Recently, my friends were discussing how we went about our studies. One of them – who shall remain anonymous because he is soon going to be a major game-changer in the “entrepreneur” industry, and I do not want a mean HR or investor to use this information against them – elaborated his school days with such nostalgia and I couldn’t help but relate. We’d all attend one of the best universities in Kenya, and I would dare to say (I hope the public relations guy is noting this), the best Engineering school in Kenya. We went in with huge aspirations and had our goals set on Cloud 10. Well, that was short-lived, but it was sweet while it lasted. And it did last. For most of us, two weeks into campus and a course discussion later, the senior students made us realize we were there to have fun, live right and survive exams. So by week three, some of us had started taking up another major. My friend and I took a Music major, Theology minor and part-time classes in what the University offered.
Allow me to do what the movies love, flashback. I should call this: “9 years a Slave”. I will take you back to 2004. After I had completed my form four project, Tamu Dairy Farmers SACCO system, I went for mid-term. Then the assessor came over immediately after mid-term and my friends who came back on time (of course, extending a day was one of the normalcies of select High Schools), had to present my project on my behalf. Later on in 2005, I was still working on the project, trying to push my Pascal program from Menu driven to a GUI. And trust me, it was pushing. That stuff, Turbo Pascal 7.0, was not meant for GUIs. So when this realization became a bit more obvious, I enrolled in a college to study Visual Basic, and it was like being asked to lift two tea cups after practicing with 90kg weights. The course was to take three months and two weeks later, I had completed my ‘project’ – a magazine subscription system. I asked to take the exam and they told me it would have to be after three months. The fee was paid monthly and so I did not know why I would stay paying fees just waiting for an exam; so I left.
A few months later I started working on a school management system to keep myself busy before a lucrative job as a till manager had me spending 12hrs in one position telling stories, and occasionally typing away. I had passed my KCSE – at least everyone else saw it as such – and my parents expected me to take a course in Engineering or Medicine so when it came time to revise my selection, I chose Engineering, albeit as a second option. But everyone else thought the reverse until I was served with admission documents. I had scouted for my school. I had met a lecturer – who would later on teach me Database systems – and he made the institution look good. I believe there should be a commission for him for promoting the institution. So I was convinced I would get to understand how Unix was created in Systems Programming, understand the intricacies of computer workings, and most saw get to use and code a visor in Neural Networks and create bots in Artificial Intelligence. So now you understand my Cloud 10.
I would later on understand that all I needed to do was port my Tamu Dairy Farmers SACCO system into java or .NET and give it a fancy research area like SOAP –based Web Services for cross-language messaging. And that is what I did. My thoughts of doing an interdisciplinary agent-based, pressure-sensor driven traffic light control system went out the window when my Supervisor asked me, “Why do you want to complicate life? Look for something simple”. And such was the fate of my colleague who had a game to develop using DirectX, and an operating system. Probably we were overthinking; or maybe not. It only mattered what the supervisor thought. And he was not going to spend time trying to understand your obsession with “complex” research areas like “Iris detection” using MIT-based APIs.
On July 29th 2010, we were released into the world, raw and clueless. Most of us had been reduced to just looking for a job – any job that would bring in cash. We were not any good for major development power houses, we were not Software Architects, Software Engineers, Programmers or those other fancy titles that we nowadays have learnt to give ourselves as situations arise. One of us later went into Google (but for what he was good at, not what he was taught). The rest of us tried to find a place to start crawling our way through the success ladder.
Taking stock recently with a couple of them that still knew how coding really looks like, I couldn’t help but note the “IT guy” that most of us had become. But I love the resilience they showed; that in spite of the short-changing done us by our universities, we were still trying to make something out of ourselves. All of us were not meant to be coders – that was evident by our second year of Campus – but most of us were meant to be major industry game-changers. I guess we’re still looking for the game. Until then, a man/woman’s got to do what they got to do.