Reflections from my last ~20 years in tech: part 2

This is the second part of a collection of memories, thoughts and lessons from my last two (!) decades in technology, in mostly chronological order. I thought I'd get this done in the course of 2018 but it wasn't to be.

Reflections from my last ~20 years in tech: part 2

(Cover photo - Sign up board for BarCamp Nairobi 2008)

(This is about a year late. I mostly blame 280 character platforms...)

This is the second part of a collection of memories, thoughts and lessons from my last two (!) decades in technology, in mostly chronological order. I thought I'd get this done in the course of 2018 but it wasn't to be. Confession: part of the reason why it's now in multiple parts is because it's taken me way too long to get anywhere with it. Maximum respect to the folks that are able to churn out solid articles on a monthly, weekly or even daily. So here goes part 2. Part 1 is here.


Introducing Skunkworks (not the Lockheed Martin edition but loosely inspired by it)! We held the first "Skunkworks" meeting at Steers Wabera Street (I'm not sure it still exists) on the evening of 13th Feb 2007. About 15-20 tech enthusiasts from Nairobi were present. If you're not familiar with Skunkworks in Kenya, a lot of the tech community in Nairobi (and Kenya) grew out of these foundational and other meet-ups (FOSS and others). Meeting #1 was an informal meeting with people getting to know each other, and we had to change locations after being chased away from the GPO food court - there was one at Telkom Plaza - for holding an unlicensed "kamkunji" :).

Internet was expensive in Kenya 10 years ago!!! When you next look at your bill (when not complaining about a cable cut or speeds too slow to stream Netflix), compare the prices with these options back in the day. I once had an iBurst link at 8000 KShs monthly with 128k throughput and it was super fast then...

I had the privilege of doing talk #1 at the first ever Barcamp in Nairobi - held at University of Nairobi thanks to Dr. Kamau Gachigi. Of course being an unconference, anyone could talk about anything that those attending found interesting enough, and that just happened to be the year when the Bugatti Veyron was the car everyone was talking about, so I did a quick 3 minute presentation... I'm not sure people still put together Barcamps today, given the sheer number of events and formats available, and the inevitable urge to create a 'tight' program. Are Barcamps and platforms like of yesteryear? The big 2008 Nairobi Barcamp (I think this was the 3rd edition) was totally fun: 400 people attended, there was lots of energy and the idea of iHub was born. (I might have the physical sign up sheets somewhere in the house and I also have a cache of photos from the event in case anyone is interested...)

Together with Ed and Ted, we built stockskenya (now as a side project in ~2006 as we were super interested in investing in the stock market and wanted to create tools that we (and others) could use. This was before Facebook, and the SK Community ended up becoming the most active part of it. Conversation on investment and wealth creation continue to this day with Wazua now under the leadership and direction of Gilbert (a.k.a the senior Elder...).

In the 2000s, with the liberalisation of the telecommunications industry in Kenya and demand globally for mobile communications and internet, there was a major boom for telco vendors. Ericsson, Siemens, Motorola, Alcatel and Nokia competed for market share, more so on the African continent. Then the Chinese entered the fray and infrastructure costs for mobile operators dipped. It's no coincidence that as Huawei and ZTE have grown in leaps and bounds, and as the mobile telco market has matured, revenue growth for vendors has slowed. Today Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia Networks, ZTE remain after several mergers and acquisitions. Quoting the late Jim Rohn (not GoT..):

"Learn how to handle the winter. The winter always comes". ~ Jim Rohn

In 2004, I wore my first suit to work one month after graduation, and a few days into my first job was thrown into the deep end, getting involved with project negotiations for a data communications project at a local telco. Thankfully, due to some of the internships I had previously done, and my final year project, I wasn't completely clueless. I however was forced to get up up to speed with products that I would later deploy and support in a very short time (in hindsight not a bad thing). I'm thankful to the team at that time, many of whom I still keep in touch with, for the support and guidance. Working for a global company is a useful experience. I love learning about other societies, and one sure way to experience a snippet of a different culture is through travel. Lifelong learning is something that I've learnt to embrace as normal.

The lines between software development to systems infrastructure were a lot more pronounced when starting my career in telco. Once in a while, I wonder to myself what I would have been doing if I didn't make the shift to infrastructure and telecoms and remained in software development. The interesting thing for me now is that the lines between the two are a lot more blurry today, with requirements like database management certification a prerequisite for some telco vendors. A good chunk of the elements of a communications network are software heavy today with software defined networks and arguably DevOps demanding both traditional sysadmin and developer mindsets and experience.

[Next - the final part, including my lessons on teams and leadership, more on continuous learning, our tech ecosystem in Nairobi].