I am sitting on the 4th floor of Piedmont Plaza at 88mph attending the Science Hack Day Nairobi. As I watch the busy Ngong Road traffic on a rainy evening just opposite the Kenya Science University College, I can't help but appreciate the advances that we have made in Kenya in terms of spreading access to technology. This is just one of the many innovation hubs that we have in Nairobi besides the iHub, iLab, NaiLab, mLab and others that I may not know about. This is only my first time here, though I have been to the Brew Bistro on the first floor several times. I shall come back to that another day.
What ia Science Hack day? According to their website, the mission of Science Hack Day is to get excited and make things with science! A Hack Day is a 48-hour-all-night event that brings together designers, developers, scientists and other geeks in the same physical space for a brief but intense period of collaboration, hacking, and building ‘cool stuff’. Hack Days were originally created by Yahoo! in 2005 and soon after became a worldwide trend. By collaborating on focused tasks during this short period, small groups of hackers are capable of producing remarkable results. Some Hack Days have a specific focus. There have already been very successful Music Hack Days and Government Hack Days. It’s time for a Hack Day focused on science!
And what is a Hack? A hack is a quick solution to a problem – maybe not the most elegant solution, but often the cleverest. On the web, mashups are a common example of hacking: mixing up data from different sources in new and interesting ways.
So, Who is it for? Imagine a Venn diagram showing the intersection of web geeks and science geeks …that’s a pretty big intersection. Science Hack Day is for anyone with an interest in bringing science and technology together. If you’re a coder, designer, scientist, hacker or just an enthusiastic person with good ideas, Science Hack Day is for you. This is taking place from 13th to 15th April.
This is very interesting stuff. The event is being held for 48 hours non stop. This means that we will be here till tomorrow evening, with some guys having come here yesterday. But what really excites me is the availability of all these innovation hubs in town. It reminds me of when our generation was starting off in technology in the early to mid nineties.
Take my own personal case for instance. When I joned University, there was nothing like a Computer Science Degree in the whole country. Your option was to take a general Science degree with some units in Maths and Computer Science. Then on graduation you would go on and take a post-graduate diploma in Computer Science.
Since I was taking a general degree and specializing in Biological Sciences, I had a major dilemma as my interets was in IT. So I always ended up spending more time in the maths computer room where we had some dumb terminals connected the University mainframe which was of course running Unix. I would then use my roommate's login credentials to let myself in. Once through, I would tinker around the system trying to figure out Dbase III! I had already done some hours learning MS Dos 4 and Lotus 123 in the Physics computer room where at least we had access to some old 286 and 386 PCs. This I was able to do because my distant cousin was a technician in the Physics department.
The moral of the story is that today we have more access to technology than we did a few years ago. Access to technology is a major hindrance to the uptake of the same in poor countries like Kenya. It is already self evident that armed withthe right tools, young people in developing countries can be just as innovative as their peers across the globe. This is clearly eveident in kenya where we have an explosion of mobile apps developed by young people.
Access to technology leads to arming young people with tools with which to better their lives and lift themselves out of abject poverty, while at the same time putting themselves at par with their peers in developed economies. There are many barriers to technology access chief among which is cost. That is where Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), comes in. With software being a major component of technology, FOSS allows more young people in Africa to have more access to technology and therefore stand a chance in the battle against poverty.
I wish all the participants happy hacking and a great weekend.