirely normal.
With this load-shedding factor you can rest assured that most developers, especially in Ghana and Nigeria, cannot meet their deadlines.
Higher internet access costs
Internet bandwidth has been my major problem since I decided probably six years ago (2008) to venture into software and web development. There is no special data packages that I know of that are being sold to developers who consume huge amounts of data.
Telecommunication companies forget that the internet possesses a huge amount of informative data that can be used as a powerful tool for boosting economic growth and poverty reduction.
Investment in startups
Most developers set up a tech start-up in search for investors to fund their projects. It is my observation that in Afrika, most people do not understand the Silicon Valley-style of Angel investment and funding.
My observation is also that most so-called tech investors when they fund a start-up they are looking for short-term profits.
For good developers who believe they don't need funding, they work their asses out trying to bootstrap their personal projects. They end up taking up so many odd web dev jobs that will in turn slow down their personal projects and innovations.
The salary factor
It takes a lot of guts and zeal for a good African developer to turn down job offers and internships to pursue his passion.
Once the money sets in, the developer tends to slow down in innovating and instead works hard to better the firm or company he's working in and to gain more promotions.
A web and software developer in Africa earns from $10,000 to $20,000 dollars per annum whereas their colleagues in Europe and the US earns at least $100,000 dollars per year. You could be working hard to build great technologies that can help you rack in tons of thousands of dollars when you are a techpreneur.
Next time if you want to be comfortable with such a job, think again?
I personally turned down a lot of internship and job offers when I came home for the long vacation and I have learned so much and earned so much recognition for a small I.T start-up Oasis Websoft which I started.
I am currently changing from being just a developer into a great business man. Every day I meet great techies who work for huge tech companies but they would have been better off as entrepreneurs building great technologies for Afrika.
Jack of all trades and master of none
It is difficult to find a team who believe in the same vision for them join a startup in Afrika. An Afrikan software developer tries to play all the roles in a company from being the CEO to the company’s publicist. Instead of focusing on one thing and mastering the art.
He spends his time mastering all the aspects of a company. It is sometimes good but it comes with its own banes.
It is also great for a developer to understand all the roles but it will be best if he can focus on one lead role and be a master of it. So in one startup we could have a developer, user interface designer, two top coders and one marketing guy.
New programmers from school
The bottom line is that they are less than half-baked and cannot do productive work. Those who get jobs afterwards land more technical jobs like computer administrators, hardware jobs and so on.
Instead utilizing the methodologies they learnt in programming and so on. Companies who hire them for such jobs do not realize that these guys can actually build software to make their work a lot easy.
It is time for Afrikans to believe that software is actually something we can create for ourselves.
Awards and competitions
There's a difference between winning technology awards & competitions versus winning in the marketplace. The sooner Afrikan developers and startups recognize this, the better.
It is great to participate in code competitions and hackathons to test your coding skills but it is a different ball game if you want to build kick-ass technology to solve real-life African problems and make money along the way.
It is also high time our governments start to stand firmly behind young African men and women developers who are always up at dawn working on something they believe in.
There's a difference between winning technology awards & competitions versus winning in the marketplace.
It is not enough to congratulate them vocally of their achievements, it will be right if you can support them with your resources be it financially, intellectually, skills and much more.
Moral of the story
System.out.println (“ It's not easy being an African software developer. Don't give up and always Ask God for directions. Use the right technologies for the right tasks. The future of the African software industry lies in enabling the scattered bunches of individual hobbyist programmers. Those people who would be coding even if it didn't pay because that is what they like doing. People like that should be given a chance, should be given work to do, encouraged to stick it out. When there are enough programmers around and working as a programmer is a viable occupation that can buy a car and build a house, the industry will have grown up. Until then, it is dog eat dog -- monkey go work, baboon go chop... “);
— By Raindolf Owusu