Reflections from my last ~20 years in tech: part 3

This is the final 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 3

(Cover photo by rawpixel on Unsplash)

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

This is the final 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. Part 1 and part two here and here.

I was going to write this this past Tuesday, then the sad events at 14 Riverside took place. I mourn the needless loss of lives through this act of terror.


On Leading

Managing servers and hacking code is easier than leading and managing people. So much more. This is a lesson I learnt a few years back and to this day continue to learn. Learning to lead people is however crucial to getting anything worthwhile done. Thanks to my good friend and mentor Andrew Wafula, I was thrust into leading teams in 2010.The move from seeking to be a global expert in OSS system to leading others wasn't easy, and continues to be an area I seek to grow with.

My experience in leadership at iHub from 2013 to 2017 were a period of both growth and learning.

"A crucible is, by definition, a transformative experience through which an individual comes to a new or an altered sense of identity."
Warren Bennis, Robert J. Thomas

In more ways that one, this was a crucible for me. The global visibility (I'm more of an introvert), various stakeholders with different demands, juggling numerous priorities, keeping doors open, and as much as possible keeping to the mission, served up not a few sleepless nights and stressful occassions for me. When I look back at it, this isn't uncommon for leaders in organizations. I'm glad however to have had the opportunity to serve the team and the larger community in this way - there are lots of things we did really well, and others not so well.

Here are some broader ecosystem thoughts from what I've observed the last 2 years:

  • I strongly believe that deep collaborations and partnerships are key, and over the last couple of years, this is something that's happening a lot more. It's something we're experimenting with as well, building products alongside seasoned domain experts. It is however not easy at all and takes trust, time and lots of hard work however.
  • We have more people operating 'chini ya maji' . This tells me that more and more teams are more focused building products, tackling problems initially under the radar, hopefully with their customers, which is a good thing. A balance however is needed between this, and getting the right collaborations in place, and publicity at the right time (if needed).
  • Let's not ever try 'regulate' ICT. It's like skinning a cat or herding a clowder of cats, and the market will weed out the quacks.
  • Builders are few - the people actually willing to put in the hard work in getting something worthwhile off the ground are a lot less. Talk is easy, doing is really hard. We essentially need a lot more builders - people who sacrifice the time (and attention often, in our brand crazy world) to get things done. If you don't have a job, volunteer, start something, run something faithfully, and people will notice. It is NOT easy to diligently run meet ups, volunteer for a cause, build a company etc. It is worthwhile though.
  • It's never that serious (it is actually but...) - that's what my good friend and running partner Allan often says: faith, family, health - these matter more.

Connecting, Building, Learning

What next for me?

I spent most of 2017 and part of 2018 trying to figure this out. I like the idea of a compass vs a map, where a clear sense of why I'm doing what I'm doing becomes my compass. My faith is central in defining this 'why'. Thriving small businesses and startups is something that's core to what I've involved myself in over the last few years and continue to do. Financial services is what I'm finding myself drawn towards especially as numerous businesses across the developing world complain about access to capital. It also occurs to me that I did EEE at undergrad but haven't done anything concrete in the domain, thus I'm also tentatively exploring clean energy, mobility and access. Let's see where this compass leads me however.

I see myself always looking to learn something new. Right now I've had to dust off lots of engineering math cobwebs as I delve into ML and ease back to coding, mostly now for experiments of my own. I'm always looking out for better ways to GTD (Get Things Done), so after completing 'Measure What Matters', now internalising and applying OKRs in literally everything I'm involved in.


If you were in my shoes, what would you be doing?