Thursday, February 22, 2007

Journey of an Afropreneur: Managing, Bears and Rails


Managing myself and others

I count a total of 5 days since my last post I guess I really haven't had much to say even though a lot has happened.I'm currently leading/managing the development of our main products and that has been and continues to be a challenge for the very reason that I have to shed the "coder" image and become a "manager" in the words of Al I need to become more corporate and less of operational. Almost 5 years of web development you realise that writing code is easier then getting a contractor to work and deliver a product that meets the standards your business is targetting. I now have to organise meetings, deliver progress reports, develop product standards, formulate budgets, negotiate costings and sell the idea to new people whom we would like to join the team. A herculean task whichever way you look at it considering that managing myself is already hard enough, I am always tempted to just push away the developer of our current product and get my hands dirty, that's the natural thing for me, but I am always reminded by Al that I am now a manager and I have to lead and manage people, try telling that to a person who gets excited when they hear such words as Python, REST, Web Services and you'll see what I mean.

It constantly is a series of personal improvements on my part as I try to learn and put into practise at the same time the lessons of being a manager. I keep focusing on the bigger picture and try to focus on my strengths while constantly working to overcome my weaknesses. I must admit that occasionally I do give into my weaknesses almost like a little child who can't control their desire to consume large amounts of candy, I find myself spending hours trying to learn a new language or to brush up on those I touched a long time ago, instead of seeing it as a chore or a duty that I must fulfill I view it like a retired athlete who keeps on going to the track to practise even though they know that they have now become a coach.


"Why would you put yourself through the agony of learning a new language?" I think because it keeps me fresh and upto speed, If we ever get a client who insists on having an web app developed in a certain language I'll be in a better position to quantify how long it will take, how many developers we need and how much it will cost based upon my experience and knowledge and that isn't such a bad thing considering that I now have to focus on the "bottom line".

StocksKenya.com goes "Bearish"

On another front, our favorite stocks portal www.stockskenya.com seems to have gone down. I'm informed by reliable sources that it's a database issue which will be resolved soon. I hope they address the issue fast enough since they do have a loyal fan base which I'd hate to see die.

RoR-Sailing using Rails


I'm not sure that's a fitting heading but for now it will do, I spent a couple of hours last weekend reading up and trying out RoR Ruby on Rails. I had earlier on started reading Agile Web Development with Rails and was eager to put what I'd learned into practise, so I decided to develop a blogging application just to see how far I could go. It really is interesting to see how Rails makes it so easy to do stuff with the minimum effort. Hopefully when am done I will put it up so that my people can see :-)

Strategising

On tuesday we had our first full day strategic meeting at MultipleChoices, demanding on the mind but necessary for any successful business.

Let's see what the next few days will offer

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Journey of Afroprenuer: Office,Laptop and Security Issues

This past tuesday I had a meeting with Al and Charity, a sought of brainstorm right before Al and I headed for a presentation at one of the Blue Chip companies. We usually meet at the 5th floor in a cafe at Teleposta Towers which happens to be where the General Post Office and where the Ministry of Trade & Industry is located there. Since we needed to review our concept and presentation I had carried the laptop with much trouble all the way from where I alight to the meeting point, Al arrived late despite the fact that he had insisted that I arrive at 10am sharp!!.

The meeting started at around 10:45am and I proceeded to remove my laptop from the safety of its bag and place it on the table so that Charity could look at the document Al had come up with, while into the discussion of the contents of a document a young man approached us and informed us that we couldn't continue to use the laptop for the following reasons:

  1. It would turn the cafe into an office.
  2. Security....yes my friend no explanation on the security aspect.

Now your probably wondering how we could turn a whole cafe that occupies half of the 5th floor into an office during a short meeting consisting of only 3 people!!??..But what left as all baffled was the whole "Security" issue which the young man so no reason to explain, he informed us that he was the manager of the establishment. By the way there is no Wi-Fi hotspot located in the building and even though we had no intention to access the internet it was shocking that a building that represents the GOK (Government Of Kenya) move towards the 21st century and its intention to embrace technology would not allow us to use a laptop for a short meeting.

It makes one question how serious the government is towards embracing technology particularly internet access for the masses.

We proceeded to shut down the PC and leave the premises with questions still lingering in our minds.."What is this security thing?"...

Monday, February 12, 2007

Journey of an Afropreneur:Loads of Rails, A bit of Java and a couple of methodologies

It's been one of those rare weekends where I get to code and learn at the same time but with my car down for the count I didn't have a choice, combine that with the fact that our weekly management meeting for MC was cancelled it gave me the perfect opportunity to read up and stack up on a few new things plus brush up on the old. With all that free time I decided to pick up Agile Web Development with Rails and just go through it and pick up a few concepts about rails, that proved to be very exciting for the main reason that the Rails framework really makes web development very easy.

At some point I decided to brush up on my Java just a little bit by opening up a few of my ebooks, I decided to start with Struts for Dummies just to refresh my brain on the workings of Struts that proved to be a bit of a bore (the configuration details are just to much sometimes) so I headed over to Agile Java Development with Spring, Hibernate and Eclipse which was way better then the Struts book but still so much to learn and so little time. It was while I was reading this book that I began to really get interested in Agile Modeling and Extreme Programming (If you don't know what they are I suggest you head over to the following links and read up on them http://extremeprogramming.org/ and http://agilemodeling.com/).

I sometimes get the feeling that after all that learning when it comes to a project I'll always go for the language that I have more experience with, in this case that will be PHP, but of late I've been thinking that if I never experiment with any of my new projects I'll never acquire the experience I need. May be I should just stick to PHP and leave the rest for everyone, you tell me..

Journey of an Afropreneur:Loads of Rails, A bit of Java and a couple of methodologies

It's been one of those rare weekends where I get to code and learn at the same time but with my car down for the count I didn't have a choice, combine that with the fact that our weekly management meeting for MC was cancelled it gave me the perfect opportunity to read up and stack up on a few new things plus brush up on the old. With all that free time I decided to pick up Agile Web Development with Rails and just go through it and pick up a few concepts about rails, that proved to be very exciting for the main reason that the Rails framework really makes web development very easy.

At some point I decided to brush up on my Java just a little bit by opening up a few of my ebooks, I decided to start with Struts for Dummies just to refresh my brain on the workings of

Thursday, February 08, 2007

650$ Madaraka or 100$ Green PC

One of the initiatives the Kenyan government has embarked on is the development of a high quality, affordable and locally assembled PC to wade of the influx of clones and give people access to affordable computers. I guess the reasoning behind it is that all the internet connection in the world isn't worth anything if people can't afford PCs to access the facilities. The computer is named Madaraka (Independence in Swahili) and is a collaboration consisting of 3 educational institutions and the government, a week before the expo began the Permanent Secretary had made it known that the PC would sell for about 200$ which made a lot of sense, considering that a clone can be acquired for about the same price and with a focus on functionality rather then aesthetics this would prove to be a good even not better alternative.

So yesterday while at the expo I headed to the Madaraka stand and to my dismay I found that the PC was retailing at price of Ksh40,000 about $650USD which was a far cry from the $200 USD (ksh15,000 equivalent) I had so hoped for, my sentiments were later on echoed by a Professor from USIU(Kenya) during the afternoon session. The specifications of the machine consisted of 192MB RAM (apparently they can add that if you ask), 15inch TFT LCD and I think 40GB hard disk although I need to confirm that. The question going through my head was "Why is Madaraka so expensive?" the PS later explained that it was a high quality PC with a very good warranty.

Today while going through my mail, I stumbled upon a post that really got me excited, the post was entitled High Security for $100 Laptop when I read it further I learned that there was an initiative to provide cheap $100 PC to children all over the world (Africa being a major beneficiary). The PC is green in color and is aptly named Green PC :-)

A left wondering will Madaraka do it for us or should we just wait for the Green PC?

Check out the specs here:
http://www.laptop.org/laptop/hardware/specs.shtml

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Journey of an Afroprenuer: ICTExpo 2007

So today was a rather interesting and tiresome day, I was at the ICTExpo 2007 being held at the KICC(Kenyatta International Conference Center). The ICTExpo 2007 is meant to be a showcase of Kenya as a region of ICT and a hub for outsourcing. The government is eager to position Kenya as the prime destination of ICT investment in the region, and several initiatives such as submarine fiber cable is one such initiative, think of it like this, it costs a call center in Kenya $7,000 USD to purchase 2MB of bandwidth yet the international rate is about $200USD for 2MB, this means that it's almost not cost effective to build a business whose backbone is internet bandwidth.

The event was scheduled to start at 8am, but true to my nature I reached there at 10am sharp just in time to watch the Safaricom CEO Michael Joseph aka Sir Mike finish up on his speech which from what I got had something to do with lowering of taxation on calls from the current 26% to 16%, in his view this would translate into more people calling and as such spending more money which would then cover the 10% reduction in tax collection Government Wins, Consumer Wins and Private Enterprise wins. Next on the podium being introduced by the ever imposing Permanent Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Information and Communication, Dr.Bitange Ndemo(a true ICT visionary) was the Microsoft Africa Director, Dr.Chieck Diarra , who went on to tell us that Microsoft was behind us all the way as a country and as a continent as we venture to use ICT to change lives and empower societies. The speeches would not be complete without the Minister of Information and Communication, Mutahi Kagwe, putting in his 2 cents on the matter.Eventually it was concluded by the Chief Executive of Telkom Kenya Eng.John Waweru, who assured as that good things were on the horizon.

The tea break gave all of us the much needed opportunity to schmooze with the captains of industry and I did my best to exchange cards and build contacts with a few people. We then headed to the exhibition hall where we had the opportunity view various products and services being offered in the market. One particular stand caught my eye, the OpenSource stand which featured certain opensource products, what caught my eye was the presence of Google and a CD they were offering called OpenCD which contains open source software, I've just inserted into my machine and it contains some really good stuff like OpenOffice, 7Zip and a couple of other applications. There was also the Madaraka Stand, which was a showcase of the first ever locally assembled branded computer, the computer was developed in collaboration with Strathmore University, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, and KCITI.

The afternoon session proved to be the most interesting when different speakers talked about what they were offering. The Permanent Secretary outlined the governments plan and vision and asked us to come on board as entrepreneurs and partners. All in all it was a good day well spent.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Journey of an Afroprenuer: Dreams, Determination and Fear


So today was my 1st day since I resigned on Friday 2nd February 2007, and the realisation that I had no guaranteed source of income began to sink in. I don't know how to describe it but it's a combination of excitement and fear as I realised that for the 1st time in a long time I wouldn't be going to an office and putting in the hours and then demanding a salary at the end of the month. The last time I was unemployed was back in early 2002 when my internship had ended and I was left asking myself "Where do I go next?" but that didn't last for long because after a week I was able to land a job at a small design firm where we worked like the survival of mankind depended on us.

A lot of people will tell you that always have a plan before quitting your day job to pursue your dreams, but that isn't always the case because if you look around you realise that its taking you more effort to come up with that plan then it is to pursue your dreams. In the last few days since I resigned many people have asked me "Did you have something better?" and I always answer YES!!becuase nothing can be compared to waking up every morning in pursuit of a dream, nothing can replace passion, even when faced with the realisation that you might not be able to feed yourself in the next few weeks you push on.

I believe am up to the challenge, and I will succeed not because am smarter then everybody else but because I see where I am and where I want to be. I am surrounded by people who question my decision but am also guided by people who understand my decision and are willing to back me up. I am determined to see this to the very end.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Journey of an Afropreneur: YouTube vs Viacom


It seems that Youtube (bought by google for $1.65 billion) isn't rubbing some people the right way. We all know that youtube contains thousands of pirated videos, in fact just a week ago FOX sued Youtube because it aired episodes of the famous 24, so it was no shock when I read a post on ZDnet that Viacom also wanted Youtube to pull down pirated clips.

Read it all here:

Viacom to YouTube: Take down pirated clips