Growing Developer Communities in Africa

Oliver Mensah

Oliver Mensah is a Mastercard Foundation Scholar Alumnus from Ashesi University, Ghana and a software engineer at Future500 B.V.  Besides his day-to-day job as a software engineer, he is very active in the developer community in sub-Saharan Africa and contributes to programs designed to support the professional development of software engineers in Africa. 

It wasn’t until he was a senior in high school that he was exposed to computers. He instantly fell in love with the work but had to wait until his tertiary education at Ashesi University as a Mastercard Foundation Scholar to get a chance to write computer codes for the first time. 

“At Ashesi University, I realized there were many solutions and ideas that one can bring into fruition by just having a computer and internet,” he says. “I saw technology and software development as a leveler because regardless of your economic background if you have an idea of a project, you can code it up and test the idea on the market easily.”

The value of building community

Currently Oliver serves as the lead of Domain-Driven Design Africa where he leads a team of like-minded Africans within the software space eager to dive more into Domain Driven Design by organizing hackathons, meetups and community talks.

Though his work on building developer communities is largely unpaid, Oliver believes strengthening and building developer communities are key to developing the digital skills of young Africans and building a stronger tech ecosystem in Africa. Also, through the tech developer community, he has not only built skills in areas like public speaking, leadership, stakeholder engagement and event organizing but he has also improved his technical skills.

Oliver grew up in, one of the largest cocoa growing communities in the Western North Region of Ghana. In talking about his childhood community experience, Oliver explained that, “Though members of my immediate community were farmers and had little materially, they found joy in sharing the little they had with each other. For instance, we sometimes practiced cooperative farming whereby we take turns to work on each other’s cocoa farm.” This imbibed in Oliver the value of community which he holds dearly.

Oliver Mensah leading a training session at one of the developer community meetups.

Collective learning to upskill young people 

“The chance of getting lost when starting out in the software engineering industry is very high and that’s one reason why developer communities are very essential. Most tech communities are about collective learning as most developers work in the same field and use the same tech tools, thus, developer communities provide a platform for experienced developers to support the budding ones” Oliver said. “As a leader of any tech developer community, you should be strategic about designing programs that upskills the members and foster deeper collaboration with other actors like incubators, accelerators and tech companies in the ecosystem. You also need to identify potential tech leads, mentor them and provide them with opportunities so that they can take over the mettle of leadership from you” Oliver, added.    

Future of technology in Africa 

On the future of tech on the continent, Oliver acknowledges that though there are some amazing startups and companies in the low- and high-tech space providing solutions, his expectation is that young people will take on the challenge of doing hard things like  solving some of the continent’s biggest problems in providing internet access to the unconnected and building green and sustainable technologies. 

Finding and building developer communities 

In his junior year at Ashesi University, Oliver got actively involved in the developer community and together with a friend revived the local Google Developer Group on campus. As co-lead of the Google Developer Group, Oliver organized and hosted hands-on workshops and events which grew student knowledge on Google developer products and platforms. 

Moving on from the Google Developer Group, Oliver served as the co-lead of the Facebook Developer Circle Accra for 3 years. As the Lead of the Facebook Developer Circle Accra, he built a local group of 1500+ software developers, organized 30+ hands-on workshops & events, hackathons and was featured on the Community Storytellers’ Series by Digital Ocean. 

Oliver with members of the Facebook Developer Circle Accra.