Education, Internet

Search Engines are not the Problem

I have strong opinions on quite a number of issues and once in a while I love to share them. That is one of the reasons I set up this blog. I understand my opinions are not exactly in high demand (yet) but I can only care less.

Many people have claimed that the advent of Google and other search engines has actually provided ample opportunity for us humans to habitually underutilize our God-given brain power and ability to think. Such claims are basically as a result of what these people have observed and experienced especially during the course of their education. However, I have a few issues with this claim and consequently, I disagree. I do not think search engines are the problem. I think the problem has more to do with an educational system that has failed to evolve with the kind of information resources that are now available and the manner in which humans are now wont to learn using these information resources. I cannot speak for the system of education in other countries but I can speak of that which I happen to be a product of.

I have had most, if not all of my education in Nigeria. Therefore, I understand the system to an appreciable extent. I believe I understand how Nigerian students are expected to learn and the kind of academic challenges that Nigerian students are presented with. I also believe that the educational system here in Nigeria has not evolved to effectively utilize the kind of information resources students now have at their disposal. Considering the status quo, it is quite logical to conclude that Google.com and other search engines are tools that seem to remove the need for students to think deeply and logically about concepts, topics, issues and problems. Of course, why stress your brain when you can just type in a keyword in a search engine and have all the answers to your questions thrown at you? For this reason, many people feel search engines have made things to0 easy for students and are therefore a problem. On the other hand, when one looks at the issue from another perspective, one can also conclude that the facilities provided by search engines and other similar electronic information archiving and retrieval systems actually enable humans more effectively use their mental abilities. Rather than waste time trying to independently formulate the rudimentary basics of a problem, we now have the luxury of gathering these bits of information fairly easily and then using those bits to form more useful theories and solutions using our human faculties. Unfortunately, the old ways of educating people do not seem to agree with this. For instance, it is not at all strange to find teachers in secondary and tertiary institutions in Nigeria still giving out assignments to their students that go along the lines of “List and Explain 5 Problems Faced in Teaching the English Language”. This is the kind of take home assignment you might be given in a course as an English Education undergrad. Frankly, I think it is total crap and should not even be an examination question. This is the kind of thing a search engine is very likely to spit at you after submitting a few keywords. With exercises like these, students are sure to constantly underutilize their reasoning abilities and the search engines should not be blamed for it. I think the question should be rather be something along the lines of “There are problems faced by English Language teachers. As a teacher of the English Language, discuss how you would effectively deal with some of these problems” or at least something similar. My point here basically is that instead of requiring students to produce basic information that can be easily gleaned from a search engine, why not rather require students to use this readily available information to think logically to produce solutions or other useful ideas. This way, search engines such as Google.com would not seem so evil and would actually serve as tools to help students more effectively use their brains.

This is why I think search engines are not the problem. The problem lies with the way our educational institutions, or more specifically, our teachers expect us to learn. With a few adjustments to our formal learning systems, search engines and other easily searcheable information sources would actually enhance the efficiency with which we use our intellectual abilities to learn and generate new ideas. They would not just serve as a means through which we can lazily gather information to throw in some other direction where it is wanted.

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Software, Startups, Technology

Startup Weekend Lagos, Garage48, and the Burden of Another New Startup

I am up at 1:10am September 9 2011 struggling to craft the first few sentences of this blog post. This is one of those times when I just have to make myself write down my thoughts regardless of whether or not I actually want to. In order to get myself into the mood to write this, I have attempted to adopt a strategy that has both worked and failed at different times. I’ve got music playing softly through my surround system and I have switched off all the lights in my apartment. I just hope my country’s reliably unreliable power supply does not leave me contemplating migrating to Ghana in the middle of the night. Now, let’s see how this goes.

Startup Weekend is a startup event much like Garage48. Startup Weekend, like Garage48, is an event where designers, developers, marketers, product managers and startup enthusiasts come together to share ideas, form teams, build products and LAUNCH STARTUPS, all in one weekend. Startup Weekend is coming to Nigeria for the first time ever and this is something that has gotten the Nigerian hacker community excited. Garage48 made a similar debut a few months ago and went a long way in rejuvenating the software tech community over here in Nigeria. Expectations from Startup Weekend are therefore quite lofty and so far, the event seems poised to live up to and exceed these expectations, thanks to the hardwork of its organisers and stakeholders. Kudos to them!

Events like Startup Weekend have a wide range of benefits for those who partake in them. These benefits are so far-reaching that even those who choose to observe from a distance rather than partake also learn one or two things as well. Foremost amongst the various valuable benefits that accrue from high energy hackathons of this calibre is the unparalled opportunity it provides for like-minded people to interact with one another and build long-lasting professional relationships that could potentially result in a super successful startup. In environments such as that provided by Startup Weekend, there is always something new to learn. With the right mindset, any Startup Weekend participant regardless of whether such a person is a developer, designer, product manager or startup enthusiast, can learn valuable new skills that just might prove to be life or career savers at some point in the near future. This is in addition to the important lessons that can be learnt as a result of working as part of a team focused on launching and proving the viability of a new startup all in one short weekend, 54 hours to be more precise. Startups that seem viable stand the chance of getting much needed funding from interested parties. This is intended to spur the growth and movement of the young startups towards their established goals and objectives. Basically, Startup Weekend is the place to be if you have even the slightest entrepreneurial aspirations.

Building a startup is a delightful experience in many ways. As each day goes by, I am repeatedly and menacingly taunted by the continuous realization that building a startup that has any reasonable chance at success is a full time job. I am currently involved in two startups: Adloopz and Flippii. I am passionate about both, and I work with a different team on each of these ventures. Adloopz.com is a social advertising platform that helps advertisers leverage their social networks in order to more effectively reach people who possibly need their services or products. Flippii.com is intended to be a social idea sharing and discussion platform and was launched at Garage48 Lagos earlier this year. Between contributing my quota to keeping Adloopz.com afloat, saving Flippii.com from totally sinking and scaling through my soon-to-be-completed mandatory one year service to my country as a member of the Nigerian National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), I have all but grown weary. And to think this is just the beginning of my startup adventure!!! *sigh*

I was privileged to take part in the Garage48 Lagos event earlier this year and it was one of the defining moments in my budding career as a software developer. As I have mentioned earlier, Flippii.com was birthed at that event amongst other potential startups. Soon after the Garage48 Lagos event, I wrote a not-so-brief treatise concerning the event in whch I opined that the overall success of Garage48 Lagos would be more appropriately measured by what becomes of the various wonderful startups supposedly launched at the event. Based on this, and at this very moment, can we rightly say the event has been a success?

I am excited about Startup Weekend for a particular reason. I am delighted with the fact that it would give skilled developers who for one reason or the other missed out on Garage48 Lagos, the opportunity to launch their own startups in the kind of positive environment provided by these sort of events. These developers have to make the most of Startup Weekend. I should probably be at Startup Weekend right now and indeed, it is one event I have been looking forward to for over two months. I had every intention of being part of the event until I assessed all the startups I was involved in, especially Flippii which was launched at Garage48 Lagos. I cannot authoritatively speak for other startups at Garage48 Lagos, but it is with great displeasure that I admit that the performance of the Flippii team, which I am very much a part of, has been infinitesimally shy of disappointing. However, I still have great confidence in the team and we have great plans for the platform. If only these plans can stop being just plans and do something progressive with themselves. Damn lazy plans! Unfortunately, this seems to be the case for all the teams formed at Garage48 Lagos. Would it not be quite nice if the members of the various teams at Garage48 Lagos got back to work rather than get themselves into another startup quagmire by attending Startup Weekend? If I were a judge at Startup Weekend, my first question for any team member who was a participant at Garage48 would be “What happened/is happening to your Garage48 startup?” and if that team member happens to be the team leader or the person who pitched the idea, the next question would be “What makes you think you would be able to pull this off as opposed to the painfully slow progress of your previous attempt at Garage48 Lagos?”. I sure hope there would be no silence and cricket sounds if these questions are asked at Startup Weekend. Would a VC/angel investor confidently invest in a team consisting mostly of Garage48 Lagos participants? Maybe this was why I chickened out of Startup Weekend, amongst other reasons of course. I am immeasurably saddened that I am now set to miss out on an opportunity to meet great people and learn new things. But the question we all really need to ask ourselves is whether or not we are ready to place the sometimes profitable burden of another startup on our backs. This is not something I think I am ready for. An opportunity to interact with like-minded fellows and learn new things? By all means! The responsibility of having an additional startup venture on my neck in addition to the two I am currently “struggling” with? Hell No!

Considering the many obvious benefits of partaking in Startup Weekend, one might conclude that any level-headed technology enthusiast would happily break a tooth and a leg in a bid to ensure that he or she gets a feel of the event up close. This is in no way an illogical conclusion. However, one can easily see that events such as Startup Weekend are not as much about what takes place during that one weekend as they are about what takes place over the course of the next few months after the event. Just like Garage48, participants at Startup Weekend are expected to make dedicated efforts to mold their startup “seedlings” into viable businesses over time. I believe this is the ultimate aim of events like these. If I am wrong, I humbly stand to be corrected. Building a startup from ground up is a strenuous task and typically demands the highest levels of commitment and dedication to pull off successfully. How many people participating at Startup Weekend are actually ready for this? Considering the fact that many of the participants at Startup Weekend are likely to already have themselves chin deep in some other startup venture, possibly from Garage48, how many of them are actually ready to dip their fingers once again into the steaming cauldron of boiling magma that is another new startup? How does this proliferation of seemingly over-occupied startup founders affect the future growth and development of the startup “seedlings” to be cultivated at Startup Weekend?

It is my sincere hope that every individual participating in Startup Weekend Lagos is doing so because he or she is absolutely sure that he/she is ready to make a commitment to building a viable new startup. This is essential and extremely important if Startup Weekend is going to build solid walls on the wonderful foundation laid by Garage48 Lagos.

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Religion

Could Religion be one of Nigeria’s Greatest Problems?

I have not posted an article in a while. I’ve been really “busy”, well, at least in a certain sense of the word.

My blog posts generally fall into any of these categories: (1) my opinion on an issue, (2) something new I have learnt, (3) something I think people should know, and (4) some other category I probably cannot think about right now. Today, I think it would not be too off the mark to put this post into the “my opinion on an issue” category. And yes! Today, I have an opinion, and I really want to know how many people even slightly agree with me.

Side note: I wote this blog entry on my mobile phone, not because I particularly love typing on a tiny keypad, but because it turns out that at this very moment, electricity seems like a far-fetched dream (Yes! I live in an awesome country where electricity supply is a rare privilege). Therefore, I cannot use a PC with a glorious full-sized keyboard that I can go all “Usain Bolt” on. Well, thank God for mobile Internet and of course, mobile phones with QWERTY keypads.

Before I go any further, I would like to make certain affirmations. Firstly, I am a Christian. I believe in God and I have absolutely no doubt about God’s existence. Right now, as I write this, I probably should even be in Church. I mean, it is a Sunday right? WELL, I’M NOT. So, bite me! Secondly, I am Nigerian. There is really nothing I can do about that. I would really love to confidently say that I am proud to be Nigerian but recently I have been entertaining a few doubts as to how I feel about being Nigerian. However, I am not one to even consider denying my origins. That simply just cannot happen.

Now that I have so “gloriously” reaffirmed my nationality and religious affiliation, I believe I can objectively go into the issue at hand. Nigerians tend to do a great deal of talking and little acting compared to how much talk they engage in. My country Nigeria, has a lot of problems not least of which is the wanton corruption that has eaten into the hearts and minds of almost everyone; those in high places, those in low places, those in “middle” places, and those who just barely exist and do not know where they belong. Most people would readily agree that corruption is the one single greatest problem facing Nigeria. However, not as many people would agree with my opinion that the average Nigerian’s propensity to be wildly and exaggeratedly religious is probably the country’s second biggest problem.

It is not like I have anything against religion as a vital aspect of human existence. It is just that I believe that everything should be practiced within the limits of common sense. Unfortunately, this probably poses another problem since what comprises common sense tends to differ amongst individuals. *sigh*. Nigerians are said to be one of the most religious people on this dying and continuously deteriorating planet. How come we are equally notorious for the corrupted nature of our minds? The irony is just plain mind-numbing.

Once in a blue moon, I talk to actual human beings about some of the things I think of and most of the time I get the same reaction which mostly ranges from calling me a pessimist to labeling me a slightly mentally maligned sadistic little boy. I might be able to deal with the pessimist label but definitely not the latter. :-) The point here is that I strongly believe in accepting reality for what it is, no matter how unpalatable the current situation of things proves itself to be. Unfortunately, reality often presents us with less than palatable circumstances and I have learnt to accept them the way they are and deal with them.

The concept of faith and positive affirmations is a part of many religions, especially Christianity. It is a known fact that in Christianity, faith could be said to be “the proclamation of things that aren’t as though they were”. But does this mean we should constantly deceive our minds into thinking that everything is alright when there are obvious problems that need to be tackled? In my discussions with people, I am often corrected when I make certain negative statements about my country and the situation of things, statements which are obviously true. People are quick to tell me that as a Christian, I should only say positive things. Overt negativity is a terrible attribute to have, but then again, overt positivity is just as dangerous and religion as practiced in this country tends to encourage it. The problem is, how do you make positive solution-oriented moves toward a problem you have so actively deceived your mind into thinking does not exist, many times in the name of faith and/or positivity?

When I started writing this, I came across some tweets on Twitter that caught my attention. Someone on my Twitter timeline observed that at his church, there was absolutely no mention of some of the problems the country was facing, specifically, the recent bombing of the UN building in Abuja and flooding in Ibadan. Typically, one would expect that prayers would be offered for the people who have been distressed by the recent happenings and for the country as a whole. Also, it should not just end in prayers, as is usually the case, but also in a call for members of the congregation to do whatever they can to help distressed people. For instance, there are calls for blood donations for the victims of the Abuja bombing and people should be encouraged to help. Religious bodies here in Nigeria should probably play a vital role in encouraging people to do the little they can to help and alleviate the problems. But no no no, we go to our churches or mosques and constantly listen to how everything is alright and how God is in control. Yes, God is in control but then, there are some things He has also granted us a certain level of control over. I guess that is one of the reasons why he gave humans a brain to enable them analyze situations and make useful, progressive decisions.
Religious leaders and of course followers as well are both to be blamed for the feel-good-centric approach to religion that seems to be prevalent in this country. No one really wants to go to his place of worship to be reminded of the many problems that plague his life. The religious leaders also, on the other hand, do not want to be the ones who stand as a constant reminder of nagging problems. So what do we do? Let’s just pretend they do not exist, right? Most of the time, our places of worship are better seen as a means of escape and a place for refuelling our positivity and problem-denial tanks for the rest of the week. Is this why Karl Marx opined that “Religion is the opium of the people”? I wonder.

I need to bring this blog post to a close, but trust me, I could keep rambling on and on.

The bottom line is that we all want to drink from that cup of illusions that says “everything is alright”. It makes us feel good. Of course, most religious leaders do not help matters. Frankly, I would not blame anyone. Afterall, just like the character Rachoddas Chanchad in the wonderful Indian movie 3 Idiots noted, the heart scares easily and what we need to do is deceive it by making it believe “Aal iz Well”! *sigh*. However, I think this “Aal iz Well” attitude is one of the things that keep the average Nigerian from first of all thinking about what little he or she can do to make things better. Many people who follow the “Aal iz Well” philosophy, or maybe I should call it the “deceiving the mind” technique often forget the fact that the purpose of telling the heart and mind that “All is Well” is basically to enable us muster the courage to tackle the problems we face and is definitely not a call to inaction. Unfortunately, many of us just sit and make positive affirmations, most of the time followed by really thunderous “Amens” and believe everything is alright. Some of us manage to criticize things and do nothing about it. I believe this is one of the greatest problems Nigeria faces and is one of those things that has the potential to leave the country stagnated. This is because Nigeria seems to be mostly made up of citizenry that do not see the need to act in any way (no matter how little), but rather expect God to come down and do something about the state of the country while they sit and sing His praises. We really need to do something about this attitude.

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Uncategorized

So, What Exactly is a ‘Startup’ Anyway?

There are certain buzzwords in information technology that can get quite confusing. One very good example is the term ‘Web 2.0′. Can anyone actually give a short, one or two-sentence definition of the concept of ‘Web 2.0’? I am yet to actually understand what the term ‘Web 2.0′ actually means. :(

The word ‘Startup’ is one of these overly used words that has gotten me slightly confused at one point or the other. The term became popular internationally during the dot-com bubble when a great number of dot-com companies were founded. Given the ease with which it rolls off various tongues these days, it might seem naive to wonder what the term ‘startup’ actually means. What exactly is a startup? Can Twitter and Facebook still be classified as startups? At what point does a company stop being a startup? What is the difference between a small business and a startup? These are all questions with answers that might vary amongst a large number of people.

Most startups begin small, but definitely not all small businesses are startups.

We have all heard wonderful stories of startup companies that have now become multibillion dollar conglomerates (Google, HP, Apple, Facebook, etc.) It is hard to forget the really inspiring stories of how most of these companies were started in garages by one or two “geniuses” who ingested lots of caffeine, never slept at night, dropped out of school and took outrageous risks. These stories are great and have gone a long way in shaping the average individual’s basic conception of what a startup actually is. But this basic conception that most people have seems to be flawed in quite a number of ways.

Such stories tend to give people the impression that any time they see a couple of guys attempting to put up a web site/application or some sort of other contraption together, then that is automatically a startup. Also, the word ‘Startup’ has now become so widely used in relation to computing and technology that numerous other kinds of startups that appear in other settings are simply ignored or not considered to be startups (in the real sense of the word). There are remarkable similarities between small businesses and startups, but that does not mean that any small business is a startup.

So, what is a Startup? In order to adequately define a startup, one has to shake free of the mental shackles created by the most famous startups we have today.

In this blog post by Eric Ries, one finds quite an interesting definition. Eric Ries says:

A startup is a human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.

I think this is quite a splendid definition. Eric Ries first of all makes it clear that startups are HUMAN institutions. He says:

…we so often loose sight of the fact that startups are not their products, their technological breakthroughs, or even their data. Even for companies that essentially have only one product, the value the company creates is located not in the product itself but with the people and their organization who built it. To see proof of this, simply observe the results of the large majorities of corporate acquisitions of startups. In most cases, essential aspects of the startup are lost, even when the product, its brand, and even its employment contracts are preserved. A startup is greater than the sum of its parts; it is an acutely human enterprise.

Eric Ries goes ahead to explain some other very important aspects of his definition. You can check out his blog post here.

One thing that caught my attention in the definition above is the part that talks about “delivering a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty”. In Nigeria today, we find so many Twitter and Facebook clones that want to call themselves startups. Even in the small business scene, we find an ever-increasing number of people providing the same products and/or services provided by everyone else. There seems to be an acute lack of innovation in our tech scene. What we seem to do most of the time is open up new “businesses” that are exact clones of other existing businesses. Businesses of this nature are simply not startups. Eric Ries rightly said:

Startups are designed to confront situations of extreme uncertainty. To open up a new business that is an exact clone of an existing business, all the way down to the business model, pricing, target customer, and specific product may, under many circumstances, be an attractive economic investment. But it is not a startup, because its success depends only on decent execution – so much so that this success can be modeled with high accuracy. This is why so many small businesses can be financed with simple bank loans; the level of risk and uncertainty is well enough understood that a reasonably intelligent loan officer can assess its prospects.

True startups face unknown risks, not challenges that have been surmounted over and over again by thousands of other wanna-be startups. Why do you have to build another social network or “SIMPLEMACHINE” forum when there are other viable services you can offer (in Nigeria especially). This is the same question Aito Ehigie (Pystar) asked in his blog post, Dear Wanna-be Startup Founder…. He also went ahead to outline some viable services that are as yet unexistent or improperly implemented in Nigeria that desperately need a midas touch from adequately skilled people. You might want to check out his blog post
here.

Startups might face unknown risks, but this does not mean that they operate under high risk situations. The risks are just not yet known. A startup might not necessarily be building a “risky” product but products of true startups are often characterized by the fact that is usually impossible for anyone to know ahead of time, just how successful such a product would be. Due to the uncertainties startups face, running a startup is usually quite different from running a traditional business. Apparently, and just like Eric Ries has noted, the most sensational startup failures result when people are running a startup (without knowing it) and are rather trying to run it as a traditional business, failing to recognize what running a startup actually means for the behaviour of an entrepreneur.

The phrase “startup company” is most often associated with high growth, technology oriented companies. It turns out that the growth rate of a company is an important element in determining whether the company is indeed a startup. True startups are notorious for their extraordinary growth rates while adding enormous value to themselves. This is usually achieved through significant outside funding. This outside funding could be provided by venture capitalists and/or angel investors.

Another important feature of a startup is that these sorts of businesses are often TEAM DRIVEN, at least if they are to successfully manage the extraordinary growth rate that is typical of a true startup. A fast growing company needs a vast array of skill sets and expertise and no single individual can hope to manage the growth of a startup alone. Small businesses are typically run by a single entrepreneur and growth rates are usually quite manageable and less than extraordinary.

Eric Ries’ definition of the term ‘Startup’, says absolutely nothing about the size of the company involved. Does this mean that the size of a company has nothing to do with whether or not the company can be said to be a startup? When does a company stop being a startup? Can we still call Facebook or Google startups? Facebook and Google, as far as I am concerned, are definitely no longer startups. A startup typically starts with the intention of building a product or a service. Let’s call this product/service X. Once they build X, they become a business that sustains and develops X further. Once the startup moves from the initial product/service build to having to sustain and maintain it, and once the startup has been successful at figuring out a stable business model, such a startup becomes a business. Another popular opinion is that a company remains a startup as long as it is still growing and only ceases to be one when it levels out and stops growing significantly. I’d say this is true to an extent.

These days, almost every business, especially in the Information Technology sector, seems to be termed a ‘startup’. Whether or not this is wrong or right is not exactly the focus of this article. Nevertheless, the next time you are tempted to use the term ‘startup’, take a moment to think about the qualities of the business you are referring to, and then decide if it is actually the right term to use in referring to the business in question. It could be that the company you are referring to is closer to being a ‘small business’ rather than a ‘startup’.

I am quite aware that there would be schools of thought that quite disagree with what I have said here. Do you agree (or disagree) with these views? Please let me know in the comments section.

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Education, Politics

Nigeria’s Copycat Democracy: Is it Actually Working?

First of all, I am going to readily admit that I am no political expert. I’m just a little boy with a brain that happens to work (at least, most of the time). So these are not necessarily the opinions of an expert or someone who even claims to be even slightly knowledgeable in the area of political science. However, the important thing is that I have an opinion and even more important is the fact that I have the right to have one. :p

Nigeria has had a democratic government for almost 12 years. Arriving at democracy definitely did not happen easily. The country had to go through many military dictatorships typically characterized by brutality and utter disregard for the opinions of the Nigerian people. Finally, we were able to wiggle our way to democracy. But is the system of democracy being practiced in the country actually working? How did we arrive at the kind of system we currently run?

Nigeria is the fourth largest democracy in the world. A VOLUNTARY handover of government from military to civilian rulers is quite unusual in an African setting similar to Nigeria’s. The change in government was quite smooth. Also, Nigeria was brave enough to break away from their colonial constitutional heritage, rejecting Britain’s parliamentary form of democracy and modeling the nation’s democracy after the American model instead. Just like the United States of America, the Nigerian president has a four-year term, with the possibility of a second term thereafter, the national assembly is bicameral (composed of two chambers) with a Senate and a House of Representatives distributed among the states of the population, the independent judiciary has at the apex of its federal structure a supreme court, each state has a governor and a deputy-governor, a unicameral House of Assembly and an independent judiciary. Certain procedures are also similar to the American model. For instance, appointments to the cabinet, the Supreme Court, and ambassadorial posts require Senate confirmation. So, fundamentally, the Nigerian democratic government system can be said to be a copy of the American system albeit with a few very slight differences.

It is said that the choice to follow the American model was basically because, just like Nigeria, America is large, complex and heterogeneous. However, is it safe to say that America and Nigeria are similar enough to share the same type of government structure? Frankly, I believe Nigeria is a much more complex nation both in terms of the kinds of humans that form its population as well as the myriad of sociocultural challenges the nation faces. It is easy to see that most of the “well-to-do” nations of the world have their own unique forms of government that seem to work, at least to a certain appreciable extent. Examples include Germany, China, Britain and Japan. Of course, we have to admit that they also have their own unique problems as well.

But, this is where the issue lies. As a nation that had been independent since 1960, why did Nigeria not just come up with its own UNIQUE democratic system based on about 39 years of experience as an independent nation? It is no news that Nigeria and Nigerians are quite unique in almost every way and usually cannot be said to be exactly like any other nation on the planet. For instance, the vast majority of Nigerians would vote according to ethnicity and religion rather than according to party ideology or individual principles. This can hardly be said of the Americans we so gallantly copied. Americans are known to be quite individualistic in their decisions, especially those that have to do with politics.

Wouldn’t it be logical to have a governmental system that is just as unique as the people it is formulated to govern rather than just a copy of some other model? Unfortunately, Nigeria has not even been successful in copying the American model. Instead, the democratic system we now practice seems to be a poor copy much like a poor Chinese imitation of an American product. This is obvious from the many problems the country is currently grappling with.

I know there would be some people out there who have been able to come up with their own ideas of a unique governmental system for Nigeria. However, it is pretty obvious that such things have been ignored, especially considering the fact that the present system seems to be working for some very few people who have been able to enrich themselves through the present system. Am I alone in thinking that the present political system makes it quite easy to find a large chunk of the national cake to steal? So many possible political appointments to clinch both necessary and unnecessary… Just a thought.

These are the kinds of things I believe our universities are meant for. Universities that have political science departments need to make a significant impact on the country’s politics. Novel political theories and systems that work, and are specifically tailored to the unique complexities of Nigeria are to be found in our universities’ political science departments. If these are not found there, then these departments probably do not deserve to exist. However, there is no denying the fact that even if all this resarch is done and put forward, it is likely to be ignored. This is just simply unfortunate.

During the military era, which many would agree was a terrible time for the country, democracy was touted as the magic solution to the country’s problems. Finally, we found democracy where we had hidden it. But from what we can now see, democracy is not, in and of itself, a solution to a nation’s problems but a mere stride towards possible solutions, and the present form of democracy we practice in Nigeria does not seem to work effectively. This is not to say that making adjustments to the democratic system would be another magic solution, but it might help.

I strongly believe Nigeria needs to restructure its governmental system to more accurately reflect the complex nature of the Nigerian people rather than copy some foreign system that happens to work for some other nation. Of course, this can only be done after a comprehensive study of the things that make us unique as a nation as well as the many challenges we face as a result of our complex nature. The resulting system of government emanating from such a study and a consequent revamp might not be deemed absolutely palatable by the globalization-crazy international community but it might go a long way in helping
Nigeria make giant strides towards being a nation that would be a model for others rather than a hapless copycat.

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Internet, Interviews, Technology

My Interview with Tekedia.com

I just got interviewed on Tekedia. The interview mostly centres around my involvement with adloopz.com, a social advertising platform built by a great team of Nigerian software developers.

Here is a transcript of the interview which can also be found on the Tekedia website.

Tell Us Your Name and Background
My name is David Adamo Jr., I am a 21 year old software/web developer, an avid music and technology enthusiast. I have a first degree in Computer Science from Babcock University, Ilisan-Remo, Ogun State. I am one of the co-founders of the adloopz.com social advertising platform.

I have had quite an adventure with computers and software during the course of my life, and the excitement of this adventure seems to show no signs of waning.

Introduce us to Adloopz and its products and services
First off, Adloopz was founded and is maintained by a team of young Nigerian software developers comprising myself, Tola Anjorin Jr., Adedayo Adekunle, Efe Amadasun and Shope Johnson.
Adloopz is an internet startup. It provides an advertising platform that emphasizes a social approach to the business of advertising.

Primarily, Adloopz helps advertisers and ad consumers get the most out of adverts by taking advantage of their presence on other social networks (like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc.) and the many intricate social connections (loops) created on these social networks by their respective users. This enables advertisers reach a large number of people who share similar interests, thereby increasing the likelihood that advertisers reach their intended audience and convert adverts into sales. By building on the social interconnectedness of people, Adloopz creates an avenue for adverts to be easily shared amongst networks of friends, thus creating a simple yet highly effective referral system.

On a secondary level, Adloopz.com also aims at providing online equivalents of real-world adverts in such a manner that these adverts are easily reachable and accessible anywhere, anytime on the Internet. In the real world, adverts are often seen and consumed on the go and there might not always be ample time to get the desired necessary details from these adverts. Adverts are delivered to us through billboards, television, radio and a vast array of other media.

We might come across billboards while we are in an automobile, or hear an advert on the radio or see a TV ad but the time spent consuming these ads is often dictated by circumstances we cannot control such as advert run time or the time it takes to drive past a billboard. Because of these limitations, we typically are not able to get the most out of these adverts. Adloopz therefore aims to work hand in hand with advertisers to create online equivalents of these real world ads in such a way that they are accessible on the Internet anytime, anywhere and can be downloaded for full consumption by prospective customers and at whatever time they deem convenient.

At the surface, Adloopz can also serve as an online marketplace where individuals and businesses can advertise their products and services while having an opportunity for two-way interaction with their prospective clients. In this way, Adloopz provides a system where advertisers are able to create adverts that can self-regenerate and provides advertisers with the ability to measure the impact of ads in real time (reach, likes, referrals, etc.). Essentially, for individuals, we desire to create innovative ways of searching, accessing and sharing adverts.

Why did you guys create Adloopz and how did you consider that an opportunity?
At Adloopz, we think there is a lot you can do with your friends, and the friends of your friends. This is basically the same kind of enthusiasm you would find in companies like Facebook/Twitter, and this is the same enthusiasm you would find in the Adloopz team. There is no denying the fact that one’s “social graph” is an invaluable tool for dispensing information and for learning about new things. Obviously, the business of advertising is one which knows no end and would definitely continue for as long as people need to sell goods and services to one another, which basically I assume would be forever, except something totally drastic happens to the human race.

With advances in technology and the widespread and ever-increasing acceptance of social media as a valuable tool in marketing strategy, the Adloopz team deemed it necessary to create a tool that would leverage technology and social media as a means of enabling advertisers reach out easily to their prospective clients. Simply put, the opportunities that exist as a result of the social interconnectedness of people on the Internet is almost limitless. Interestingly, this social interconnectedness is constantly on the increase and is not likely to stall anytime soon.

Could you share with us how you came up with the name? We like it
The name Adloopz defines the core of our service and this is one of the reasons the founding team agreed readily to it. The connectedness of people on social networks and indeed the Internet as a whole can be seen as series of intricate loops. So, the Adloopz team simply took a look at this and said to one another, why don’t we just take advantage of these “loops” and get advertisers to “loop” their “Ads” through already existing social networks?. Then, we kind of felt the letter ‘Z’ looked really cute and much more adorable than the letter ‘S’, so we decided to throw it at the end, and that is how we arrived at “Adloopz”.

Specifically, share with us how this company is doing and what your future plans are
Adloopz has been in beta since its launch in March, and has been able to amass quite a number of beta users (on an invite basis), who have given valuable feedback concerning the system. The Adloopz team, based on the valuable feedback we’ve gotten from our users, is working as hard and as smart as it can to implement and refine some essential functionality before the system moves out of beta, and I have to say that is when the fun really starts.

So far, the Adloopz team has received kudos for our work in implementing the system. In other words, reception of and comments concerning adloopz.com have been really encouraging. The Adloopz team has quite a number of plans that are urgently being put in the works. Besides the implementation and deployment of some additional functionality that is sure to give our users a reason to keep logging into the adloopz system time and time again, we are also taking our mobile strategy very seriously at the moment. This is obviously because we realize just how important it is to leverage the popularity of mobile phones as a medium through which services on the Internet are consumed.

Not least among our immediate plans is the monetization of Adloopz. We have come up with a few ways of achieving this while still providing the highest level of value and satisfaction to all users of adloopz.

In the long run, we hope to make adloopz an ubiquitous presence all over the Internet. At this point, I would love to say that having a link to Tekedia’s adloopz profile on tekedia.com would do the blog absolutely no harm.
(all smiled and Editor promised to see how to do that because it will require some coding to make space )

How do you plan to scale this business? It has a promise in Nigeria
This is definitely a very important thing that we need to get right. Every business needs to be built to scale. One of the most important steps we are taking to ensure this is making sure that our business procedures and systems are well-documented. This would enable us access and constantly update information concerning our systems in an organized manner as we grow bigger as a business.

And of course, there are certain issues peculiar to scaling an internet startup and server infrastructure (hardware and software) forms an important part. As our user base increases, we have to ensure that we are able to adequately sustain the amount of traffic we get. Also, establishing a smooth bug fix and product development pipeline is something we have already worked extensively on.

However, at this point I would like to reiterate the fact that in a startup’s life, scaling only becomes an urgent issue after one has gathered a team, decided what they want to build, shipped v1.0 of the product, raised money and demonstrated that people want your product. Until we have achieved all these milestones, scaling is not going to be topmost on our priority list even though I can assure that the Adloopz team is not silly enough to leave if off the list.

What are the opportunities for your business line?
Adloopz is in the business of advertising. All we have done is take advantage of new advertising trends and existing technology. As I have mentioned earlier, unless something really drastic happens to the human race, there would always be opportunities in advertising as long as people keep on coming up with relevant and innovative ways to reach and appeal to prospective clients.

Tell us the challenges your business is facing
Every business faces challenges and finding ways to solve them can be really interesting. I guess that is one vital aspect of being an entrepreneur. Generally, it is not easy doing business in Nigeria as one is faced with challenges, typically emanating from infrastructural problems. This is something most entrepreneurs are familiar with in the Nigerian environment.

During the early development stages of adloopz, the team came up with a large number of powerful features that we hoped to deploy in the initial release. After a lot of hard work, we came to the painful realization that the server infrastructure we could afford could not support all the features we had implemented. Therefore, the current version of adloopz.com that you see is actually a trimmed-down version. So, getting the necessary hardware to enable adloopz reach the heights we have planned for it is posing a major challenge.

Another hurdle the adloopz team is working hard to cross is generating much needed publicity for the tool we have created. However, we are confident that we are moving in the right direction in this regard.

Share with us how you are mitigating those challenges
We’ve gotten quite a number of people who are interested in supporting adloopz. With their support, we are making moves to improve our server infrastructure especially in the area of storage space, so we can fully roll out all the useful features of adloopz we have already implemented. Also, we are making moves to get the word out about Adloopz and Tekedia has already helped us kick start this campaign.

Like I’ve said earlier, mitigating our challenges is one thing the adloopz team finds very exciting.

Your message to other founders and entrepreneurs
I have a simple message for other founders and entrepreneurs. Create a USEFUL product or service, aim to set a standard and do not settle for mediocrity even if everyone around you seems to be nothing much more than average. It is only this way that your contributions can be fully appreciated by those that derive even the slightest benefits from them.

We digress here, you write well and just accepted to become a Tekedia contributor. What will be your first post? Our readers will like to know.
First, I’d like to say I’m honoured to be part of the Tekedia contributing team considering the calibre of people that are already on it. I can only hope I make significant contributions to the growth of Tekedia. I have been having a couple of ideas lately and anyone who has gone through my personal blog at http://www.davidadamojr.com would be able to tell that my blog posts are not solely about programming, software development and technology but span a wide range of issues.

I have been planning to revisit the issue of the mediocrity that can be readily seen in the corporate websites of Nigeria’s universities. This mediocrity becomes so glaring when you make the slightest attempt to compare the web presence of Nigerian universities to that of other well-placed universities in other parts of the world. Therefore, there is a possibility that my first post would have something to do with this. However, it is not a 100% certainty. I just might come up with something else. I’m sorry I am not able to give an absolutely definite answer to this question. One thing I can say is that I intend to put in my best.

Should you become a LGA chair, Governor or President, tell us how you will make technology to flourish in your country
I am Nigerian and I would never deny that fact. Nigeria is a country with a stupendous amount of individual talent.

First and foremost, solving the electricity supply problems we have in Nigeria would go a long way in kickstarting rapid technological development in the country. I have absolutely no doubts about this.

Secondly, I believe the key to harnessing the talents bestowed on the citizens of my country lies in our educational system. Unfortunately, the educational sector of Nigeria is not exactly one that can be copied by any entity looking to achieve great things. Therefore, if I happen to be in a position where I can make a quick difference, I would focus on realigning the priorities of our educational system towards an emphasis on hands-on technical adeptness rather than mere knowledge of verbose theories. Special attention needs to be paid to vocational and technical schools (including polytechnics) rather than the current situation where they are being slightly neglected and held in low esteem.

I strongly believe that an educational system that lays emphasis on hands-on technical skill and home grown technological innovation would go a long way in helping technology flourish in my country.

Thank you
Thank you for having me.

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Hacking, Internet, Politics, Technology

Nigerian Presidential Inauguration and Nigerian Hack Attacks: To What End?

My dear country Nigeria has decided to spend 1 billion naira or thereabout (about 6.6 million dollars) on the inauguration of her President on 29 May, 2011. This is a move that has been widely criticized by quite a number of people, particularly those that constitute the younger generation. This is quite apparent, even on Twitter, where people have taken to their timelines in order to air their opinions on the issue:

@djsoniq: @NaijaCyberHack I personally do not condone the idea of spending 1bn naira on the inauguration of a president dat we’ve had 4 3yrs already!

@greggihenyen: 1M to 1000 top diverse entrepreneurs >> @NaijaCyberHack: Do you know how far 1 billion naira will go in creating emploments for our youths?

Personally, this is something I am really not happy about. However, it is not surprising considering the prevailing culture of fund misappropriation and wastage in this thoroughly blessed country. It is appalling to know that the government would decide to spend flippant amounts of money on events and occasions when Nigeria is plagued with rampant unemployment despite its vast resources and raw technology talent. Apparently disgusted by the Federal Government’s decision to spend 1 billion naira tax payers’ money on the inauguration of the president, a group of crackers (there is a difference between “crackers” and “hackers”: hackers are programmers) who call themselves “NaijaCyberHacktivists” have decided to take up an interesting form of protest. In a letter, posted on one of the websites they momentarily took down, the group expressed their disgust over the huge amount of money slated for the inauguration, and also made certain demands while giving an ultimatum for them to be met. I read through this letter and I was quite pleased to see how well written it was.

In the letter, the “hacktivists” were able to point out that:

To worsen the matter, the FG is to spend N1bn naira on Jonathan’s inaguration. An inauguration is simply an induction into office, the formal transfer of power to an individual AND NOT a costly long-running festival nor a series of open-ended events organized into convoluted books and chapters.

Frankly, I do not see why the presidential inauguration has to be this elaborate and of course I do not exactly see why it has to cost about a billion naira.

It is not just the idea of spending about 6.6 million dollars on the presidential inauguration that has gotten a good number of people dizzy with disgust. The hactivists, as well as other citizens of my dear country, have also made it clear that they want the Freedom of Information Bill passed as soon as possible. The hacktivists have said that if their demands are not met, they would not only take down government websites, but also coordinate cyber attacks on all financial institutions, e-payment companies and telecommunication companies.

Considering the fact that there have been some notable attacks on some U.S. financial institutions, and on Sony networks by other hacktivist groups, the threats of these nigerian crackers cannot be deemed to be entirely empty.

So far, the Nigerian hactivists have already carried out attacks on some government websites including that of NAPEP and NDDC. Apparently, taking down government websites, according to the hactivists, is just the beginning, as they have made it clear that they would stretch their attacks further. Many of their threats, especially those that have to do with financial institutions and e-payment bodies might actually make a strong impact if executed. However, taking down government websites is mostly a waste of time, in my honest opinion. It simply does not achieve much. However, it is probably a good, but basic demonstration of what the hactivists are capable of.

While noting the fact that most of the websites being brought down by Nigerian crackers are barely in use, just what impact do they think they have succeeded in making? I seriously do not think that these Nigerian agencies care all that much about whether or not their websites are “up” or “down”. Afterall, the majority of these Nigerian (government) websites are actually crappy in the first place. As a model in crappy websites, please take a look at http://www.nigeria.gov.ng. It is quite difficult to believe this is supposed to be the official website of the Nigerian government. I remember that at some point, there was said to be some sort of rebranding of Nigeria’s international image. Websites like these make one wonder just what kind of rebranding was being done and how far it actually went. I am not trying to say sincere efforts were not made by the people in charge of the so-called rebranding. What I intend to point out here is the fact that when it comes to the international image of the country, our leaders (in various institutions of the country) simply do not understand the importance of having proper websites. This was the bone of contention in a previous article of mine. A website serves as a doorway for “strangers” and friends who intend to know more about the people who own the website. Why the hell do some people have a hard time getting this?!?! (I dey vex) A website should be given close-to-top priority.

The questions that are yet to be answered do not deviate far from: what would be the end result of taking down government websites, or even coordinating attacks against financial networks and e-payment bodies? Would this make the Nigerian government scamper to meet the demands of the hacktivists? Is the Nigerian government actually responsible enough to make an attempt to listen before there is pandemonium? Is “hacktivism” the right approach to the many issues that plague our governmental system and lack of discipline?

So many questions, but few answers. How disheartening! I am waiting to see how this plays out, and I am pretty sure I am not alone in the spectator stands.

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Internet, Programming, Software, Technology

In Defense of the Call Camp Team…

This is a follow-up blog post on My Thoughts on Garage48 Lagos.

There has been a significant amount of feedback on my blog post about the Garage48 Lagos hackathon. The fact that these discussions are taking place in the aftermath of the event, is a testament to the success of Garage48 Lagos. I am pretty sure the Ghanaians cannot wait to have the Garage48 team within their borders.

A member of the Call Camp team at Garage48 Lagos posted a beautiful exposition in defense of the Call Camp team and idea, and I deem it absolutely necessary to ensure everyone sees it. Here it is:

Lots of hate for callcamp on here! Guys, I didn’t know there was so much animosity :-D (joke)

I’ll have to warn you though: since hardly anyone has defended callcamp on here I’m about to launch into an “in defense of” article. I disagree with much of what has been said here and you can read more on callcamp on this site: http://www.portlagos.com. That said….

Seriously though- I think David should revise the article a little. The callcamp team was able to demonstrate all aspects of the system, and in terms of moving from an idea to a demonstration, I feel we achieved that.

We demonstrated a support call, routing/redirection to agent on mobile + CS broadcast, and callback. One thing you all didn’t know was we were prepared for an audience challenge and would have successfully executed callback to anyone who sent us a support SMS.

We also had logging and customer tracking up and running as well. Another thing you didn’t realise was that the judges gave us a hard time before the demos even launched- we were forced to demo/pitch the product over and over again and they seemed concerned that we were going to use a ‘scam’ approach and just make some fake phone calls.

As a result, we were under tremendous pressure to perform, and as you rightly said, its’ a pretty lofty idea and no-one expected us to get it working at all. The grand prize I believe was a reflection of that: A project such as that just does NOT start working in 48 hours and to be honest there was a lot of luck involved. You can take a look at a rough overview of the story here: http://www.portlagos.com

One reason why you would not see anything on the website is: we did not demo (or build) agent signup- and agents will be the primary users of the website. The real meat of the product is on the CSU side (which we had running for message tracking and CS broadcast) and on the agent side (which we had fully functional, with HTTP notiifcations still working even till today) on the android side.

Also, you should not belittle the work of our visual designer (Deji..an awesome guy!) who demonstrated an flair for clean and eye-catching presentation. As developers we have a tendency to look down on aesthetics but I can assure you- half of the victory of callcamp was assured when the audience sees the glossy JPEG on the landing page and the JQuery stuff we had on the menu page, even if functionality there was low.

Our backend developers, Dami and Ibrahim demonstrated a level of competence I find really hard to corellate with what I have gotten used to in Nigeria. Dami had to wipe and restart several times- he actually had agent signup modules up and running on day ONE, and we had to cut it out because it was outside scope and other infrastructure would not have been possibnle to complete in 48hrs. Several times he had to throw code out and start from scratch.

Ibrahim had to learn and code up a twilio API engine with a tight deadline: we didnt give him marching orders till the very end. And I had to condemn an entire SMS server architecture I built for the android app and rebuild to use JSON and web services on the last day. Ibrahim was awesome about syncing up the twilio API with the app and in the end we had notifications, broadcast, callback up and running. The mentors witnessed all this firsthand and I’m sure whatever other factors that were there, those guys would have earned us points for effort. Not to mention the fact that Temi had her vision for the project so concrete and clear that anyone she engaged on it had no problem grasping what we were doing in no time at all. And what about buzz? Kole, our marketing guy worked miracles as far as buzz was concerned and I found myself swamped with messages asking what callcamp was…. and even then I found myself overwhelmed by the wave of audience support that followed.

In the end, does it really matter that callcamp won? Honestly I feel the real reason why there is no prize for the winner is that ALL teams efforts are recognized. Personally I have a softspot for three projects: City explorer, parkbench and mycash. All three are projects I would not have regretted being a part of, and would not begrudge a win. As for the others, I cant think of one that is not an excellent idea, and I cannot judge the level of functionality anyone achieved because as far as I am concerned, as a forum for bringing out the best in all Nigerian developers, garage48 was a massive success.

What we need to do now is forget about the competition aspect of things and get to work. The spirit that led us to even bother to work on callcamp was “Nothing is insurmountable, and oyinbo nor get two heads”. We ignored “difficulties” and forged ahead with whatever seemed possible to do in the short term. When we are done with callcamp, you may not recognize it (we may abandon some ideas that end up not being workable, we may put in stuff that makes more sense in nigeria such as SMS-initiated chat-based support…etc. For example imagine using BBM as a support platform? Imagine being able to have a BBM session created between you and a savvy user of your chosen technology after sending one generic SMS? With the infrastructure we have ALREADY on ground, that is possible with a single additional plugin)

Sorry to go off like that, but the truth is, there’s more to callcamp’s success than Temi’s excellent presentation skills! Peace

It is a pity that most people (including me), did not get to see the intermediate demonstrations made to the Garage48 mentors by the Call Camp team. Maybe if we did, we would better appreciate the amount of work the Call Camp team seems to have been able to get done in 48 hours.

The Twilio API seems to be the same one used by Opeyemi “Kehers” Obembe in building Goahoy which has existed for a while now. A similar service worthy of mention is Chatslab developed by Klein Devort. So, the question of whether or not Call Camp is technically feasible (in terms of programming) is actually a close-to-stupid one.

Basically, I have almost no doubt in the ability of the Call Camp team to ace the technical side of the Call Camp project judging from the amount of work they seem to have already done, as stated in the detailed statement by Wale Awelenje. Furthermore, judging from the wealth of experience the members of the Call Camp team have been able to acquire before now (judging from their profiles on their blogs/websites), it would be easy to come to the conclusion that technical ability is not lacking in the team.

I mentioned in response to one of the comments on my initial blog post about the Garage48 Lagos event, that the difficulties faced by Call Camp are not just technical. In fact, the technical aspects are probably not as formidable as the business aspect of things. I would also be quick to note that Call Camp would either make it really really big, or would become a great idea executed in a less than stellar fashion. Call Camp fundamentally has a lot of smart decisions to make in adjusting the service as necessary in order to match the technical and business reality it faces.

After all is said and done, I really cannot wait to see Call Camp become a full working service. The fact that they are getting so much attention is actually a possible sign of good things to come. It has its downsides though. Expectations are lofty.

“Well done” to the call camp team. Please keep working. Keep making the Nigerian tech community proud. And for the Garage48 team, thanks for giving us the opportunity to showcase a little bit of what we can do, as well as learn a huge number of valuable lessons that can only be learnt within the structure of an event such as Garage48.

Wale Awelenje, a member of the Call Camp team (and the same person who came up in defense of the team’s hardwork), has a great article on his experience working on Call Camp at Garage48 Lagos. You should check it out here.

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Internet, Programming, Software, Technology

My Thoughts on the Garage48 Lagos Event

Garage48 is a “hacking” event that aims at bringing programmers together to pitch innovative ideas and then go from idea to working service in 48 hours. At the end of 48 hours, teams are expected to have come up with a working service based on their initial ideas. For the first time ever, the Garage48 event came to Africa, specifically Lagos, Nigeria.

I am typically not one to take part in these vents, especially because I do not live in Lagos. However, I was opportuned to take part in the Garage48 Lagos event and I have to say I had a great time.

Considering how difficult it is to organize such an event in Nigeria and in a city such as Lagos, it is necessary to say that the Garage48 team really did quite a good job in making sure the event became a reality. I particularly liked the food at the event ;-)

Garage48 Lagos gave me the opportunity to meet and work with great people including Ahmad Mukoshy, Ernest “Namzo” Ojeh, Jesse Oguntimehin, Damilare Akinlaja, Ayo Olaniyi and Akinwande Adegbola. We were all part of the Flippii team at the event. This team was an awesome one made up of people with undeniable individual capabilities.

Namzo, Mukoshy and I Hacking it out at Garage48 Lagos

I had met Ernest once before Garage48 Lagos. Ernest “namzo” Ojeh is a superb UI/UX designer and co-founder of devedgelabs. He created the beautiful Flippii interface showcased at Garage48 Lagos. I do not think I have ever worked with a faster UI/UX designer, and the interesting thing about the way he works is that you hardly ever see him doing it and being serious about it. I do not know how to explain his work style any better than this.

Jesse Oguntimehin is one of the most energetic and enthusiastic individuals I have ever met. He always had a way of infusing a great deal of energy into the team. I would love to have a person like him as a marketing partner any day, any time.

At Garage48 Lagos, Ayo Olaniyi pitched an idea very similar to a startup I co-founded (adloopz.com). After he pitched his idea, I went over to him to tell him about adloopz and we somehow ended up on the same team working on Flippii. Working with him, I could see that he was a soft spoken, smart and business savvy fellow.

Damilare Akinlaja is someone I had met and spoken to at length before Garage48 Lagos. He has a strong passion for mobile technology and mobile software. I have met only a few other people with the kind of willingness to learn and experiment with new technology that Damilare has.

Akinwande Adegbola was the Android guru at the Flippii team. One thing I noticed about him was that he was not one to talk very much. However, his willingness to get things done was absolutely evident from the way he got things done.

Have you ever had a mentor younger than you are? For me, Ahmad Mukoshy is one (He might be 21 just like me, but I am slightly older than he is, by a few months). Before Garage48 Lagos, I had never met him. But without ever meeting him, I had learnt one important lesson from the things he had achieved: IT IS NOT HOW MUCH YOU KNOW THAT REALLY MATTERS, BUT WHAT YOU DO WITH THE “LITTLE” YOU KNOW. That said, I was glad to finally meet and work with him.

After the Flippii team was formed, it was interesting to see tweets on Twitter about how it was unfair to have all of us in the same team.

@harkinlarjar: RT @mambenanje: @harkinlarjar who are your team mates ? namzo mukoshy wande davidadamojr and two product managers

@mambenanje: @harkinlarjar waooh you guys are cheating… why take the best and put in one team ?

@mayorbrain: @namzo, @davidadamojr and @mukoshy in the same team? Now that’s just unfair to the others. #smh #garage48

@mukoshy @mayorbrain hahahaaa not really, other teams also got geeks ;)

A few people were of the opinion that the team was a little bit too high powered and indeed a good amount of red bull and coffee went down human drains on this team.

There was no denying the fact that this was a team full of technical power. However, I think this resulted in a team that could not focus on effective presentation and communication of the Flippii idea instead of focusing on technical details. It later became apparent that technical ability was really not what was going to make a team come out tops at Garage48 Lagos. The final results of the Garage48 event made it pretty obvious that the metrics for judging the demos definitely did not center around technical skill and use of innovative technologies but rather on strength of idea and the “wow factor” resulting from sound presentation of a strong idea.

The fact that the teams at Garage48 Lagos were not provided with accommodation for the 48 hour duration of the event made it seem more like a Garage30, since we really did not have a 48 hour coding marathon. Teams could not be together during the entire 48 hour period and I believe this affected the quality of demos shown on the Garage48 Lagos live demo day.

As I have earlier noted, I was part of the Flippii team. I sincerely think Flippii was the most misunderstood idea at Garage48 and was believed to be a platform for Nigerian software developers to share their ideas and get feedback. At least, this was how it was described on the Garage48 Lagos “projects” page. Flippii is a whole lot more than this.

Flippii is a software platform that puts systems in place to encourage a culture of idea sharing, collaboration and innovation amongst different people around the world, between individuals and companies, or just among employees within a particular company (intranet or “cloud”-based). It just a matter of time before Flippii is launched fully. Flippii is currently host here and is still under active development.

There were many great ideas pitched at Garage48 Lagos. My team shared a room with the MyCash team. The MyCash idea centered around expense tracking and enables people track how and where they spend their cash. MyCash is a great idea and had a great team even though they once came close to throwing blows at each other. Personally, the MyCash idea is something I had made plans to work on before Garage48 Lagos but somehow never got around to doing so.

The concept of MyCash would make for an excellent mobile application. Little wonder the MyCash team won the best mobile app category at the event. I am hoping against hope that the MyCash team would give me the devices that Nokia promised them. :|

Another interesting idea was Extramiles which aims to make it easy for volunteers to signup for volunteer service. I think this is a really noble idea. The Extramiles team won as runners up for “best execution”.

Cook ‘n Chop was a beautiful idea that proposed a solution that creates an online database of Nigerian food recipes. These recipes would be available in text, video and audio. I like the angle taken during the cook and chop presentation which made the Cook ‘n Chop project seem like the saviour that had come to save Nigerian food recipes that were dying away. I really would not want my grandmother to die and be buried without passing on those magical food recipes of hers. Cook ‘n Chop is a superb and realistic idea and the team would have no insurmountable challenges getting it to a working service in very little time. The Cook ‘n Chop project was a fantastic one from many perspectives. It was excellent because of its focus on local content and it is good to know that the Google representative at the Garage48 Lagos event readily acknowledged this fact. I see Google supporting this project because it might become mutually beneficial for both parties.

Call Camp came out overall winners at Garage48 Lagos. Call Camp aims at taking away the problem of inadequate and inefficient customer care personnel by enabling individuals serve as customer care agents wherever they are and at anytime. The Call Camp idea sounds excellent and “heavenly” in theory but in practice, the difficulties to be encountered are a little less than exciting. The jury, in my opinion, was a little short sighted (too farsighted??) or rather over-excited, and disconnected from the realities of Nigerian society and the Nigerian business climate in judging Call Camp overall winners of the event. Or maybe they were just being visionary :s

“Visionary” is one way to look at the call camp idea. The problem is Call Camp has so much to do in order to make their service a reality. They have a sh*t load of thinking and implementation to do. After 48 hours, on demo day, call camp was as far from a working service as they could ever be, not due to laziness or anything of the sort, but simply due to the realities of putting up such a system. The demo day presentation of Call Camp is here.

I believe the concept of Garage48 is to achieve a useable service in as little a time frame as possible. I do not see myself becoming an ad hoc customer care agent using Call Camp anytime soon. Not because I do not want to be, but because the service is probably not likely to function anytime soon. Basically, I am quite pessimistic about the ability of Call Camp to become a fully working service in the next 48 weeks.

If the actual idea of Garage48 does not center around getting a full working service in as little time as possible, then definitely Call Camp deserved to be overall winner of the event due to the strength and innovativeness of the idea as well as the undeniable existence of the problem they are trying to solve. Call Camp got the idea part of Garage48, but the working service part??? I’d like to see them make that happen. Frankly, I am not a believer in Call Camp for Nigeria (especially considering the fact that the angle they want to attack from is the telecommunications industry in Nigeria, MTN, Airtel and the like). It might be feasible in a few other countries with more stable infrastructure, but probably not in Nigeria.

For me, the fun part of Garage48 is the part where we get to see which of the applications showcased at the event gets to live up to expectations in the long run. Even though all the teams at the Garage48 Lagos were short-term winners in one way or the other, we just have to wait and see who the long-term winners are. This is something only time can reveal.

A member of the Call Camp team, Wale Awelenje, has posted a beautiful comment in defense of the team. It has spawned another interesting blog post here.

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Internet, Programming, Technology

How Important is Typing Speed to your Ability as a Programmer?

Jeff Atwood said in one of his blog articles:

Coding is basically just typing. So if you want to become a great programmer, start by becoming a great typist.

I completely and absolutely agree with him.

I am not YET a GREAT programmer, but I have a great deal of pride in my ability to type about 108 Words Per Minute (WPM). I owe all that to my father. When I was a kid, while my peers played their video games all day long, my father made me sit in front of a typewriter, with a typing manual and made sure I learned to type. It all seemed like some sort of punishment back then. But now, all I can say is “Thanks Dad!”. My ability to type properly and efficiently has become one of the most invaluable skills I possess, in my humble opinion.

I have to commend the university I attended for the fact that it made keyboarding compulsory for almost every student. However, my university made one vital mistake in exempting computer science students from keyboarding classes. If keyboarding classes are important to any set of people, it is the computer science students. Steve Yegge in one of his blog posts made this statement:

I was trying to figure out which is the most important computer science course a CS student could ever take, and eventually realized it’s Typing 101.

This is exactly my point. It is a good thing that my university decided to “force” make the majority of students take typing classes, but they made a major error in exempting the CS students.

Many people might disagree with my belief (and indeed Steve Yegge’s and Jeff Atwood’s) that the ability to type properly and efficiently is absolutely essential to the programming profession. I’d like to see a programmer who codes without his keyboard. I cannot really take a “hunt and peck” typist seriously as a programmer. I know as programmers, we might not code at the speed of thought, so therefore our typing speeds might not exactly translate to a drastic reduction in software development time. However, an efficient typist, would always,in one way or the other make a better programmer in many ways. In fact, programming is not just about writing code. As a programmer, you are always in a position to type one thing or the other. This could be the documentation for your software, an e-mail explaining one thing or the other to a fellow programmer, or some other piece of documentation. My point is, a good programmer has to undertake a huge amount of typing in order to get his work done effectively. So, as a “hunt and peck” typist, I just wonder how much you would be able to achieve. Even if a programmer does not exactly know how to type, he might be able to write a few lines of code and get a basic app running. But just imagine how much such a programmer would hate commenting his code and I am sure we all know just how important generous and well placed comments are in programming. To make matters worse, I am pretty sure such a programmer would hate creating any form of external documentation. Software might be spectacular, but without proper documentation, it is almost useless.

In the little experience I have had as a software developer, I often find myself having to explain concepts to other people on the Internet using Instant Messaging (IM) or even e-mail. Of course, I do not write with a pen on my computer screen; I HAVE TO TYPE IT using a computer keyboard. Judging from my own experience, I believe most programmers find themselves in this same situation. So, what happens when a “software developer” does not type efficiently? It seriously affects his ability to communicate effectively with team mates or just about anyone on the Internet that has anything to do with his ability to effectively produce software. I believe communication with other people is a vital aspect of the software development process. Personally, I have serious problems communicating with programmers on the Internet who have serious issues with typing! I guess the programmer who cannot type would just have to relegate himself to hallway discussions. Unfortunately, most software development teams hardly ever share the same hallway!

Jeff Atwood goes ahead to say that:

When you’re a fast, efficient typist, you spend less time between thinking that thought and expressing it in code.

Many of us are familiar with the following scenario. You decide to go into a room with an original intention of doing something in that room but by the the time you get there, you completely forget what brought you there. One way of looking at this is that in the time interval between moving from your original location to your destination, you have forgotten the reason for which you got up in the first place. In essence, because of the time you have spent trying to express your original intentions, your body and mind has forgotten exactly how and what to express.

This same scenario happens when writing code. There are times when you have a particular idea and due to the time interval between thinking about it and expressing it in code, that particular idea drifts away or loses its original efficacy.

However, I have to make one thing clear. I am not saying that every programmer must go through formal typing classes. But at least, every programmer should be able to type efficiently. I mean, if you actually claim to be an efficient programmer, then you must have spent quite a significant amount of your time working with a computer keyboard long enough to buy you a near-destructive ability on the keyboard even if you do not follow all the formal processes involved in typing. These days, learning to type is pretty easy. Despite the fact that I’m still pretty young, I still had to learn to type using a manual typewriter and absolutely no software. But today, we’ve got software like Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing and Typing of the Dead to teach us how to type using fun methods that are really not as boring as the old ways. In Typing of the Dead, you actually get to learn to type by shooting zombies!

I’d like to end this article by quoting the closing remarks of Jeff Atwood in his own article:

There’s precious little a programmer can do without touching the keyboard; it is the primary tool of our trade. I believe in practicing the fundamentals, and typing skills are as fundamental as it gets for programmers.

It is empowering being able to type almost as fast as you can think.

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