Developers Are An Important Part Of The Data Science And Smart Cities Conversation In Zimbabwe: Thoughts After The FB Developer Circle Meetup

Rufaro Madamombe Avatar
Harare Facebook Developer Circle Members Discussing

So the last time the Harare Facebook Developer Circle held a meetup, it was an artificial intelligence masterclass and well as the name says it was a bit too technical even for the seasoned developers who attended. Now, the meetup held today at Impact Hub catered for everyone regardless of skill level.

The meetup was centered around artificial intelligence, data science and smart cities. The event was kickstarted by playing a game called One Night Ultimate Werewolf which narrates some events that occur in a village over the course of a night. Players will have different roles that might have special abilities and 2 of the players will have the role of being the wolves. Throughout the game, only a few players will know another player’s role and the objective is to uncover who the 2 wolves are among the group before the morning arrives.

One Night Ultimate Werewolf is a game that encourages team building as you get to communicate with other players and work together towards this one end goal though other people will be working to also make sure the wolves are not found so there’s a bit of some deception that will go on.

To say the least, the game is one of those fun things that can bring strangers together by being the ice-breaker and you might want to consider having it as the opening of the next tech meetup you organize. Anyways, after playing 2 rounds of the game, Marlene Mhangami then gave an insightful talk on Data Science and Smart Cities.

Her talk covered some of the problems Zimbabwe is facing when it comes to Data Science, one of them being the lack of the actual data to begin with since the country isn’t collecting any or it’s being stored in paper forms which over time could get degraded and lost.

An example that came up due to a discussion during her talk was that one of the problems that Zimbabwe faces are frequent power outages. The power outages themselves can be explained right, but when your area is the one that is always facing them then it quickly gets frustrating hey.

So why isn’t someone taking note of the areas that are always plagued with power cuts so that the next power cut can happen in another area? If the data was being stored and used wisely then the power cuts could be fairly distributed around a city and it wouldn’t seem like there is a person who just likes to turn off the power switch for your neighbourhood.

Fortunately, it seems like work is underway to get the country to have smart cities as last Wednesday, Zimbabwe Smart Sustainable Cities Initiative was launched and it aims to address such problems among others. Now, as good as it is to have the government and other big players be part of that organization looking at the vision of a Zimbabwe with smart cities, it takes two to dance and Zimbabwean developers are the other dancer.

Currently, there is individualism among Zim developers, each person wants to do their own thing, however, as you have probably heard, they say “united we stand, divided we fall”. And it couldn’t be truer in our case, there are far too few developer communities yet we have so many talented developers out there.

Imagine, what would happen if just a quarter of the people in that Python or WordPress or JavaScript WhatsApp group you’re in attended meetups, organized some and worked together to solve the problems Zimbabwe faces.

At one point during the meetup, I asked myself how we got to this discussion, I mean we had just had some fun playing a game and were now getting an overview of data science and smart cities so how did things get so heated quickly?

However, that is exactly the should be the point of such developer communities. Not to bring people together and discuss the latest and greatest technology that has been developed in the Americas but to share ideas on how to focus on improving our local communities.

More importantly, to actually implement those ideas because what good is talk with no actions? Yes, developers have voiced how it’s not easy to gain access to resources like APIs from local tech companies that would help some of those ideas become a reality. But if John goes to a company and requests for those, gets turned down and Mary also goes another day and faces the same situation or someone else goes alone and gets access then nothing might change.

And if they all go together then maybe these companies will realize just how much they are delaying progress by closing their systems off from local developers. So if you’re a company that has a platform which has more potential than what you’re using it for then please, open it up to the creative people out there so they build on it.

Whether you’re a developer, an aspiring one, the big tech company or maybe you’re someone who is not necessarily technical but interested in tech and how it can be used to solve problems then get involved. Looking back at it, it seems like that game which was played earlier has an important lesson behind it as well: communicate, work together and you’ll be able to keep your village safe by uncovering the threats.

We would love to hear your thoughts, let’s discuss in the comments section below. What do you think about Zimbabwean smart cities, could they be a reality one day? What would it take? How can developers and companies collaborate to make them a reality?


One response

  1. Van Lee Chigwada

    I’ll touch on both smart cities and Zim Devs.

    The smart initiative is a great initiative & I would love to see how it goes. Is there anything done so far? I see a website but nothing further. What limitations are there?
    I believe in their cause and I’d be willing to throw in my start-up’s resources behind it.

    Which brings me to indivudualism with Zim Devs. Most of us want to be rich, to be Zucks and Gates but we forget. These guys were at it for years before they even made a significant mark.
    Most aspiring devs I meet ask me the question – how do we make money from this?
    My model was different: build it and people will come. Once you have 100K users, trust me you can monetize.

    If I meet a Zim Dev that isn’t in it just for the money, I’d dance with them.

    And two, we want to be Zucks. Most devs want to clone Facebook, WhatsApp, Eco cash but they miss the mark. Facebook did something Twitter had failed to do because Zucks added features Twitter didn’t have.
    If a Zim dev asks me to help them clone PayPal, I walk away. It’s a waste of time.