Sunday, August 31, 2008

Uganda Barcamp Event a Big Success

Welcome to Barcamp

This past weekend, Makerere University's Faculty of Computing and IT allowed the first ever barcamp event to take place on it's campus. As a result nearly eighty people participated in the first ever open forum for technology professionals and enthusiasts in Uganda. It was liveblogged on the micro-blogging service Twitter to an international audience that included twenty people, including several from Silicon Valley (Paulo Alto, Ca, U.S.A) who asked questions to the audience and had them answered in real time.

What is a barcamp? That question came up quite often through out the conference. Barcamps are ad-hoc unconference events that put everyone attending on the same level. Novices, professionals, students, CEOs, they're all one audience giving insight and perspective to various debates. The presenters all volunteer, discussions are largely democratic and the ebb-flow of the debate often leads to the structure of the overall event. For instance, the questions from Silicon Valley that came in during the conference were responded to immediately.

Joseph Mucheru from Google East Africa provided insight into the East African Venture Capital scene growing in Nairobi. Other industry insiders attended including James Wire who made an strong argument about the ethics of software use and obeying international copyright laws. Renier Battenburg, the president of MountBatten Web Hosting, did a presentation on optimizing websites for low-bandwidth users. Simon Vass of eTech presented on the functionality of eBox, an affordable Linux-based network solution.

James Wire asks a question.

At the beginning of the conference the floor was opened up to the attendees. They were given the opportunity to state their interests and expectations from the conference. The organizers of barcamp attempted to address each concern. More often than not, someone else in the audience had an answer. That's the spirit of the event, leveraging the assets of your peers.

In full disclosure, I was one of the main organizers of the event. I founded a small group called that organizes events like this for the benefit of software entrepreneurs in Uganda. Upcoming events include a Facebook Developers Clinic and a Mobile Application Workshop. But what the Kampala barcamp highlighted for me was the wealth of un-nurtured talent here. Many of the more advanced students are already looking at schools abroad because for those thatstay (even the best), the job market is bleak. Quite a few students are eager to learn the bleeding edge development tools and programming languages but no one facilitates them. How do they work on projects after University hours? How can they take personal initiative to create things on their own if they don't have access to the tools to do so? At the very least, hopefully this barcamp will encourage the spirit of collaboration in the Ugandan tech community that is essential to helping markets grow.

Slides, photos, video, and notes from Campala2008 can be viewed at

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