Dis­cus­sion on the future of Soft­ware Devel­op­ment and Innov­a­tion in Kenya Held at Strath­more University

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@iLabAfrica-Strathmore University and the IBM Corporate Services Corps Group held a stakeholders panel discussion on Software development and innovation in Kenya on the 22nd May 2014, at Strathmore University.

Panelists (From Left: Conrad Akunga, Rachael Reinitz and Dr. Joseph Sevilla)

The panel discussion was the culmination of a two weeks training program by the IBM Corporate Services Group on Next Generation Application Development.  It was an opportunity to examine the state of software development training in the country from both the academic and industry angles. Panelists were drawn from both fields and all addressed different issues in regard to what needs to be done to ensure Kenyan software developers keep up with the latest trends and are trained to become problem solvers and not language-specific programmers.

Participants listening to the discussion on software development and Innovation in Kenya

The IBM corporate services group, led by Ben Mann, the program director at IBM’s software division took the stage to explain the future of software development. They observed that application development is continuously changing and developers need to learn a new way of producing software in order to keep up with the demand and competition. In this new model software is developed much faster, deployed quickly and updated continuously to meet users’ needs. Cloud, mobile, big data, social and Internet of things are the new drivers of software development and the IBM team had spent close to two weeks teaching these skills to developers in Kenya.

The panel discussion was attended by a mix of students, software developers and other IT professionals who packed the Strathmore University auditorium to take part in the great discussion. The discussion was a sizzling and engaging session where various issues were raised in regard to challenges facing software developers and possible solutions. One of the challenges identified was that curriculum is hardly keeping up with the continuously changing industry needs. This was pointed out by one of the panelists, Dr.  Joseph Sevilla, the director of @iLabAfrica, and the founder of the Faculty of IT in Strathmore University. Dr. Sevilla observed that this can be improved by involving industry experts in curriculum review and running co-curriculum activities that expose students to training in the latest technologies. Another Panelist, Veronicah Ogeto, head of innovation at Safaricom supported this saying that many graduates take a long time to adapt to industry standards, requiring longer training periods. One of the initiatives Safaricom is running to reduce the disparity is deploying environments where students can learn industry relevant skills while still in university.  For example, Safaricom has deployed a telecommunications infrastructure to help students in JKUAT learn hands-on skills in GSM network operations. While the technical skills are very important, developers also need good communication skills, soft skills and ability to relate to people from different cultures. This was observed by another panelist, Rachel Reinitz-Distinguished Engin­eer and CTO of Soft­ware Ser­vices for Web­sphere, IBM Soft­ware Group. Conrad Akunga an experienced software developer and founder of Mzalendo challenged students to become problem solvers and not to confine themselves behind a particular programming language or platform. He observed that this was one of the major hurdles that software developers had to jump to have real impact in solving the many problems that Africa faces.

BlueMix trainees performing an app demo

At the end of the discussion, the consensus was that the most important thing for students aspiring to become great software developers was to gain skills learn how to solve problems.  Industry, academia and the students were also challenge to foster the right motivation to work for changing Africa.

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