"Some of the smartest dummies, can't read the language of Egyptian mummies / An' a fly go a moon, and can't find food for the starving tummies / Pay no mind to the youths, cause its not like the future depends on it / But save the animals in the zoo, cause the chimpanzee dem a make big money" -one of my favorite lyrics from Damian Marley and Nas' remake of Amadou & Mariam's (musical duo from Mali) classic "Sabali". What stood out to me most is how the first line had software programming connotations, the second poverty and the third -the future of the youth. To make it even more relative to African developers (not that we are poor and starving lol) was the meaning of 'Sabali' -Patience. A virtue one needs to master in the programming world...come to think of it, a virtue one needs to master period.
Coders4Africa had the chance to chat with Eyram Tawia, co-founder and lead developer of Leti Games Ltd, a Ghanaian based software company. Along with his friend Wesley Kirinya (Kenya), they developed an iPhone app video game dubbed 'iWarrior' that got a lot of buzz (should you have an iPhone, check it out the AppStore and support young African entrepreneurs). The object of the game is to protect your village, farm, inhabitants, etc from wild animals. This app bleeds Africa inside and out -tribal art and sounds included. While chatting with Eyram, I realized how important it is to be patient, passionate and follow your dreams. In an environment where the tools you need are not readily available to you, your passion and perseverance can determine your success or failure. In his case from humble beginnings to graduating from MeltWater Entrepreneurial School of Technology and starting his own company, Eyram is an African Programmer success story. Below is an excerpt from our discussion. Be inspired!
C4A: What is
your educational background?
Eyram: I was born on a university campus (KNUST) where I had most of my basic education up to Junior High School. I did my high school at Mawuli School in the Volta region and read science. I hold a bachelor in Computer Science.
C4A: How and
when did you get introduced to programming?
Eyram: I got into programming quite early during my Junior High school days. My focus was to make games for comics I used to draw then. This drive was so high that I did everything to learn programming.
C4A: What makes you feel passionate about your craft?
Eyram: To be
honest, what makes me passionate is not the money, but the mentality
of games not coming from this part of our-world (Africa). The politics in
the complexity of game design for that matter and how Africa
is forgotten totally and not considered to be capable of making
quality video games. This makes me passionate every second. Creating fun for
people is something that drives me all the time. Game design is a totally
lucrative industry that can work in Africa. I really want to show Africans the
only profession isn't doctors or lawyers. And also computer science isn't just
making banking applications, hospital management etc, but there are other
aspects that are more fun and challenging i.e. the multimedia sector which
comprises of video games, music applications and even robotics. So I really
want to create a new industry all together in Africa.
C4A: What are
your interests outside of programming?
Eyram: I love
singing in the choir, playing video games, listening to music and watching
movies. But I recently discovered I enjoy hanging out with friends and chatting
as well, which is something very fun.
C4A: What do
you feel programmers have to offer in Ghana?
Eyram: Knowledge and Examples. Programmers need to share their ideas and set examples for others to follow. I see most Programmers in Ghana to be content with what they've achieved after a first try and don't strive for more. We should come together as programmers and try to help one other and also help upcoming ones.
challenges do you face on a daily basis, and how do you manage them?
Eyram: Internet speed and cost is a major challenge. Also, getting the necessary skill-set to employ is a problem here. For example, most artists in Ghana end up only designing posters and making advertisement billboards. They never get the chance to practice their skills especially those who do hand illustrations and animations. Since the Ghanaian market doesn't patronize such artwork, for that matter it is not lucrative enough to make a living on. Game art requires some particular talents and finding such talents here is really challenging. Similar to finding sound engineers and programmers. So most programmers here divert their attention and skill set to what brings them money and what the local market demands i.e. DB applications and websites mostly. This makes them loose their touch on other aspects like multimedia programming, game design, robotics etc. Because these aspects are quite difficult and non lucrative in the local market, they find it risky to delve into it. When such people are employed into the company, they find it difficult to operate since its a whole new style of coding and design. A lot of complex math and optimization techniques that might be discouraged in normal application programming are encouraged in game design since its faster in regards to the processor. Finding resources for game design is a problem here and would need a lot more effort to educate people and actually build a community, which I'm planning towards.
C4A: How will
the web and mobile technology play a role in developing the infrastructure in
Eyram: Gaming is one industry that develops on top of others. When the infrastructure is laid, it will call for industries like Gaming to spring up. Now, the web is easily accessible and a bit cheap to access via mobile phones, which are very widely spread-out in Ghana. Most systems are being developed on top of the web and being integrated into older systems so it makes our lives easier. e.g. computerization of our health systems, police and security etc. In the past, we would have spent several millions of dollars to acquire new equipments as well as paper to take records that is slow and expensive compared to the web. Now, a programmer can simply write a sever-side code to deliver contacts for example, which one can access via your mobile browser. Gone are the days you would purchase a phone book catalog at an expensive price. So in-short, the introduction of web and mobile technology will help Africans save cost and rather focus more on infrastructure (building good roads and schools for the nations youths).
C4A: What are
your thoughts on the Coders4Africa initiative?
Eyram: I think
Coders4Africa is a very good initiative. We need more organizations like yours in
the country/continent willing to help individuals and do wonderful things.
Everyone can be a programmer; it only takes sharing, determination and passion
to be a good one. I'd encourage Coders4Africa to take this mission
very seriously and make this initiative work since most people try to
start and end-up giving up. The talents exist and we need to find
them all. This is a good platform to find them.
C4A: Awesome, thanks for taking the time to chat with me Eyram. We wish you continued success in all your endeavors and look forward to meeting up for some kenke and fish next time I'm in Accra!