Why Africa Code Week matters

As the South African Heritage Month comes to a close, we look at where we come from, our history both proud and sore. And then we braai because there is nothing we can do about it.

But what we can do is influence what will be celebrated in future heritage months. In the busy business of life, we tend to forget that what we do every day is build the heritage that future generations will look back on. And we can at least try to make them proud. We can work hard to realise all the potential that we have, because if there is something most of us agree on, it is that South Africa has huge potential.

What does a realised potential mean? One thing we are working on is to join a knowledge-based economy and detach ourselves from the dependence on physical resources. Physical resources have a value — the value fluctuates, sure, but it doesn’t scale. When we run out, we run out. Not the best way to create value locally. Also, once we have exported our iron ore and other resources, we remain on the fringes of the global supply chain, which results in expensive imports. Add to that a weak currency and, well…

Ideas generated in human minds that solve problems, however, “virtual resources” and their implementation create not only value and scale, they create ecosystems where even more value can be created. The internet is the perfect example. And what underlies the internet and its billions of real dollars of virtual services? Code, mostly. We always need people who can code. They can create the platforms and the environments where the domestic-owned value creation can happen.

What does that mean, ‘people who can code’? How many professions are affected by coding? Anything from science to engineering to banking, insurance, financial services, healthcare, law, communcations, art, you name it. And I’m not saying that because they’re using computers. Healthcare depends on software for its imaging technologies, to share knowledge and patient data to improve care. Many artists know how to code to create compelling pieces with technological elements, whether a display of lights, an interaction with an audience, etc. Show me any industry and I’ll tell you where to find the coders that make it work.

To explain this better, maybe I need to touch upon some of the less known aspects of coding. What kind of activity is it?

  1. Coding is creative.
    Anythign on the web is coded for example and there are many, many creative websites out there, from eye candy to multi-sensory experiences. Coders created all that.
  2. Coding generates value. 
    Don’t just think apps, think how big data improves business processes everywhere and reduces waste for example.
  3. Coding is problem-solving.
    Software is often where risk mitigation and problem fixing happens in most environments. Coding is taking big problems and breaking them up into small tractable chunks.
  4. Coding is intellectually stimulating.
    Whatever the endpoint you are trying to reach, coding takes the destination and builds a journey, step by step. Each step is a little achievement on its own, a little problem solved and for each little problem solved comes the reward one feels when making tangible progress. It’s a hugely satisfying positive feedback loop. Also, coding means always learning new things. New technologies, environments, new ways of solving problems.
  5. Coding is a skill by itself.
    If you can code, you are more resilient in a fluctuating job market. Because coding is not industry-specific (there are some specialisations, sure, but coders always learn new things), so if one industry stuggles, a coder can go where there are more opportunities. People who can code are more flexible and can potentially have more fun at work, more choice of industry.

Also, I will boldly claim that the best programmers will come from Africa. Why? Because if it works here, it works everywhere.

Africa has challenges: Power, bandwidth, cost of data, cost of infrastructure, intermittent connectivity, lack of foreign trust, etc. Those challenges drive optimisations. African codes are more efficient, more resilient, more secure, more economical in power and data because they need to be more robust in our environments. And this is a very real and important skill.

This is why locally developed value will benefit the whole world and I, for one, want to see today’s African kids take the world by storm. So let’s make Africa Code Week the starting point of a stellar carreer and trajectory for as many young people as possible!

To know more about Africa Code Week events in South Africa, follow @SAfricaCodeWeek. To organise an event, read this!