A diverse group of individuals tell us how they began their career in programming. Read them here.
Raindolf Owusu shares his story.
My name is Raindolf Owusu and I was born in the capital city of Accra in Ghana. I come from a family of eight and I am the fourth born out of six siblings. One special Sunday in the year 2001 after an exhausting day at church we arrived home and to our surprise, our father brought home a computer. The bad news was that it was bought solely for my elder siblings and we the younger ones were not allowed to utilize it. We were only allowed to touch it but with adult supervision. I spent most of my time observing how the computer worked, mostly when my elder siblings were playing games like Prince of Persia or where using Power DVD to watch a movie. The computer was a Compaq Pentium one desktop with one gigabyte hard disk space. I was eleven years old then and I was fascinated by it. We were warned not to use it, but I wasn’t a fan of rules and regulations. So at night when everyone was asleep, I go to the hall to play around with the PC. After a few months I got fascinated with games and started installing games I got from friends in the computer.
One night as I was about installing a game and realized I did not have enough hard disk space. I went on a deleting rampage, I deleted anything I felt wasn’t relevant and I chanced upon the files in the windows drive C. I checked its capacity and it was about 400 megabyte, I deleted most of the files there, immediately the computer shut down. I switched it back on and the computer wasn’t responding. The next day I confessed what I had done the previous night and got the lashing of my life. Everyone thought I had succeeded in damaging the computer and they got a technician to fix it. I was banned from using the computer at home for a long while.
After that incident I got more interested in the computer and how it worked. An internet cafe was opened close to my house and I decided to check it out. After going there for a few times, I spoke to the owner who told me he had no administrator, who helped him with the internet cafe so I opted to assist him and in return for me to browse for free after hours. I spent most of my leisure times at the internet cafe. My love for the internet started affecting my grades but I managed to keep a balance. At that point in time I became known to be the “computer man” amongst my peers, family and friends. If anyone had problems with their computers or needed someone I was the go to guy. I started making pennies here and there for installing Windows or formating a PC, etc.
Right after senior high school I enrolled in Vision One System, then one of the best I.T training institutes in Ghana. I studied for a Diploma in Information Technology for a year. It involved a little of everything. Courses included System Administration, Graphic Design, Networking and Web Design. After my web design class, I really enjoyed it because I was able to write a small piece of Html code and the output was just beautiful. I started learning outside the web design class. The internet was where I got my web design resources. I eventually learnt how to program in Java because I was working on a website and I needed a particular feature and the only way to go was for me to write a function. Java was an interesting programming language and I wrote a lot of console programs with it. Programming gave me a space to create and innovate.
As faith would have it I got introduced with open source programming. I was fascinated by the concept behind it. When programmers can read, redistribute, and modify the source code for a piece of software, the software evolves. People improve it, people fix bugs. And this can happen at a speed that, if one is used to the slow pace of conventional software development seems astonishing. I got involved with Open Source forums, IRC chatrooms and Github.
I founded my company Oasis Websoft in July 2011 and our aim was to build open source softwares. My first team members were two friends from my computer science class in the university. We were participated in a ton of hackthons and never came out champions. One we lost because we failed to write documentation for the code. Most of the hackerthons we participated in did not know the difference between a code hackerthon and business plan competition. We were able to build the product at the end of the stipulated time but lost because we didn’t validate the product etc. I did not give up and focused on building my company. Our direction at that time was to prove to people how technically proficient we were and also saw it as a learning curve for me as a young entrepreneur.
Our first ever open source project was the Anansi Web Browser, hailed as Africas first web browser. It was a lightweight Windows utility browser designed to help users navigate on the Internet in a clean and intuitive working environment. We embedded offline features like the web camera, game and theme changer for our users incase their internet goes down. They can easily be on the browser and play a game till the Internet comes back on. It also has a download manager that helps you to download all your music,videos and files at a fast rate. You could also use the grabber to download a webpage to view later on. This project gained a lot of attention and it has been downloaded more than 5,000 times on Softpedia.
I went on to work on another project called Anansi OS, a Linux distribution with the aim of it coming pre-installed with educational software packages. Whiles working on this and many interesting projects. I moonlighted as a web developer to be able to support my internet cost and transportation etc. My role models at this point were the late Ghanaian programmer and founder of Semapedia Guido Sohne and Linux Torvalds.
After about two years of working on really cool stuff, I decided to re-build a new team and start working on projects that made sense in the African context. The reason was simple I came to the realization that technology was just the back bone of every sector be it health, transportation or entertainment. The only way I could make a lot of impact was for my technology to interface with one of the sectors and to solve a key problem in my society. We relaunched our company to focus on innovation and website development services. Some of our projects include Dr Diabetes, a web application that aims to educate Ghanaians on the adverse effects of diabetes and also to allow them to fill up a questionnaire that predicts their status online. Africapp a cross platform and multicultural app market place to serve the growing need of mobile users in Africa and diaspora, this service was aimed at making the developers ecosystem more viable and providing registered developers a renowned platform to showcase their apps and get paid.
I partnered with Samuel Dexter the founder of Softreckon to launch Anansipedia an educative platform that allows the seamless sharing of educational resources to help less privileged students in environments with little Information Technology infrastructure to have ubiquitous access to better quality academic content. Information is power and we believe in sharing the banquet of knowledge with the world. At this point I understood the power of collaboration. When it comes to programming here in Ghana and beyond there were so many isolated pockets of expertise. But they worked independently, competing rather than collaborating. In addition to making it harder for us as programmers to work together on a large project, this leaves the door open for well-organized foreign teams to come in and compete effectively for huge contracts.
We are currently working on Bisa. Bisa means “ask” in the Ghanaian twi language. Bisa is a mobile application that provides valuable health information, tips for managing your health, and support to those who seek information. Users can also ask health related questions. We have two health specialists who are on standby to reply to all their health related questions you send on the questionnaire on our platform.
I took the high road in life, did a lot of odd web development jobs, did part time work for other companies just to make enough funds to keep my startup up and running. Investment has never been a thing of the society I come from and till date I have not received any form of angel investment or funds since I set up my startup, but the experience I had along the way was just worth it and if I have to go back I will do it again. The internet contains a lot of valuable data and with technology, everyday there are new frameworks, languages or tools but the most important thing that kept me abreast with the industry is learning two core object oriented languages ( C++ and Java ). My current weapon of code destruction is Python.
I believe strongly technology can solve majority of our problems in Africa.
Raindolf Owusu (@raindolf) is the Founder and CEO of Oasis Websoft, an initiative that uses software to solve the daily problems of Africans. He works in 9 programming languages. His software and web projects include deploying Africa’s first web browser called Anansi web Browser , a linux distribution called Anansi operating system targeted at education and Anansi Calcpad, African Grading program and Dr Diabetes a simple web application that allows you to know your diabetes status online.
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