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PyconKe: Are Tech Events in Kenya Worth it?

I was a bit surprised to see a notification for a Pycon event. I am a python-first developer and save for an internship, I have been hard-pressed to find roles around Nairobi that require proficiency in Python.

Matter of fact, there is a famous quip among developers in the 254 that states, “Kenya is a PHP country.” Having founded my own e-commerce company (see https://Tuuze.co.ke) that runs heavily on PHP, I understand the ubiquity of this phrase.

Kenya’s tech is more driven by a straight-jacket form of utility that allows little innovation. In other words, we only build tech that has been tried and tested over the years such e-commerce websites, school management systems, CRM systems, etc. Thus, battle-tested languages such as Java, PHP and C++ are usually employers’ go-to.

Python, on the other hand, is much more innovative and cutting edge. It’s applied mostly in task automation, data analysis and web applications that are customized and simply cannot be fitted onto a CMS. Since Kenya’s tech scene is just getting out of its infancy and learning how to crawl, I thought not a bunch of professional developers would be enthusiastic about the Python language.

attendance tag for pycon event

Therefore, when I saw PyconKe coming up, I was unsure of whether to attend or not. The organizers, however, were not leaving one with many reasons to RSVP no. For a moment, ticket prices were dropped to only 200 shillings. Bear in mind that lunch had been included in that discounted price. And even those who could not afford that low amount had the option of contacting one of the dozens of well-wishers who were purchasing hundreds of tickets for students and tech newbies.

One look at the humongous queues in front of USIU and I discovered how astonishingly wrong I had been on the popularity of Python in Kenya! Over the next two days, I would attend a buffet of conferences that taught me about new technologies and exposed me to tools that, looking back, have made me a great developer.

But even more important, I made new acquaintances in the tech scene that I’ve tried my best to keep in touch with, and friends with whom we now compare notes on a daily basis. Some of the advice I gathered in informal kamukunjis while skipping a few sessions turned out to be the main takeaways from the event.

For instance, I was awed when Victor Mshindi, the Site Reliability Engineer at Twiga Foods, revealed a deeply-held secret to me: That he has never learned how to code in JavaScript! You mean I’m not crazy for never wanting to center a div?

Abel Masila, an ex-Andela dev who refused to reveal to me his current place of work, promised that he’ll hook me up with the best plug for a standing desk and wide-inch monitor once I get a job and need to set up my home office. He’s eating life with a big spoon as a remote developer, that fellow!

Microsoft’s Lawrence Muthoga assured me that my previous experience as a journalist is indeed an asset when looking for entry roles in tech, not a liability. He also guaranteed that should I send my resume to Microsoft, I won’t be penalized because it’s 2 pages long instead of 1. Phew! What a relief!

 

The following are a couple of sessions I attended:

Programming Landscape in Kenya and Africa (Keynote): Lawrence Muthoga (Open Source Business Lead – MEA, Microsoft).

In his keynote, the charismatic Lawrence was beaming with optimism, hinting that his crystal ball, which benefits from an insider’s view, shows a promising future for developers in the region. Apparently, both Microsoft and Google are ramping up to hire developers in their thousands in the coming years. Oh Lord, I want, to be among the number… When the devs go matching in…

How to Get US Remote Jobs: Sam Adenkule (Global Communities, Turing.com)

As part of their sponsorship deal for the event, Turing sent Sam, an orator that clearly knows how to charm the crowd and sell a dream. Yeah, I can clearly see myself holed up in my Ruiru one-bedroom while collecting a six-figure salary from a firm in California! There’s a catch, though… You need to be experienced in order to be considered.

Sam gave me a T-shirt though… Cool guy!

Demystifying the Tech Space (Panel Session): (Lawrence Muthoga, Anthony Kiplimo, Shem Ogumbe, and Preston Adie. Moderated by Stephany Doris).

A heated panel session where a number of people came guns blazing against “big tech” (Microsoft and Google) for poaching all the best devs and leaving scraps for local firms, without participating in talent development. Big tech representatives fought back, with receipts. Turns out they’ve been heavily investing in developing grassroots tech talent over the years and are just harvesting what they planted. It’s actually the local firms, your favorite green telco included (*coughs* Safaricom! *coughs*), that have been stingy and wouldn’t fork out a dime when it comes to growing tech talent. How I wish Safaricom could use me as a vessel and grow me as a dev to shut everyone else up!

 

Infrastructure as Code (Keynote): Victor Mshindi (SRE, Twiga Foods).

I remember, while studying for CCNA a decade ago, I used to wonder how large companies that span several continents manage their networking, even just across multiple offices. I mean, connecting all those wires must be dizzying!

It calmed my anxiety when Victor Mshindi introduced me to Infrastructure as Code (IaC), where you just write templates with code whereby you design and deploy code blueprints using the same tools that developers use.This guy eats something called Pulumi for breakfast!

GraphQL APIs with Django: Grace Zawadi (Lead SE, ACTSERV)

Like a prophet coming to prepare the way for the Messiah, Grace Zawadi came unto us full of piss and vinegar and asked us to shun our REST ways immediately! “Behold!” she uttered, “GraphQL is here to save us all!”

I do not think, however, that I will be shunning my sinful REST API ways just soon. Why get baptized into GraphQL while all I do is create simple Django applications and blogs? Maybe if I were working with lots of data, and didn’t mind learning the complicated GraphQL queries, then I just might consider getting saved.

Serverless Python Google Cloud Platform—Hosting Django on Cloud Run: Paul Onteri (Software Engineer, Inua Tujenge).

I will forever be grateful to this young man (yeah, he could easily pass as my first born) for igniting my fire when it comes to serverless architecture and the cloud. His talk saw me dive aggressively into cloud computing and since then, I have even gotten myself a certification for Azure!

I would like to get back to him some time so we can run a parallel application across Azure Functions and Cloud Run, then we compare costs. I’ve got a feeling that Azure will be less expensive, but I might be wrong. Any AWS fellows out there? Alibaba Cloud?

Using Interrupted Time Series to Understand the Disruption of Health Services During the Pandemic: Catherine Wanjiru and Sekuo Remy (IBM Research)

Let’s talk mathematics and data science now! These two scientists are doing God’s work! They have analyzed data from several African countries to determine how the pandemic disrupted healthcare service provision in Africa. They are putting in the work to create data science frameworks and open-source them so the researchers coming behind them can have it easier.

If you answered a question in their session, you got a pen and notebook! The teacher’s pet that I am couldn’t resist the offer!

 

Python for Rocketry: Washington Kamadi, Rodney Osodo, and Felix Gateru (Rocketeers)

I stumbled onto the tail-end of this session and was surprised that fellows in Kenya, funded by the Japanese (JICA) are actually launching rockets into space! Yeah, I’m still as confused as you are.

Python @ Twiga: Samuel Olembo and the entire Twiga Engineering Team

Yeah, Twiga’s entire engineering department was here to tell us how they used Python together with a mysterious doodah called Nameko to create paradise on earth at Katco Complex. If only they were hiring at the moment! I wanna see that serpentine paradise so bad!

Micro-Python—Python in Embedded Systems: Esther Mueni (IoT Engineer, Neverest)

We were supposed to program an embedded device with Python in this session. It was going to be interesting, since all my life haters have taunted me saying you cannot communicate directly with machines using Python. Too bad, the projector stopped working for the session!

This mishap didn’t rain on Esther’s parade though. She carried on expertly without the use of technology, and we had quite a fruitful function where a great deal of IoT was discussed.

You CANt teach an old dog new tricks: Michael Bukachi (Dancer who codes)

Imagine Python is 30 years old! Yep! This dancer and brilliant coder took us through the language’s history and said a few things regarding baked-in “types”. Is Michael a spy sent from Java with a mission to turn Python from the inside?

P.s

They refused to sell me a T-shirt :(. But Issorait. The great T-shirt controversy of PyconKe2022 will not be forgotten.

Conclusion

*This section has been written by an AI*

I learned that as a software developer, it is important to attend tech events to grow your career. Tech events are a great way to network with other developers, learn about new technologies, and stay uptodate on industry trends. By attending tech events, you can learn about new tools and techniques that can help you be a better developer. In addition, you can meet potential employers and customers, and learn about new job opportunities. By attending tech events, you can stay ahead of the curve and position yourself for success in the everchanging world of software development.

Check out my tech projects and other cool stuff on Lukorito.dev

By Wafula Lukorito

I am an engineer with a strong Computer Science foundation with practical experience in full-stack web design, building and maintaining REST APIs, creating Django and PHP backends, and designing educational JavaScript games. You can check out my work at https://lukorito.dev

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