Today, Wednesday, August 18, 2021, I graduate from the 2020/21 sub-Sahara Africa cohort of Google Developer Student Club Leads. It also marks exactly one year since I received an email congratulating me on being selected as the first Google Developer Student Club Lead of Mbarara University of Science and Technology, a university-based community of students interested in Google developer technologies that I'd go on to build.
As I graduate, I now look back at the people I have met, the events, sessions, and interactions we have had and I can not be more proud of how much we have achieved as a community, but also as an individual. But let me tell the story in detail, okay?
Around April 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic started to bite in with a nationwide total lockdown, I saw a message about the DSC Lead Applications in a CodeZone WhatsApp group, a platform of mentors dedicating their spare time to mentor freshmen in Ugandan universities into the world of programming. I will be honest, I lazily opened the link and applied without high hopes of getting selected.
Later in June, I was asked to schedule an interview. I remember coming to the interview on Hangouts, and Sumit Kakkar requested that I come back after 30 minutes. He was still sleepy after a long night of work. Eventually, I was interviewed and I admit, it was fun. Sumit was but friendly. I asked him about my performance and he was positive.
On August 18, 2020, I was selected and effectively became the pioneer GDSC Lead for GDSC Mbarara University with a responsibility to build and lead the Club in a middle of a pandemic. Miles away from the university, armed with a smartphone (and all virtual platforms to use in setting up a community), I set out to do the best I could.
What Happened Next
On September 22, 2020, we had the first Info Session to introduce the club: the goals, aims, and objectives, to the early members who had responded to the first call. The session was graced by Muhammad Samu, the Program Manager, Google Developer Student Clubs in sub-Sahara Africa, and Drake Arinda, the Programs Officer at Hive Colab - Mbarara, an innovation hub that would go on to partner with us on this journey.
From November 6 to December 4, 2020, we ran the Android Study Jams: New to Programming and Android Study Jams: Prior Programming Experience with recorded sessions available on the club YouTube channel here. The sessions were integrated both virtually and physically at Empower Youth in Technology, a local innovation hub we had partnered with within the course of building the community.
On January 30, 2021, we had a kick-off call for the 2021 Solution Challenge to give insights and provide information to the community for our inaugural entry into the global competition of GDSCs with a mission is to solve for one or more of the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals using Google technology.
A week later, on February 6, 2021, we had a Project Review & Design Day of the different projects community members had come up with that would take them to the main global competition.
By the end of the Review, we had 4 solid projects that would go on to represent us; the Club and the University. These projects were;
- Mulinde, a web app that seeks to source out jobs for the skilled, but informal sector workers built by Daniel Nasasira, Hussein Akugizibwe, and Ezra Rodney Mpiima.
- Contactless Payments, a mobile app with the implementation of the NFC hardware feature to implement contactless payments built by Edgar Baluku and Michael Ajuna.
- YieldUp, a web app that can be used by farmers to detect crop diseases mainly in cassava, beans, and coffee by taking pictures of plant leaves built by Andrew Okello and Ezra Tumusiime.
- Traveler App, a web app to act as a travel assistant, ticketing and booking buses on major roads in Uganda built by Ivan Isiiko, Brian Bidhampola, and Rongum Wahab.
On February 26, 2021, we had a 2-day intensive Hackathon Day for the 2021 Solution Challenge to accelerate the development of the solutions in time before the deadline of the submission would hit. The Hackathon was organized in partnership with Hive Colab Mbarara.
The Traveller App team mentored by Nakanwagi Evelyne On Day 1, we had orientation, a lot of coding, and cracking.
And then Day 2 gave us the winners of the Hackathon Day after rigorous pitching and judging. The winning team was YieldUp, a web app that can be used by farmers to detect crop diseases mainly in cassava, beans, and coffee by taking pictures and implementing image processing to classify healthy or unhealthy crop leaves. Drake Arinda, Andrew Okello (YieldUp), Me, Ezra Tumusiime (YieldUp), and Probuse.
On March 27, 2021, as we neared the deadline for submission of the solutions to the main competition, the Faculty of Computing and Informatics joined in to support and host the Demo Day for our community members to showcase their solutions to the university community before sending them out.
The Demo Day attracted faculty members including the Dean, Dr. Evarist Nabaasa, 7 companies and about 200 students at the university. Both students and companies pitched their ideas, solutions, and products. Eventually, the Location Sensors team led by Jimmy Segujja and Grace Nsubuga won the Best Student Award while Global Auto Systems led by Edwin Nahabwe won the Best Company Award.
Best Student Winners: Jimmy Segujja and Grace Nsubuga of the Location Sensors team
Brian Johnson (Aptech), Me, Azizi Kakooza (Kabale University)
Having submitted our solutions and thereby closing the 2021 Solution Challenge chapter, on April 10, 2021, we had an Info Session on Google Summer of Code that was graced by Kanyinsola Fapohunda, a Site Reliability Engineer at Google, Ndubuisi Onyemenam, a Software Engineer at PATRICIA and James John, a Software Engineer at Oppia Foundation. We discussed ways on how students can contribute to Open Source to boost their careers.
Finally, on July 16, 2021, we had my last event as a GDSC Lead which was an info session about Anxiety & Mental Health of Software Developers with Karen Olive, a web enthusiast and mental health advocate at Ctrl Uganda, and Edgar Mugoya, an Orthopaedic Officer currently working as a Medical Representative for Gama Pharmaceuticals attached to Mulago Hospital.
- To be a tech community lead requires perseverance and endurance. Not everything will go as planned. Not everyone will give you the support and shoulder they promise you.
- With a diverse group of people you are dealing with, you have to adapt and learn to deal with everyone in their own way.
- Seek out partnerships with the people and organizations that believe in what you are doing. Seek advice and help to offload the workload.
- As you reach out to better and grow others, grow yourself and be a better version to be able to lead others. Failures do not lead.
- Leadership can be so exhausting and often you will have burnouts if you don't work as a team, or protect your mental health.
- Reach out for opportunities that can be of great benefit to your community.
- As a leader, be a giver and not a taker.
- Wasn't able to achieve all the plans I had for the community due to the COVID-19 pandemic which brought a constraint on physical meetups.
- Didn't do much interpersonal follow-up to members of the community, although I mentored a few including the incoming GDSC Lead.
- We didn't achieve any physical projects and were not able to compete in as many competitions as possible.
- Social media presence wasn't up to full expectations.
- My failure to convince well enough to have ladies join, and actively participate in the community. However, the selection of the new GDSC Lead, who is a female, vindicates me and shows that it's still a process to get our sisters on board.
I worked with rather a small team of like-minded, committed, and passionate colleagues to achieve all that has been jotted up there. Without their support and sacrifice, I wouldn't have laid a firm foundation onto which this club is destined to flourish as we watch from the sidelines. Andrew Okello, the GDSC Co-Lead. He was the person that knew things must happen whether I was in a position to [be part] or not. Andrew is an IBM and DataCamp certified Data Scientist and a machine learning enthusiast. Thank you, Andrew, for your service to the community. Ezra Tumusiime, the Events Planning Lead. Ezra was instrumental in making sure Hackathon Day and Demo Day happen in a grande way. He's a full-stack web developer. He builds with Python (Django), PHP (Laravel), Vue.js, React.js. Thank you, Ezra, for your service to the community. Ezra Rodney Mpiima, the PR & Marketing Lead. To be heard in the corridors of tech, a community needs a person like Rodney, and he did that. He was responsible for marketing the community to the university community. Rodney is the tech community lead of Tech Connect at the Innovation Village - Mbarara. Thank you, Ezra, for your service to the community.
Richard Kimera, the Faculty Advisor, is a man whose love to build tech communities is unmatched. It doesn't matter whether he has to put on gumboots, take an umbrella and be part of the meetup, he will. Thank you for offering to build this community; the support, mentorship, and the work behind the curtains that most never see and appreciate. We are grateful.
As a pioneer GDSC Lead, it fell on me to see that this community is established and built on a firm foundation. However, with the selection of the new GDSC Lead, it now falls on her to continue and reinforce what was built and add her bricks to the foundation.
Ms. Sumaiya Nalukwago, 2021/22 GDSC Lead.
It feels good that I'm graduating from this program with an assurance that all was not in vain and that someone else is taking on. I have great faith and trust in her to lead. So, dear GDSC Mbarara University, as I say goodbye, be kind and great to the Lead as you have been to me. Don't wait to be called onto, there's a lot to do. So, get to work...
Up Next for Me
Maybe one day, I will be back as a GDG or GDG Cloud organizer. That's a step I am yet to look at. Or perhaps a Google Developer Expert (GDE). I'm considering further studies, too.
In the meantime, I continue my work in building communities and mentoring the next set of developers. I'm now a Mentor for learners in the Android track taking the Associate Android Developer (AAD) Certification offered by Andela under the Google Africa Developer Scholarship (GADS) program.
I'm still an Ambassador of StartHub Africa at Mbarara University mandated with building a community of the next set of African entrepreneurs. And most importantly, I'm considering a venture into technical writing via this blog and also contributing to Open Source projects in Uganda (and Africa).