Some lessons learned – What is it like to be a programmer in Kampala? (Part 5)
Some lessons learned
Before developing an application the young programmers I have met in Kampala consider a number of points:
1) The customer has to be open to it. How receptive are they to technology? What is the relationship between the goals and employees? How many computers do they have? What is their ICT acceptance level? Do they have Internet and mobile? On this basis the programmers argue you can sign a contract and make something happen.
2) If the technology level is low, the programmers argue that you should first take a course to learn more about what technology means and what you can do with it. So the employees have to be open to using it.
3) You have to create relationships with the employees, the users….you need to engage the user….if they look at you as someone who will take away their livelihood then you have problems.
4) Many times software fails to take off. The programmers explain they are asked to change everything and it simply doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s hard to know why. Is it because people are rushed or because the application doesn’t work? Either way, the client is not always friendly and they often change their requirements during the project. This means it will be impossible to build something they can use.
One programmer showed me an example of an application built at the request of the CEO of a local company in Kampala. The programmer walks me through an inventory management system with simple columns, drop down menu and limited functions. But for some reason the client has been unable to make use of it and the programmer doesn’t know why. The boss asked the team to develop the application but the employees didn’t want it. They have the feeling that the programmer is coming to take their jobs away. The result is that they work together to resist the solution. It’s explained that, neither a sociologist or an anthropologist, it’s hard sometimes to know the answer. One suggestion is to get more people to enroll in a course in computing.
It’s clear there is a huge opportunity and need for training. The problem is that most companies are willing to pay no more than 300 dollars a month. The programmer argues, ‘And then you give a top level training, hands on, and you only get 300? We deserve better than that. 900 at least. The problem is that they just started to accept technology so they just don’t value it all that much.’
The programmer goes on to explain, ‘Its not about the technology its about the culture. This is why its hard to get software from outside. You need to understand how people are going to use it and develop for that reason.’ I am then shown two inventory control systems. They are almost the same except one is in blue and doesn’t require a password. It is interesting to hear that, ‘The first was a disaster and the second was a great success. It’s the culture of the user that makes the difference. The best client is the ICT Faculty because they get it and not only use the systems but actually help with building programs!’
Other programmers made clear that software solutions used in other parts of the world do not take these market conditions into consideration.