I was in a virtual panel discussion today in Ratoma, Guinea, West Africa. I joined Kolawole, Ousman, Kouame, and Chuck to discuss programming and the technology challenges that are unique to Africa. It was the last session at the Web Dev Week Guinea 2021 conference.
“Why Technology?” The question was asked in French, and translated to English for the benefit of the imports like me. Restating, “How can programming and software and all the technology help me in a primarily non-technical business?” Their example was construction, a business primarily done with labor, not with computers.
It was a brilliantly inspiring question. It helped me see a very different world from my own – in all the best ways. In Africa, we may struggle with water that’s only turned on a few days a week, and electricity that’s only delivered a few hours a day. We may not have smart phones or laptops. A significant portion of the day may be spent gathering essential resources. With a population that may not be connected, how can technology help?
By comparison, in my world smart phones are ubiquitous, bandwidth is (more-or-less) plentiful, and it’s very rare that I struggle with a loss of public services. In my world, technology is also becoming ubiquitous. In my world, it’s common to hear that every business is becoming a software business.
I love how this question puts it into perspective, strips off the layers of language and framework tribes, and gets right to the heart of the matter. Is technology relevant here in Africa?
I arrived at 3 characteristics where software can help. Computers are great at gathering, remembering, and sharing information. These are great skills and have revolutionized most modern experiences.
In the world of education, when we ask for help to learn, the answer is often a web address. 20 years ago, the answer was probably a book reference, and we’d head to the bookstore or the library. 1,000 years ago, the answer was to go talk to the wise person over there.
Computers have done a great job of cataloging, remembering, and helping us discover knowledge. Whether I’m on a blog site reading about it or on YouTube watching a video of how it works, the knowledge is a few clicks away.
In construction, we can leverage IoT devices to assist with site security. We can build in sensors to automatically open doors for those who are abled differently. We can use computers to analyze the building conditions and suggest products or techniques that would lead to a durable structure. It definitely doesn’t replace the people who make intelligent decisions and use their craft to build excellent things. But it can augment them to take out the boring and monotonous parts.
In the medical field, technology has allowed us to gather, remember, and share information about procedures and treatments that can drastically reduce the impact of illness and injury, drastically increasing our potential lifespan and quality of life.
We could enumerate dozens of other business sectors where computers have made it easy to improve. Is software really eating the world? I think so.
I’m so glad I was able to join Ousman, Kolawole, Kouame, and Chuck for this inspiring and informative panel discussion. I’m confident I learned as much as any of us. I was definitely very inspired. Thank you, Mr. Kouame and Mr. Chuck, for providing this space, so we could all learn.