September 15, 2020

Leading Namibia's Community of Python Developers

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According to SlashData’s 2018 study, Python is the second-largest and second-fastest-growing programming language community with 8.2 million active developers globally. 

Arguably three main drivers contribute to the growth and use of Python. First, it’s suitable for a vast range of applications. Currently, it’s used by some of the most popular apps today, Netflix and Instagram. 

Second, developers with diverse experience levels, from professional to amateur, can use Python to create useful and meaningful products. Third, Python is used in some of the hottest tech sectors, including web development, machine learning, data science, and system administration. 

In Africa, the Python community consists of hundreds of passionate developers scattered across the continent. In Namibia’s capital city Windhoek, there is a small but vibrant Python community spearheaded by The Python Software Community of Namibia or PyNam for short.

PyNam consists of beginner, intermediate, and master programmers and aims to bring together the Python community in Namibia and create a new generation of Python developers.

I spoke with Ngazetungue Muheue, Software Developer and Community Outreach Co-coordinator of PyNam, about leading a community of developers, pivoting during COVID-19, and the value in a pan-African approach to Africa’s tech ecosystem. 


How did your journey lead you to create Python Namibia?

My name is Ngazetungue Muheue, and I’m currently in my final year at the University of Namibia, where I’ll be receiving a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science (Honours).

I was born here in Namibia and raised in a remote part of the country behind livestock. Since I was raised in Namibia’s remote area growing up, I didn’t have any exposure to computers or people who built software. 

After high school, I got involved in a car accident, which nearly paralyzed me and caused me to be in a hospital for an entire year. I couldn’t move; my arms and legs were not working.

I began questioning myself, how am I going to help myself, what if my arms don’t work again, what am I going to do? During that time, I bought my first laptop. I remember using Facebook and wondering how people could communicate with someone in the United States. That was the spark that started my journey. 

In 2014 I got accepted to the University of Namibia for a two-year program to get a computer science diploma. During my first year is when I was introduced to Python. In 2015, we had our first Python Namibia conference organized by the University of Namibia and Cardiff University.

After the conference, we created the Python Namibia Society, the parent association that takes care of all Python activity in the country. Under that society, we established different sub-groups that are dedicated to specific industries or people. 

The 7 Python Namibia subgroups are PyLadies Namibia, Django Namibia, PyData, PyNam Scholars, PyGamer, DjangoGirls Windhoek, and PyAI. 

What type of events does Python Namibia provide to its members?

We have three event types: 

Pycon Namibia: Pycon Namibia is our main conference. It’s where our entire community comes together. People from other countries also come to Namibia for the conference, both as attendees and speakers.

Meetups: We have seven subgroups, and each group has a monthly meetup. The meetups are organized in such a way that they don’t conflict. For example, maybe pyladies will have a meetup this week, and then next week, pyData will have their meetup.

Python Week of Code: During Python Week of Code, we have people in the industry come and speak to the community. We also host a competition targeted at high school students, where participants code for the whole week. The young people come together and create teams and come up with tech solutions to problems. 


How have you all restructured during COVID-19?

It’s been challenging. At the beginning of February, we had our 6th Pycon Namibia conference. Typically we’d have a significant number of international attendees, but this year, not as many people came because they were afraid of traveling due to COVID19. 

We had a bunch of other events on the calendar post the conference, but we had to cancel them. The country was going into lockdown, and we didn’t want to put our members at risk who travel to Windhoek, the capital city, to attend some of our events.

We’ve tried to host events online, but it’s been difficult because some of our members don’t know how to use online platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Team. To overcome that hurdle, we host a session to introduce them to the platform we’re using two days before the actual event.

Can you share some success stories from the PyNam community?

We have many success stories as a community. pyNam Scholar, the subgroup dedicated to working with high school scholars and teaching them Python, has won a few competitions.

In 2016 The Namibia University of Science and Technology hosted a national programming conference, and the group of students in pyNam Scholar came in second place. Then in 2017 and 2019, they won first place in the competition. 

Last year, I was recognized by the Python Software Foundation with the Python Fellow award for my contribution to the Python ecosystem around the world. 

One of our members, Jessica Upani, was also recognized last year by the Foundation and received the Python Community Service Award for her contribution to the community. Nonetheless, these are some of the many achievements that we’ve had as a community.

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Why is it valuable to connect with developers from other African countries?

Last year when I went to PyCon Africa in Ghana, I got the opportunity to meet people I used to see on YouTube as well as Daniel Roy Greenfeld, the author of Two Scoops of Django, which is one of the books that helped me learn Django, a Python Framework.

What I like about traveling and going to other countries is getting the opportunity to learn other people’s cultures, see how other developers work, what problems they’re solving, and how the products they build impact their community.

The way we do things here in Namibia is different from how people do things in Ghana, Ethiopia, and Nigeria because cultural context creates different outcomes. I currently have friends from all over the world, many of whom I talk to every day. Some of them have helped me with Python Namibia by providing suggestions on how to grow our community. 

I always advise developers to travel. If there’s an opportunity to attend a conference, maybe in Botswana or Zambia, go! By going to that conference and sharing your ideas with other people and hearing other people’s ideas, you might develop a solution for Namibia. Or refine an idea you had because someone from Botswana gave you a different perspective.

What are the keys to being a successful developer in Africa?

If you want to be a good developer, never let your background determine your journey. In my case, I was never introduced to a computer until I was 18 years old, but that didn’t hold me back. Also, learn how to collaborate, contribute to open source, and talk to as many other people in the tech ecosystem as possible. 

How do you see Python Namibia evolving over the next 3-5 years, and what impact do you hope to make? 

We want to have a Python hub where we can host our events. A place with the resources we need so our community can learn Python throughout the entire week instead of once a week. At our hub, we’d like to work with our government to create and offer a certificate to beginners in Python.

We also want to make Python Namibia and tech across Namibia inclusive. I want to bring more young people and women into tech and to take part in our events. Women inspire me, and I believe a community without women is not a community. On a global scale, Ewa Jodlowsa (Executive Director of Python Software Foundation), Marlene Mhangami, and others serve as good examples for our ladies, but we also want local women they can look up to. 

Lastly, we want to translate python documentation, like the code of conduct and different tutorials, into our local language.  

Built In Africa. What does that mean to you, and what are your thoughts on Tech in Namibia?

Built In Africa, to me, means products built in Africa but used anywhere. For example, if I create a product and sell it internationally, that product is still a Namibian product because someone from Namibia created it. Even if I’m in the UK, if I’m an African, it’s Built In Africa.

Tech in Namibia is getting better. Our government used to outsource their technical needs to developers from other countries. Now, however, before they look outward, they reach out to the Namibian tech community to see if someone has the expertise. It’s good to see that they recognize the potential of Namibians.

Also, as the tech community, we’re currently saying thank you COVID-19 because now our government is being more proactive with tech. And we’re finally getting the opportunity to show our skills to our leaders.

I’m currently creating an e-learning platform that will help the schools notify parents if they have an event. Since kids are not doing in-personal learning, schools need a way to still communicate with parents.

Even my school in my village is being proactive. Last April, I went to the school and said that I’d build them a website for free to communicate with parents instead of printing announcements because one day, they ran out of ink at the school.

They said, “Ngazetungue, no, we don’t know what these things are, so we don’t need it.” Now, this year they called me saying, “Ngazetungue, we need that website now because we can’t take it anymore.”

To conclude, young people are taking over. During the pandemic, some have created contract tracing apps. I’m really proud of the work we are doing as Namibians, and I’m excited to see what the future holds. 

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